Kirkwall, from the Norse word Kirkjuvagr, meaning 'Church Bay', was probably founded
in the early 11th century. The town contains many buildings of interest, and is
the departure point for ferries to Shapinsay and the North Isles as well as bus
services to the East and West Mainland.
Aerial view of Kirkwall
(C) Richard Welsby
The most striking building in the town is that of St Magnus Cathedral. Construction
of this magnificent red sandstone building by master masons from Durham
started in 1137, and took about 15 years to complete. The Cathedral is owned
by the Orkney Islands Council and the people of Kirkwall, and although used
by the Church of Scotland, it is available to all denominations. A number
of interesting 17th century tombstones are on display inside the Cathedral,
bearing the motif of skull and crossed bones, hourglass, and coffin. Most
of the inscriptions are still legible, and with a little effort, may be
Close to St Magnus Cathedral are the remains of the Bishop's Palace, built
by Bishop William the Old in the 12th century, and then repaired and refurbished
in the middle of the 16th century. The Norwegian King Hakon died in the
Bishop's Palace in 1263 after suffering defeat in the battle of Largs.
The Earls Palace was built shortly after 1600 by Earl Patrick Stewart with
the use of forced labour. It was taken over by the Bishopric shortly after
The Tankerness House museum was originally the residence of church officials,
and contains a fascinating collection of Orcadian artefacts from neolithic
The Grain Earth House at Hatston is a souterrain similar to that at Rennibister.
It was discovered around 1827 but filled in until it was re-excavated in
1857. The house consists of a chamber approximately 4 metres by 2 metres
reached by a passage. It is slightly unusual in that a flight of steps lead
from ground level to the end of the passage.
Photograph courtesy of Richard Welsby
Ayre Hotel - 4 star hotel
in central Kirkwall
- high quality guest house accommodation
Copyright Orknet 1996