19/06/2013 - I don't know what I can add to the brilliant fieldnotes on here already but I feel I have to write something. This has to be one of the best sites I have ever been to in my life. The effort to get here is worth it, felt a bit like our own little pilgrimage.
We took the early ferry from Stromness to Moaness on Hoy. It was a beautiful morning as we walked the 3 miles or so along quiet roads to the Dwarfie Stane. The setting is lovely for the stone and we stood for awhile, just gazing at it and the surrounding landscape before entering. The feeling of calm inside is hard to describe. We sat and said little to each other. Time passed and we moved on.
Goes without saying, a must visit.
We looped back over Ward Hill with its incredible view over Orkney, back to the ferry.
We set off early from Kirkwall to catch the first ferry of the morning to Hoy, taking advantage of one of the extra sailings taking place that day due to the Kirwall County show being on. It’s severely foggy as we drive to Houton to get the boat, although I’m putting my trust in the weather forecast which is predicting a fine day later. I’m hoping this is the case, having experienced the bleakness of Hoy in grim weather before. My previous visits to the Dwarfie Stane have been via the foot passenger ferry from Stromness, and it’s nice not to have the long walk on foot to reach the tomb, with the ever present threat of missing the boat back and having to emulate Mr Mounsey by spending a night inside the Stane itself.
Arriving at Lyness is like entering an eerie otherworld, as the shapes of the large WW1 era oil tank, and the battleship guns outside the Scapa Flow museum loom out of the mist. The three other vehicles present on our crossing zoom off, and within ten minutes of disembarking we are alone, not a soul visible anywhere, and the feeling of being marooned on a deserted island all pervading.
By the time we have driven to Betty Corrigal’s grave the mist is thinning, and the lonely white gravestone is just visible away from the bleak road, which as it climbs higher breaks out above the fog to a gorgeously clear sunny blue sky. The Dwarfie Stane is well signposted from the road, and pulling into the nice roomy layby opposite the path, you can just make out the stone block of the tomb hunkering beneath the cliffs of the Dwarfie Hamars. Once again I’m struck by how remote this place feels, although now with sunny blue skies and the sparkling azure sea in the background things don’t feel as brooding as when I was last here.
The path to the stone is well defined, although rocky and occasionally rough going, and seems a further walk from the road than I remember, but once you reach the tomb it is so worth it! Such a unique monument, and I love the rich and redolent folklore surrounding it. It’s a truly magical location. Inside things are just as spectacular, surprisingly roomy and comfortable, I waste no time in reclining on the stone ‘bed’ and if I were camping in this desolate landscape I can think of worse places to shelter. I could certainly see Snorro the dwarf making a comfortable home here!
It’s also worth mentioning the incredible resonance of the acoustics inside the stone, in one particular area near the centre of the chamber the bass reverberations, even just from normal speech can be felt as a physical thing. It also looked as if there might be at least one large cupmark on the interior face of the blocking stone, which interestingly enough would have meant the carving was for the benefit of the interred occupant, rather than any sort of external decoration, and reminded me of the positioning of cupmarks on the interior cist slabs of tombs in the Kilmartin valley.
To echo Carls fieldnotes, this place is a definite must visit, and if you’re ever on Orkney it would be remiss not to visit the Dwarfie Stane, although taking the car over to Hoy is not cheap if budgets are tight the Stromness foot passenger ferry is more reasonable, although it would involve a long fairly strenuous walk to the stone, it makes it feel even more of a pilgrimage when you get there! (I think there may have been a place that hired out bicycles near to the ferry pier at Moaness on Hoy, last time I came via that route, but that was quite a while ago!)
It’s hard to leave on a day as glorious as today, but we pressed on to Rackwick, a few miles further along the road, and as beautiful a setting as ever you’re likely to see, surrounded by the sea and mountains, in splendid isolation with the islands of Orkney stretching before us, it reminds me again just how wonderful these islands are.
We drove off the ferry and headed straight for the Dwarfie Stane.
The wind was blowing a gale and the crossing was somewhat bumpy!
