Hoy, Orkney – The Kirk

On Monday 17 July we took the boat to the island of Hoy. It is about a 35 minute crossing to Lyness on Hoy, and then a 35 second drive up to the Scapa Flow visitors’ centre.

We had had a good morning here last time when we holidayed on Orkney. Today was half good. The café was great, the displays about wartime Scapa Flow were fascinating, and there was an interesting display about HMS Vanguard.

We spent quite a while in their reading room – I read a file about the Otter Bank mobile boat bank. There are some lovely pictures at this website, and a film “Bank Ahead” was produced in the late 1960s. There is a reference to it here, but the film does not seem to be available (which is a shame).

We then borrowed their disabled buggy to go and see the displays in the oil tank, but the buggy was out of charge, and the path was not wheelchair friendly. That was a shame. Last time they had had interesting dvds on sale too – I purchased “Echoes”, a superb 2007 film about the War on Orkney (produced by Moya McDonald, Another Orkney production).

We got in the car and drove north, stopping at Hoy Kirk, which is now a heritage centre. It is believed that there was a church in this area about 1650, and another parish church was built in 1780. It seems to have lasted about 15 years because of the quality of the materials. The current church dates to 1892.

The panels of the pulpit are reputed to have come from a Spanish Armada wreck, although the carved date is later. The date 1624 and initials HMS commemorate the minister of the parish.

The crucifix is carved from wood salvaged from HMS Vanguard. The battleship sank off Flotta after internal explosions in 1917, with the loss of 800 lives. The cross was made by the late Harry Berry, described on a board as “local artist and Custom and Excise Officer” – am I being cynical, I wonder how often the two go together? More about him soon.

The Hoy Kirk was badly damaged by storms in January 1952. Funds were raised for the restoration – including by an exhibition tour of a piece of needlework embroidery by Queen Mary.

The Friends of Hoy Church was set up in 2003. They relocated the pulpit, removed the pews and renovated the Kirk to make it a community venue. I am very pleased that this church – and others – are in use as community venues, but find it sad that their previous use is not regarded as “community use”. A warning for those of us in the Church of England who are starting to realise our buildings may be surplus to requirements. How do we get them to be used and supported by the whole community before they close for worship, rather than after?

There is a good deal of information about the history of the church, lots of village archives, and a good display of fascinating bits and pieces.

There was a kitchen with tea, coffee, biscuits (help yourself for a donation). Loo too – Julie comments how many excellent disabled loos there are on Orkney.

There was an exhibition of photographs from the collection of Harry Berry – the artist and Customs’ Officer He was born in Peckham, London in 1905, and joined the Royal Navy at 15. He settled in Lyness on Hoy, married local girl Jeannie Guthrie, and apparently never left Orkney. Lots of photos of ships and boats.

The composer Peter Maxwell Davis lived on Hoy for several years, and they have a display about him and his work – website – I hope no one minds me using this photo.

We listened to a lovely piece called “Lullaby for Lucy”. It is a setting of George Mackay Brown’s acrostic lines for the birth of Lucy Rendall, the first baby born in Rackwick for 32 years – it would be great to do it with Derventio (the choir we sing with in Derby).  It is on youtube.

Let all plants and creatures of the valley now


Calling a new

Young one to join the celebration.


Rowan and lamb and waters salt and sweet

Entreat the

New child to the brimming

Dance of the valley,

A pledge and a promise.

Lonely they were long, the creatures of Rackwick, till

Lucy came among them, all brightness and light.



Among the various books and papers to read was Magnus Mackay’s College project about the Post Office. His great grandfather, Isaac Bremner, was the post master on Hoy – and Chairman of the Sub Postmasters Association of Scotland.

The project also contained a photo of Miss Isabella Nicholson from the Burnmouth in Rackwick, who was the delivery girl for Rackwick. She would collect the mail from the post box there, walk to the Post Office, then return home making her deliveries. I wonder how many miles she walked every day.

I hope Magnus doesn’t mind me reproducing his photos – the social and economic history of the Post Office is fascinating. It is another of those great British organisations that was so much a part of our past – but I can’t remember the last time I went to one.

Finally, there is a room about the RSPB and nature reserves on the island – and these nice pictures from the  children at the school. North Walls School is the only school on the island. Their website says they have 18 children plus 7 nursery children. I love the tag line – “We believe is takes a whole island to educate a child”. Well done whoever came up with that!

We headed back to Lyness Naval Cemetery. I went for a wander. It is an evocative place. HMS Hampshire, HMS Vanguard, HMS Barham – and naval ships called Blond and Sunflower (I bet sailors serving on those got a lot of stick). The cemetery was begun in 1915. There are 445 Commonwealth burials of WW1, 109 of which are unidentified. The 200 burials of WW2 include 26 men from the Royal Oak, the ship’s final resting place in Scapa Flow is also a War grave.

There is an area of German burials – 14 from the Navy – and some from other faiths.

There are several websites about the cemetery – here is the first, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

There are graves from HMS Barham and the action of the Battle of Jutland.

There is information about Henry Dixon Dixon-Wright here, and about HMS Barham here. She was sunk off Malta on 25 November 1941. In November 2011 Gareth and I attended the Remembrance Service at Westminster Abbey – the last one when the survivors paraded the Standard to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior – website. It was a very emotional moment, one I will never forget.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,

We will remember them.







This entry was posted in Personal, Scotland, World War 1. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *