After our undignified departure from Leith, we chugged steadily northwards overnight and arrived on Monday at the Orkney island of Hoy. More specifically, the quay at the village of Lyness on the island’s east coast.
We knew a little of the area’s history: the fact that the British Navy was based here during both World Wars, and the story of the scuttling of the German fleet in nearby Scapa Flow just after the First World War. What we didn’t know was that during both wars there was a massive military encampment at Lyness, which must have roughly quadrupled the size of the village. Barracks, stores, workshops, warehouses, pumping stations, even a series of massive oil tanks and (later) an entire reservoir of oil under the neighbouring hillside – this camp was vast.
Now, of course, there are no military personnel left, except for those buried, movingly, in the military cemetery at Lyness. The buildings, however, survive, some ruined, some still intact, and all providing an extraordinary and poignant backdrop to some stunningly beautiful scenery.
Most of the official tours were heading off north-west-wards to see the famous Old Man of Hoy sea stack, but we’d chosen to explore locally on foot by ourselves and were really glad we had. We discovered the cemetery, a memorial to British and Russian sailors killed during the Great War, a fascinating museum of the history of Lyness and Scapa Flow, and a walk up the hill of Wee Fea past masses of industrial archaeology, often just lying at our feet. Chuck in loads of wild flowers, a good selection of birds, and tea and cake at the museum’s tea room, and you have the makings of a really fantastic afternoon stroll.
Here’s a small selection of the photos I took, showing the cemetery, the village still dominated by ruined military buildings, and an old army oil pumping station near the top of Wee Fea.