Borealis cruised into a night of light rain past the sheltering Hebrides and we could feel the slight waves. We passed the 500 foot cliffs of Cape Wrath, a name derived from the Norse for turning point, and turned our bow to the east, heading for the choppy waters of the Pentland Firth, between Orkney and Scotland. To the West was the wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. But we turned north heading towards Kirkwall, Orkney's capital, where we were due to dock for a few hours.
We awoke in the morning to a view of small, green islets, but the view soon changed to Kirkwall harbour, where Borealis dropped anchor. The town was built of small stone houses, and I was reminded of Norway, a country that I have visited. This is unsurprising, for Orkney and Shetland were under Scandinavian rule until the fifteenth century when they passed to Scotland as a dowry payment. Their inhabitants often deny that they are Scots and claim strong affinities to Norway, a situation that displeases Scottish Nationalists. Britain is richer in local identities than maps reveal.
Covid regulations dictated that passengers could only leave the ship in an organised tour, of which there were several options, but some were booked up already and others were not suitable for one with mobility problems, and as I have Parkinson's disease several tours were not possible. We chose a 90 minute coach tour of major features. We confined ourselves to the main island, known as Mainland, but we saw key sites of Orkney and we had an excellent tour guide to conduct us, a farmer's wife, Orkney born and bred, who knew and loved the land.
Of particular interest was the Ring of Brodgar, a megalithic stone circle that is part of the rich Neolithic heritage of Orkney. It is a henge, a circular surrounding a ditch enclosing and defining a level area in which a ring of megaliths [ standing stones] stands silently defying millennia. You cannot enter the ring, but walk round it sensing the atmosphere of an abandoned temple once held in awe, but now a prehistoric reminder of a forgotten faith. It was, like Stonehenge, probably a temple to the sun, designed to track the solstices, the markers of the sacred year. I wondered what rituals were enacted there, but the stones were silent.
We toured this fecund isle with its rich sandstone soil enriched with millennia of seaweed, with its barley a-growing [no wheat at that latitude] and cattle and sheep happily grazing. We passed the megalithic tomb of Maes Howe with its corbeled dry stone conical structure that has stood unmoved for millennia. We passed the wide expanse of Scapa Flo, an inland sea at the heart of Orkney where in 1919 the German High Seas Fleet was scuttled and where in 1940 a U boat sent the battleship Royal Oak to a watery grave along with most of her crew.
After finishing our brief sample of Orkney we returned to the ship and enjoyed the lounge and later a three course meal. While we relaxed Borealis set sail for Shetland.