Things to Do in Scrabster
Among the tall green grass and purple heather between Loch Harray and Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar standing stones thrust from the earth like rusting giants’ swords.
At 340 feet (104 meters) in diameter, 27 of the original 60 stones survive, making this the third-biggest stone circle in Britain. Thought to have been built around 2000-2500 BC, this was one of the last of such monuments to be built in neolithic Orkney. Excavations of the site have revealed lots of pottery and animal bones, so it seems like cooking and eating around the still visible hearth was the order of the day here 5,000 years ago.
Famous for its perfectly circular shape, the beauty of the Ring of Brodgar is that, unlike Stonehenge, you can get right up to the stones. As you wander, look out for Viking graffiti on some of the stones: 12th-century runic carvings from the Norse invaders can be seen on quite a few. Just a few hundred meters away, you can also visit the neolithic Barnhouse settlement, discovered in 1984.
Maeshowe Chambered Cairn is a chambered tomb in northern Scotland that is more than 5,000 years old. It is considered to be the finest Neolithic building in northwest Europe due to its design, stonework construction, and use of massive individual stones. At first Maeshowe appears to be just a large grassy mound, but visitors can enter from a single door. A 33 foot long stone passageway leads into a small stone chamber in the center. The chamber is only about 15 feet across. Three side rooms made of single slabs of stone are attached to the main chamber. The entire structure was designed so that light would shine down the passageway at sunset every day from three weeks before to three weeks after the shortest day of the year.
At least 3,000 years after Maeshowe was closed up, Norsemen broke into the chamber. They left behind light-hearted runic graffiti all over the walls. It is the largest collection of runic inscriptions outside Scandinavia and serves as a reminder that Orkney was under Norwegian rule until 1468.
Separated from the northern tip of mainland Scotland by the choppy waters of the Pentland Firth strait, the Orkney Islands are an archaeological wonderland. Comprised of about 20 inhabited islands and many more uninhabited ones, Orkney is littered with prehistoric ruins and Viking remnants. The islands’ interiors, a patchwork of heather-clad moors and fertile grasslands, are encircled by superb sandy beaches and sheer coastal cliffs.
Duncansby Head, located in northern Scotland, is the northernmost point on the British mainland. It is a set of dramatic sandstone cliffs that overlook the sea. Some of the cliffs reach up to 200 feet high. Exploring the area along the coastal pathway will give you a great opportunity to see some of the region's unique seabirds and other wildlife. Some of the birds you might see include guillemot, kittiwakes, and puffins, depending on the time of year.
From Duncansby Head, visitors will have a view of the Duncansby Stacks, a group of large jagged sea rocks, and Thirle Door, a rocky arch. Sometimes it is also possible to catch a glimpse of some of the sea life here, including seals, dolphins, minke and killer whales. The nearby village of John O'Groats is the northernmost settlement on the mainland of Britain, and the Duncansby Head Lighthouse marks the northernmost point.
When 550 Italian soldiers were captured in the scorching North African desert back in 1942, it must have caused them quite a shock to be sent in winter to the Scottish isle of Orkne. The POWs were sent here in order to build the “Churchill Barriers,” a series of causeways that would protect the British Grand Fleet in the Scapa Flow harbor. By 1943, the homesick workers requested a chapel where they could worship. What did they get? Two Nissen huts, which they were told to join end-to-end and labor over outside work hours.
What happened next is a beautiful symbol of peace, faith and the power of human ingenuity even in wartime. Local Orkney artists provided brushes and poster paints to decorate the huts; bully beef tins were converted into makeshift candle holders; wood scavenged from shipwrecks was used to create furniture; a car exhaust was covered in concrete to create a Baptismal font. Slowly but surely, those two steel sheds became the Roman Catholic chapel of the Italians’ dreams.
The main man behind the chapel’s decoration was POW Domenico Chiocchetti, who painted a false frontage so that it really looked like the Roman Catholic churches of home. He was so dedicated to the project that when everyone was sent home in 1944, he stayed on to finish the project.
In 1960, Chiocchetti returned to Orkney from his home in Moena, Italy, to assist with a restoration projection of the chapel. When he left three weeks later, he wrote a letter to the people of Orkney: "The chapel is yours, for you to love and preserve. I take with me to Italy the remembrance of your kindness and wonderful hospitality.”