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 and a half 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 over half a mile of beautiful white south-facing beach that is being steadily driven by the wind over parts of the road that runs along the head of 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 Scotch whisky distillery, Highland Park, which lies about a mile north east of it. (Continues below image...)
Scapa Distillery dates back to 1885, though with the exception of two warehouses, much of what you see today was built in 1959. Since 2015 it has opened its doors to visitors and a tour can be highly recommended.
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 kilometres south of the pier is the buoy marking the wreck of HMS Royal Oak which was sunk with the loss of 834 men early in the morning 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 before making its escape. the poignant Royal Oak Memorial Garden can be found at the head of the bay.
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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