Virtual Vault Rev James Wallace's Description of the Isles of Orkney, 1684 (MS)
Chapter 4

Chapter 4th
The Ancient Monuments &
Curiosities of this Countrey

There is in Hoy, lying betuixt tuo Hills, a ston called the Dwarfieston: threttie six foot long, eighteen foot broad & nine foot thick, hollowed within by the hand of some meason (for the prints of the meason-irons are to be seen on itt to this verie hour) with a squair hole                                                                                                                              of

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of about tuo foot hight for the entrie and a ston proportionable standing before itt for the door.  Within att one end is a bedd excellentlie hewen out of the ston, with a pillow qrin tuo men may Convenientlie lye att their full length.  Att the other end is aCouch & in the midle a hearth for a fire wt Round hole cutt out above for the chimney.  Itts thought itt hes been the residence of some melancholie hermite But ye vulgar legand sayes there wes once a famous giant residing in yt ile who whith his wife lived in that ston as their castle.


Att the west end of that stone stands ane exceeding high mountain, called the ward-hill off Hoy: neer the top of which, in the moneths of may, June & July, about midday is seen something yt shines & sparkes admirablie and which will be seen a great way off.  It hath shined more brightlie before then itt does now.  But what that is, tho manie have climbed up the hill & attempted to search for itt, yet they could find nothing.  The vulgar talks off itt as some inchanted Carbuncle, But I rather take itt to be some water sliding doun the face off a smooth rock which, when the Sun att such a tyme shines upon the reflection causeth that admirable splendor.

Att Stennis  where the Loch is narrowest in the midle


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haveing a causey off stons over itt for a Bridge there  is att the south end of the Bridge a Round, sett about with high smooth stons or flaggs (with out anie engraveing) of about 20 foot high above ground, six foot broad & a foot or tuo thick.  Betuixt yt Round & the Bridge are tuo stons standing of that same bigness with the rest, whereof one heth a round hole in the midst of itt.  And att the other end of the Bridge, about half a mile removed from it, is a Lairger round of about a hundred & ten paces diameter, sett about with such stons as the former save yt some of ym are fallen doun.  And att both east & west off this biger Round, are tuo artificiall (as is thought) green mounts.  Both these Rounds are ditched about & for the Satisfaction of the Reader I have sett doun ye figure of ye Greater.


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some conceive yt these Rounds have been places qr in tuo opposite armies encamped.  But others more probablie think that they wer the High places in the Pagan times, where on sacrifices wer offered &  that these tuo mounts wer the places where the ashes off the sacrifices wer flung.  And this is the more probable Because Boethius in the Lyfe of Mainus K of Scots makes mention of yt kynd off high stons, calling them ye Temples off the Gods.  His words are these “In memorie off what king Mainus ordained anent the worship of the Gods, there remains yet in our dayes manie Huge stons draun to gither in forme off a circle, named be ye people the ancient temples of the Gods: and itt is no small admiration to Considder by what airt or strength so huge stons have been brought to gither.

You will find beside in manie Places of this Countrey Obelisks or huge high stons, sett in the Ground, Like the former, & standing apairt (and indeed they are so bigg yt non sees them, but wonders by what engines they have been erected) which are thought to have bein sett up, either as a monument of some Remarkeable person that hes been buried there.  That way of honoring deserving & valiant persones being the invention of king Reuther as Boethius sayes.



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There is in Rousa, betuixt high Mountains a place called the Camps of Jupiter fring.  The name is strainge & wold import some notable accident, but qt itt was I could not learne.

Att the west end of the Mainland near Skeall on ye top of high Rocks for above a quarter off a mile in length, there is something like a street, all sett in reed clay, with a sort of reedish stons, off severall figures & magnitudes, haveing the Images & representations of severall things as itt wer engraven upon them & which is verie strainge, most off these stons when they are raised up, have yt same image engraven under qch they hed above.  That they are so figured by airt is not probable, nor can the reason of natures way in their engraveing be readilie given.  However I have given you a specimen of some of them in the following figures.

