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The Dwarfie Stane

Chambered Tomb


Rock-cut chamber tombs are reasonably common in the Mediterranean, but the only one to be found in Scotland is to be found on Hoy. The massive sandstone block was carved out about 4,000 years ago, forming a space that has been said to look like a bedroom with a hole on top. The legend in the late sixteenth century was that a giant was imprisoned here by another and gnawed his way out through the roof, though when Martin Martin visited the site around a 100 years later he heard the tradition that a giant couple had found shelter there. His description was most domestic: one of the ends within this Stone there is a cut out Bed and Pillow, capable of two Persons to lie in: At the other opposite end, there is a void space cut out resembling a Bed, and above both of these there is a large Hole, which is suppos'd was a vent for Smoak.

Considered as a worked stone it is immense, and the obvious labour involved in cutting it must have suggested giant strength. As accommodation however, the Dwarfie Stane would hardly be comfortable for any but a very small giant and his wife, especially if she was pregnant as suggested by the hollowing of her side of the bed. John Brand, writing in 1703, doubts the tale that a giant couple 'had this stone for their Castle':

I would rather think, seeing it could not accomodate any of a Gigantick stature, that it might be for the use of some Dwarf, as the Name seems to import, or it being remote from any House might be the retired Cell of some Melancholick Hermite.

A number of travellers from at least the eighteenth century onward have added graffiti to the tomb, inside and out. One name is that of the well-known antiquary Hugh Miller, and another of 'a Persian gentleman', Guilemus Mounsey, who apparently slept a couple of nights in the stone in 1850, and have the Hoy locals a fright when he appeared from inside in his flowing eastern robes.

Sir Walter Scott probably visited in August 1814 and refers to the site in The Pirate (1821):

The lonely shepherd avoids the place, for at sunrise, high noon, or sunset, the mis-shapen form of the necromantic owner may sometimes still be sitting by the Dwarfie Stone.

The 'necromantic owner' is named as Trolld, 'a dwarf famous in the northern sagas'. By this Scott means a troll, an ogre-like being that figures prominently in Scandinavian legend, but which has mutated in Orkney and Shetland lore as a trow or trowie, much closer to a fairy.

The Lore Of Scotland - A Guide To Scottish Legends

Westwood & Kingshill
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
24th January 2024ce

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