Monday, June 18, 2018

A Tipple or Two

Capture 2

A Tipple or Two

Yesterday our ship visited the Orkney Islands which is an archipelago in the northern isles of Scotland. Altogether the Orkneys are composed of approximately 70 islands of which 20 are inhabited. Our visit was to the largest island which is called “the mainland.” We put in to the administrative center which is Kirkwall. I might mention that there is a distillery on this island. Ah, well yes, moving on, I think it is particularly interesting to note that the islands have been inhabited for at least 8500 years. There are numerous ruins on them including the famous “Ring of Brodgar” which rivals “Stonehenge” in its majesty.

Having visited here on several occasions, most of the excursion opportunities that were offered did not seem to be of much interest. In particular, all of them required a significant amount of physical activity with the exception of one tour which mentioned that at the end it would visit a distillery. Obviously that was not the reason that I selected that particular excursion; however, getting to visit a distillery did not seem like such a bad idea at the end of a long day!

In the process of our morning tour, I learned some interesting bits of history. It is here in the Orkneys that the large body of water known as “Scappa Flow” is situated. These sheltered waters have been used by ships since prehistory, and played a critical role in both World War I and World War II. During the First World War, Great Britain sank a large number of ships in order to block all but the major channels into the bay. When the Second World War started, Great Britain was using Scappa Flow as a major naval facility, and they were operating on the assumption that no submarine could enter but through the main channel which they had protected. However, they were wrong. As it turns out, a U-boat was able to successfully navigate into the harbor, and there found that most of the fleet was not at anchor. There was one “World War I” battleship anchored in the harbor as the U-boats’ main target. That ship, however, was not really in active service. On it were 1800 young men who were being trained; the ship was sunk by the U-boat with the loss of over 800 young men.

At the time, Winston Churchill was First Lord of the British Admiralty. He flew to the islands immediately in order to assess the problem, whereupon, he ordered that all entrances into the bay be filled with junk and old ships as quickly as possible. Unfortunately there was not enough junk and material on the island to complete the task, and so Churchill ordered that concrete blocks weighing anywhere from 5 to 10 tons, be created and then dropped in the channels. When work was not going fast enough to suit him, he transferred 1200 Italian “prisoners of war” to the island in order that they could assist with the construction. Their arrival required that a facility be constructed to contain the “prisoners of war.” One of the demands made by the prisoners was that they be allowed to build their own chapel. It took some time before their demand was met, but what they were able to complete was truly a miracle! I really did not expect to see very much because from the outside the little structure looked like a Quonset hut. On the inside, however, every square inch had been meticulously prepared and painted such that the little chapel seemed like a large Cathedral. Truly, among their prisoners, they had some extremely talented artists.

The task of filling in the channels was completed successfully, and when the work was completed, a causeway was built between the islands. They are today called Churchill’s Causeway, and in our drive to the chapel, we crossed two of them in order to reach the little island where it was located. After our visit, we journeyed back into town this time to visit St. Magnus Cathedral. The Cathedral towers over the nearby distillery – ah I meant to say, the nearby town. It has a magnificent and stunning structure. Construction was begun in 1137, and took 300 years to complete. It was built primarily of sandstone, but a significant portion was also completed using brick. While everyone was viewing the church, I had an opportunity to walk around the little picturesque town of Kirkwall, and it was an absolutely charming place.

Finally, we got back into our bus and headed off to the world famous Highland Park Distillery. Over the years, I have visited a number of distilleries most of them in the United States, but never have I visited one like this! This distillery has been in continuous operation for over 125 years. Much of its original equipment is still in operation, and while it has grown somewhat over the years, it is still very much a small operation where the emphasis is on quality and not quantity.

Upon first arrival, everyone was given a dram of Highland Park 10 year old whiskey. After having a sip, we were told that by the end of the tour, we would be able to differentiate many of the things that we were tasting and smelling, and to be able to evaluate the differences in whiskey that had been aged longer. I will not go into great detail about the tour except to say that it took over two hours, and I was amazed at the small scale of the operation, and the repeated emphasis on their adherence to historical procedures.

So at the end, everyone was allowed to have a tipple, or two, or three which means that we were presented with a dram each of their 12-year-old whiskey, 15, and then 25-year-old. Now I will tell you that a dram seemed to be a very small amount in each class, but by the end of the tasting session, and on our bus ride back to the ship, I believe everyone on the bus was feeling the effects of our visit.

So all in all, I would say,

“I had a wonderful day in the Orkneys!”


No comments: