The main reason why most people go to Orkney is of course to see the Neolithic and Iron Age remains, and they are indeed very much worth the journey. But there are also more recent buildings that deserve attention, one of them being Sandwick kirk on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of the Mainland, facing the Atlantic.
The church's position on the bay is simply superb; it is visible from the five thousand year old settlement of Skara Brae (I was there on an overcast morning - though the sun came out later that day - so it's hard to make out the church in the photo above, but it's just above the shoreline about a quarter of the way from the right edge).
There had been more than one church on the same site over the centuries, but by 1834 the then current one (built in 1670) was semi-ruinous, being described as 'cold, uncomfortable and inconvenient.' The Minister, the Rev Charles Clouston, indignantly complained that it was 'in a very bad state of repair ... the roof being so old that no patch seems to remain longer than the commencement of the first gale of wind ... it is consequently so intolerably cold that I have been twice severely indisposed from exposure in it.' It's not hard to imagine that the gales whipping in from the Atlantic would have been extremely trying. He consequently, and not unreasonably, proposed building afresh. He also wanted to abandon the site and have his new church nearer to where the majority of the population of the parish lived, rather than on the very edge, some miles from the village. However, when eventually, in 1836, building started it was on the foundations of the older church. The mason, James Sinclair, and glazier, William Hervey, seem to have been responsible for the design. The new church cost £633/9s/8 1/2d, the equivalent of about £73,940 today, which sounds remarkably little. The same source confusingly also states that the cost was £373/11s/7d (£43,686).
A church or chapel of this date in England would probably have been built in simplified Gothic, but Sinclair and Hervey chose the Georgian style, not unlike that of much contemporary domestic architecture, with sash windows arranged symmetrically, the larger ones on the south being round-headed. The three doorways are all unprepossessing, though those on the east and west have fanlights. Externally the only thing that singles out the building as a place of worship is the small bellcote, topped by a ball finial - almost the only ornamental feature - perched at the west end.
The walls are harled (a new word to me; it's Scottish and means 'roughcast with lime mingled with small gravel') and lime-washed. The exterior is rather handsome, especially the south front, though the door is disappointingly out of scale, and the slates which replaced the original Caithness flagstone roof in 1910 are drab.
|View from the pulpit|
|From the pulpit, looking northeast|
|From the pulpit, looking northwest|