An Orkney Folk Tale: The Hills of Hoy
This traditional tale from Orkney tells us about how the Lochs of Stenness and Harray and the Hills of Hoy were made! In the olden days folk tales like this would have been told on winter nights around a fire.
There was once a giant who lived in Caithness and what he loved more than anything else was his garden. But the soil there was poor and he looked over the Pentland Firth towards Orkney and he saw how green the islands were.
There was once a giant who lived in Caithness and what he loved more than anything else was his garden. But the soil there was poor and he looked over the Pentland Firth towards Orkney and he saw how green the islands were. Oh, if only he had some of that good, fertile earth for his garden.
One day he took a straw basket called a ‘caisie’, which you wear on your back with a strap that goes around your chest to hold it in place, and he took his staff and he waded across the sea towards Orkney. He was so huge that the water barely came up to his knees.
When he found a likely spot he set his caise on the ground and, with one of his huge hands, he scooped up a handful of soil and turf and tipped it into the caise. Then he took his other hand and gouged out another huge handful of earth and tipped that into the caise, which filled it. Then he swung the caise onto his back, adjusted the strap and set off home. Now, water flowed into the two huge holes that he made and these became the Stenness and Harray Lochs.
As he carried on his journey home a couple of small bits of earth fell from the caise and landed in the sea, which made the Inner and Outer Holms that you see in Stromness harbour. Then a large piece of turf slid off the top of the caise and fell into the sea with a mighty splash, and there it remains to this day as the island of Graemsay, with its two lighthouse.
He hadn’t gone much further when disaster struck and the strap of the caise broke and his whole load of earth and turf fell onto the ground, which made the Hills of Hoy. The poor old giant was so upset that he went home and never came back again.
But there were smaller giants who lived in Orkney later and these giants loved to dance. The place that they chose for their dances was the strip of land between the two lochs that the Caithness giant had created. They danced and danced in a great circle as a fiddler played the tune.
Around and around they went, having such fun that they lost track of the time and the sun rose and turned them all to stone. There they remain to this day. We now call them the Ring of Brodgar and the Comet Stone that lies nearby is the fiddle player.
Tom is a champion of folk tales from Orkney, bringing them back to the public through books and as a professional storyteller. His day job is at the Orkney Museum. Along with his wife, Rhonda, he runs Orkneyology.com to bring more stories into the world at a time when they are much needed.