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Kirkwall (Scottish Gaelic: Bàgh na h-Eaglaise) is the largest settlement and capital of Orkney, an archipelago in the north of Scotland, as well as the most populous island settlement in Scotland. The town is first mentioned in Orkneyinga saga in the year 1046 when it is recorded as the residence of Rögnvald Brusason the Earl of Orkney, who was killed by his uncle Thorfinn the Mighty. In 1486, King James III of Scotland elevated Kirkwall to the status of a royal burgh.
Kirkwall Harbour in August 2014
|Area||3.63 km2 (1.40 sq mi)|
|• Density||2,560/km2 (6,600/sq mi)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
The name Kirkwall comes from the Norse name Kirkjuvagr (Church Bay), which later changed to Kirkvoe, Kirkwaa and Kirkwall.
On the west edge of the town, surrounded by Hatston Industrial Estate, is a prehistoric ancient monument, Grain Earth House (Historic Scotland), a short low stone-walled passage deep underground leading to a small pillared chamber. This is the form of earth house or souterrain characteristic of the Northern Isles (although Grain is unusually deep below ground). It was originally connected to a surface dwelling, which has since disappeared, and the original purpose of these Iron Age structures remains unknown. Further west towards Grimbister is the similar Rennibister Earth House.
Kirkwall is the administrative centre for Orkney, and is the home of headquarters for Orkney Islands Council and NHS Orkney.
Kirkwall was a parliamentary burgh, combined with Dingwall, Dornoch, Tain and Wick in the Northern Burghs constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1708 to 1801 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1918. Cromarty was added to the list in 1832. The constituency was a district of burghs known also as the Tain Burghs until 1832, and then as the Wick Burghs. It was represented by one Member of Parliament until 1918, when the constituency was abolished and the Kirkwall component was merged into the county constituency of Orkney and Shetland. Modern roadsigns still indicate "The City and Royal Burgh of Kirkwall", although Kirkwall is not an official Scottish city.
In 1784-85 the well-known outspoken Liberal Charles James Fox represented Tain in the British Parliament, while his political opponents fiercely contested his having been elected in his usual constituency of Westminster; for this purpose, Fox was made an unlikely burgess of Kirkwall.
Kirkwall is 130 miles (210 km) north of Aberdeen and 530 miles (850 km) north of London. It is situated on the northern coast of Mainland Orkney with its harbours in the bay of Kirkwall to the north, and with Scapa Flow 1.4 miles (2 km) to the south. Its parish, St Ola forms the isthmus between Firth and Holm.
As with the rest of Scotland, Kirkwall experiences a maritime climate with cool summers, mild winters, often strong winds, plentiful rainfall, frequently overcast skies and sparse amounts of sunshine.
|Climate data for Kirkwall, 26m asl, 1981–2010, Extremes 1951–|
|Record high °C (°F)||12.2
|Average high °C (°F)||6.4
|Average low °C (°F)||1.9
|Record low °C (°F)||−7.8
|Average rainfall mm (inches)||109.7
|Average rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm)||20.1||16.8||17.9||13.4||10.6||10.7||11.6||12.5||16.2||19.6||20.8||18.5||188.7|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||32.2||59.3||98.2||136.8||190.0||148.6||132.2||129.7||105.3||75.8||40.1||24.5||1,172.4|
|Source #1: Met Office|
|Source #2: Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute/KMNI|
Kirkwall harbour with nearly 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) of quay edge is the second commercial hub for Orkney after Hatston. There is a Marina, and support for fishing and dive vessels. After extensive work on harbour facilities, the town has become a popular cruise ship stop, with several ships arriving each week in the season. This has added to the prosperity of the town and allowed a thriving sector of independently owned shops. Each year now, 140 cruise ships visit Kirkwall and Stromness.
Culture and communityEdit
The Orkney Library and Archive is in Kirkwall. Kirkwall also has the most northerly of the world's Carnegie libraries, which was opened by Andrew Carnegie and his wife in 1909. The building survives, although the library has since moved to a larger building on Junction Road.
The town has two museums, the larger being Tankerness House Museum, which contains items of local historical interest within one of Scotland's best-preserved sixteenth-century town-houses. It is a Category A listed building Scotland. The prehistoric, Pictish and Viking collections are of international importance. The other museum is the Orkney Wireless Museum, dealing with the history of radio and recorded sound.
Media and the artsEdit
Orkney Theatre, a 384 seat venue, was opened in 2014 next to Kirkwall Grammar School in The Meadows. It has an orchestra pit which can be made available for use by removing two rows of seats.
Kirkwall Harbour can be seen in The Highlands and Islands – A Royal Tour, a 1973 documentary about Prince Charles' visit to the Highlands and Islands, directed by Oscar Marzaroli. Scottish film-maker Margaret Tait was born in Kirkwall, and many of her films (in particular the Aspects Of Kirkwall series) are set there.
Kirkwall has many 17th–18th-century houses and other structures in the local vernacular style. Kirkwall also once had a medieval castle, which was destroyed in the 17th century.
Kirkwall is a port with ferry services to Aberdeen and Lerwick, as well as the principal north islands in the group. Hatson pier, the main ferry terminal, is some 2 miles (3.2 km) outside the town centre.
The Aberdeen, Leith, Clyde & Tay Shipping Company operated steamer services to Kirkwall from 1836, with successor companies operating until 2002.
Kirkwall Airport, the main airport for the Orkneys, is 2.5 miles (4.0 km) southeast of the town. There are no passenger rail services in Kirkwall, the nearby railways having been industrial or military.
The 'Kirk' of Kirkwall was not the Cathedral (which was originally at Birsay), but the 11th-century church of Saint Olaf of Norway. One late medieval doorway survives from this church, and an aumbry from the original church survives within the late 19th-century structure of the present-day Saint Olaf's Church (Episcopal) in the town's Dundas Crescent. At the heart of the town stands St. Magnus Cathedral, which was founded in memory of Saint Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney 1108–1117 by Earl (later Saint) Rögnvald Kali. Next to the Cathedral are the ruins of the former Bishop's Palace and Earl's Palace.
The Pickaquoy Centre, Orkney’s largest leisure centre, is located in Kirkwall. It contains two pools, an indoor sports arena, squash courts, climbing wall, athletics track, synthetic and grass pitches and various exercise/gym studios.
Kirkwall Grammar School Sports Centre has indoor sports facilities, and grass and synthetic pitches, available to the public.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kirkwall.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Kirkwall.|