Saturday, 20 June 2015

Holiday Nightmares in the 17th Century part 2

Watch out for those whirlinge tides!

This isn't as bad as Thomas Kirk's experience, but it is an interesting early description of Orkney and its dangerous seas.

Richard James, 1620, Account of Poland, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, Scotland, Greenland, Etc - Transcript by Evan MacGillivray, Orkney Miscellany, 1953

"Orkneney are manie Ilands on ye [blank] of Scotland. ye biggest of which is not in length 16 mile in which the chief Towne is calld Kircwawe; these islands are plaine for the most part whereas Schetland is highe and mounteinous. they have store of cattle and of sheepe baringe good wool. they have plovers and partridge and hares but no wood."   

TK1503 North Ronaldsay sheep on the shore. Date unknown.

Sadly we have no photos of plovers, partridge or hares. TK1530 Geese. Date unknown.

"The chiefe fisshinge place is the island of North ronnelsea. on ye other side is South-ronnelsea, betwixt which and Catenesse on the maine of Scotland runs a sea of 12 mile calld Penthland Frith, dangerous with manie whirlinge tides and currents which will sucke in sheepes and botes in the passadge"

TK1548 Fishing boats in Hoy Sound, 1902
Photos by Tom Kent, 1863-1936
Description of Shetland, Orkney and the Highlands of Scotland  Edited, with introduction and notes, by Evan MacGillivray, Orkney Miscellany, Volume 1, 1953, p48-56. , Our reference: 941 Y Orkney Room

Monday, 15 June 2015

Everyday I write the book

Last week we had a visit from Tricia Marwick, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, and it was a real pleasure to show her around the archive. One of the documents that we showed her is a particularly treasure, D101 - The Wallace Manuscript, and looking at it again reminded me that it is not only a valuable historical record but is also a very lovely object.

The manuscript, written in 1684 and titled 'Ane account of the ancient & present state of Orkney', is probably the oldest written description of Orkney. It was written by the Rev. James Wallace, minister of St. Magnus Cathedral, and contains lots of information about the island, their plants, animals and much more besides. In many places he has illustrated his descriptions. Here's an example of his writing, about a particular fish caught in Sanday:

"Tuo years agoe, in winter, there wes taken a Strainge but beautifull fish in Sanda (where severalls of them had been gotten before) called be them Salmon Stour. Itt wes about ane elne in Length, deep breasted & narrow att the taile.... The flesh of the half next to the head wes Like Beef, & the other half next the taile, wes Like Salmond. The picture of which, as neer as I could draw itt, is heer sett doun."

The 'Salmon Stour', drawn by Rev. J. Wallace

He also wrote about St. Magnus Cathedral, described by him as "as beautifull statlie a structure as is in the Kingdom...And the steiple elevated to a great hight (standing on four statlie pillars) in which is a sett of as excellent & sweetlie chimed Bells as is in anie Cathedrall in the Kingdom".

St. Magnus Cathedral, drawn by Rev. J. Wallace
We are delighted to have this document in our collection and we have to thank Highland Distillers, who purchased the manuscript at auction and presented it to the archive in 1998.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Remember the days of the old schoolyard

As we get older we all tend to think that everybody in positions of authority, whether its police officers, doctors or teachers, are getting younger. Well, a new acquisition we received this week takes this to a whole new level!

The acquisition includes a photograph, a letter and an autobiographical account of William Clouston's childhood and young adulthood in Orkney. William wrote about his childhood home at Houton in the parish of Orphir, where he was born in 1854, part of a large extended family of Cloustons living in the area.

William started school at five years of age. In those days schools consisted of one room where children of all ages were taught together. His first teacher was William Tait, an uncle, and he was followed by a succession of different teachers over the years until William turned fourteen.

TK3439 - Houton, Orphir
Being the youngest of three brothers William had to attend school more than most of the boys. Older boys would have had to stay at home in the summer to help with farm work but William attended school both in the winter and summer. The result of this was that, aged fourteen, he was the top pupil at the Petertown school. At that time the teacher was William's cousin but he suddenly decided to leave for Newcastle and the school was left without a teacher for the summer term. So a group of local men met to discuss the problem, and decided to make fourteen year old William the teacher!

