John R Tudor.

The Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state online

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so the restoration scheme had to be abandoned, and the present
block of county buildings erected. Before leaving the building
let us try and recall to mind some of the scenes that have been
witnessed in the " magna aula."

(1602.) It is for the Orkneys a hot sweltering day in
August, all the windows are open, and the great fireplace is
filled with such flowers as these northern regions produce.
Attendants, each with my lord's cognisance embroidered on
the sleeve of his left arm, are hurrying to and fro, spreading
the table for the banquet, which will shortly take place.
Here is one bearing a dish of heath-fowl which my lord's
hawks struck down last week on the moors above the Loch of
Birsay ; another is carrying a platter full of ptarmigan slain with
hail shot from an arquebus on the Hill of Hoy ; or it may be
hares which my lord and his friends have coursed in the valley
under the Dwarfie Hamars with those handsome rough
deerhounds, which are lying in the corner out of the heat.
At the top of the board smokes a noble haunch of venison
from the forests of Sutherland, and, close beside it, stands my
lord's master-cook waiting to carve. Below the salt are standing
guests, merchants and others from the borough, who, not
being of gentle birth, are awaiting the entrance of my lord
and his distinguished visitors. Presently a flourish of trumpets
from the trumpeters in the gallery announces the entry of
the gentles from the private apartments in the north end.

Here comes the Earl of Sutherland, accompanied by Sir


Robert Gordon, the Laird ot" Assynt and the rest of his suite ;
after them follows Earl Patrick, now in the prime of life,
leading a fair-haired boy, who, in spite of being the bastard
grandson of one, like himself, born out of wedlock, looks royal
Stewart on every line of his countenance. Bringing up the
rear come David Kennedy, my lord's poor cousin and hench-
man, the crafty Dischington, and the rest of the gentlemen of
my lord's household.

The guests have all taken their places, and my lord's chap-
Iain, successor to the unfortunate Parson of Orphir, has said
grace, when another flourish of trumpets announces to the
crowd outside in the courtyard that the banquet has com-

(161 6.) Fourteen years have nearly passed away, and, once
again, we are standing, in the spirit, on the same spot from which
we witnessed the noble entertainment given to the Earl of
Sutherland. It is not much more than a year since, worn out
with five years of imprisonment and trial upon trial, Earl Patrick
was executed at the Market Cross of Edinburgh under his
royal cousin's warrant, not so much for the oppression and
crimes he had undoubtedly committed, as because Somerset,
the Steenie of the hour, was looking forward to a grant of his
escheated property. His son, too, whom we saw a fair-haired
laddie, met with a still more ignoble death by the cord some
six weeks before his father.^ It is the same banqueting hall,
but how changed is everything ! The rich hangings of damask
and tapestry have all vanished, all the handsome ornaments
are gone, and the whole aspect of the room conveys the im-
pression of one devoted to stern business, instead of revelry
and feasting. Not only is the appearance of the room changed,
but it is also a different time of year. Now a March equinoc-
tial gale is whistling down the chimneys, and making doors
and windows rattle again. It is getting late in the evening,
and the attendants are bringing in lamps and candles. In the
chair of state under the gallery sits Henry Stewart of Carlogy,
^ See Appendix O i, pp. 630-1.


his Majesty's Justice and Sheriff Depute; a handsome-looking
man, with a keen, intellectual face, he is now ill at ease. In
advance of his age, he does not believe that there is such a
crime as witchcraft, but, as a judge, he has to put his own
feelings on one side. Close to the big central fireplace, on
which is glowing a huge fire, partly of sea-borne coal, and partly
of peats, stands BaiUe Chalmers, whom, nearly four years ago
my Lord Archbishop of Glasgow, then Bishop of Orkney, did
elect with others "to govern and beir rewU " in the town of
Kirkwall, and to whom the procurator fiscal, certain of his
verdict, is talking about the affairs of the borough. Seated
round the table are the ministers and elders, who have been the
chief promoters of the drama, the first act of which is now
being played, and who, a few days hence, will look on at the
horrible scene at the Lon Head with much the same feelings
with which the officials of the Spanish Holy Office contemplate
the auto da fe of one who has been wicked enough to worship
the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, as his forefathers
did. Who is this woman, whose dark hair, complexion, and
accent betray her Celtic origin? It is the "rank wiche,"
Elspeth Reoch,^ " dochter to umquhill Donald Reoch, sumtyme
pyper to the Erie of Cathnes." Her very guards stand away
from her, as if fearing contamination from the accursed creature.
And yet, she is no hideous old hag, but, as you see when she
pushes the dark hair away which constantly keeps falling in
clusters over her face, a young woman, still in the prime of
life, and with a certain weird, melancholy beauty of her own,
in spite of the unsettled look of those dark eyes, which indi-
cates a certain lack of mental power. She has no fear of the
horrible doom that awaits her. When she can collect her poor
wandering faculties sufficiently to think at all, she feels sorry
she will see Lochaber no more, and that never again will she
hear the sound of the pipes, now swelling up, now dying away,
in some well-remembered haunt of her youth ; and occasionally
she wonders whether any one will play one of those mournful
1 See ante, p. 97.


