There is another little place I want to whisk you to on our virtual visit to Orkney because, as everyone says, if you go to Orkney you absolutely must see the Italian Chapel so we did.
In fact the first time we stopped by (on our way to Hoxa Tapestry) we were followed in by a coachload of tourists...I know we were tourists too, I'm not knocking them, but we knew it would be too crowded to see anything, so we returned later in the day... only to find they were about to start a service so it was still rather a quick look.
The chapel is a relic of Camp 60 which was home to several hundred Italian prisoners during the Second World War, captured during the Italian campaign and sent to Orkney to help construct the Churchill Barriers.
The Barriers were fascinating too, and not only for the way they sought to create an attack proof defence of Scapa Flow after the sinking of the Royal Oak. On 14 October 1939, Royal Oak was anchored at Scapa Flow when she was torpedoed by a maverick German submarine. Of Royal Oak's complement of 1,234 men and boys, 833 were killed that night or died later of their wounds.
We drove alongside Scapa Flow, and on the morning of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. We had the service on the radio and as I stopped to take this picture the Diamond children's choir were singing that beautiful anthem, and the words 'I am here...I am with you...' floated out of the car. It is hard to imagine that wartime carnage at such a time of national pride and celebration, and taking place in waters that looked so utterly benign and peaceful ...
Whilst it is also hard to imagine what such exposure to war must have felt like for the Orcadians, who could surely have expected to be so far-removed and remote from it all but for the fact their islands possess 120 square miles of the most sheltered and natural anchorages in the world, large enough for several naval fleets. War artist Eric Ravilious knew it well too...
We paid homage at the Royal Oak memorial in St Magnus Cathedral while we were there. Never forgotten...
The Tinker, as that fourteen-year old boy bugler, was sent to the battleships on Scapa Flow just a few months after the sinking of the Royal Oak, which is now a designated war grave. The Churchill barriers are also interesting for the way they subtly changed the face of the islands, several of them were bridged by the barriers, and thus in road rather than boat contact with each other for the first time.
The Italian prisoners felt the lack of a chapel very keenly, as did the War Office Inspector of P.O.W. Camps who urged the provision of one, and in 1943 two Nissen huts were made available, placed end to end and joined together to create the framework. As luck would have it one of the prisoners was the artist Domenico Chiocchetti who set to and proceeded to paint the frescos on the inside. This picture of Chiocchetti's return to do some restoration work in 1960 feels highly symbolic of the mutual respect accorded by both sides despite any wartime enmity and, as the guide books suggests 'the way that faith can flourish in adversity.'
The chapel really is a beautiful little treasure now lovingly preserved, a real and unexpected jewel. Quite breathtaking when you step inside and then marvel at how so much was created by so few, and with minimal resources beyond faith and dedication and a lot of talent.
Everything you see...every brick and stone effect is painted onto a plasterboard surface.
and all lovingly preserved, hallowed and respected as part of Orkney's historic heritage as much as any Neolithic village.
Talking of which, you might like to get your jumpers on, we will be taking a bracing evening walk up to the Ring of Brodgar next, and bring along your archaeology trowel, we might have ourselves a bit of a virtual dig.