It must have seemed very strange to be playing with your school friends one day and to be addressed as 'master' by them on the next! William wrote that he managed the teaching part of his first day without too much trouble but when he went out at break time to join in the games he felt a little self-conscious!

William later worked in Stromness in a Drapers shop for some years before moving to Glasgow in 1874. After that he travelled to Michigan, USA, to join one of his brothers working in the lumber industry.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Bad, Bad Boy

Orkney, like everywhere else I'm sure, has it's share of bad guys and this week, while cataloguing the Halcro Johnston collection (D15), I came across some interesting letters that provide more evidence about one of our baddest guys, General Sir Frederick William Traill Burroughs, described as 'the worst of the 19th century lairds in Orkney'.

The General didn't start out too badly. He was educated in Switzerland before being commissioned into the Sutherland Highlanders, fighting in the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and the North West frontier. He was even recommended for the Victoria Cross for his part in the relief of Lucknow but wasn't awarded it.

General Burroughs and wife

His Orkney infamy began when he inherited the Estate of Rousay and Wyre from his 'uncle' George William Traill. He had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian in the Army and evidently carried that on into civilian life. During Traill's management of the estate his factor began to clear tenants off the land to make room for sheep and General Burroughs carried on this cruel practice after he inherited it. .

Resentment grew among the tenants and came to a head when the Napier Commission came to Orkney in 1883 as part of a public inquiry into the condition of crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands. Burroughs appeared before the Commissioners and explained what a benevolent laird he was and how he'd spent loads of money improving the estate. Unfortunately for him the evidence didn't back this up so, in an attempt to silence his critics, he announced that any tenants that spoke against him would be evicted. And that's what he did.

James Leonard was a tenant and gave evidence at the Napier Commission hearing in Kirkwall. For this he and his family were thrown out of their home.

So this brings us back around to the letters in the Halcro Johnston collection. The letters are a record of the activities of the Rousay and Egilsay School Board from March to September 1885. At the start of that time General Burroughs was Chair and James Johnston, factor of the Baikie Estate which included Egilsay, had just been elected as a member. Another member, receiving the highest number of votes, was James Leonard. This was never going to go well! No sooner had the Board got going the General was up to his old tricks of hurling threats around, this time aimed at the other members of the Board. Their "crime" had been to permit James Leonard use of the school building to deliver lectures on temperance, to which Burroughs objected because of "the terms in which Mr. Leonard referred to me before the Crofters Commission and since". He finished by threatening to apply for an interdict to make the board members liable for any expenses. In a letter written the next day by the local Free Church minister it was pointed out that the lectures would not and could not happen anyway because James Leonard, who was employed as a temperance lecturer, had left the island, writing "I cannot understand how they fail to be aware of it".

General Burroughs days as Chair of the School Board were numbered however. By June he had resigned in protest at the dismissal of the Clerk to the Board George Meikle McCrie. McCrie was also Inspector of the Poor and was considered by the crofters to have aided and abetted the General's policy of providing as little relief as possible to the poor.

If anyone would like to learn more about the saga of General Burroughs and the crofters of Rousay I'd recommend The little General and the Rousay crofters by William PL Thomson. You really could make a great Sunday night television drama out of the story. Poldark doesn't compare!

