Arriving in the town of Kirkwall was an experience. It’s all so familial that even the car rental picks you up from the airport. We wanted to go with a local company and Jonathan from Ticketyboo said it’s no bother. I love how it’s all so relaxed, exactly what you want for a vacation.
Leaving the car parked near the apartment we explored Kirkwall on foot because everything is just around the corner. We started with the magnificent St. Magnus Cathedral, which turned out to be a blessing. The church has really short opening time and we never saw it from the inside again on this trip.
The church is imposing and dominates the ‘skyline’ of Kirkwall. It’s also the northernmost cathedral in the UK and from the 12th century. Most interesting fact is though, that it is not owned by the Church but by the citizens of Kirkwall given to them by James III in 1468. The cathedral has also a dungeon, which we didn’t see though. I don’t think it was mentioned anywhere besides Wikipedia. The Romanesque structure has also Gothic features due to extensions and changes in the 14th century.
In the picture below you can see the influence of the Gothic. The carved stones on both sides covered burials underneath the floor. In the 1840’s the remains were buried outside and the stones erected along the wall. Check out the ‘Memento Mori’ symbol which we found repeatedly in the cathedral.
Also impressive was this wooden death board or ‘Mort Brod’ from the early 17th century. It’s thought to be the oldest in Scotland.
I couldn’t decide which of the following pieces I liked best. The first was a burial stone with a deer and a ‘Momento Mori’ which looks more like an alien symbol. The second was a small wooden Viking statue with a winged helmet, so much like Asterix. Which one do you prefer?
The Orkney Museum, right across the street from the cathedral, detailed the history of the islands. And there is a lot of history on Orkney since the first settlements are from the Neolithic time, about 5.000 years ago. A bit younger is the Peedie Pict which shows a Pictish figure (Picts in Scotland from about 300-700 AD) carved on an ox bone.
Also across from the cathedral, just at the other corner, was the Earl’s Palace. It was built at the beginning of the 17th century by the Earl of Orkney and incorporated the Bishop’s Palace. The Palace brought the new owner no luck though, before it was even finished he was thoroughly in debt, had to hand the palace back to the bishop, and ultimately, after spending time in prison, got beheaded. Earl Patrick, who enjoyed luxury he couldn’t afford, had also a reputation of violence and cruelty. He probably deserved what he got. The palace, or rather what’s left of it, is openly accessible to the public. While we walked around a couple of boys climbed up the walls to look for their ball. Nobody cares what’s happening on the backside of a palace. Yours, Pollybert