The drizzle was coming down and the mountains were shrouded in mist.
As we drove north through Hoy the road climbed and the mist worsened.
I had planned to stop at Betty Corrigall’s grave but drove past it as we couldn’t see it!
We then came off the B9047 and scanned the hillside to try to spot the tomb.
We headed south until we reached the small parking area and peered across the moor to see the path leading to the tomb vanish in the mist.
North Hoy is a very desolate and remote place – a land of peat moorland.
In this area there are no houses, no farms – no signs of habitation at all.
Karen thought we were mad as Dafydd and myself put our waterproofs on and headed out into the gloom.
To say the walk was atmospheric would be an understatement.
The mist swirled around us; one minute we could see perhaps 20 metres ahead – the next 2 metres.
The wooden slats on the walkway were wet and slippery. The ‘path’ then becomes a small stream as we headed higher up the hillside.
Then we saw it.
Peeping out of the mist – then it was gone.
I have to confess I started to get very excited, my pulse quickened – so did my steps.
I encouraged Dafydd on and eventually we reached the tomb.
Needless to say we had the place to ourselves!
Wow – this is fantastic.
The huge lump of rock was bigger than I expected and we both quickly dived inside to get out of the wind and drizzle.
Once inside all was perfectly quiet. Dafydd seemed to be completely at home.
The quality of the workmanship to create this tomb is simply stunning.
It is incredible to think that this was created without metal tools.
The carving of the tomb, the quality of the finish easily compares with the great burial chambers of Orkney. In fact I would say this tomb rates as highly as any other final resting place you would care to think of.
The side chamber with the ‘bed’ and ‘pillow’ is a work of art and a fitting resting place for someone obviously very important.
The weather outside seemed to be getting worse but inside all was well.
I could have stayed here for hours but Dafydd was by now starting to get a bit restless and I was conscious of Karen and Sophie waiting in the car.
We ventured outside and walked around this mighty lump of rock and its equally mighty blocking stone.
I am sure on a clear day the views would be excellent but not today.
Not that I mind at all as I think the swirling mist only added to the experience.
In all the sites I have ever visited I would say this one has been the most atmospheric.
It is certainly one that will always stay fondly in my memory.
This is a truly magical place and I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.
Yes I know it is a long way to travel and yes I know it is in a remote spot.
But even if I had not visited another site on Orkney it would have been worth the cost and effort just to visit the Dwarfie Stane.
If you are at all able please make the effort to visit – you will not be disappointed.
On the back south through Hoy the mist started to lift and this time we could see Betty’s grave from the road.
There is a small parking area and a sign post – the white picket fence had seen better days but was still standing.
I walked over and paid my respects. A very poignant place given Betty’s story.
A small donation box was next to her grave for the upkeep of the grave. I of course made a contribution.
It is strange how two graves in a remote area on a Scottish island; separated in time by thousands of years; could have such a profound affect on me.
I wonder what it all means?
The most impressive approach to any of the sites we visited.
The island of Hoy were the tomb lies, is in itself a very desolate place, few houses few farms, and even fewer people.
Used by the British Navy during the war left the island with many wartime points of interest.
The Dwarfie Staine is to the more remote part north of the island, and lies between a huge valley made by the two main hills on the island.
You can reach it by car and then walk 1/3 mile up to the stone. It's an amazing place. Follow the B9047 north (it's the only road there) and watch for the sign as you approach the Bay of Quoys. Stop off an take a look at Betty Corrigall's grave on the way.