Friday, 8 May 2015

VE Day Celebrations in Orkney and the UK

Notice from The Scotsman newspaper, dated 8th May 1945 (OA Ref: D23/30/7)
Photographs from The Scotsman newspaper, dated 9th May 1945 (OA Ref: D23/30/7)
On the island of Eday: "The day was observed by many as a holiday. Flags were flown. On both afternoons, 8th & 9th, it poured incessantly with rain and, except where necessary, most people kept indoors. A service of thanksgiving was held in the Church of Scotland at 6pm on the evening of the 8th. Many people were kept from attending by the inclemency of the weather." (Orkney Herald, 15th May 1945)
In Kirkwall: "The VE Day thanksgiving service, in which the three Church of Scotland congregations in the town and the Congregational Church united, planned to be held in St Magnus Cathedral was changed at the last minute to the Paterson Church owing to the breakdown of the cathedral organ. Upwards of a thousand people attended the service" (Orkney Herald, 15th May 1945)

Photograph of Edinburgh from The Scotsman newspaper, dated 9th May 1945 (OA Ref: D23/30/7)
"Stromness was a town of flags and down-pouring rain on the official VE Day, the eighth of May, and the combination was not at all harmonious. What promised to be a day of delirious joy and excitement went off like a damp squib. True, there was the excitement of the Prime Minister's radio speech in the afternoon, and the ringing of the church bells expressed the deep thankfulness in all our hearts. In the evening the heavy rain took off and allowed the people to go to the united service in the North Church, but even then a shroud of dampness hung over Stromness and there was no sunshine or fragment of blue sky to gladden this first day in the new era of peace. In spite of atrocious weather there were many celebrations in the evening. At most of the military camps, and in the Town Hall, dancing and merry-making went on all night, and NAAFI beer flowed in profusion. On the following day the weather was almost similar, except in the evening which was fine and sunny. The flags still flew and the beer still flowed and the rain continued to fall" (Orkney Herald, 15th May 1945)

The last few days of the war from an unknown newspaper. (OA Ref: D23/30/7)
Longhope: "On Tuesday of last week flags were flying all around the district, and at 3pm the vessels in the bay all began blowing their whistles and hoisting their bunting, which made a pretty sight. The flags were kept up all day on Wednesday, two days holiday being observed by all workpeople. A service was held on Tuesday evening in the Parish Church." (Orkney Herald, 15th May 1945)

Last All Clear: "Mr Churchill's broadcast on VE Day was brief - disappointingly short for those who had waited for it. The finish of the Premier's broadcast was heralded by the sounding of ship's whistles at Kirkwall Harbour and the prolonged 'All Clear' shrilling of one of the privately operated Burgh air raid sirens" (Orcadian, May 1945)


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Orkney At War (May-July 1915)

Here are a few items from our fourth instalment of our Orkney At War exhibition. These archive items are taken from records during May, June and July of 1915. We continue with the diaries of James Marwick and Margaret Tait and find out about problems with meat inspection in Kirkwall, the water supply in Stromness, submarine attacks off Caithness, an escaped prisoner of war, enrolment of boys on trawlers, eggs for soldiers and see a few of the men of Orkney serving in and sadly dying in the war.

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall (Archive Ref. D1/525)
7 May 1915  Monday 3rd was feeing market day and although the day was very fine very few people were in town. The farmers are late in getting in their crop so that stopped the people from coming to town. On Monday morning a german submarine was supposed to be in Kirkwall Bay and 6 British Destroyers were racing up and down and out and in among the other ships in the Bay at full speed. The weather has taken a turn for the better and now it is quite warm and summer like. Had a walk up past the back of the hospital and saw my old home. The fields were looking fine and all covered with daisies and the sun was shining brightly. These last few days we’ve been very busy preparing our things for the sale today. We will just have 3 weeks in this house now. Everything is turned upside down even now.

Orcadians serving in the war, kept in a scrapbook by Dr. Duncan, Stromness. (Archive Ref. D1/1127)

From the Diary of James Marwick, Lieut/Capt. O.R.G.A (T) (Archive Ref. D1/1118) Friday, 7-5-15  Very fine and warm. / Officer of day. Barton & Harris here. Marked store near Mess as a "bench" mark for levelling purposes. Denison & I put a rope around it. / Football match, Territorials v. Marines. The former won 2-0. On watch tonight I got word of the torpedoing of the S.S. "Lustitania" off Irish coast. She was struck by 2 torpedoes & sank in 20". There was a terrible loss of life among passengers. Bore stopped. It is now fully 25 feet down.

