Reflections on Orkney

Last weekend I took a trip with my parents to visit Orkney and see St Magnus Cathedral’s ‘Weeping Window’ of several thousand poppies; part of commemorations for the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of World War One (Orkney’s Scapa Flow was the base for the British Navy’s Grand Fleet during the war.) It was certainly worth the visit to pay our respects and the display makes for a beautiful tribute. ‘Poppies – Weeping Window’ will be on display at the St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, until the 12th June.

 Elsewhere on Orkney there are other emotional reminders of the island’s wartime history, the most poignant of which is perhaps Lamb Holm’s Italian Chapel, a beautiful Roman Catholic Chapel built by Italian Prisoners of War during World War Two. Only the hardest of hearts could fail to be moved by the story of Domenico Chiocchetti and his fellow prisoners, who constructed the Chapel, or the affection with which they and their families held the Orcadian people throughout their lives.  You get a sense when visiting the Chapel and learning about its history that you have somehow witnessed the very best of human nature. That feeling keeps me heading to the Chapel every time I’m on the island.

‘People cannot be judged by their precarious situations. Their culture, spirit and will to express themselves in creative thoughts and deeds are stronger than any limitation to freedom.’ Camp 60 POW. (From ‘Orkney’s Italian Chapel’ booklet)

Italian Chapel Orkney
The Italian Chapel

Another, perhaps lesser known, part of Orkney’s poignant history is ‘Happy Valley’, a hidden gem of nature in the parish of Stenness. Created by Edwin Harrold, who wanted to live out a quiet existence after returning from World War Two; it was built between 1948 and the 1990’s and includes a waterfall, trees and pretty gardens abundant in wild flowers. Whilst he was alive, Mr Harrold encouraged locals to visit and enjoy his miniature forest (unique in Orkney’s mainly treeless landscape), and indeed, my parents recently reminded me of a childhood visit to Happy Valley where we met and spoke to him. Following Edwin’s death in 2005, the local council took over ownership of Happy Valley and a group called the ‘Friends of Happy Valley’ help maintain the gardens. In 2011 Orkney Islands Council declared Happy Valley an official nature reserve. Along with so many other places in Orkney, you are struck when wandering around that it is a place to reflect on human endeavour and the desire to do something wonderful.

Happy Valley
Happy Valley

Directions to Happy Valley (it is not signposted): When heading towards Stromness from Kirkwall, turn left at the crossroads before going into Stenness (along the single track road signposted Bigswell). Go along this road for a mile or so (you will see trees in the distance). There is a sign for a jewellers on the right; take the turning (to the right) after this, where you will find a parking area – head through the gate in front of you past the old cottage, and enjoy.