Kirkwall from the Bishop's Palace
Kirkwall from the Bishop’s Palace
We spent our week in Orkney in its capital, Kirkwall. It’s not a large town, but it has a cathedral, two palaces and a couple of interesting museums.

St Magnus Cathedral

Right in the centre is the cathedral, founded in 1137. Magnus, Earl of Orkney, was murdered in 1117 on the orders of his cousin, Hakon. He died praying, and stories grew of miracles at his grave. When his nephew, Rognvald, came from Norway to claim the Earldom, he promised to build the cathedral in his uncle’s honour. Rognvald himself was murdered in 1158 and also became a saint – the bones of both men lie within the cathedral’s walls.

The Palaces

South of the Cathedral are the ruins of the Earl’s and Bishop’s Palaces. The Earl in question was the notorious Patrick Stewart – we last met him in Scalloway Castle, another of his dwellings. He used forced labour to build the palace In Kirkwall between 1600 and 1607, but was only able to enjoy it for a short time before he was imprisoned and charged with treason in 1610. Foolishly, he encouraged his son, Robert, to organise an insurrection. It didn’t end well for them: Robert was hanged and his father beheaded in 1615. It’s not likely that the people of Orkney and Shetland shed many tears, as the Stewart Earls had a reputation for despotism and extortion. You have to admire Patrick’s taste though – his Palace is a beautiful example of Scottish Renaissance architecture.

The Bishop’s Palace is less well-preserved, much of what is left dating to the time of Bishop Robert Reid (1541-58). Climbing the tower allows a good view of Kirkwall (see top of post) and an additional perspective on the Cathedral.

Museums and Library

Orkney Museum is housed in the 16th century Tankerness House (look to the right of the lamp-post in the picture of Broad Street and the Mercat Cross below. It’s the house with the arched entrance: you can also see it in the top picture). It’s interesting, but feels rather old-fashioned after visiting Shetland’s splendid new museum in Lerwick. We had a go at writing our names in runes and strolled round the adjoining gardens.

The tiny Wireless Museum is packed to the roof with antique equipment. I found some of the displays of interest from a social history point of view, but the technical stuff was lost on me. As a quid pro quo, our next port of call was – you’ve guessed it – Orkney Library. This is a very special place – read more on my other blog, Adventures of a Retired Librarian.

Streets of Orkney

Wandering the streets from the Cathedral down to the harbour will while away a happy hour.

Orkney by night

The cathedral and the streets around it take on an attractive glow by night. We spent one happy evening in The Reel listening to traditional music from the Orkney Strathspey and Reel Society (and enjoying some local beer at the same time).

Kirkwall was a good base for exploring Orkney’s Mainland and a wee bit beyond. Coming next: The Italian Chapel and Tomb of the Eagles.


24 thoughts on “Kirkwall

  1. Pit September 7, 2015 / 14:15

    Hi Anabel,
    Again, as I’ll very likely never get there, thanks for taking me around Kirkwall. 🙂
    Have a wonderful week,


  2. Sarah Ferguson September 7, 2015 / 17:08

    Very cool – the Earl’s Palace especially looks like a great place to explore (though something tells me I would particularly enjoy the nightlife – at least until my bedtime!).


    • Anabel Marsh September 7, 2015 / 17:13

      I’m sure there would have been all-night revelry somewhere had we looked for it, but this session ended quite early. We didn’t have to stay up late! We’d never get anywhere in the morning if we did.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Birgit September 7, 2015 / 19:28

    Oh this looks like a beautiful town and a great cathedral. Love the history and the papalce, or what is left of it. Amazing fireplace


    • Anabel Marsh September 7, 2015 / 20:03

      Probably get several roast oxen in there! It’s huge.


  4. Su Leslie September 7, 2015 / 21:03

    Thanks again for this lovely journey. My dream trip for next time I’m in the UK is taking shape!


  5. Eli Ert September 8, 2015 / 21:25

    Hey, Norway calling:-) Seems I chose a good day to visit, dear Anabel. Lovely post, interesting to read about – I have never been there, but got curious now:-)


  6. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) September 9, 2015 / 14:19

    I never knew there was so much to see in Orkney! That Wireless Museum sounds rather like many small, highly specialised museums I’ve been to (Bakelite comes to mind)…where you have to be REALLY into the subject matter to enjoy yourself.


  7. lisadorenfest September 10, 2015 / 02:16

    What a delightful mix of grandeur (The Cathedrals) and charm (the streets). The palace ruins are also magnificent. Your images make me keen to visit there someday.


  8. Donna September 11, 2015 / 05:48

    How fun! Touring castles, cathedrals and libraries sounds like a perfect way to spend a vacation. Beautiful pictures!


  9. Alex Hurst September 16, 2015 / 03:38

    Those early evening shots are gorgeous! How wonderful! I would love to take a stroll through there.


    • Anabel Marsh September 16, 2015 / 07:46

      Much more pleasant in the evening – you actually get quite a lot of cars through those narrow streets during the day.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. jazzfeathers September 18, 2015 / 22:07

    Loved this post, Anabel. One of my favourites so far 🙂
    And how gorgeous is that first photo?????


I'd love to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s