Things To DoMyths & Legends

The name Stronsay, derives from the Old Norse name, Strjonsey, given by Viking settlers and variously translated as ‘star island’ – reflecting the distinctive coastal contours and numerous bays – ‘profit island’ and, more prosaically, ‘good fishing and farming island’.

There are several mentions of Stronsay in the Orkneyinga Saga, a Norse history of the Earls of Orkney dating from c.1200, including the burning of 9 men in a family feud and the negotiations at Huip Ness that led to Earl Erland becoming ruler of all Orkney.

While Norse/Viking colonisation began around 700AD, human presence on the island can be traced back much further than that. Two flint arrowheads unearthed in 2007 are believed to be some 10,000-20,000 years old, making them the earliest such artefacts to be found anywhere in Scotland.

For much more information contact the Stronsay Ranger.

Among the many myths and legends which embroider the island’s past is that of the ‘Mermaid’s Chair’, a rock seat in the middle of Mill Bay. It is said that any girl sitting here can predict the future. An alternative history has it that this is where Orkney’s infamous storm witch Scota Bess would sit and cast her havoc wreaking spells.

Most famous of all is the tale of the Stronsay Beast. This relates to the decomposing carcass of a strange, long necked sea creature measuring some 55 feet in length which was discovered on the rocks at Rothiesholm Head in 1808. Whether this was a prehistoric survivor or merely the bloated body of a large basking shark remains a matter of conjecture among locals to this day.

The long history of Stronsay is chronicled by numerous archaeological sites dotted around the island, ranging from drystone brochs to hermitages and ancient burial sites dating back to the Iron Age and even earlier. These include the holy Well of Kildinguie, The Malme, Tam’s Castle, the Brough of Burgh Head, Lamb Ness and the Hillock of Baywest … all easily accessible and well worth a visit.