Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

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Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Nova Orcadvm Descriptio Chorographica  
Pagination: 138-139
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Translation of text:

and destructive to them, as experience teaches. They most resemble the Scots of Caithness, with whom they have constant trade, in customs and Irish language.

From this island to the north is the island of Burray, separated from South Ronaldsay by a narrow strait (whose name is Water sound, or Half-blind[?]): three miles long, one wide, where it faces the island of Copinsay to the east. Burray, for its size, yields to almost none of the Orkneys in many respects; it produces most happily crops, oats, barley, peas, sheep, cattle and horses. To the west, where it rises a little higher, it consists of heather moor, in which the earth is black on top, and the upper crust when split into long turfs and rather large clods and dried in the sun, is collected for use as fuel; and when once lit in the same way as logs, it burns for a long time, and leaves little or more truly no ash except the finest and whitest.

There is a very famous dwelling here, easily comparable to the palaces of powerful magnates, both on account of the magnificence of the building, of stone blocks of great size, but easily cut, and of great quality (of all of which there is an immense supply in this island), and because of the availability of everything required for human use with which it is equipped: it was founded and completed by the skill, study and very great expense of the most illustrious Lord William Stuart, Lord of Mey, incomparable in respect of hospitality, liberality and humanity of all kinds. It is on a level plain, dry even in raging winter rains. On the side that faces the Mainland it is fitted out with rabbit burrows; there is an almost infinite production of them hence; either they are captured in nets stretched outside their holes, when they come out to drink, or they are forced to emerge by ferrets put into the dens and then killed by dogs waiting in hiding for their appearance. Next it has a small but very elegant chapel, carefully restored at the expense of the same Lord, in the middle of which, from a high beam, hangs the boat, amazing to see, of a man of Greenland origin. The minister of South Ronaldsay has the care of this church. Burray itself is quite well populated. Between Burray and the Mainland is a strait only a mile wide, but for its size, especially if troubled by the wind, stormy and with a swift tide; in the vernacular it is called Holm Sound, from the parish of Holm, part of the Mainland, which it flows past. In this strait lie three holms, situated not far from each other, namely Lamb Holm, in which a farmer lives, because it produces crops and grass, and Glimps Holm, grassy, and Hunda, covered with heather; both suited to pasturing beasts.

Now about two miles from Burray, to the north west, lies the island of Flotta, a little more than five miles long and three and a half wide, girt with high cliffs in some places, lower ones in others. It has various promontories, and a holm close to it, called Calf of Flotta, of the same nature as its mother Flotta. In Flotta there is also a house (generally called ‘the Bolb of Flotta’, that is, dwelling of Flotta) together with a church. It has little fertile ground, and correspondingly few inhabitants; but it is more abundant in heather moors and moorland birds, excellent to eat, and good catches of various fish, especially small, larger and very large coalfish (in the vernacular Sellaks, Cuithes, and Colmouses). It belongs to the aforesaid Lord of Mey.

For here about a mile to the west is South Fara, two miles long, scarcely one wide. Since it is very similar to Flotta in nature and in respect of commodities, it nourishes a few farmers.

From here about three miles to the south, with the sea between, is situated the island of Walls (commonly Waes), four and a half miles long, and three (in places a little more) wide. Its south coast is gnawed at as if by a rabid dog by the Pictish strait; its waves like so many teeth are strongly resisted by the very high and hard cliffs which stretch out before this island, and blunt the bite. It enjoys from and in itself quite a good production of crops, pastures, fish, sea- and land-birds, and ponies. There are very many buildings on it, and very many spirited inhabitants, in particular a dwelling called Snelsetter to the south, and one called Melsetter to the west. It also has an anchorage for ships not far from Snelsetter, quite commodious. Here too is an adequate church, which, as with the one in Flotta, only one minister serves; to it the inhabitants of South Fara also come to share in religious matters.

