A few miles south of Birsay, is St Peter’s Church, Sandwick – HY 234198. It is a very dramatic setting, on the north side of the Bay of Skaill. It is rather nice closer up, and there is parking next to it. There was a “Church open” sign, so I opened the door. It is now in the care of the Scottish Churches Trust – website.
The kirk was built in 1836 on an ancient site. The earlier church had fallen into disrepair. The Reverend Charles Clouston, minister at the time, wrote that it was “in a very bad state of repair … the roof being so old that no patch seems to remain longer than the commencement of the first gale of wind: That it is consequently so intolerably cold that I have been twice severely indisposed from exposure in it.” Not a happy man.
Some of the material was re-used, but there is also a tradition (written about by George Mackay Brown) of the women of the parish bringing new stone from a local quarry, each piece carried on their backs. As the leaflet says “built by the people for the people.”
It is a simple rectangular preaching space, simple outside, simple inside. The pulpit is the focal point of the interior – it takes me back to my Baptist days, I have preached from some formidable pulpits in my time. Here, even into the C20 sermons would last an hour (even as a good Baptist 25 minutes was long enough). The lower desk was for the precentor – I’ve been a precentor in some formidable places too.
Electricity and water were never installed in this church, but it remained an important place for the community. On many occasions storms caused shipwrecks, on one occasion it included a consignment of gin which was stored in the church to keep it safe, on the orders of the minister. (If the minister had had a daughter like mine living in the manse, the gin would not have been safe). The War Memorial reminds us what happened to some local men, and there is another memorial in the churchyard.
The C20 saw a decline in churchgoing so after 150 years (not long in the history of Christianity) the church closed in 1988. Restoration was complete by 2008 – and the work has won awards.
Outside is rather lovely too – fascinating stones. It is wonderful how well the church and churchyard are kept – I wish I could persuade Derby to keep my churchyard so immaculately.
A couple of miles south of St Peter’s is the wonderful Skara Brae – Historic Scotland – website. It is very atmospheric – a village that is 5,000 years old, with houses and furniture. Here are three pictures.
A couple of miles north of St Peter’s is Marwick Bay and on Sunday 9 July I left Julie in the sun with a book while I walked up to the Kitchener Monument. It is a strenuous walk up the cliffs – I am a Fenman after all – but the views are wonderful. The monument is, as the name suggests, a memorial to Lord Kitchener who died, with many others, in HMS Hampshire in June 1916. Here is a website. Since I last walked here, a memorial wall has been added with the names of all those who went down. I like the fact that HH Kitchener is just one of the names. A memorial plaque also names HM Drifter Laurel Crowe, another ship sunk by mines in the area, and gives details of the German submarine S.M. U-75 which laid the mines. They are all victims of War.