Nature of Scotland.—The Highlands and Lowlands.—Population.—Original

None of the seas of Europe are so rough and stormy as that which washes
its northern and north-western coasts. Even in Jutland the effects of
the cold north-west wind which sweeps down from the icy sea between
Norway, Iceland, and Scotland, are severely felt. Along its west coast,
for a distance of several miles inland, there are no woods, but only low
stunted oak bushes, which in many places scarcely rise above the tall
heather. Still farther eastward, and even in Funen and Zealand, which
the north-west wind does not reach till it has passed over considerable
tracts of land, it has such an influence on the woods, that in their
western outskirts the trees are bent, and as it were scorched or
blighted at the top. The North Sea, whose surges, breaking on the coast
of Jutland, are heard even in calm weather far in the interior, rises to
a fearful height during a storm. It would long since have washed over
Jutland, and perhaps the whole of Denmark, if Nature had not placed
sand-banks or shoals along the coast, as a sort of bulwark, against
which the highest waves break harmlessly.

The North Sea is, however, an enclosed one, and little more than a bay
of the Atlantic. Its swell is not so great, nor its storms so violent,
as those of the open sea beyond, towards the north and west; where the
Atlantic breaks on one side against Greenland and North America, and on
the other against Norway, Scotland, and Ireland. The sand-banks and
shoals which form a sufficient defence for Jutland against the North
Sea, would there scarcely be able to resist the open and agitated ocean.
On the extreme north-western coasts of Europe, the Atlantic has
completely washed away the earth and sand; the bare cliffs, which often
rise to a considerable height, alone remain, and still defy the fury of
the waves. These rocky coasts, with their numerous towering and ragged
crags, with their many and deeply-indented fiords, convey an idea of the
power and greatness of the sea as striking as it is true. Everywhere
outside lie rocky islands, which, like outposts, stop the advancing
waves, and only allow them, if with increased speed, yet with diminished
power, to approach the land through narrow channels, or sounds. During
violent storms some of the islands are flooded by the sea, which, as it
rolls forwards, strives to overtop the cliffs; whence it glides back,
again to repeat the same vain attempt. The firm, rocky, isle-bound
coasts of Norway, Scotland, and Ireland, are evidently for Europe what
the sand-banks and shoals of Jutland are for Denmark.

It is natural, therefore, that those countries which in the
north-westernmost part of Europe lie farthest out towards the Atlantic
Ocean—such as the Scandinavian Peninsula, Scotland, Ireland, and part of
England—should have their highest and wildest mountains and cliffs
towards the west, and in the neighbourhood of the sea. This is more
clearly seen the farther we proceed northwards: namely, in the
Scandinavian Peninsula and in Scotland.

In Norway the rocks often rise almost perpendicularly out of the sea. In
the neighbourhood of the coast they reach a considerable height, and
then sink gradually towards the east, until they lose themselves in the
broad and comparatively low valleys of Sweden. Whole rows of islands lie
scattered along the west coast of Norway, round which the sea often
whirls in impetuous eddies. On the coast itself, where the land is most
exposed to the bleak sea winds, such extensive forests are not to be
seen as in the interior of the country; nor do any fertilizing streams
wind their way through the short and narrow valleys. It is only here and
there that the water from the rocky springs or melted snows, leaps,
after a short course, over the edge of the cliff into the open sea, or
into the deep fiords with which the coasts are everywhere indented. The
greatest rivers in Norway take a more eastern course, and often make
their way from the Norwegian highlands through the richly-wooded
lowlands of Sweden to the Baltic. In Sweden the coasts are neither so
steep nor so indented as in Norway. The waves of the enclosed and
comparatively quiet Baltic do not require to be resisted like those of
the Atlantic Ocean.

Very similar features are found in Scotland. The whole of the northern
and western coast lying towards the Atlantic is wild and rocky, with
numerous islands, deep firths, and steep shores; behind which, rock
towers upon rock, as if to form an impenetrable barrier against the sea.
The country is almost without forests, the streams and the valleys are
of small extent, and fertility consequently very limited. But by degrees
the rocks sink down towards the south-east and east, till they terminate
in the broad, well-watered, and fertile coast districts along the North
Sea; which, on account of their inconsiderable elevation, are called the
Lowlands of Scotland. Thus the Highlands answer very nearly to Norway,
and the Lowlands to Sweden. But as the Scandinavian Peninsula is larger
than Scotland, so also are its natural features on the whole on a
grander scale. The rocks of Norway are mountains of primitive granite,
which in some places rise to a height of 8000 feet, and of which large
ranges are covered with eternal snow and ice. Scotland, on the contrary,
has transition rocks, whose highest peak, Ben Nevis, which is only
somewhat more than 4300 feet above the sea, is not even always covered
with snow. Nor can the Scottish Lowlands be compared as to extent to the
Swedish valleys, with their immense forests and their large rivers and
lakes. Nevertheless the natural features of Scotland are in their way no
less beautiful than those of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The sea, which
indents the coasts on all sides; the well-cultivated, and partly also
well-wooded plains, which, particularly towards the mountain districts,
undulate in hill and dale; and lastly the Highland itself, with its many
streams, waterfalls, firths, and lakes, afford the richest and most
magnificent variety. To these features may be added a milder climate,
and in the Lowlands a far richer fertility, than in Norway and Sweden;
which have considerably contributed to give the landscapes of Scotland,
even in the wildest districts of the Highlands, a somewhat softer tinge
than is found in the high Scandinavian North.