laments, that have such a pathetic wail about them even to
southern ears, when they hear of the horrible death the Sas-
senachs have made her suffer, chiefly because — unhappy woman
that she is — she has inherited from her Highland forefathers
the fatal gift of second sight. All at once every voice becomes
silent, and a solemn stillness falls on the whole assembly, as
the gentlemen of the assize or jury, sixteen in number, and
headed by their chancellor or foreman — that William Bannatyn
of Gairsay, who four years back buried in St. Magnus Kirk,
hard by, his " godlie and virtous spous, Isbel Calcri " — walk
slowly into their places. The Sheriff now rises, and asks the
jury what is their verdict ; to which Bannatyn replies, " Guilty,
my lord, on all points of the dittay.''

His lordship then signs to a repulsive-looking man, from
whom the audience seem to shrink away even in a more marked
manner than they do from the prisoner. He is the dempster,
and proceeds to deliver in a harsh, strident voice the terrible
sentence, that on a certain day, she shall be taken by the lock-
man to the Lon Head, and there be strangled at the stake, and
that afterwards, lest her poor frail tenement of clay shall con-
taminate the earth, her body shall be burnt in ashes, and
scattered to the four winds of heaven.



— {continued).


" Once, off Dyrness, to the eastward,
Came King Kali in a mail-coat
Famous for its strength and brightness ;
But the land was not defenceless,
For, with five ships, nothing daunted,
Scorning flight in warlike temper,
Valiantly the Prince went forward
'Gainst the King's eleven vessels.

" Then the ships vi^ere lashed together —
Know ye how the men were falling ?
All the swords and boards were swimming
In the life-blood of the Scotsmen ;
Hearts were sinking — bowstrings screaming,
Darts were flying — spear-shafts bending ;
Swords were biting, blood flowed freely,
And the Prince's heart was merry.

" Never was a battle shorter ;
Soon with spears it was decided.
Though my lord had fewer numbers,
Yet he chased them all before him ;
Hoarsely croaked the battle-gull, when,
Thick fell the wounded king's-men ;
South of Sandwich swords were reddened."

Arnor Jarlarskald, Ork?icyiiii^a Saga.

This peninsula, to any one who is not pressed for time, is
well worth a visit, both on account of its Gloup and of the


Brough of Deerness, whereon are still to be seen the remains of,
we have every reason to believe, the chapel and bee-hive-
roofed huts of an early Celtic monastic settlement.

The little wayside public-house at Smiddy Banks is exactly
ten miles from Kirkwall, and a pedestrian, who does not mind
plain fare, might put up for the night there, and do the
sights of the district at his leisure on the following day.

As you ascend the hill to the south-east of the cathedral
you come to the junction of the Clay Loan, or Lane, with the
road, just above which the road to Holm St. Mary branches off.
This is the Lon Head of the trials for witchcraft, where so
many poor devils were " brunt in asses," having first been
strangled to death. When the road to Holm was being made
some years back, the stump of the gallows was brought to
light. This may have been the original gallows from which on
the 15th of November, 1683, James Loutitt,^ a son of a bailie
of the royal borough, was hung for sheep-stealing. As you
ascend the hill you see on your left Papdale House, wherein
lived Malcolm Laing, the historian, and close to which must
have been the scene of the defeat of the English marauding
party under John Elder Miles on the 13th of August, 1502,
before referred to. Till you reach the crest of the hill you
have most beautiful views looking northward.

The moment, however, you commence the descent your eye is
no longer strained by an overplus of beautiful scenery, and
the road is uninteresting enough till you reach the ayre or
isthmus of Dingyshow which connects Ueerness with the Main-
land, and on the western side of which are the grass-covered
remains of the broch of Dingyshow.

As you ascend the hill from the ayre looking westward you
see the hills of Hoy, and looking eastward Copinsay and its
attendant Horse. Of the latter islet there is a proverb that it
will fatten one sheep, feed two, and starve three. Copinsay
itself looks very smooth and verdant from the west, but on the
east it presents a nearly unbroken wall of rock 211 feet in
^ Thomas Brown's Note Book.


height, which is the principal breeding-place for the sea-fowl on
the eastern side of the group. On Corn Holm, which lies
between Copinsay and the shore, Low ^ found the remains of a
small chapel 17 ft. by 15 ft., with walls 5 ft. thick, but low,
and the doorway so low as to compel him to stoop on entering.
Close to the chapel was a well with stairs leading down to it,
and all around seem to have been scattered the remains of
small buildings, similar probably to those mentioned hereafter
on the Brough of Durness. Copinsay and Corn Holm would be
well worth a visit about the end of May or beginning of June.
Before coming to Smiddy Banks you see close to the shores of
a beautiful sandy bay the house of Newark, the original
building of which was erected by John Earl of Carrick.

