Weather remains too rough for pleasurable sailing round Scapa Flow and so we opt for a ferry ride out to Hoy and back. We pass some famous seaweed eating sheep…but they are not on North Ronaldsay!
As it turns out, driving rain keeps us in the 40’s themed café in the museum at Lyness on Hoy. An old radio with printed stations such as Hilversum and Light Programme on its dial (but with modern innards), is playing war-time tunes. We think about an impromptu tea-dance but would look odd in boots and oilies… The whole area is derelict WW2 oil tanks, gun batteries and other war detritus. The museum however, is strangely compelling, with stories of the activities of both British and German navies in both world wars.
A constant theme of our trip from the south up the East Coast has been the increasing levels of friendliness and warmth from almost everyone we meet. We sailed over from Wick in the company of Alan and his long-suffering crew Ian on Cordula and were invited for a glorious lunch with Ian and Annette at their house on the beach on South Ronaldsay. They are not the first people we have met either, who have left Cornwall to get away from it all in Orkney.
The boat has had a changing complement over just a few days…Paul, our faithful crew, herring gutter admirer and curry cooker has left for Majorca, John’s wife Chris has arrived and now James’ wife Yee Tak and nephew Byron have joined. A hired car for the day gets us around the main tourist sites and provides refuge from the constant wind (and occasional rain). We have seen Neil Oliver’s TV programmes about the Neolithic settlements here, but the reality is awe-inspiring. The Scara Brae village, the Maes Howe burial mound and the Ring of Brodgar seem to touch us down the generations even more than more recent relics and monuments. In reality of course, they are the relics of ordinary people like us, not just the grandiose buildings of kings, queens or bishops. We spend time just standing next to their 5000 year old village on a windswept rocky beach, gazing out to the same horizon as they did…and wondering what on earth would induce any lunatic to set out to sea!
In a similar sort of vein, the Italian Chapel is also oddly compelling. Built by Italian prisoners of war out of two old Nissan huts, it is a small piece of beautifully decorated Italy next to their old POW camp. Once again it speaks of just ordinary men and now stands testament to an enduring friendship with the islanders.
Driving to South Ronaldsay is now possible because of firstly the sunk block-ships and then the Churchill Barriers, erected to close off the Eastern entrances to Scapa Flow….after a U-Boat sent over 800 men and boys to a watery death on HMS Royal Oak at the start of the war. Churchill apparently convinced the Italian POW builders that it was a community project to link the islands and not a war project…!