A very marked difference exists between the Scottish Highlands and
Lowlands, not only with regard to the nature of the country, but also to
the original descent and the characteristics of the present population.
The Lowlands, which are the seat of a highly-developed agricultural,
domestic, and manufacturing industry, are inhabited by a strong and
laborious people, speaking a peculiar dialect of the English language,
and descended partly from the Celtic Scots, but more particularly from
immigrant Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Norwegians, Normans, and Flemings.
Commerce and trade, carried on by means of canals, railways, steamships,
and similar easy means of communication, thrive vigorously in large and
wealthy cities.

The Highlands, on the contrary, which only a century ago were almost
inaccessible from the land side, have scarcely a large town. Rocks and
heaths are found instead of the fruitful fields of the Lowlands. With
the exception of a few districts farthest towards the north-east, where
the soil is more fertile, there are only seen in the valleys, along the
firths, and by the sea, small fields of barley and oats, which would not
yield the most scanty subsistence to the poor inhabitants if the rocks
did not afford pasture for cattle and numerous flocks of sheep; and if
the sea, the firths, which abound with fish, as well as the rivers and
lakes, did not contribute some part of their riches. The hardy Highland
Scots, a great part of whom do not understand, or at all events do not
speak English, but still commonly use the Celtic or Gaelic tongue, live
here thinly scattered in poor and low peat cabins, which it is often
difficult to distinguish from the surrounding rocks. The Highlanders in
the districts farthest towards the west and north have preserved their
language and other national characteristics purest; for farther towards
the Lowlands, a more modern civilization has gradually forced its way
forwards, in spite of the mountains. The old warlike dress which
formerly distinguished the Highlander, particularly so long as clanship
was in full vigour, has, since the annihilation of that system, become
every day more rare. The kilt, or short skirt, has almost entirely given
place to more modern clothing; the tartan plaid alone is still seen
wrapped in the old fashion round the shoulders of the Highlander.

In our days the various tribes of the Highland and Lowland populations
live in peaceful union under one and the same government. But during
several centuries Scotland was the theatre of the most sanguinary
contests between the Celtic Highlanders and the Teutonic Lowlanders. The
former, who were animated with an inveterate hatred of the Lowlanders,
continually made hostile incursions into the Lowlands, and, after
burning and ravaging the country, retired with cattle and other booty to
their mountains, whither they knew well the Lowlanders durst not follow
them. The exasperation and hatred of the Highlanders were not entirely
without foundation. In ancient times they had been sole masters in
Scotland, from the Cheviot Hills to the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles,
and from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea; and they had retained this
mastery even long after their kinsmen, the Britons in England, had been
compelled to yield to the Romans and Anglo-Saxons.

The celebrated Roman commander, Agricola, had, it is true, in the first
century after the birth of Christ, made his way so far into the Lowlands
that, as a defence against the Highlanders—the much-dreaded Caledonians,
or Picts—he constructed a wall with a deep ditch before it, from the
Firth of Forth to that of Clyde, in the low tract through which the
Glasgow Canal has since been conducted. The Romans even extended their
conquests farther northwards, as far as Burghead on the Moray Firth, to
which place they formed regular high roads. But they were not able to
defend themselves against the persevering attacks of the Caledonians, or
Picts, and were soon obliged to retreat to the south of the Cheviot
Hills; where the great wall, with its many towers and deep ditches,
which they had built from the Solway Firth to the River Tyne, became
their chief defence against the harassing inroads of the Highland
warriors. But this wall also was surmounted by the Picts, whose courage
and daring increased in proportion as the power of the Romans, both at
home and abroad, was rapidly waning. At last the Picts destroyed the
wall, and after the fall of the Roman dominion, made incursions into
England, where neither the descendants of the Romans, nor the Britons,
found any means to repel them. It was not till the Anglo-Saxon conquest
of England that the Picts were again compelled to fly towards the north
over the Cheviot Hills, where they found sufficient employment in
defending their own homes.