Dwarfie Stane, Hoy
We were up at 6:45am in our caravan at Durrsidale, near Evie, to get to the ferry terminal at Houtan for the 7:45am ferry- drove like a rally-driver-madman-possessed (which I'm not keen on!) to get there on time. It was a beautiful crossing on the 'Hoy Head'. We got to Linksness and decided to drive past the Dwarfie Stane first, which was an extremely difficult thing to do, and go see the Old Man beforehand. The weather was okay til we got about half way up the island and then a blanket of fog came down and stayed down! The Old Man was fab and I would recommend it if on Hoy to see the Dwarfie Stane. The cliffs around it are amazingly high and not for the faint-hearted. Anyways- back to the car after our very wet outing and back down to try and find the Stane. It's not the most obvious as most of the other large stanes/rocks/boulders that have fallen from Dwarfie Hamars all look very similar. However once in the car park there is a path straight (ish) to the right Stane. This is a really nice tomb cut from a solid piece of rock- it must have taken an age! I had my souterrain/tomb kit with me (ie- torch, candle lanterns, waterproof matches) but it's not really needed for this one as the chambers are just big enough to sit in. I carefully lit some candle lanterns anyway to add to the atmosphere and spent a very quiet, peaceful and contemplative time inside. Hoy is a cracking island and has some beautifully named places on it- just have a look at the OS map- Candle of the Sale, Summer of Hoy, Burn of the White Horse, Geo of the Light.
The earliest known account of the Dwarfie Stone is in a Latin description of Orkney in 1529 by Jo. Ben, an unknown author, variously identified as John the Benedictine, or John Bellenden. Ben relates that the chambers had been originally made by a giant (i.e., in point of strength) and his wife, and that the latter was enceinte at the time, as was shown by her bed, which had the shape of her body. He was unable to account for the use of the door stone farther than that it was related that another giant, who was at enmity with the occupant of the stone and grieved at his prosperity, made the door stone to fit the size of the entrance so that the occupant might be shut in and perish from hunger, and that thereafter when he himself ruled the island he might have the stone for his own use. With this end in view the other giant took the stone, thus made, to the top of the mountain, and with his arms threw it down into the entrance. The giant inside awakened, and found himself in a quandary, being unable to get out, whereupon he made a hole in the roof with his mallets, and so escaped.
From A W Johnston's article on the Dwarfie Stone in 'The Reliquary' April 1896. He also writes: "Dr. Clouston, in his Guide to Orkney , states that offerings used to be left in the stone by visitors."
also that In Bleau's Atlas (1662) the stone is called the Dwarves' Stone, pumilionum lapis, or commonly "Dwarfie Steene." It is also related that it was a common belief that the cells conduced to the begetting of children by those couples who might live in them.
and It may be noted that Ben, in 1529, described the doorstone as stopping the entrance, ostium habet obtrusum lapide; later writers, including Ployen, in 1839, describe it as standing before the entrance.
Perhaps that shouldn't be given any more credence than the folklore though? as early accounts often get the measurements of the stone completely wrong, and we can be pretty sure those haven't changed at least.
There seems no end to the folklore this weird place has inspired:
This extraordinary work has probably been the pastime of some frolicsome shepherd, or secluded devotee; and the history of the stone having been lost, it was natural for the people of a superstitious age and country to apply a fabulous origin both to the stone and its inhabitants, in so retired and lonely place as the vale of Rockwich. The story, therefore, goes, that the Dwarfie-Stone fell from the moon, and that it was once the habitation of a fairy and his wife, a water-kelpie.
'Memoranda from the Note-book of a Traveller' in the Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, Jan-June 1822.
Still, it's clear that the stone was a popular tourist spot for travellers, so maybe the guides just told them whatever popped into their heads at the time. I think I would have done the same.
Another strange tale concerns the mountain to the north west, Ward Hill. It's an isolated hill and the highest point on the island.
At the west of this stone stands an exceeding high mountain of a steep ascent, called the Ward-hill of Hoy, near the top of which, in the months of May, June, and July, about midnight, is seen something that shines and sparkles admirably, and which is often seen a great way off. It hath shined more brightly than it does now, and though many have climbed up the hill, and attempted to search for it, yet they could find nothing. The vulgar talk of it as some enchanted carbuncle, but I take it rather to be some water sliding down the face of a smooth rock, which, when the sun, at such a time, shines upon, the reflection causeth that admirable splendour."-- Dr Wallace's Description of the Islands of Orkney, 1700, p52.
