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29th August, 2016


Yet again we were blessed by lovely weather as we headed north up to the Orkneys. By coffee time on the following morning Saga Sapphire was passing through the Straits of Tiree, the CalMac ferry coming out of Coll as we passed. Muck to starboard, then Eigg, and Rum over to port; no, it’s not the ingredients to a cocktail, but three delightful islands just south of Skye. The highest, Rum, had the most superb looking cumulus cloud covering its 2,500 foot peak.

We followed the south west coast of Skye, sometimes only a mile or so off, and then it eventually dropped astern and we continued on towards Cape Wrath, but that was well into the night. The Pentland Firth, always to be respected by sailors of whatever kind,  passed under the keel without incident and we picked up the Kirkwall pilot on schedule. He had a ‘co-pilot’with him, a trainee who seemed a little intrigued with our classic lady and, I hope, the technique required for parking without damaging the paint work.

Kirkwall is interesting, particularly with its Viking cathedral, St. Magnus, but I tagged along on a tour over to Scapa Flow and the southernmost islands, across what is known the ‘Churchill Barriers’. These were built during the Second World War to close Scapa Flow from the east, thus helping to protect the naval base and the fleet anchored within the sheltered waters. We reached the tiny village of St. Margaret’s Hope and had time for a stroll, it was very peaceful and felt like having stepped back in time. Just a pub, a craft shop, some tired looking crab pots lying on a deserted quay and a cluster of weathered houses. There was, however, just half a mile down the road, a fast ferry that operates four times a day to the mainland. The 21st century encroaches.

We returned along the same road, stopping at the Italian Chapel. Built by the prisoners of war that were sent over to help construct the barriers, it is a very special legacy which the Islanders are very keen to look after. Known as the Miracle of Camp 60, it was completed by using two Nissan Huts and the religious art within is completely hand painted. These men, captured in the Libyan Desert, must have had quite a shock to suddenly find themselves in the Orkney Islands. Many of them however, came back after the war bringing their wives, proud to show them their creation. 

Captain Philip Rentell

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