Orcadians serving in the war, kept in a scrapbook by Dr. Duncan, Stromness. (Archive Ref. D1/1127)

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall.(Archive Ref. D1/525)
8 May 1915  Last evening I went out to buy lard and met Rita Middleton. We both went up to the Temperance Hall to see how the sale was going. There I met Mrs. Middleton, squeezed into a seat beside her and remained there for the rest of the evening. I did not get my lard but enjoyed the sale immensely. When I got home at 9.30 everyone was out, the house in darkness and the fire out. The Lusitania was sunk yesterday, 19 hundred passengers on board, 500 of whom are supposed to have been saved. No particulars to hand yet except that she was torpedoed by a german submarine in the Atlantic. How dreadful to thing of so many innocent lives lost quite needlessly. I hope the Germans will get their just deserts. What a crowd of sailors and provision men are ashore today.

Orcadians serving in the war, kept in a scrapbook by Dr. Duncan, Stromness. (Archive Ref. D1/1127)

From the Diary of James Marwick, Lieut/Capt. O.R.G.A. (T) (Archive Ref. D1/1118)

Saturday, 8-5-15  Fine - bought ½ cwt Sugar at 2½lb & and sent it home, also some dirty clothes, by Harvey the well borer who left today. He finished the bore head and built a few stones around it finishing it off with a big flat stone ready for the pump. / I got a decanter & glass from Nobby Clark. / Man lost off a trawler near Switha island. He was picked up but died later.

Orcadians killed in the war, kept in a scrapbook by Dr. Duncan, Stromness. (Archive Ref. D1/1127)

From the Diary of James Marwick, Lieut/Capt. O.R.G.A. (T)  (Archive Ref. D1/1118) Friday, 14-5-15 Snow showers. / Things are very dull and lifeless her which combined with a want of friendliness among officers make life very dreary. I wish I could get a shift from here. It is over 4 months since I came here. / Goliath sunk in Dardanelles.

Stromness Town Council, 19th May 1915   (Archive Ref. S1/5, page 152)
Water Supply. An application from the Admiralty to connect with the watermain at the Mineral Well for a pipe running to the vicinity of the Braehead.

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall (Archive Ref. D1/525)  Tuesday 25 May 1915 Weather raw and misty. Everything is turned upside down and the house is strewed with packing boxes. Mrs. Wallis has left for good. I wish we were across the street too. Italy has now declared war with Austria. Got a headache.
From the Diary of James Marwick, Lieut/Capt O.R.G.A. (T) (Archive Ref. D1/1118) Wed. , 26-5-15 N. wind – dull and overcast. / was a walk round S. Head and picked Mayflowers also roots. Read a book called “Wrack” which is cleverly written but of questionable quality otherwise. / When round the Head I met a young marine with two hawk’s eggs (kestrel). H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth came in today.

Royal Naval Reserve Letter (Archive Ref. CE55/4/31, page 110) Enrolment of boys in the trawlers section

From the Diary of James Marwick, Lieut/Capt O.R.G.A. (T) (Archive Ref. D1/1118)  Tuesday, 1st June  Fine day. –was fishing off rocks and altogether caught 43 cuithes/ letters from home. M. coming on Saturday if weather suitable/ Sent home my bank book. Ian Barclay here and he took my letter down. I got a drenching down by a wave[This is the last entry we have for James Marwick's diary. He was posted overseas not long after this date.]
From the Orcadian 19th June 1915
Dear Sir - I am pleased to say that the appeal made to the good people of Orkney has met with a magnificent response. Mrs Brownlee, president of the ladies' Guild U.F. Church, Stronsay, indicates that three boxes, containing in all 300 dozen eggs, have been despatched and Mr William Muir, merchant, Sanday, Orkney has also been sent a box, collected from a few customers in his district. Mrs Irvine U.F. Manse, South Ronaldsay, has also done magnificent work in securing and forwarding eggs for the wounded here. Unfortunately our wounded are increasing while our supplies in the south have been falling off so that the very large donations that have come from northern isles keeps us in a fairly good supply. We cannot get too many eggs for the wounded and I hope the liberality of the Orcadians will still be made manifest by further contributions as they can conveniently spare the eggs. I take this opportunity of thanking all the contributors who co-operated in making the collections such a success. Thank you for your kind courtesy in allowing me the use of your columns, I am yours faithfully, John Dobbie, manager, No. 6 National depot, 24 Elbe Street, Leith
Kirkwall Town Council, 30th June 1915 (Archive Ref. K1/1/17) Request by the HM Navy for a stricter inspection of Naval Meat Contracts and for the meat to be stamped for easier identification.

