After an interesting night’s (semi) sleep we arrived at the port of Kirkwall in the Orkneys around 7am. I actually felt a bit peckish so leaving Debbie to have a bit more rest I had a restrained breakfast ( coffee and a bit of yogurt) and went out on the windswept deck.
The Astoria was tied up at Hatston pier liner berth about 2.5 miles away from the bus station in the town centre but a complimentary shuttle bus had been provided by the port to encourage passengers to explore the town which is only 6 miles north of Scotland and closer to Oslo than London.
After a quick circuit of the ship’s promenade deck I returned to our cabin and extolled the delight’s of going ashore to a half reluctant Debbie who was relaxing comfortably and didn’t want to be rushed!
I was probably more eager due to the connection with my father’s World War 2 service in Royal Navy, he’d talked to me previously about the sinking of HMS Royal Oak by a German U boat in the British naval base at Scapa Flow in 1939. I knew from him that there was a memorial to the men lost in the medieval St. Magnus Cathedral in town that I was keen to visit.
Eventually “she who must be obeyed” was ready to disembark down a rather steep gangway to the port and we made our way against a ferocious headwind towards the shuttle bus where thoughtfully they provided us with the following street map. We didn’t have long to explore as “all aboard” time was only 11.30am with the ship departing at noon for Honfleur our next port of call!
The first thing I noticed about the island was how much infrastructure there was for holding oil and how low the buildings were next to the sea – no doubt with the cold gales prevalent in the area this made a lot of sense – it seems a miracle to us that the Captain had been able to dock in the first place!
On arrival at the small bus station we headed straight for a coffee shop to warm ourselves up, it was packed with locals and we were lucky to get a seat. Next we made our way to the Cathedral, founded in 1137, which was quite tricky to get in as at first we couldn’t find the entrance which was on the other side of the building, but once in it was very impressive. The skull and crossbones gravestone (representing death) once covered a burial in the nave, but the remains were later exhumed and reburied in the graveyard centuries later.
Next, I found in the north choir aisle what I was looking for, namely the brass bell from HMS Royal Oak the sunk battleship. The case below holds a Book of Remembrance to honour those who died and the pages are turned every week. That day at least 3 boy sailors were named alongside their shipmates which meant they were under 18 years old when they perished along with their 830 shipmates.
After lighting three candles to remember my father and Debbie’s parents, we left for a quick exploration of the High Street and an old “junk”shop (I do love mooching) followed by a vinyl record fair where we picked up about 10 x 7 inch picture singles for £10 (Debbie loves her vinyl)!
Realising that the blizzard conditions weren’t going to improve we headed back to the bus station where luckily a shuttle was waiting to pick us up. You can see in the pictures below how cold we were even on the bus as we headed back to the Astoria…
Once safely back on board we had the Queen tribute show based on “We Will Rock You” to look forward to, which given the fact that of the 500 passengers on board the majority were a lot older than Debbie and I in our sprightly late 50’s I wondered how that would go down.
I was wrong happily and it was great seeing everyone clap and sing along to all the songs! The day previously with typical British war time spirit we had all made fun of the poor Eastern European electric guitarist who was so obviously sea sick he could only grip the handrail and watch his fellow musicians, not play, while getting paler and paler. This time he played fantastic guitar solos which raised the roof with appreciation!
Sadly for the other competitors on board it was a music quiz called “Name That Tune” and Debbie managed to win for our team a huge CMV goodie bag containing a blue plastic mug, ruler with magnifying glass and sewing mending kit to add to our haul of goodies. We got a lot of ribbing from both the quizmaster Simon and fellow passengers envious of our expertise…
By the end of the night I think the whole of the ships company & passengers had got used to the ship’s rolling in the rough seas and we all made our way back to our cabins safely, ready for another day at sea, as we sailed south towards our next port of call in France in two days time.