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Orkney comprises 67 islands of which about a third are inhabited.  It is a green and fertile land and ancient history is very evident, for Orkney has the highest concentration of prehistoric monuments anywhere in northern Europe.  Of these the most famous is probably Skara Brae, a neolithic village on Mainland (the largest of the islands) that would have been inhabited between 3100 and 2450 BC but was abandoned when swamped and buried (and preserved) by a sand storm.  Also on Mainland is Maes Howe which dates from about 2800 BC and is the largest chambered cairn in Britain.  The Vikings discovered it in the 12th century and the incredible collection of graffiti within the central chamber is a record (not always in very good taste!) of their visit.  Further north, on the little island of Papa Westray, is the Knap o' Howar, the oldest standing house in Western Europe, inhabited about 5500 years ago.  There are many, many other sites of archeological interest on these islands - on average, about three sites to the square mile!

Orkney's background and tradition is Norse in origin, and much of it is set out in The Orkneying Saga, written in Iceland in the 12th century.  One of the most famous of Orkney's Norse earls was Earl Rognvald, who came to the islands from Norway in the 12th century and won the earldom in 1137.   In thanks he decided to found a cathedral in Kirkwall dedicated to St Magnus.   In 1151 Rognvald and Bishop William set off on a crusade during the course of which they seem to have had no qualms in rounding up Christians for sale in a Muslim slave market.  Rognvald met a sticky end at the hands of his relatives; rather more surprising was the fact that almost before the century was out he had been canonised!    His red and yellow sandstone cathedral, however, survives and flourishes, and is one of only two pre-Reformation cathedrals in Scotland to remain structurally complete.

It was from Orkney in about 1390 that Henry Sinclair and his band of adventurers set sail towards the "New World" - the first time that particular phrase is recorded. After a fairly uneventful voyage they got to Nova Scotia and spent quite a lot of time there before sailing on down the coast of New England. En route one of their number died and so they stopped and buried him in what is now Westford, Massachusetts. That's why there's a rock there with, roughly carved on it, an effigy (albeit now very difficult to decipher) of a 14th century knight with a shield bearing the Gunn clan coat of arms. Sinclair was back in Orkney by 1399 but he never made another trip to the New World - the following year Henry IV of England attacked Orkney and Sinclair, following the common Scottish trait of abandoning a good defensive position in favour of a weak attacking one, was killed. A hundred years later someone called Christopher Columbus claimed to discover America.

Not until 1472 did Orkney become subject to the Scottish crown when it was ceded to James III on failure of payment by Christian I of Norway and Denmark of the dowry of his daughter Margaret, the Maid of Norway.

Orkney was not well treated by its new Scottish masters of whom the worst was probably Earl Patrick Stewart, who treated the islanders shamelessly and viciously, evicting many from their homes, extorting money, and subjecting them to slave labour.  Patrick eventually received his just deserts, being hanged in Edinburgh for treason in 1615 notwithstanding a plea from the ministers visiting him that the execution be delayed for a few days so that Patrick might at least learn The Lords Prayer!

Scapa Flow, the natural anchorage between Mainland and Hoy, is very popular with divers as it was here that the German battlefleet of over 200 vessels was interned after the First World War.  While the authorities were wondering what to do with the fleet, the crews solved the problem by scuttling the vessels much to the excitement, no doubt, of a party of Stromness schoolchildren who were being taken round the fleet by boat at the time.  Stromness, incidentally, was the home of Orkney poet and novelist George MacKay Brown who sadly died recently.

Our map of Orkney measures 12 x 14 inches (300 x 370 mm) when stitched on the recommended 27-count Linda evenweave material and has 10 buildings, standing stones, two different ferries, fishing and sailing boats, place names, crest and Viking longboat as compass.  The design requires twenty-six shades of Anchor stranded cotton.  Stitch count is 159 x 196.

Chartpack 15.25 UK pounds
Chartpack Plus Threads 22.50 UK pounds


We are grateful to Orkneyjar for permission to use their photograph of the Hoy Sound.
Photograph © Orkneyjar

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