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall  (Archive Ref. D1/525)  5 July 1915 What a time we’ve had this last month. The masons are in every room but 2 bedrooms and these 2 are filled up with the furniture and things out of the other rooms that we only have room to stand up and dress or undress. Lime, plaster, stones and old wood are lying about and the whole place looks as if a cyclone had passed through. I’ve spent a lot of time down in the garden which is flooded with sunshine. The weather has been perfect up till a day or two ago, since when it’s rained all the time. Was at a social last Friday night in the St. Magnus Church Hall. The Queen Elizabeth (Dreadnought) has been lying at Scapa lately. Saw one of her officers in the shop on Saturday. The Archbishop of York has been visiting the Territorials at Flotta last week.

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall (Archive Ref. D1/525)  11 July 1915  King George paid a visit to Stanger Head Battery on Friday and I understand has left again for the south. The Flotta people have been highly honoured. He didn’t come to Kirkwall. Such wet, murky weather we’ve had lately, with no signs of drying up.
Royal Naval Reserve Memo, 12th July 1915. ( Archive Ref. CE55/4/31, p116) Notice of an escaped Prisoner of War

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall (Archive Ref. D1/525)  18 July 1915  (Sunday) Last Wednesday the shop was moved across from No.6 to this place which is not nearly ready nor will be for some time. However they have done a lot and improved it greatly. During these war times the motor cars etc. have all got patriotic flags stuck up in front, some have only the Union Jack, others have France, Russia and Belgium also. Saturday was French Flag Day, the school children were selling flags in the street for a penny each, the money collected being sent to help the French nation in their present crisis. Tartan seems to be all the vogue at present, in all the drapers windows you see little tartan bows or ties, vanity bags etc. of all the different clans. Thursday was St. Swithins Day and a lovely day throughout.
Stromness Town Council minute, 22nd July 1915 (Archive Ref. S1/5, page 159-160) Water Supply  An Application to use water for non-domestic use was refused by the local council on this day, while the present demand for water was made by the navy.

This is just a small selection of the items shown in our display for May, June, July 1915. Please do come in, if you can, to view the rest.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Not to Skaill

As promised here are a few of the items we used in our
World Heritage Day display recently.

Orkney Archive Reference: D8/4/1/2 Plan of the buildings uncovered at Skaill in Sandwick in 1867.

Orkney Archive Reference:  L8343-3 An artist's impression of the Ring of Brodgar, no date given.

Orkney Archive Reference: D2/17/4 - Letter from the Balfour of Balfour and Trenabie Collection

Dear Capt[ai]n Edmeston 

Stromness 30th Decr 1814

I'm well aware, that your ears will be assail'd at this time from all quarters on the subject of a scrape I got into on my farm in Stenness, by pulling down 2 of the stones, that stood in a field of lay ground, which I was preparing to plue up: and as I flatter myself, from this friendly attention, you have shown me hitherto that you would be sorry for a thing of this kind I write you at present to see if you would have the goodness, to speake to Mr Riddoch, or any other of the Gentlemen concerned, to assure them that I was not in the smallest degree aware of giving them, or the meanest individual in the County offence by doing so.
My Landlord was the only person to whom I thought, I was accountable, and as I mentioned to Mr Rae, the necessity of pulling down a few of those stones, for the purpose of [?] the Fields,
as he did not seem to be aware (more than myself) of any objections being made as we agreed that two or three of them should stand, namely the one on the point of the Peninsula, and another on the field, I thought these would answer as a show without doing me any detriment.
However as I cannot now recall what is done, I request the favour of you to make what use of communication you deem best to prevent any further steps being taken that might operate to my prejudice.
I have the honour to remain
Dr Captn Edmeston
your very obed. Servt.
Wm Mackay

