Italian Chapel and Tomb of the Eagles

Churchill Barrier from Italian Chapel
Churchill Barrier from Lamb Holm

The southeast corner of Mainland Orkney is connected to a string of smaller islands by four causeways: the Churchill Barriers. These were built in the Second World War to protect the huge natural harbour of Scapa Flow after a German U-Boat sunk HMS Royal Oak in October 1939. We crossed the Barriers to visit the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm and the Tomb of the Eagles on South Ronaldsay.

Italian Chapel

Approaching the Italian Chapel head on, you would think it was a stone church. In fact, it was built by Italian prisoners of war out of two Nissen huts and assorted junk! Nothing is what it seems inside either – the brickwork and carvings are all painted plasterboard and the altar is moulded concrete, as is the statue outside of St George slaying the dragon. This is symbolic of the prisoners’ triumph over defeat and loneliness during their years of captivity – no wonder the chapel is also known as the Miracle of Camp 60.

Tomb of the Eagles

Farmer Ronald Simison discovered this neolithic tomb on his land in 1958 – the name refers to the talons and carcasses of sea-eagles which were found alongside human remains. When we visited 19 years ago, Mr Simison was still very much around and the museum was located in the conservatory of the farmhouse: you could even handle the objects, including skulls. Now there is a purpose-built museum with guides to show you the artefacts, but it’s strictly no touching. The tomb itself is a mile along a beautiful cliff walk, passing on the way a Bronze Age burnt mound (prehistoric rubbish dump, basically) and a memorial stone to Ronald and his wife Morgan.

The entrance to the tomb is only 33″ / 85 cm high. Knee pads are available if you wish to crawl, or you can pull yourself in by trolley and rope. 19 years ago, I didn’t have a second thought. This time, I took one look at the entrance and claustrophobia took over. This will be the first of several posts featuring John emerging from a hole in the ground that I was too nervous to go down!

Brough of Deerness and Mull Head

When we returned to the Mainland, we stopped for a walk on its easternmost peninsula, Deerness. We started at the Gloup, a collapsed sea cave with the tide flowing in and out through a natural arch. Next, the Brough of Deerness – a grassy promontory accessed by a precipitous path and steps (when you see a chain fixed to the rock, you know it’s trouble) with the remains of a Norse or Pictish monastic site in the centre. I coped with that, but when we continued on along the cliffs of Mull Head I didn’t enjoy it at all. The path was very close to the edge and there was a strong wind – though I’m here telling you about it, so rest assured I didn’t get blown away.

Coming next: standing stones and visiting an archeological dig.



25 thoughts on “Italian Chapel and Tomb of the Eagles

  1. Karen Thorburn September 10, 2015 / 11:46

    Glad you enjoyed Orkney and it looks like you got nice weather. I had a holiday on Mainland Orkney and Westray a couple of years ago and loved it. I ran out of time to visit the Tomb of the Eagles but this looks to be well worth a visit!


    • Anabel Marsh September 10, 2015 / 12:01

      Thanks for commenting, Karen. Yes – we had a wonderful time. I’ve just followed the link to your blog which looks fabulous – I’ll be following along from now on.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Suzanne et Pierre September 10, 2015 / 14:17

    These nice photos certainly bring back nice memories of our own visit to Orkney a long time ago (in 1994 I think)…(Suzanne)


    • Anabel Marsh September 10, 2015 / 14:26

      That was even before our first visit (1997) – not much has changed!


  3. Pit September 10, 2015 / 14:47

    Hi Anabel,
    That Italian Chapel is really interesting. Who would have tought you could find one there!
    Have a wonderful time,


    • Anabel Marsh September 10, 2015 / 14:57

      It’s amazing to think what they achieved with such unpromising materials. It’s truly beautiful.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nadine Feldman (@Nadine_Feldman) September 10, 2015 / 16:40

    I was surprised by the headline alone! What a lovely chapel, and so unexpected. My mind flashed to many years ago when I was driving around Wisconsin and happened to find a chapel covered with seashells and stones from all over the world. It looked almost garish at first, but it was stunning — and also unexpected.

    I’m with you on the claustrophobia and steep cliffs. I’m getting worse on dealing with both these days.


    • Anabel Marsh September 10, 2015 / 17:31

      That church sounds interesting! More to come on cliffs when I totally terrify myself at what I did 19 years ago…,,


  5. Birgit September 10, 2015 / 20:53

    The chapel is so pretty and what a way to keep busy! I would have 2nd thoughts to go in that small place also just thinking about spiders and such. The other walk i can just see myself needing a paper bag to breathe into


  6. clicksclan September 13, 2015 / 14:36

    That church is beautiful. It’s amazing how it was just put together with bits and pieces.

    I don’t blame you for not going down the hole. I’ve never been into the dungeon at Rothesay Castle because I couldn’t face climbing down into the opening.


    • Anabel Marsh September 13, 2015 / 16:54

      I’m getting more feart in my old age – and less supple too!


  7. Eli September 13, 2015 / 21:04

    Oh, I realised that this is a place I have not yet visited, but that I would really like to go to! So much common history and sights. Thanks for sharing Anabel:-)


    • Anabel Marsh September 13, 2015 / 22:10

      Glad you like it, and hope you can visit some day.


  8. akaushiva September 14, 2015 / 12:01

    Such an interesting place. I haven’t been to Orkney…one more place added to my ‘to visit’ list! 🙂 Glad I found your blog.


  9. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) September 16, 2015 / 12:56

    I can see why you didn’t want to go down that hole! I always think I’m not claustrophobic until I’m faced with a situation like that…and then it rears its ugly head. Same thing with my fear of heights; I thought I would be ok going on a high ropes course, but when I got up there, I clutched a tree and refused to move until they let me come down!


    • Anabel Marsh September 16, 2015 / 13:23

      That would be me! We have one of those Go Ape sites nearby and John is keen to go but I’m not. I don’t mind heights as such, but not combined with exposure and/or fear of falling or slipping. Help!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jessica (Diverting Journeys) September 16, 2015 / 13:28

        That’s exactly what it is for me too. I’m fine with going to the enclosed top of a skyscraper or something, but if it’s a situation where I could potentially fall off, it’s not for me.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. jazzfeathers September 18, 2015 / 22:17

    Well, I’ve just told you that I found my favourite post of yours… and now I’m in trouble, because I like this post a lot too.
    That chappel is incredible, and truly speaks of the strength of men.
    And those cliffs??? Stunnning! (hey, I’ll be posting cliffs on my blog soon too. I’m just back from Ireland 😉 )


  11. lisadorenfest September 19, 2015 / 23:05

    That chapel (and the backstory) is incredibly beautiful. And The Gloup and Mull Head are magnificent creations of nature!


  12. Eunice October 18, 2015 / 19:30

    The Italian chapel is truly stunning, it’s amazing how something so beautiful has been created out of a such a hotch-potch of materials – I love it 🙂


    • Anabel Marsh October 18, 2015 / 19:41

      It’s amazing what the POWs achieved under the circumstances.


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