Beyond Walls directly to the west is the island of Hoy; it and Walls are called two islands by some, one by others: because especially around the equinoxes, that is the 11th of March and September, old style (when the seas are most violently stirred up and boiling), when the tide goes out and the sands are bared, they are joined by a narrow throat and make one island; for then travellers walk with dry feet from Walls to Hoy; when the tide comes in again and the sea is interposed, they really give the appearance of two islands. Hoy stretches eight miles in length, five in width. In respect of all commodities, it can easily rival Walls. In this island are two of the deepest ravines of all that the Orkneys have, which strike fear into those who look at the top and journey across them, if they do not know the paths; for they can seem to be the habitation of evil spirits rather than of mortals; certainly anyone set in them will see nothing except a small area of sky above and on each side mountains, high, sheer and pressing in. Of men wandering in these places it can truly be said: Woe to the solitary! The mountains here far surpass in height all other mountains of the Orkneys. Some of them are covered in moss and grass or heather; on them sheep roam, unwatched, wandering and almost wild, so that they are almost never caught by either dogs or any skill, but they are lost when they are released by old age alone and eaten by dogs or crows. Near a country village in this island, in the vernacular called Rackwick, is a very high and sheer promontory, facing almost north west, in whose caves an outstanding bird makes its nests and lays and hatches its eggs; it is called Lira (in the vernacular the Lyer), a little smaller than a goose and larger than a [pluvialis], fat to the extent that it seems to consist totally of lard. They roast it with its intestines on a spit, so that it tastes more pleasant, for it has a fishy smell, and eat it moistened with vinegar and ginger. It is among the great delicacies for the Orcadians themselves, and is accordingly sought out very carefully, though very dangerously, to be caught. The method of catching it is this: shortly after the 1st of August, when this bird is most to be eaten, a man of greater spirit and boldness, more inclined to meet dangers, and practised in this respect almost from the cradle, has a huge rope, set off with knots at intervals, more than 200 fathoms long, firmly tied round his body under [axis]: the rope is so formed that it makes a seat for the mans buttocks and a stool for his feet. Then he is slowly let down by some men standing on the top of the promontory, so that the rope should not rub on the sharp, jutting angles of the rocks and be caught and broken, and the falling man (as happened here some years ago by the precipitate letting out of the rope) before he reached the sea to be drowned, be torn apart into a thousand pieces. As soon as he has filled a large bag made for the purpose, which is done in a short time, he climbs back to the top of the cliff by the knots in the rope, as if by the steps of a ladder. Nowhere else in the world but on this one promontory of Hoy does this bird nest. In this island also there is a hare, seen in no other part of the Orkneys, covered with hair resembling the colour of snow. Not far from the promontory of the Liras (named in the vernacular Rora Head) to the south west, nature herself without any art has fashioned a most magnificent and impregnable defence-work or fortalice (called in the vernacular name of the people Brabrugh[?]). In a certain hollow between two mountains on this island lies a stone, called stone of dwarfs (in the vernacular the Dwarfie Stane), twelve feet long and six wide; many people gather to see it, and in it places giving the appearance of beds are perceived, in which male and female, if they are of damaged reputation, and alone, are commonly said to give attention to procreating children. On the very summit of one of three contiguous mountains here, there is a spring rising from the very heart or foundation of the mountain, of wondrous clarity and rare sweetness, most suited to slaking thirst, and of such stupendous lightness that if one by drinking could throw a whole jar of its water into the stomach, he would not feel himself made at all heavier from it. The mountains here by their amazing height offer the appearance of and substitute for an outstanding lighthouse, by which to direct their course correctly, to those who sail (if they cross this way) to America or back and are still very far from land. About the summer solstice, if men are standing on the peak of these mountains (and in order to see this, at that time, very many mortals gather in crowds from all parts), the actual body of the sun, though a little obscured as if covered by a cloud, is perceived above the horizon from 11.30 at night until 1.30 the following day; and having resumed its clearest light, it pours its glittering rays over the whole of this hemisphere of ours. The bases of these three mountains are broad, but round; (8); and the mountains themselves end by climbing to a cone, covered with only low heather. Sometimes whirlwinds rush headlong from the top of these mountains with such violence and din that they almost carry in their rapid course the very seas and lands and the high heaven and impel them through the air; they blow down weaker buildings, and tear up from their place heaps of crops, whole and well tied, and throw them into the nearby sea. Because of this the more prudent captains when sailing between Hoy and the Mainland immediately shorten their sails and withdraw themselves and their cargo from danger.

On the north coast, where Hoy faces the Mainland, there are many farm buildings, a not inelegant church, and a lovely dwelling of the Lord of Halcro, about whom see above. Here in Hoy are to be seen various lochs, two especially, quite large and producing fish, mostly trout; nor is Hoy deprived of any commodity in which Walls is affluent. Between Hoy to the north and the Mainland flows a strait two miles wide, almost crueller than the Pictish strait, to which it is very similar in nature; in it ships and boats often are wrecked; when the tide is contrary and dangerous winds blow more strongly from the mountains of Hoy,

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