Kirkwall: Kirkwall, the largest town on Orkney, is fronted by the old harbor. Behind the harbor are streets of older buildings extending back to the Cathedral and the Earl’s and Bishop’s palaces. The shop to the left in the photo featured in a documentary about the impact of cruise liner tourism.
Stromness: Stromness is a port on the west coast and the second largest town in Orkney. The old town is clustered around a winding main street. The Pier Arts Centre is on this street.
Stones of Stenness: This ancient stone circle lies east of Stromness. Work on the monument started about 3100BC. The site was surrounded by a ditch, originally 2 meters deep, of which traces remain. At the centre of the circle is a great stone hearth. Foundations were dug for 12 standing stones, but it appears that at least one was never erected.
Barnhouse Village: Barnhouse, situated next to the Stones of Stenness, is a Neolithic village. occupied between 3200 and 2900 BC. Footings of stone walls survive, along with stone hearths, stone beds and dressers. The largest structure appears to have had a different function.
Ring of Brodgar: This monument consists of a huge circle of standing stones surrounded by a ditch. It is positioned on the side of a hill rather than around its top. The rock-cut ditch, 104 metres in diameter, was originally 3 m deep. Twenty-seven stones out of a supposed 60 remain. The whole area has various stone monuments within sight of each other.
Maeshowe Chambered Tomb: The tomb, built of large stone slabs, is under a large grassy mound. It is thought to have been in use as a tomb around 2700BC, but is now empty. The stone roof is not original, as the tomb was breached via the roof in Norse times and again in modern times. The entrance is via a long, low passage, consisting of a few long slabs each weighing several tons. By contrast, the chamber is 3.8m high. It contains two recesses which may originally have been sealed by large stones. The walls consist of large stone slabs laid horizontally, with a stone upright in each corner. Many of the stones bear Norse graffiti.
Access to the site is controlled, and visitors are taken by bus from the visitor centre in a nearby village to a drop-off point several hundred yards from the tomb.
Skara Brae: The famous Skara Brae lies on a bay in the west coast of Orkney, some miles north of Stromness. The site was first discovered in 1850 when a great storm blew away the sand that had covered it. There are about eight houses, mostly linked by a winding passage roofed over with stone slabs. The thick walls are double-skinned with midden (decomposed rubbish) packed into the cavity. Midden also piled up around the outsides of the walls. Each house comprised a single room about 6m x6m. At the centre lay the hearth. On the wall opposite the door stood a stone dresser, and on the walls to either side were stone beds and other furnishings. There is no clear evidence of how the houses were roofed. Various artefacts (now in museums or the visitor centre) were found in the houses.
Visitors have to view the houses from a walkway running around the periphery of the village. One house is roofed to protect its contents, but a full-sized replica of this house (with extra height) stands next to the visitor centre, and should be visited before proceeding to the site.
Skaill House: This mansion stands inland from Skara Brae and shares the same visitor centre. The oldest parts were built around 1620 and other wings have been added at various dates since. It has been owned and occupied by the same family throughout. One of thr lairds discovered and excavated Skara Brae. The house has had many illustrious guests, including Lady Franklin, widow of the famous North-West Passage explorer. The principal rooms upstairs and downstairs can be visited.
Wireless Museum, Kirkwall: A one-room museum near the waterfront in Kirkwall. As the name suggests, it contains a vast number of vintage wireless sets from various eras, both vintage and military, the latter mostly from the WWII period. It also houses a significant collection of photographs of the wartime era, which may be viewed in photograph albums. See:http://www.orkneywirelessmuseum.org.uk/
Earl’s Palace, Kirkwall: The palace was built by the notorious Earl Patrick Stewart starting in 1601. It faces the cathedral and was an ornate building with corner turrets, massive projecting oriel windows, and high-pitched slate roofs. The great hall on the first floor was south-facing and heated by two large fireplaces. When complete it was luxuriously furnished, but is now unroofed and partly ruinous. Most parts of the structure can be accessed by visitors. There is a small exhibition in the basement. It has been described as ‘the most mature and accomplished piece of Renaissance architecture left in Scotland.’
Bishop’s Palace, Kirkwall: The Bishop’s Palace adjoins the Earl’s Palace and can be accessed on the same ticket. The lower storey probably dates from Norse times. The 12th century palace was a rectangular hall-house with storage and workshops on the ground floor, and a main hall and dwelling quarters above. It is thought to have been built for Bishop William, but fell into disrepair within a century. The palace was not restored until the mid-16th century, when Bishop Reid rebuilt it as an elegant residence, adding a round tower.
St Magnus Cathedral: The Cathedral stands in the middle of Kirkwall and the exterior has striking patterns of yellow and red sandstone. Construction started in 1137, and continued irregularly for over three centuries. The west end of the nave was added till the late 15th or early 16th century. The stages of construction can be traced by slight changes in the design of pillars and arches. The early history of the cathedral is recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga. St Magnus and his patron Earl Rognavald are both buried in the cathedral. Both met violent deaths. The interior has interesting stone carving and monuments.
