Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Harrys. Orcades.  
Pagination: 132-133
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Translation of text:

it is then collected to use for fire, and is burned in place of wood. In the following year the bare soil is manured with seaweed and sewn with barley. In this island such a large number of whales is often caught that sometimes (as older men relate) twenty seven, some very large and some smaller, have been offered to the priests as tithes. There is in this island a large cave, in which when the tide recedes water two fathoms deep remains; when it comes in, the depth is more than four. Sitting there on the rocks, a huge crowd of every class, sex and age indiscriminately take a great amount of fish by hook and line. About sixty miles to the north east of Lewis is situated a small island, of low, level ground, quite often cultivated. Its name is Rona[?]. The farmers are ignorant men, and almost unaware of any religion. Its lord allows a fixed number of families to cultivate it and assigns them as many larger and smaller animals as seems sufficient, from which they both live comfortably themselves and pay their rent. What is produced beyond their subsistence, they send to Lewis each year to the lord of their land. This is roughly what they pay as rent: a large amount of barley flour sewn into sheepskins (among them this kind of corn grows freely); of mutton, and sea-birds dried in the sun, as much as remains from the year’s production. And if ever the number of heads becomes too great, they assign the extra ones also to the lord. And thus, I believe, they are the only people in the whole world who never lack anything, but have a sufficient quantity of everything. They are ignorant alike of luxury and avarice; innocence and peace of mind, which others seek with great labour from customs and precepts of wisdom, is gained by them from ignorance of vices; and nothing else, except that they do not understand the comfort of their own condition, seems to be lacking for their total happiness. There is in this island a small chapel dedicated to St Ronan: in it, as older men say, a spade is always left; when anyone dies, they find the place of burial pointed out by it. In this island, besides the other fishing, very many whales are caught. Sixteen miles from this to the west lies the island of Suila Sgeir, one mile long; it produces no grass, nor even heather. Only black cliffs rise up, of which some are covered with black moss. Sea-birds lay and hatch their eggs everywhere there. The nearest people from the island of Lewis sail here for those not yet mature enough to fly, and devote about a week to collecting them, until they fill their boats with the wind-dried flesh and feathers. On this island is seen rarely a kind of bird which is unknown in other regions: they call it ‘colc’, in size a little smaller than a goose. In spring each year it comes there, and brings up its hatched chicks to the point that they can provide for themselves. At about that time the feathers fall off from its whole body and leave it naked: and then at last it takes itself to the sea, and is nowhere seen again till the following spring. It is also a peculiarity of them, that their feathers do not have a quill, but they clothe their whole body with a smooth feather, which has no further hardness, as if with down.

ORKNEYS (1) (Section Note)

The Orkneys follow, scattered partly in the Deucaledonian Sea, partly in the German, at the northern part of Scotland. Concerning their name there is reasonable agreement among ancient and modern writers. However no-one (as far as I know) has explained the meaning of the name. Nor is there agreement on who first held them. All say that they were of German origin. But from which nation of Germans they came, that is not attested. If we make a conjecture from their speech, both formerly and now too they use the old Gothic language. There are those who think they were Picts, mainly for this reason, that the strait which divides them from Caithness is called Pictish: and they will have thought that the Picts themselves were of the Saxon race, relying mainly on Claudian’s lines from the seventh Panegyric (2):
With routed Saxon the Orkneys
Overflowed, Thule warmed with the blood of Picts:
Icy Ireland wept for the mounds of Scots.
But their mistake can easily be refuted, partly from the Anglo-Saxon Bede, who when he asserts that God's praises are sung by Britons in five different languages, says that one of that number is Pictish; but if at that time the Picts had spoken Saxon, he would not have separated it from Saxon (which then the English used in a pure form): partly because in those verses Claudian clearly shows that the Picts were different from the Saxons, since he asserts that the Orkneys are home to the one, Thule to the other. But whatever their origin, they still in our time use a different language from the Scots and English, which does not differ much from Gothic. In their daily life the common people still retain much of old parsimony. And so almost all enjoy continuous health of body and mind. Only a few are taken by illnesses, most by old age: and among them ignorance of luxuries has greater benefit in preserving health than physicians' skill and care among others. The same parsimony does much for elegance of body and tallness of stature. There is little production of crops among them, except for oats and barley, from which they obtain both bread and wine. Of domestic animals sheep, cows and goats are not uncommon, whence there is great use of milk, cheese and butter. There are countless seabirds, and of these and fish their diet to a large extent consists. There is no poisonous animal there, nor is any seen deformed in appearance. They have small horses, contemptible in form certainly, but incredibly strong for all purposes. There is no tree anywhere, nor even a bush except heather, and this not so much by a fault in the climate or the soil, but by the laziness of the inhabitants, as is easily shown by the tree-roots which are dug up in several places. Every time that foreign wines are imported by ship, they guzzle them eagerly. They have an ancient goblet, which (to give greater authority to their drinking) they claim belonged to St Magnus, who first brought the teaching of Christ to them. It so exceeds the size of common cups that it might seem to have been preserved from the Lapiths' banquet; and with it they test their Bishops when they first arrive: any who drinks it all in one draught (which happens very rarely) they greet with amazing praises; and they anticipate from this, as from a happy augury, profit for the following years. From this it is a simple conclusion that the parsimony which I have mentioned has arisen not so much from reason and application as from poverty; and the same necessity which gave rise to it in the beginning has for long preserved it among later generations; while neighbouring nations were corrupted by the growth of luxury, and as the old discipline slowly slipped away, they gave themselves up to the enticing delights. A great stimulus also to declining moderation has been given by fellowship with pirates, who, as they do not dare approach highly populated mainland regions, get water from islands, and either exchange wine and other goods for provisions or sell at a low price: and the islanders, few in number, unarmed, and so scattered in a dangerous sea that they cannot defend themselves with mutual assistance, aware of their weakness, have not altogether unwillingly either accepted or not rejected the conjunction of safety with gain, with the further allure of pleasure. But this slip in morals has fallen on the more powerful and the priests. Among the common people many traces of the old moderation still remain. The sea for them is fierce and stormy not only by the violence of winds and the position of the stars, but as contrary tides are stirred up from the Western Ocean and come together in conflict among the narrows between land, the seas running back in the opposite direction and the whirlpools twisted against themselves can in no way be overcome by the power of oars or sails. Any who dare to approach too closely are either snatched again into the sea by the violent force, or are gripped by the speed of the flowing waves and driven on to the cliffs and rocks, or are sucked into the heaps of boiling water. There are two periods when these narrows may be overcome, either when the conflict of the waves ceases as the tides fall and the sea bcomes calm; or when the tide has reached its highest point with the channel full and that force which stirs the waters declines on both sides [p.134],

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