The Dwarfie Stane
The Dwarfie Stane rests on the Island of Hoy in Orkney. It is a fascinating, and mysterious feature of the landscape nestled into a steep sided valley between Rackwick and Quoys. Perhaps unsurprisingly an abundance of folklore surrounds the Dwarfie Stane, which was popularised by Sir Walter Scott who wrote in his novel, The Pirate:
"This extraordinary dwelling, which Trolld, a dwarf famous in the northern Sagas, is said to have framed for his own favourite residence".
Others have written about The Legend of Snorro the Dwarf which can be read in full here.
The folklore that has emerged from the Dwarfie Stane is likely in part due to the mystery that surrounds it. The stone is the only example of a rock-cut tomb in Britain, hollowed out by stone, antlers and clear perseverance! It is perhaps not surprising then that the mystery of why the stone exists and its purpose have provoked speculation.
Inside the stone are two chambers resembling bed places although these are small, and too small for a person of average stance to sleep. This has partly led to its association with dwarf folklore. Other stories have suggested that it was inhabited at some point by a hermit or monk, whilst others suggest that its origins and features (dating back 5000 years to between Neolithic and Early Bronze Age) suggest a potential spiritual significance, evidence of belief in an afterlife.
A report by John Bremner in his memoirs Hoy, the Dark Enchanted Island, speak of a cave that was found in the cliffs behind the stone structure. In here Bremner suggests a link between the cave and the stone, and its potential ritualistic nature, speaking of a polished egg-shaped stone that was found which he considered to be a symbol stone for fertility.
There is, however, no evidence of anything ever being found in the Dwarfie Stane to explain its social or spiritual value. In the top of the stone is a hole, now filled with concrete, that suggests an attempt to break into the stone at a time no later than the 16th Century. However, why this occurred and whether anything was removed is unknown.
The best evidence of modern use of the stone intriguingly comes from graffiti carved into the structure in the 18th and 19th Century. A particularly fascinating piece of graffiti is a beautiful piece of Persian calligraphy which reads ‘I have sat two nights and so learnt patience’. The same author wrote his name in Latin backwards on the stone – Major Willian Mounsey who was a British spy in Afghanistan and Persia – and the date 1850. It is believed that the calligraphy was in reference to his ordeal with the midges which inhabit the boggy surrounds of the Dwarfie Stane – an understandable test on patience for any traveller!