I wonder what this can mean, whether it was an ongoing local tale or just an observation. Whichever, I don't like his tone, talking of The Vulgar, and although a carbuncle is a gemstone, you can't shake the feeling he's well aware of its alternative meaning. And he blames it on the sun, and I know it can be quite light at midnight in the north of Scotland, but surely there's not the angle for reflecting to be going on? dunno. It sounds nice though.
What was the original use of the cell, or by whom it was made, is unknown. There is, however, in Orkney, a tradition, that a monk from the Western Isles came to Hoy, where he led a recluse life ; and it may be supposed he is the person who hewed this stone into the form of a cell.
Remarks made in a Journey to the Orkney Islands. By Principal Gordon of the Scots College in Paris. p256-268 in Archaeologica Scotica: transactions of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume 1 (1792).
The Orkneys had sea-trows and hilltrows. All natural phenomena were regarded as the work of these supernatural agents, to whom worship was offered. A remarkable monument of this worship still remains on the hills of Hoy, the most mountainous of the islands. It is known as the Dwarfie Stone, and consists of a large detached block of sandstone, seven feet in height, twentytwo feet long, and seventeen feet broad. The upper end has been hollowed out by the hands of devotees into a sort of apartment, containing two beds of stone, with a passage between them.
The upper, or longer bed, is 5 ft. 5 in. long by 2 ft. broad, and intended for the dwarf. The lower couch is shorter, and rounded off, instead of being squared, at the corners ; it is intended for the dwarfs wife.
There is an entrance of about three feet and a half square, and a stone lies before it, calculated to fit the opening. Not satisfied with having provided such a solid habitation for the genius loci and his helpmate, the islanders were still in the habit, at no very distant period, of carrying propitiatory gifts to this fetich.
Sir Walter Scott visited the stone in 1814. He mentions it in chapter 19 of The Pirate:
"The lonely shepherd avoids the place, for at sunrise, high noon, or sunset, the misshapen form of the necromantic owner may sometimes wtill be seen sitting by the Dwarfie Stone."
Later in the book he describes the 'witch' Norna's visits to it to communicate with the troll who lives there.
In the 17th century at least, it was considered to be the home of a giant and his wife, with the stone inside their bed, and a hollowed area in it showing where the pregnant wife slept. Though judging by the size of it, a 'dwarfie' would fit better than a giant!
A late 16th century tradition suggested that the hole in the roof was gnawed by a giant who was trapped inside, after another giant blocked the entrance with a stone.
(info from Grinsell's folklore of prehistoric sites)
An echo is called, in Icelandic, 'dverg-mal' or dwarf-talk, and there is said to be a fine echo from under the Dwarfie Hamars. Then there is Trowie (Troll's) Glen to the westward of the stone. A troll or trow in old Icelandic lore is a huge creature or giant, mostly in an evil sense. Mr Heddle states that Trowie Glen is still considered an uncanny spot, and that people will go a mile or two out of their way rather than pass it after dark. In Jamieson's Scottish Dictionary, under Hill-Trows, it is stated that the superstitious in some places endeavour to bribe the trows by leaving an offering of food for them every night, being persuaded that otherwise they would destroy the family before morning. Probably this accounts for the offerings mentioned by Dr. Clouston as being left in the Dwarfie Stone.
From Alfred W Johnston's 'The 'Dwarfie Stone' of Hoy, Orkney' in the Reliquary for April 1896.
Loads of eighteenth and nineteenth century graffiti can be found on the tomb. Canmore mentions that by Major William Mounsey, who was a spy for Britain in Afghanistan and Persia. You can see his name with the date 1850 on the south face, above the sentence 'I have sat two nights and so learnt patience' in fancy Persian calligraphy. This is said to be in reference to the revolting local midges..
Canmore also says:
"30m ESE of the Stone is another big boulder which seems to have been intended as a closing stone; it measures 1.55m by 1.05m by 0.8m and is shaped at one end into a 'stopper' form more neatly than the shaping of the closing stone now in front of the doorway. In a line downslope N by W from the tomb, at 11m, 17m and 19m from it, are massive edge-set boulders. The positioning of these may be fortuitous, but they could conceivably be remnants of an alignment running up to the Stone."