Orkney and Other Scottish Islands
April 26, 2003 12:18 AM   Subscribe

Orkneyjar. The history, folklore and traditions of the Orkney Islands - ghost stories, megaliths, and more on this extensive site.
Related interest :- St. Kilda: Death of an Island Republic. A matriarchal society? Via Utopia Britannica: British Utopian Experiments 1325-1945.
More :- the National Trust's St. Kilda website; the Iona community, an ecumenical community founded in 1938 (more about the founding of the monastery on Iona by St. Columba in 563); independent Eigg; life in Westray, one of Orkney's north isles; the Shetland Museum.
posted by plep (7 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
And all of a sudden it's 1 a.m. ... thanks a lot, Plep, yet again, for keeping me up half the night with another collection of wonderful links. :)
posted by jokeefe at 1:00 AM on April 26, 2003

Plep - A very nice set of links indeed and, by the way, have you ever seen "The Wicker Man"? It won the best "Horror" film of the year award back in - oh, I'd say - 1979. But it's not "horror" but a tale of a constructed utopian pagan society living on one of those semi-autonomous islands off the British (Scottish) coast ( and then there's "SeaLand"... ) As the story goes, the island and it's starving inhabitants were bought by an ambitious industrialist (with utopian ideals) who brought the island back to life by importing, as one and the same package, modern farming and botanical knowledge and also pre-christian religion - by booting out the Christian priests and instituting an Earth-worship which included (and here's the "horror" part) Bachannalian free love rites and occaisonal human sacrifice! You can take the movie as humour even (apart from the little bit about the "Wicker Man", that is) from the way it's presented - through the shocked, appalled (and secretely titillated) sensibilities of a straight laced, prudish (and virginal) Scottish Anglican police detective over from the mainland to investigate a murder. I can't recommend this movie more highly.

Also, Plep, I loved the story about the "drainage ditch" utopian experiment [ from "Utopia Britannica" ]: "In the early 1600s groups of French-speaking Protestants from Spanish-controlled Netherlands and northern France, Walloons & Huguenots, fled persecution and came to England. They were welcomed by Cornelius Vermuyden, an eminent drainage engineer involved in schemes to reclaim land from the fens in Lincolnshire and north Cambridgeshire. The Walloons set up a colony at Sandtoft on Hatfield Chase in the Isle of Axeholme and used their ditching and embankment skills to clear and drain the fens. The local inhabitants had no liking for the 'strangers'. For hundreds of years they had held the right to take wildfowl and fish the pools and rivers, and they were appalled by the idea that Cornelius Vermuyden and his supporters could deprive them of their livelihood by draining the area.

A contemporary account tells the story of what happened to the colonists of Hatfield Chase who; 'did build a town called Sandtoft with a church therein, placing a minister there; wherein two hundred families of French and Walloon protestants ..... who erected and planted two-hundred habitations for husbandry and plowed and tilled much of the said 24,000 and 500 acres of land to the great benefit of the Commonwealth. All which they enjoyed till about the month of June 1642, that some of the inhabitants thereabouts, pretending they had right of common, said they were not bound by the specified degree . . . and began to raise a powerful army . . . They arose in tumults, brake down the fenns and inclosures of 4,000 acres, destroyed all the corn growing and demolished the houses thereon...And about the beginning of February ensuing, they pulled up the floodgates of Snow Sewer which by letting in the tides from the River Trent, soon drowned a great part of Hatfield Chase, divers persons standing there with muskets and saying they would stay till the whole level was drowned and the inhabitants were forced to swim away like ducks.' [William Dugdale Imbanking and Draining] "
...Their next great drainage project, the story goes on to tell, was 'succesfull' (un-mobbed and never reflooded, that is).

I guess, lacking an EPA, 17th Century Britain had mobs to deal with this sort of manic re-engineering of the natural landscape (and biota, don't forget). Contemporary Americans resort to the EPA to combat drainage schemes but don't subscribe (in the U.S., that is) to the ancient British/UK notion of the 'commons', although Canadians (at least in Nova Scotia) do have laws against private ownership of beaches, to the great consternation of Yanks buying up beachfront property - whose "no tresspassing" signs are contemptuous torn down by (otherwise quite polite) locals exercising their legal rights to stroll the beaches at will.
posted by troutfishing at 5:06 AM on April 26, 2003

troutfishing :- I have indeed seen 'The Wicker Man', and I'm a fan; the story of St. Kilda makes me wonder if it was an inspiration. Thanks. :)

The Cambridgeshire cathedral town of Ely is, I believe, named after the eels which used to live in the vicinity before the drainage you mention. ;)
posted by plep at 6:45 AM on April 26, 2003

Of course, Arthur's aunt Morgause was married to Lot, king of the Orkneys. Several of her sons were Knights of the Round Table.
posted by padraigin at 11:15 AM on April 26, 2003

Wonderful links, thanks plep! Beautiful!
posted by madamjujujive at 11:19 AM on April 26, 2003

Those St. Kildans certainly were an idiosyncratic lot - those islands are not exactly abundant in luxury. Harvesting sea-birds for the oil is not easy work, nor is the resulting diet particularly interesting.
Imagine the smell.
Holloway put the Sneaker Pimps version of 'How Do' on his mefiswap mix last year, it is good.
posted by asok at 3:44 AM on April 28, 2003

Ye gods, I just get back from a holiday on Orkney and there's a post on MeFi about Orkney. I'd better build a stone circle to placate the Spirits of Uncanny Coincidence.

Great place. Amazingly treeless and windy. The north and northwest coasts of the Scottish highlands are also spectacular.
posted by rory at 11:17 AM on April 28, 2003

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