Mentioned in the 1136 Orkneyinga saga the Orphir circular Kirk is the last remaining circular church in Scotland. The plan is said to be inspired by the rotunda of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem which was increasingly visited by pilgrims following the capture of the Holy Land in the first Crusade. One of these was Earl Hakon who traveled there to atone for ordering the death of St. Magnus on Egilsay in about 1116. The Orphir Kirk may have been built after his return and before his death in about 1123.
The St Magnus trail follows the coast round the north shore of Scapa Flow.
The wall round the edge of the field has a heavy covering of lichen.
Further along the headland are a pair of fishermans’ cottages.
The tip of the headland looks out onto the stretch of water where on 5th August 1917 Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning became the first person to land a plane on a moving ship. Taking off from Smoogro in a Sopwith Pup he landed on the flying off deck of HMS Furious dodging the funnels and the turbulence they produced. Well before the invention of arrester wires a grappling party of the ship’s deck hands grabbed hold of ropes that had been attached to the plane in order to restrain it. Unfortunately five days later he died attempting to repeat the feat when, despite the best efforts of the grappling party, his aircraft fell off the side of the deck and he drowned.
Continuing along the path the coast line flattens out and there is now a fish farm close to the shore.
Returning to the fishermens’ cottages and heading inland near Gyre farm there is a small area of woodland, very unusual for Orkney.
The first set of standing stones were the Stones of Stenness. The name comes from the Norse Stein Ness meaning stone point which suggests they have been the dominant feature of this area for most of human history as this is one of the oldest henges in the British Isles.
Behind the stones is a settlement. This features a large building surrounded by circular borders and the entrance to the Standing Stones faced in this direction suggesting it had some form of ceremonial significance.
Next to this is a building with two hearths that is constructed in a similar way to burial cairns which suggests this was also a significant, non-residential, building. Behind this is a residential building, similar to those found at Skara Brae.
Following the path towards the Ring of Brodgar past the Loch of Stenness the peaks of Hoy are visible in the distance.
The Ring of Brodgar is a much larger stone circle that is 500-1000 years newer than the Stones of Stenness and is the third largest in the British Isles.
The path returns to the Stones of Stenness and on the other side of the cuaseway that links them lies Loch Harray.
We start at Marwick Choin, a bay that has a lagoon when the tide goes out.
On the beach is the remains of the boiler from the tramp steamer Monomoy which was wrecked in 1896. As boilers were built to withstand enormous pressures even 124 years later there is still a significant amount of metal remaining.
Some of the internal structures are still visible.
Further out there is a large sheet still mostly intact. From here you can see across the lagoon to the Kitchener memorial on the headland to the north.
Continuing around the southern coast line there are some fishermens’ huts at Sand Geo. These were built after the Monomoy ran aground and blocked access to the beach meaning the fishermen had to relocate their boats. The fishermen were local farmers who would fish using hand lines for cod and haddock that they would consume themselves rather than sell. The huts were restored in 1984.
At the top of the inlet is the winch they would have used to haul in their boats. It is said to have been salvaged from the wreck of the Monomoy.
Returning past the Choin and continuing up the path along the cliff tops we come to the Kitchener memorial. Secretary of War, Lord Kitchener was on the HMS Hampshire with a delegation to Russia on 5 June 1916 when at 8:45 it hit a mine laid by U-75 and sank off Marwick Head in a force 9 gale with the loss of 737 souls – there were only 12 survivors. The memorial was built by public subscription and unveiled in 1926.
In 2016, again by public subscription, a memorial wall was added listing the names of the other 736 people who lost their lives.
There now follows a brief interlude for lunch on the cliff tops.
The path continues around the cliff tops with some fine views of the Atlantic.
This is a fairly crude blockhouse, presumably because one of the quality found on the real Atlantic Wall would have been very costly to build – especially on the side of a Scottish hill – and it’s only going to be blown up anyway. The front (“seaward”) side has been extensively damaged.
The interior is where the crudeness of the construction is most evident.
Behind this there is a well concealed sunken bunker that, with a thick grass covering, looks like little more than an undulation in the ground.
It is only when you are passed it that the rear entrance gives away its position.
There may well have been other structures in this area as well given that there are tussocks of grass with rebar sticking out of them.
To the north of the sea wall section there is another sunken bunker, this time with a trench system leading to the rear entrance.
The defining feature of this bunker is the two Tobruk pits on the top. On the Atlantic Wall the Germans used these to mount turrets from captured tanks – predominantly French models – to create gun emplacements.
On Sheriff Muir a few miles North East of Dunblaine there is a section of reinforced concrete wall in the middle of the moorland visible from the road.
It was built to emulate a sea wall with a characteristic overhang on the road or “seaward” side and an anti-tank ditch at the base. The front face is pockmarked with numerous impact craters characteristic of shell fire. Significant sections have the facing completely broken away down to the thinner (1/2″) reinforcing rods. Larger (1″) reinforcing rods from the core are also visible in places.
The Northern end of the wall is three meters thick but at the Southern end it steps down to a final width of about one meter. I assume these different thicknesses were to assess the effect of shell fire on different thicknesses of concrete found on sea walls.
In the three meter section there are several significant partial breaches in the structure, probably as a result of demolitions charges – possibly from the Churchill AVRE 290mm petard mortar with it’s “flying dustbin” 12kg demolition charge. These breaches are adequate for infantry to be able to cross the obstacle.
The northernmost of these is a full breach of the wall that’s 4m wide – enough for a Churchill or Sherman to pass through.
On the “landward” side there are large pieces of concrete that have been deposited some distance back from the wall which suggests a significant quantity of explosives were employed.
Being a relatively short section of wall, and with the various thicknesses, it’s unlikely this was used for troop training. The most likely explanation seems to be that this was used for testing the effects of different artillery shells and engineering equipment on a section of sea wall similar to that found at the landing beaches.
As the hop has started growing the stems have fairly quickly reached the point where they need support.
There had been a satellite dish on the side of the house above where the hop planter is now so I was able to re-use a couple of the mounting points for that to put up a wood batten into which I had screwed four eyelets with long stems to hold them clear of the wall.
I also added four eyelets to the inside of the planter and then ran coir string between them using clove hitches to tie it off.
The coir string is good for climbers as it has a rough texture that gives them plenty to take hold of. Rather than the tendrils used by peas and beans the hop stems have very small hooks on the stems that feel almost like velcro and it’s these that hold them onto the strings.
We have a space by the back door that’s south facing and an ideal spot for a climber. Being from Kent I decided to try and see if I could grow a hop in this spot. As a bonus I found a nursery that sells hops a few miles up the valley from where I grew up.
Hops are a rhizome so need space for the roots, from what I’ve read they will grow in containers – provided they are big enough. As this is by the access to the back door space was at a premium so I got two narrow planters, took the bottom off one, and fixed them on top of each other to create more volume. Growing in a container will probably dwarf them and reduce the crop but as I don’t want it growing onto the roof of the house and as I’ve selected an ornamental variety I think it’ll be fine.
The hop comes as a bare root wrapped in moss for protection.
The planter was lined with a bin bag to help protect the wood and the bottom half was filled with topsoil I had for the lawn and the top half with garden centre compost. Then I hollowed out a space for the roots and filled that with compost from the bin.
Following the hop planting guide, the crown is below the surface of the soil which was then well soaked from the rain water butt.