Orkney Archive Reference: D29/2/11 - Notebook from the Hugh Marwick Collection
Letter to the Editor in the Glasgow Herald "A Prehistoric Village & Traces of Human Sacrifice" written by V. Gordon Childe in 1928 and kept in a scrapbook by Dr Hugh Marwick

Orkney Archive Reference: L7255-2
Professor V. Gordon Childe, archaeologist with workmen employed on excavations at Skara Brae, Sandwick in 1928.
Man at back: unknown; Back L-R: Willie Hourston, Willa Harvey, Professor Childe, Leslie Ritch, ? .  Front L-R: Jim Brass (Aith),  ?  , Willie Brass (Goldigarth), James Linklater (Millcroft).
Orkney Archive Reference: D8/3/11
Pencil drawing of the interior of Maeshowe, after excavation. Artist and date unknown.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Sylvia Wishart Papers Now Catalogued!

Orkney Archive reference: D136/1/11
Double exposure - Sylvia and geraniums.

A little over a year ago, we received a donation which pleased us greatly. A small collection of the personal papers of Orcadian artist Sylvia Wishart (1938-2008).

The single box contains many invitations to private views of work, her own and others, some personal photographs, teaching materials, press cuttings, poems by friends and correspondence.

A very modest woman, there are only a couple of examples of writing by Sylvia Wishart herself about her own work process and one of these was written in answer to a letter from a schoolchild:

'...I prefer others to talk about my pictures - feeling that I've had my say!... But whatever method you adopt or develop it is only the vehicle to carry your idea. I would advise you to try all sorts of things with a "let's see what happens" attitude; and if three times out of every ten you surprise yourself, that's a good ratio to be going on with!'

The collection also contains a folder of blue-prints showing the renovation of a Stromness pier property into a flat and studio. That same building now houses the Pier Arts Centre.

The most delightful thing about this collection, however are the lovely pictures:

Orkney Archive Reference: D136/1/3/2 A Christmas print.

Orkney Archive Reference: D136/1/5/3
Melsetter Farm - print made for local business calendar, early 1970s.

Orkney Archive Reference: D136/1/5/3
West Pier, Kirkwall - print made for local business calendar, early 1970s.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Celebrating World Heritage Day

We have a pop-up display of archives in the Orkney Library & Archive Foyer for the next 7 days, excluding Sunday. So if you're in the town, do pop by to see it!

We are celebrating World Heritage Day which is on Saturday 18th April.

The display is a mixture of archives and photographs which relate to the three main sites of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, namely Maeshowe, Skara Brae and the stone circles of Brodgar and Stenness.

We have a letter written in 1814 from a farmer apologising for pulling down some standing stones so that he could "plue" the field; a plan of the Skara Brae site after excavation drawn by William G T Watt in November 1867; and a pencil drawing of the Maeshowe site after excavation with no date or artist given.

The photos show Professor V Gordon Childe, archaeologist with workmen employed on excavations at Skara Brae, Sandwick in 1928; the standing stones and dolmen at Stenness; and an artists impression of the Ring of Brodgar.

And these photos from the Tom Kent collection:

Stone circle of Stenness with dolmen TK4071
Skara Brae c.1927-32   TK3991
Maeshowe TK4045

I hope you will be able to come in the see the display, but if not, I will share some scans of the archives at a later date.
Archive references used in display: D8/3/11, D1/927, D2/17/4, D8/4/1/2, D29/2/11               
Photographic references used in display: TK4071, L854/4, L8343/3, TK3972, TK3991, TK4045, L7255/2.

