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On Wednesday, August 7th, we landed in Kirkwall, Orkney, with visits planned for two distilleries. Alternatively, guests could choose to visit the Italian Chapel and the Churchill Barriers. I would have liked to have seen the Italian Chapel, which was a Catholic church built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II. However, since we booked the cruise for whisky and Bill wanted to visit Scapa Distillery, I opted to go with him. Besides the fact that there was whisky being offered, the visit to the distillery also involved a shorter bus ride, which I preferred. I don’t really like riding in coaches, even when they are attached to luxury cruise ships.

Highland Park Distillery was first on the itinerary. Those who didn’t want to go to the distillery could explore Kirkwall independently. Kirkwall appeared to be a pretty cool little town. It even has a Wireless Museum, which didn’t interest me, but intrigued at least one person on the ship. Actually, reading up on it today, I think I might have found it interesting if we’d stopped in.

Highland Park Distillery has an interesting history that dates back over 200 years. We had two guides, Harry and William– no relation to the princes– who gave us the scoop on how the distillery came to be, back when Orkney was still part of Norway. Naturally, the tour included a few drams of Highland Park’s whiskys, as well as souvenir glasses. They have a nice shop, where I picked up a t-shirt and a book about whisky. They packed my goodies in a cotton bag, which was a nice touch. It will make a handy shopping tote. Here are some photos from our tour. Silversea was also in port, as was Oceania, and we ran into Silversea cruisers on our way back to the bus. Silversea is also a luxury cruise line, but has much bigger ships. Like Old Pulteney, Highland Park was also having its “silent season”, which means no whisky was produced during our visit.

After we visited Highland Park, we visited St. Magnus Cathedral, which is a magnificent church in the center of town. It was founded in 1137 and is considered a fine example of Romanesque architecture. Today, it’s part of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and is, therefore, technically no longer a cathedral.

We went back to the ship for lunch, had a brief rest, then made our way to Scapa Distillery. This was the first place we got a look at actual equipment used to make whisky. That wasn’t a huge deal to me, since I’ve seen a lot of it before, and truth be told, I’m less interested in the whisky making process than the end result. Still, Scapa Distillery has an interesting history. For eleven years, it was owned by Highland Park and was effectively shuttered. It’s now owned by Chivas Regal. Our guide, Ilona, did a good job teaching us all about how Scapa is made… and where it got its name. Believe it or not, the name Scapa originates from Cockney folks, who had come to Orkney for military service.

We left Kirkwall at 5:30pm. Little did I know, the next morning would be hellish… More on that in the next post.

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