The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Scapa Bay

Looking across to Scapa Beach

Scapa Bay, to the south of Kirkwall, is a wide bay on the shores of Scapa Flow. It was once a Viking anchorage and a place where they hauled longboats onto the beach.

Nowadays the sandy south-facing beach is enjoyed by townsfolk. It is possible to walk along the shore and up on a clifftop path to a burn below Scapa Distillery.

The beach is used by windsurfers and, on Boxing Day, those with strong constitutions head into the water for a charity dip.

During the annual Riding of the Marches ceremony, celebrating the granting of Kirkwall's Charter as a Royal Burgh, horseriders gallop in the surf.

Orkney Islands Council Marine Services has its shipping control centre at Scapa to monitor movement in the Flow. The large pier by the former harbourmaster offices is operational with ships, tugs and small craft. The pier was built in 1880 and was the main port for Kirkwall but now that role is fulfilled by Kirkwall Harbour two miles away.

Air stations for sea-planes and flying-boats were built at Houton and Scapa Bay. During World War I the Grand Fleet, the main fleet of the Royal Navy, was based at Scapa Bay.

Near the pier are buried oil tanks and a former World War II camp. 

Above the bay are the cliffs of Gaitnip. It was near here that HMS Royal Oak was sunk in 1939 by German submarine U-47. A green buoy marks the spot where this designated war grave lies beneath the waves.

At Scapa Beach there is a memorial garden to the lost crew, a roll of all the 833 men who died and interpretation boards. The ship's bell and memorial book are in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall.

However, Scapa Bay's history dates back to more ancient times than even the Vikings. A 5,000-year-old tomb was found at nearby Crantit. And on the bay's shore stood the Broch of Lingro, a defended Iron Age village. Roman coins were found on the site but it was destroyed by farming.

At Lingro was a Norse farm, later known as Knarston, which was earldom land and mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. Earl Rognvald held his Christmas feast on the farm. Here the earl sat Bishop Jon of Atholl in his own high seat and served him as a cup bearer.