Category Archives: Orkney Islands

Selchies – shape-shifting seals

selchie

The Selchie (or Selkie) is a seal that can shed its skin and take the form of a human on land.  These legendary creatures belong to the Hebrides and Shetland and Orkney isles, where seals have been hunted for their pelt, meat and oil.  The large soulful eyes of seals must have disturbed even hardened folk subsisting in these remote Scottish islands, and the tales of the selchies capture this ambivalence.  Feelings of loss and longing are all pervasive. Continue reading Selchies – shape-shifting seals

Lighthouse holiday in the Orkneys

In a stark remote landscape, you can stay next to the Cantick Head Lighthouse on the island of Hoy in two self-catering lighthouse keepers’ cottages (All Grade B listed buildings, designed by the Stevenson brothers).  They overlook the Cantick Sound where porpoises, seals and whales are regular visitors.  Cantick head Lighthouse Cottages

The Stronsay Beast

While reading about basking sharks, I came across the story of the Stronsay beast, a large, dead sea-creature that washed ashore on the island of Stronsay in the Orkney Islands, after a storm in 1808. The decomposed carcass was said to measure 55 feet in length, without the tail. The terrible beast was reported in the local press athe time:

“Its flesh was described as being like ‘coarse, ill-coloured beef, entirely covered with fat and tallow and without the least resemblance or affinity to fish’. The skin, which was grey coloured and had an elastic texture was said to be about two inches thick in parts.”
Account of the Stronsay Beast as reported in The Orcadian newspaper. From The Stronsay Beast

The Natural History Society of Edinburgh was unable to identify the carcass and decided it was a new species, probably a sea serpent. Later the anatomist Sir Everard Home dismissed the measurement, declaring it must have been around 36 feet, and deemed it to be a decayed basking shark as basking sharks can take on a ‘pseudo plesiosaur’ appearance when they decompose. “First the shark’s jaws – which are attached only by a small piece of flesh – drop off leaving what looks like the remains of a long neck and a small skull.” More here

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