Make a Visit to Orkney’s World War II Sites

Orkney is famous throughout the world for the amazing state of preservation of its Neolithic sites. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is a World Heritage site and comprises of the Maeshowe burial tomb, the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the iconic village settlement of Skara Brae. The islands are littered with Pre historic remains including Bronze Age tombs and Iron Age Brochs. But Orkney also has more ‘recent’ sites of world historical interest dating from the first 4 decades of the 20th C: a time of two world wars.

Orkney’s war time sites, or what is left of them, have always been of interest to a smaller number of visitors than come to see those from pre-historical times, but that is changing. For the younger generation a time before computers, the internet and mobile phones – a time when the lives of ordinary people were dominated by war – it is as ‘strange’ a time as that when people inhabited Skara Brae.

Even if we just select those sites from World War II (1939 – 1945) visitors can be amazed by:

  • Stanger Head on Flotta
  • the Lyness Museum on Hoy with its surviving pumping station and the surrounding tunnels 
  • the Italian Chapel on Lamb’s Holm
  • buildings at HMS Tern an aerodrome at Twatt 
  • coastal defences including the Ness Battery, Stromness
  • the bell from The Royal Oak in St Magnus Cathedral Kirkwall
  • the Churchill Barriers

Some of these sites have fallen into disrepair but volunteers can be seen sweeping out many of the coastal defences that are frequently visited especially on the single track road that leads up to the Ness Battery. The sites are mainly free with a few having an admission charge and/or a tour offered.

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre ,Lyness, Hoy

The museum is free and is situated in the remains of the fuel oil pumping station at Lyness Naval Base, (HMS Proserpine). A short ferry journey from Houton and the visitor centre is within walking distance of the ferry terminal.

Opening Times

  • 1 March 2017 – 30 April 2017   Monday – Saturday, from 10:00 to 16:30.
  • 1 May 2017 – 30 September 2017  Sunday – Saturday, from 10:00 to 16:30.
  • 1 October 2017 – 31 October 2017 Monday – Saturday, from 10:00 to 16:30.
  • 1 November 2017 – 28 February 2018  Closed.

There is also a two hour guided walk at 11:00 every Tuesday from April 4 onwards. It costs £5.00 and follows the route of the Lyness Wartime Trail using 1940s photographs of the area to bring the history of the naval base alive. Booking is advised.

Contact: Telephone: 01856791300.

The Italian Chapel, Lamb’s Holm

The Italian chapel

The Italian Chapel (photo F Grahame)

Built by Italian Prisoners of War out of  2 Nissan huts and scraps of material, this is one of the few remaining chapels from that period left in the UK.

Admission: £3.00  free entry to those 12 and under £10 season (1year) available

Contact: 01856 781580


Opening hours:

  • April and October 10-4pm and Sunday 10-3pm.
  • June, July, August 9-6.30pm, 7 days a week.
  • May, September 9-5pm, 7 days a week.
  • November, December, January, February and March 10-1pm, 7 days a week.

The Ness Battery, Stromness

Ness Battery

Inside the recreation hall at the Ness Battery before restoration work (photo F Grahame)

Part of Orkney’s huge coastal defence systems there are spectacular remains along the route to the Ness Battery kept in clean condition by volunteers. They are all free to visit and it is safe to do so. The Ness Battery itself has an admission charge which includes the tour.

Visit Ness Battery  for up to date tour times and admission charges.

The tour guides are experts and you will come away well informed.

Contact:  07759 857 298

HMS Tern

There were 4 aerodromes in Orkney during World War II the remains of some of them still on the landscape. One of them you drive across unwittingly when you travel through the Hackness Industrial Estate. Another is where today’s Kirkwall airport is situated. But there were two out in the West Mainland and the largest of all the aerodromes and the most important one was HMS Tern situated in Twatt.

What remains of the signal tower can still be seen with restoration taking place by Birsay Community volunteers. Some of the land is private but you can access the area where the signal tower is. The remnants of other buildings can also be seen.


This is just a small selection,a mere morsel of the wartime sites that can be viewed and visited on Orkney. Over the next few weeks The Orkney News will look in more depth at Orkney’s wartime past and the places you can visit whether you are a local or a visitor.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

Facebook page for The Italian Chapel

Facebook page for Ness Battery


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