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Italian Chapel, Lambholm

Italian Chapel, Lambholm, Orkeny


This evening, the focus of my blog is the famous little church on Orkney which has become known as the Italian Chapel.

This fascinating building was constructed by Italian prisoners of war (WW2) during the period 1943-5 . The core building comprises two Nissen huts but the fixtures and decoration were made from concrete and other materials ‘scavenged’  during a period of major shortages. The result is a great credit to the British authorities (for permitting the chapel to be built), Father P Gioacchino Giacobazzi an artistic prisoner named Domenico Chiocchetti plus other skilled helpers.The same men restored the building in the 1960s and again in the 1990s.

The prisoners were primarily engaged in building Churchill Barriers which had a dual purpose of connecting the islands and acting as barriers to German U-boats getting into Scapa Flow. The catalyst for the construction work was the sinking by  U-47 of the battleship Royal Oak in 1939 with loss of over 800 lives. 

Interior of Italian Chapel, Lambholm,

Interior of Italian Chapel, Lambholm, Orkney

I am writing this on the ferry transporting the tour group from Egilsay to Tingwall on final leg of today’s tour.

This morning we departed our Kirkwall base and drove to Broch of Gurness which is a settlement spanning the period 1st century BC to 9th C AD. This site has the most extensive and well-preserved domestic buildings surrounding a broch anywhere in Scotland and a long history of Pictish and Viking era occupation.

Broch of Gurness, Orkney

Broch of Gurness, Orkney, Scotland

Broch of Gurness, Orkney

Broch of Gurness, Orkney, Scotland

A broch is a type of building unique to Scotland. Such a building usually comprises a tall, conical tower invariably positioned on a prominent coastal location. Although built with defence in mind, brochs were essentially high status dwellings at the heart of communities.

After Gurness we drove to Tingwall to catch the 11.55 ferry for the one hour trip to Egilsay which stopped en-route at Rousay and thus permitted a brief exploration of the island. Here we visited Trumland House and garden both of which are work in process reconstruction projects following a period of abandonment due to a major fire.

Ferry at Rousay

Ferry at Rousay, Orkney

Trumland House, Rousay

Trumland House, Rousay, Orkney

We duly re-connected with the ferry and then moved on to our destination of Egilsay. Here our main objective was the 12th century church dedicated to St. Magnus. This church is one of the few examples of a round tower outside Ireland. A similar tower exists on the mainland of Scotland at Abernethy.

Ferry at Egilsay

Ferry at Egilsay, Orkney

The church was built close to the site where Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney was killed as recounted in the Orkneyinga Saga.

St Magnus Church, Egilsay

St Magnus Church, Egilsay, Orkney

Egilsay is of interest to bird watchers, botanists and students of other wild life such as seals.

On the return trip we also called at Wyre and Rousay.

Weather this afternoon proved very windy with rain in the air. Due to ferry timings we had to spend a couple of hours in a community centre on Egilsay.

This morning, we commenced Day 2 of our Orkney tour by departing our Kirkwall Hotel and then driving to the Stones of Stenness, a relatively small Henge and Stone Circle dating from the 3rd millennium BC. Although comprising of a small number of stones, a couple are extremely tall with tops finished off at about 45 degrees.
Stones of Stenness, Orkney

Stones of Stenness, Orkney, Scotland

Next to the famous Maes Howe chambered cairn dating from the early 3rd millennium BC but featuring (internally) Viking runes (carved writing) and Viking graffiti.

Maes Howe, Orkney

Maes Howe, Orkney, Scotland

Maes Howe, Prehistoric Site

Maes Howe, Prehistoric Site, Orkney

This reminded me of Newgrange  in Ireland as it is of similar design and no doubt reflected common culture and contacts in those far off days.

Next we visited possibly the best known stone circle on Orkney, namely the Ring of Brodgar  which dates from the 3rd millennium BC. This is of considerable dimensions, in terms of both diameter and number of standing stones.

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, Scotland


We had lunch close to Brodgar, on a pleasant coastal view point.

After lunch we experienced another dip into pre-history as manifested by the 3rd millennium BC Unstan Chambered Cairn. A smaller version of Maes Howe and also featuring Viking runic inscription. Unstan is a so-called stalled cairn. The entrance passage is incredibly narrow requiring manoeuvring on all fours.

Unstan Chambered Cairn, Orkney

Unstan Chambered Cairn, Orkney, Scotland


Inside Unstan Chambered Cairn, Orkney

Inside Unstan Chambered Cairn, Orkney, Scotland

Next we drove to the harbour town of Stromness, a very old and impressive place which is also an important ferry terminal. Here we had plenty of time to stroll the length of this town viewing the interesting and sometimes quaint architecture. Stromness has numerous famous sons and daughters and in past times a close association with the Hudson Bay Trading Company. Captain Cook called here to provision his fleet.

Stromness  Water Front

Stromness Water Front, Scotland

Stromness Water Front, Orkney

Stromness Water Front, Orkney, Scotland

Next we headed back towards Orphir with a brief stop to learn about various naval disasters including scuppering of the German fleet in 1919 and sinking of the Royal Oak.

Next to St. Nicholas Church, Orphir and excavated remains of Viking Earls’ Hall dating from the early 12th century.

Viking Earls Hall, Orkney

Viking Earls Hall, Orkney, Scotland

Finally, we returned to our Kirkwall hotel about 5.15pm.

Weather was kind to us with little rain.