Kirkwall is the largest town and capital of the Orkney Islands, an archipelago of islands some 10 miles off the north coast of Scotland. Founded around 1035 by Earl Rognvald Brusason, the City and Royal Burgh of Kirkwall is the capital and administrative centre of Orkney. The name comes from the Old Norse, ‘Kirkjuvagar’ meaning ‘church-bay’ and refers to a much older church than the present day Cathedral.
The original town is one of the best preserved examples of an ancient Norse town. At the heart of the town stands St Magnus Cathedral, its tower and spire widely visible across both land and sea. It was founded in memory of Saint Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney 1108-1117 by Earl (later saint) Rögnvald Kali. Next to the Cathedral are the ruins of the former Bishop’s Palace and Earl’s Palace. The town has two museums: Tankerness House Museum, which is contained within one of Scotland’s best-preserved sixteenth century town-houses, contains items of local historical interest. The prehistoric, Pictish and Viking collections are of international importance. The other museum is the small ‘Wireless Museum’, dealing with the history of radio and recorded sound.
Kirkwall is one of the most attractive and well-preserved small towns in Scotland. Apart from the main historical buildings, mentioned above, there are many 17th-18th century houses and other structures in the local vernacular style. The ‘Kirk’ of Kirkwall was not the Cathedral (which was originally at Birsay), but the 11th century church of St. Olaf of Norway. One late medieval doorway survives from this church. An aumbry from the original church survives within the late 19th Century structure of the present-day St. Olaf’s Church (Anglican) in the town’s Dundas Crescent. Kirkwall also once had a medieval castle (destroyed in the 17th century).
Things to see and do
* Bishop’s Palace & Earl’s Palace
* Highland Park Distillery
* Orkney Museum
* St Magnus Cathedral
Cruise Season – March to Nov
Currency – Pound Sterling (£)
Language – English and Gaelic
Land Area – 78,782 km² (Scotland)
Population – 8,500
Electricity – British-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade
Time –GMT/UTC plus one hour
International Country Telephone Code – + 44
Port Location – Cruise ships moor at Hatson, a short distance around the bay from Kirkwall.
Transport Links – Loganair a subsidiary of British Airways fly to and from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen and the Shetland Islands from Kirkwall’s airport. Local routes also connect the other Orkney Islands to Kirkwall. Northlink Ferries travel several times a week during the night between Kirkwall and Lerwick and Aberdeen. The Northlink terminal is about 20 minutes walk from the town centre, although there is a connecting bus for the sailings. Orkney Ferries link Kirkwall at least daily with Eday, Sanday, Stonsay, North Ronaldsay and Westray. Several ferries a day go to and from Shapinsay, but only a couple a week to Papa Westray. The ferry port is right in the town centre.
Frequent Orkney Buses link Kirkwall with Stromness, passing the neolithic sights at Stenness. Buses also go West to Tingwall and Birsay and South to St Margaret’s Hope and Burwick (in summer). The bus station has left luggage facilities and is close to the town centre.