My visit to Orkney last month was not my first. I went there as a youngster with my family more than half-a-century ago. I don't remember too much of Kirkwall from that holiday. But I do remember visiting St Magnus Cathedral, which describes itself as 'the Light in the North', and then my parents chancing across the workshop of a local master craftsman, Reynold Eunson, who had been responsible for some of the superb wood carvings in the redesigned cathedral chapel to St Rognvald.
My parents bought a wooden bust by Eunson - a likeness of St Rognvald, and based on the full-size carving in St Magnus. I still have it.
You can see how precisely it was based on Eunson's statue of St Rognvald in the cathedral, which is below.
Rognvald was a Norwegian Earl of Orkney who in 1137 initiated the building of Kirkwall's cathedral. He took part in a crusade, was canonised, and is also remembered in the names of two of Orkney's islands, North Ronaldsay and South Ronaldsay.
Reynold Eunson also made traditional Orkney chairs and stools. My parents bought a child's chair and a stool - God know how they got them back to Yorkshire - and the chair, rather marvellously, bears Eunson's mark.
Remembering Kitchener on Orkney - and the 736 others who died when HMS Hampshire was sunk
The 48-feet tall stone tower on top of these dramatic Atlantic-facing sea cliffs on Orkney is the Kitchener Memorial. I chanced across it (yes, really!) last week when going for a walk from Birsay in the north-west corner of Orkney's mainland to see the spectacular seabirds which nest on these cliffs.
There's quite a story attached. Here it is!
The memorial is to Horatio Herbert Kitchener - the guy with the splendid moustache, who featured on the 'Your Country Needs You!' poster (though that's not quite how the original read).
He was an arch imperialist and rather brutal military figure, serving in Egypt, Sudan, South Africa and India. On the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, already in his mid-60s, Kitchener was made Secretary of State for War, a senior cabinet post.
On 5 June 1916, Kitchener embarked on the HMS Hampshire - an armed cruiser launched in 1903 and shown below - at Scapa Flow in Orkney. He was part of a secret mission to discuss the prosecution of the war with Tsarist Russia - a story that's told here.
That same day, in stormy conditions, HMS Hampshire hit a mine laid by a German U-Boat and sank.
Kitchener drowned and his body was never retrieved. A total of 737 - let me repeat that, 737 - men were lost with the Hampshire, including all the members of the mission to Russia.
There were just twelve survivors.
The memorial was placed here looking out at the spot where the HMS Hampshire went down with such heavy loss of life.
The Kitchener Memorial was unveiled about a decade after the tragedy it commemorates. A century after the Hampshire went down, the Orkney Heritage Society raised money for a very effective curved commemorative wall which lists all those who lost their lives on the Hampshire.
It is a windswept but wonderful spot - the tower is visible from some distance away, but it's quite a hike getting up their from Birsay village. It's worth the effort!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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