Orkney's largest island, Mainland, narrows in the middle and is prevented from becoming two separate islands by a neck of land a little over a mile from north to south.
The northern part of this neck of land is occupied by Orkney's capital, Kirkwall. The southern part overlooks Scapa Bay and feels a world away from the bustle of the town. The main natural feature here is a kilometer of beautiful white south-facing beach that is being steadily driven by the wind over parts of the road along the bay.
On either side the beach is framed by low cliffs. Above the point where these meet the west end of the beach is a name painted on the end of a bonded warehouse proclaiming Scapa Distillery. This is less well known than Orkney's other distillery, Highland Park, which lies about half a mile north east of it (and so just prevents it being Scotland's most northerly).
Scapa Distillery dates back to 1885, though with the exception of two warehouses, much of what you see today was built in 1959. It does not have a visitor centre, though its well-regarded single malt can be obtained in Kirkwall.
The second most striking feature of Scapa Bay, sited behind the centre of the beach, is the impressively modern pyramid shape of the Scapa Flow Control Centre, built by the Orkney Islands Council in 1980. This looks more like a control tower for an airport than for a stretch of water, but from here the complex shipping movements through Scapa Flow, one of the world's largest sheltered harbours, are monitored.
On the east side of the bay is a picturesque but still very much operational pier with a range of small craft on display. At its landward end are the old harbourmaster's offices. This is a great spot for lovers of boats and the contrast with Kirkwall's very much busier harbour a mile away could hardly be greater.
Two kilometers south of the pier is the buoy marking the wreck of HMS Royal Oak which was sunk with the loss of 833 men on the night of 14 October 1939 by the German submarine U-47. This evaded the defences of Scapa Flow for long enough to torpedo the Royal Oak several times before making its escape.
Scapa Bay is quiet and little known. Don't come here looking for a wide range of activities, but if you want a nice white sandy beach to stroll along in a lovely setting, then this is the place for you. And being so close to Kirkwall it provides an ideal evening's alternative for anyone staying in the town.
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