Churchill Barriers: The defence of the various channels leading into Scapa Flow was long recognized as a problem. In 14 October 1939, the German submarine U-47 slipped past blockships to torpedo the old battleship Royal Oak, which sank with the loss of over 800 lives. Work began in May 1940 to build a series of solid barriers across the eastern channels. The work was undertaken by Balfour Beatty using local, British and Irish workers, and from 1942, Italian prisoners of war. In a massive undertaking, rubble encased in wire cages were dropped from aerial cableways, followed by concrete blocks to resist the force of the waves. Miles of narrow-gauge railway was laid to transport materials, over 900,000 tons in all. Little trace of the temporary infrastructure remains today. The causeways now carry the A961 road.
Italian Chapel: The Italian Chapel was constructed by Italian prisoners of war during WWII, in two Nissen huts provided by the military. Almost nothing else remains of the prisoner of war camp, which was housing prisoners working on the Churchill Barrier. The Chapel was fitted out by several of the prisoners led by painter Domenico Chioccetti, using salvaged materials and concrete. Internally it is painted with remarkable realism to resemble stonework, with a religious mural by Chiochetti at the altar end. The Chapel was spared demolition when the camp was cleared, and was restored in the 1960’s.
Smithy Museum, St Margaret’s Hope: The Smithy Museum is situated in the otherwise unremarkable village of St Margaret’s Hope, in the buildings of a former smithy. It contains much of the original equipment, plus a collection of smith’s tools and related objects, ploughs etc. It’s worth a visit if you are in the area and interested in the subject matter. Admission is free.
Shetland tour: Lerwick: The main port town in Shetland, where the ferry terminal is situated.
Broch of Clickimin: On the outskirts of Lerwick, sited on a promontory on the shore of Clickimin Loch. A round tower is in the centre of the site. The walls stand to a significant height, showing their hollow construction. There is a thick wall, probably defensive, on the landward side. Around the tower are the remains of other buildings. The site is thought to have been occupied for over a thousand years, and the structures date from different periods.
Scalloway Castle: Scalloway Castle was the home of the unpopular Earl Patrick Stewart. The castle was built around 1599, and is an impressive example of a late 1500’s Scottish tower house, with external decoration. The castle is now roofless. It is one of only two castles constructed in Shetland. Next to the castle is the Scalloway museum.
Shetland Bus memorial: The Shetland Bus memorial stands on the waterfront in Scalloway village. It commemorates the boats that carried out clandestine operations between Shetland and Norway during WWII, and their brave crews.
Tingwall Valley: Tingwall Valley runs north-south on Mainland. It has several lochs, and one of the few woods on the island. The name comes from the Ting, the Norse parliament which met on an island, Ting Holm, at the north end of Tingwall loch. The main road passes Tingwall Airport, an airstrip that hosts flights to local destinations.
Eshaness cliffs: Eshaness lies at the north-west extremity of the mainland, facing the Atlantic. The cliffs are high, and in places the sea has cut narrow inlets or ‘Geos’ running for hundreds of yards inland in some examples. One has tunneled deeply into the land creating a sea-cave, now partly collapsed at the inner end exposing a long gash in the cliff top with the sea washing far below. (The Holes of Scraada). Nearby is the Loch of Houlland. Here a causeway leads out to a small island, or holm, and a ruined broch stands on a tiny promontory beside it. The broch is much ruined, but one can still make out the structure of the massive walls and some of the inner cells. The loch was once used to feed water down to three Norse watermills, the outlet stream falling into the Holes of Scrada.
There is a lighthouse at Eshaness, now automated.
Broch of Mousa: The broch, the best preserved of all the brochs in Scotland, stands on the island of Mousa just off the east coast of the mainland. It can be seen with binoculars from the main road. The broch stands 13m tall and it is possible to climb the winding stair inside it. (I could see the actual broch through binoculars from the mainland).
Jarlshof: The remains at Jarlshof represent occupation over about four thousand years. Buildings on the site include the remains of a Bronze Age smithy, an Iron Age broch and roundhouses, a complex of Pictish wheelhouses, a Viking longhouse, and a mediaeval farmhouse. The site, asides from the prominent Old House of Sumburgh, was unknown till the 19th century when an storm uncovered part of the site. The latter, formerly a farmhouse, was converted into a fortified house during the 16th century by the notorious Robert Stewart, First earl of Orkney.
Most of the structures, including the broch and roundhouses, can be entered. The site is near the southern tip of the Shetland mainland.
Sumburgh Head RSPB reserve The reserve adjoins the Sumburgh Head lighthouse and exhibition. Weathered cliffs provide nesting sites for thousands of seabirds which can be seen sitting on rock nests or clustering on rocks near the water. The puffins are very used to human presence and will pose on the seaward side of the fence a few feet from visitors. The promontory also offers a view of Sumburgh Airport for those interested in heavier than air flight, as well as Jarlshof and various islands.