Illustrations (four)

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In the Links of Skeall, where the Sand is blowin away with the wind, are found severall places built four square, about a foot squaire with stons about weell cemented togither & a ston lying on the mouth haveing some black earth in them.  The like of which are also found in the Links of Rousum in Stronsa where also is found this remarkeable Monument the figure of qch I hve heer set doun.  Itt is a wholl round ston, almost like a half barrell, hollow within, sharp edged att ye top haveing a Bottom Joyned like the Bottom of a Barrell on the mouth wes a Round  ston, conform to the mouth of the monument & above that a Lairger ston for the preservation of the wholl.  Within wes found nothing but reed clay & Burnt Bones a parcell of which I sent to Sr Robert Sibbald, to whom also I purposed to have sent ye whol Monument, had itt not broken in peeces as they wer takeing itt from its seat.  He like yt this as also these other four squair Monuments have been some off these Ancient Urns qrin the Romans, when they wer in this Countrey, Laid up the ashes of their dead.


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Likewise in the Links of Tranabie in westra, have been found graves in the sand (after the sand hes been blowin away with the wind) in some of which wes seen a man lying with his sword on the ane hand & a danes ax, on the other, & others yt have hed doggs & combs & knives buried with them which seems to ane instance of the way how the Danes ( when they wer in this Countrey) buried their dead, as the former wes of the Romanes. Besyde in manie places of the Countrey are found litle hillocks in this forme which may be supposed to be the sepulchers of the Ancient Pights for Tacitus tells yt itt wes the way of the Ancient Germans  Verstegan yt itt wes the way of the Saxons to lay dead bodies on the Ground & cover them over with turves and clods of earth in the fashion of a litle hillock.  Hence itt seems yt the manie houses & villages in this Countrey, which are called be the name of Brogh and which are all of them built upon or besyde some such hillock, have been cemetaries for the bureing off the dead in the tyme of the Pights & Saxons: for the word Brogh in the old Teutonick language signifies a Burying place.

Moreover in verie manie places of this Countrey are to be seen the ruins & vestiges ofgreat, but Antick buildings, most of them now covered over with earth & called Pights houses some off them which it is like, have been the forts & residences off the Pights, or Danes when they possessed this Countrey.  Among the Rest, there is one in the Ile of Wyre called the castell of Cubbirow (or rather Coppirow which in ye Teutonick Language


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signifies, a towr of securitie from outward violence) itt is trenched about off itt nothing new  remains but ye first storie: itt is a perfect squaire the wall being eight foott thick stronglie built & cemented with lime ye breadth or length within walls not being above ten foot, haveing a lairge door & a small long slitt for the window off yt Cubbirow ye Comon people report manie idle fables not fitt to be inserted heer.

In the Parochin of Evie, near the sea, are some small hillocks, which frequentlie in the might tyme appear all in a fire.  Like wise the kirk of Evie, called St Nicholas is seen full of Light as iff torches or candells wer burning in itt all night.  This amazes the people greatlie, but possiblie it is nothing else but some thich glutinous metior that receives that Light from ye starrs.

Att the noup-head in westra is a Rock surrounded with the sea called Less which the Inhabitants of yt Ile say hes this strainge propertie, that iff a man goe upon itt haveing a peece of iron upon him (an itt wer but ane iron naile in his shoe) the sea will instantlie swell in such a tempestous way that no Boat cane come neer to take him off, and yt the sea will not be setled till the peece of Iron be flung into the sea.  I being there the last year to make ane experiment of itt, offered a shilling to a poor fellow to goe upon the rock with a peece of iron but he wold not goe upon itt on anie terms.

Sometyme about this Countrey are seen these men which they call Finmen.  Tuo years agoe one wes                                                                                                      seen

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seen sometym sailing sometym rowing up & dooun in his litle Boat, att the south end of the Ile of Eda.  Most of the people of the Ile flocked to see him, & when they adventured to putt out a Boat with men to see iff they could apprehend him, he presentlie fled away most swiftlie.  This same year another wes seen from westra, since which tyme they have gott few or no fishes: for they have this Remarque heer that these finnmen drive away the fishes from the place to which they come.

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