Monday, 13 April 2015

St Magnus Cathedral

St Magnus is soon to have some super-duper futuristic plans made of it. This is obviously fantastic but we also like these very simple, yet pleasing, plans of the Cathedral as well as the Bishop and Earl's Palaces made c.1870:

Orkney Archive Reference: D8/E/1 [G3]

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Holiday Nightmares in the 17th Century

Have you planned your perfect trip to Orkney? Have you researched the best way to get here, the best hotels, guesthouses, the best island transport? Isn't it great that you can find out all this information before you get here using the wonderful websites available?

In the 17th century, researching your trip was not so simple and you could easily find yourself at the mercy of weather, strange locals, rubbish lodgings or even bogus tour guides. Perish the thought!

Thomas Kirk's trip to Orkney in 1677 was certainly one that he would not forget in a hurry. Here is a snippet from his journal from Tours in Scotland 1677 & 1681 edited by P Hume Brown.

"Thursday 28th, we landed in Kirkwald, the chief town in Orkney; we were all of us sufficiently sea-sick, the wind being brisk and the tide strong against us.

Friday 29th, we viewed the town; here is a church built in the form of a cross with a steeple in the middle which they value much, esteeming it one of the largest churches in Scotland; but we did not think it so.   

We were told that formerly here was a race of giants; one large man we saw of the same race; in the room where I lodged; I found a sword of an extraordinary size, which they told us was John of Groat's sword.

Monday 2nd July one Mr Kinnard, a bailiff of the next Isle of South Ronoldshaw and one Mr Steward, were at Burra's house before we were ready to go; we dined before we went away, having been well treated, and at our departure he bestowed a little Shetland horse upon us, so low that I could easily stand on the ground with the horse under me. From this house we walked to the next ferry and passed to South Ronaldshaw...from whence we were to ferry over the Pinchland Frith to the main land. [At] John of Groat's house. Our weariness caused us to enter mean beds, and we might have rested had not the mice rendezvoused over our faces."
Euuurrgghegh! *shudders*

Marks out of ten?
General quote: Why did I bother?
Was this review helpful? Yes/No

We are happy to tell you that everything has improved in the last 338 years. Check out Visit Orkney for more information and join us across the "Pinchland Frith*"!

From Archive reference: D68/7/3 - Professor Ronald Miller papers

Children on Shetland Ponies at Scapa Pier, date unknown. Photographer: Tom Kent (Ref: TK1464)

*actually Pentland Firth...oh for goodness sake..

Friday, 3 April 2015

Egg-streme Egg Collecting!

We were looking for some Eastery photos for the weekend but the photographic archive was not playing ball.

We did, however, find these fabulous egg-themed images of sea-bird egg collections which were carried out on the islands of Rousay and Copinsay.

Bird cliffs on Copinsay, 1932 - Tom Kent Collection

Men who 'ran the lee' on Copinsay for eggs.

Egg collecting, Rousay.

Egg hunting in the Orkney Islands

Copinsay - Tom Kent Collection
A letter containing an explanation of how dangerous the practise was (as if we couldn't guess from the terrifying photos) can be found in the Halcro-Johnson Collection:

'In Orkney we call each other boys until we become old men.

 Once in Orkney, two old men went to the cliffs at the sea shore to collect sea birds' eggs. One of them remained at the top of the cliff and held a rope attached to a basket, while the other man climbed along the ledges on the cliff and put the eggs into the basket.

When the latter came to a corner of the cliff, he found that he could not proceed farther, as he had the wrong foot foremost and he had not sufficient room to change the position of his foot. He made several attempts but failed. He then stopped, took out his snuff-box and took a big pinch of snuff, after which he gave a jump in the air changing his feet at the same time, and by this means he got round the corner and reached the top of the cliff in safety.

His companion who had been watching him all the time and who had observed the great danger he was in of falling over the edge into the sea when changing his feet, said to him,

"Boy, why did thee tak a snuff before changing thee feet?"

To which the other replied,

"Boy, I thought I was needin' it" '

Images from the Orkney Photographic Archive
Letter: Orkney Archive reference D15/25/8/6