Wyre and Egilsay, Orkney
Please read about a day amongst the small islands to the north of Orkney mainland, where M/S Stockholm, in true expedition style, found shelter and its passengers got to wander in the footsteps of Vikings.
Thursday 25th April 2019
Strong winds and storms were disrupting ferries and transport all over Britain but, in true expedition style, we managed to find shelter amongst the small islands to the north of Orkney ‘mainland’. As so often, necessity produces wonderful and un-looked for gems. The tiny island of Wyre is occupied by a handful of small farms and we came ashore to a cheery welcome from the only person we met there, who was leaving on the ferry for a day’s shopping in Kirkwall. As we walked across to the far shore amidst crumbling stone cottages, the air was filled with the songs of skylarks. The islands of Orkney and Shetland are steeped in Viking history and, near the centre of the island, we discovered a beautiful roofless chapel of the 1100s, built of old red sandstone, charming in its simplicity. It is associated with Bishop Bjarni who was a famous Norse poet. Uphill from the chapel stood ‘Cubbie Roo’s Castle’, a stronghold constructed even earlier in the 1100s by Bjarni’s father Viking lord Kolbein Hruga, about whom many legends are told.
The afternoon took us to the neighbouring island of Egilsay where, famously, St Magnus was martyred in 1116 or 1117. The story of this incident at the hands of his cousin Earl Haakon is told in the Orkneyinga saga. Afterwards miracles started to occur, and eventually the magnificent Norse cathedral in Kirkwall was built as a shrine to Orkney’s patron saint. On Egilsay another near-intact church of the 1100s is dedicated to St Magnus, and was the sunny scene of our afternoon tea. Today the island is an idyll of peace and tranquillity, of nature reserves where birds of many species flourish, and where small farms still bear the names given to them by Viking ancestors a thousand years ago.
Text: Carol Knott