Lerwick – Shetland Museum A major museum which will provide hours of instruction about the prehistory and history of the area. Outside is a propeller blade from the Olympic, a liner commandeered during WWI and wrecked on the Shetlands. The ship was demolished by heavy seas within weeks.
St Peter’s Church, Tawstock. A Devon church included in ‘Devon’s 50 best Churches’ by Todd Gray.
The collection of church monuments is particularly fine. Most are connected to the Earls of Bath. Features of interest include the 16th century gallery, the manorial pew of the earls of bath, and two ceilings of Italian plasterwork.
The church is in a rural site, in the former park of the Earls of Bath. Nearby is an Elizabethan gatehouse, all that remains of an Elizabethan mansion. The house burnt down in 1787 and was replaced by the current Gothic style mansion, Tawstock Court.
Gunpowder has been manufactured on this site at Waltham Abbey from the time of Charles II and probably earlier. The site was purchased by the government in 1787 and incorporated as the Royal Gunpowder Mills. It manufactured increasing quantities of gunpowder, cordite and other explosives. After WWII it became the Explosives Research and Development Department, ERDE. The site was closed by the Ministry of Defence in 1991 and all valuable materials on the site were scrapped, and old records destroyed.
More recently, the site has been taken over by a charitable trust which preserves and displays the remains and also the natural history on the site. It is regularly opened to the public.
I visited the site as part of the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme of a date when the site was not opened to the general public. The visit comprised an introductory talk, a 2.5 hour walking tour and finally tea, sandwiches and cakes.
The walking tour included parts of the site not open to the general public (The public get instead a land-train tour of shorter duration).
The site is about a mile in length. The tour includes some intriguing brick and concrete structures, much greenery, a barge formerly used for transporting gunpowder, and a pond. It returns along the line of the later buildings used for making cordite. These contained beam engines (now missing) powering grindstones (now missing, but there is a replica in the last hut).
We did not visit every building (and not the film show).
Despite the length of the tour, there was not time to look at everything at leisure. 2.5 hours felt long enough on one’s feet, so anyone going on the ‘Invitation to View’ tour might want to factor in a follow-up visit on another date.
Overall, I’d rate this site as ‘interesting’ rather than ‘wow’. Worth a visit if you are interested in the subject.
Compton Verney is now a rural art gallery contained in a country house. In 1711, George Verney inherited the estate and set about building the basis of the present house. It was remodeled by architect Robert Adam from 1762-1768, extensive alterations being made. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was employed to remodel the grounds from 1789 onwards. The last Verney to live in the house sold it in 1921. Since then it has passed through various hands. During WWII it was requisitioned by the Army. After 1945 the house was never lived in again and became increasingly derelict. Eventually it was acquired for conversion into an art gallery, with a multi-million pound restoration and a new block built alongside the U-shaped mansion.
The Adam Hall is left empty and available for functions. Some ground floor rooms, used as galleries, retain original plasterwork and features (restored). The upper floors and attics have been made over as exhibition spaces. The new extension contains a café and facilities downstairs and exhibition space upstairs.
When I visited there were two special exhibitions: ‘Marvelous Mechanical Museum’ with old automata (not moving) and new automata (moving), and ‘Rodney Peppe’s World of Invention’ also with toy automata made by artist Rodney Peppe.
A Devon church included in ‘Devon’s 50 best Churches’ by Todd Gray. St John the Baptist, Ashton SW Dartmoor.
A 15th century church with Perpendicular style windows. Roof, window tracery, floor etc restored 1881-3 and 1899-1901. Has a 5-bay Beerstone arcade and an important 8-bay roodscreen, paintings on west side of screen ‘the best in the county’.
St Nectan’s Church, Hartland.
The church is in the hamlet of Stoke, between Hartland village and the coast. It has a fine rood screen, painted ceilings and an interesting museum up a narrow flight of stairs. The museum has painted fragments from a painted ceiling and other relics.
The church has a tall tower that can be seen form some distance out to sea.
The Seaton Tramway is a 2 ft 9 in (838 mm) narrow gauge electric tramway which operates over part of the route of a former London & South Western Railway branch line to Seaton, Devon. The tram line was established in 1970 by Claude Lane.
The line runs from Colyton village to Seaton, with an intermediate stop at Colyford. Currently while the new station in Seaton is under construction, trams terminate at the Seaton Riverside depot, with onward travel by shuttle bus. As compensation for the shortened run, on the return from Seaton a conducted tour of the tram depot is currently included.
The tram ride is very enjoyable, as a top deck seat ensures views of the countryside and the riverside wetlands between Colyford and Seaton. Around a dozen trams may be seen at the tramshed. The tram service runs every half hour or so in season. There is free parking at Colyton station.
For the technically minded, the trams operate on 120 volts DC, fed from batteries which are trickle charged.
The village of Colyton is worth a visit, as is the old part of Seaton.