About two miles beyond Smiddy Banks you come to the
church, one of the usual typical Presbyterian places of worship,
which has been erected in the place of the two-towered church
seen by Low, and thus described by him : -

"The Church of Deerness is very remarkable, and part of it
looks to be pretty ancient : the east end consists of a vault
which crosses the breadth of the inside, and at each side of
this is erected a small steeple. Thro' the vault or quire one
enters the steeple on his right hand, and by a turnpike stair
goes to a small apartment or vestry built between the steeples.
From this last apartment he enters the second, which, or both
probably, have had bells ; these are now gone, said to have
been carried away by Cromwell's soldiers. Tradition is not
clear (and there are no records) who was the builder of this
Church. The steeples are said to be monumental, and placed
over a Lady's two sons buried there, but whether this is so or
not is hard to determine."

In Thomas Brown's note-book is a curious entry relative to
this church. "1690, Feb. ist, Wm. Craigie of Gairsay was
married to Emma Grahame, Relict of John Buchanan of
Sandyside, at the Kirk of St. Androi's, and the brydal olden at
the same houss, and in respect it is observed be tradition no
^ Low's Tour, p. 47. - IhUcvi, p. 53.


persones that is married in the Kirk of Deirnes hath any good
success or thryving, and thairfor they went and was marrid by
Mr. Jon. PhiUips, minister at the said United Kirk."

The original church, which was dedicated to St. Peter, was
" by a jury of tradesmen, on oath, declared in 1789 too small,
ruinous, and irreparable." ^ The foundations were removed
some twenty years ago, to enlarge the burial ground.

There is a curious triangular-shaped stone in the churchyard,
one side of which is cut in facets like those on the drops of a
chandelier. There is another similar stone in Rendale, known
as the Queen of Morocco's gravestone. The road ends at the
church, and to visit the Gloup and Brough you must trust to
your legs.

Half-a-mile's walk across the links brings you to Sandside,
where the ruins of the old house of the Buchanans, who
were people of position in the islands in the seventeenth
century, are still to be seen. On the chimney-piece of one of
the rooms was the following lively Calvinistic sentiment,
calculated to aid digestion, " Who '^ can dwell with everlasting
burnings ? " Just off this part of the coast was fought the
memorable sea-fight between the Great Jarl Thorfinn and that
Karl Hundason mentioned in the Saga^ whose identity with
any known Scottish monarch has been such a puzzle to his-
torical inquirers.

About three-quarters of a mile beyond Sandside you come
to the Gloup of Deerness. This consists of a vast chasm some
70 yds. long by perhaps 40 yds. in breadth at the widest part.
The sides are perpendicular and about 80 ft. in height. From
the eastern end a tunnel or arch some 60 yds. long com-
municates with the sea, through which with an easterly gale
the surf must be driven in grand style. Standing at the
western end of the gloup, where a small burn flows over
the cliff, you get a glimpse of the sea outside through the
arch. There is said to be a cave directly under this burn, to
which, in calm weather, access can be had by a boat.

^ Eirst Statistical Account, vol. xx. p, 266. ' Low's Tour, p. 53.


Anotlier tliree-quarters of a mile or so beyond the Gloup
brings you to the Brough of Deerness. This is a stack or rock
nearly insulated at high tide. You first have to descend to the
beach and then clamber over some large boulders till you reach
the western side of the stack, which is from 80 to 100 ft.
above sea-level. A very narrow and dangerous path, except to
people with very steady heads, leads to the summit, which con-
sists of a plateau, oval in shape, and about 400 ft. by 240 ft.
On the land side are the remains of a stone cashel or wall. In
the centre, or nearly so, of the plateau are the remains of the
old chapel of pilgrimage,^ measuring externally 24 ft. 5 in.
by 17 ft. 4 in., and internally 17 ft. 4 in. by 10 ft. 2 in.
The door is at the west end, and tliere appears to have
been only one window at the eastern end, and that, like
the door, is mutilated. In the north wall is an ambry or
recess. Scattered all over the plateau are the remains of cells,
eighteen in number, built of uncemented stones ; the largest
of which measures externally 24 ft. by 12 ft., and internally
18 ft. by 6 ft.

On the landward side is a wall. Anderson - is of opinion
that both chapel and cells go back to the days of the monastic
phase of the early Celtic Church.

It is not impossible, therefore, that these rude buildings may
have l)een erected by Cormac or some of his followers, and
be nearly thirteen hundred years old.

When Jo Ben wrote, in 1529, the chapel was known as
"the Bairns of Burgh," and he narrates how persons of all
ages and classes from the different islands made pilgrimages
to the place, and how bare-footed, on hands and knees, they
climbed with difficulty to the top by a jmth that only admitted
one at a time to ascend. Once at the top, with bent knees
and hands clasped, they proceeded three times round the chapel
appealing to the Bairns of Burgh, and every now and then
throwing stones and water behind their backs. Even at that

^ lOryden's Ruined Churches.

'^ AniX^TYOxif. Sco.'land in Early Christian Times, Fir

Online LibraryJohn R TudorThe Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state → online text (page 24 of 59)