For, whilst they were spreading themselves over the rich plains of the
north of England, a foreign, though nearly related, Celtic people, the
Scots from Ireland, had taken possession of their south-western frontier
districts. Hence they spread themselves to such a degree over the
Lowlands that both these and the Highlands, though the latter were
almost entirely independent of the Scottish sovereigns, were called by
one name, Scotland. After many battles the older Pictish inhabitants
were, about the year 900, entirely amalgamated with the Scots in the
Lowlands. Meanwhile a storm had gathered which threatened no less danger
to the Scots in the Lowlands, than to their kinsmen, the Picts, in the
Highlands. The dominion of the Celts, which had long before ceased in
other and more accessible lands, was no longer to find a sure place of
refuge even in Scotland, though its coasts were protected by the stormy
Northern Sea, and its interior filled with rocks and warlike men.



The Anglo-Saxons.—The Danes and Norwegians.—Effects of their

The same want of unity and the same internal disputes which had brought
ruin on the Celts in other places, prepared the way for foreign
conquerors in Scotland. An indomitable fate decreed that the newer and
higher civilization of Christianity should here, as in the rest of
Europe, be founded and promoted by a Teutonic people. But though the
Anglo-Saxons had conquered almost all England, they were not able, by
their own power, to subdue the Celts in Scotland. The Anglo-Saxon kings
undertook, indeed, several expeditions against that country, in which
they were at times pretty successful; but they were not able to hold
steady possession even of the Lowlands. Subsequently, however, the
Anglo-Saxons wandered by degrees, and in a more peaceful manner, from
the northernmost parts of England over the Scottish border, and
established themselves both in the towns and in the rural districts. The
number of these emigrants appears to have increased very considerably
after the conquests of the Danes and Norwegians in the midland and
northern districts of England in the ninth and tenth centuries, when a
great part of the Anglo-Saxons were driven from their old dwellings, and
obliged to fly towards the north. Saxon institutions may even have been
introduced into the Lowlands in the tenth and eleventh centuries, after
an expedition of the Anglo-Saxon king Edgar. But the rocky highlands of
the interior constantly defied all conquest; and the northern and
western coasts, together with the surrounding islands, could be subdued
only by considerable fleets, which the Anglo-Saxons did not possess.

But what in this respect the Anglo-Saxons were obliged to leave undone,
was for the most part accomplished by the warlike and shrewd men of the
Scandinavian North, who were then masters of the sea. Even from the
oldest times, connections, both of a warlike and peaceful nature, had
existed between Scotland and the opposite shores of Scandinavia. The old
Sagas, for instance, bear witness that the Danish king Frode’s daughter,
Ulfhilde, was married to “the founder of the Scottish kingdom;” and that
the Danish prince Amleth (Hamlet) married the Scotch queen, Hermuntrude.
From Denmark, moreover, and particularly from Jutland, many colonists
afterwards emigrated to the Scotch Lowlands, whose coasts were, besides,
plundered by the Danish Vikings.

The Danish colonists, even in the north of England, were much mixed with
Norwegians, and this was still more the case in the Scottish Lowlands.
The more north the districts lay, the farther were they removed from
Denmark, and the nearer did they approach Norway; whilst the features of
the country much more resembled the Norwegian fiords, valleys, and
rocks. Whilst, therefore, the Scandinavian colonists in the Lowlands
were of Norwegian-Danish descent, the Highlands and islands farthest
towards the north and west, were conquered, and in part peopled, by
Norwegians only. This happened about the same time as the Danish
conquests and settlements in England. The Norwegians founded kingdoms on
the northern and western coasts of Scotland, which existed for centuries
after the destruction of the Danish power in England. They introduced
their own manners, customs, and laws, and gave Norwegian names to the
places colonized by them. They appear not unfrequently to have married
native Celts; at least it is often stated that Norwegian chiefs married
daughters of the Celtic, or Pictish, and Scotch aristocracy, whose pure
nationality and power were thus gradually broken down. The unfortunate
Celts were now in a painful position. The Celtic Scots in the Lowlands
were pressed upon by the Anglo-Saxons and Northmen, whilst the Pictish
Highlanders were assailed both from the Lowlands and from the Norwegian
kingdoms in the west and north. The most essential result of the
Norwegian conquests and settlements in the Scotch Highlands was, that
the Northmen, in conjunction with the Norwegian-Danish colonists in the
Lowlands, and with the Anglo-Saxons who dwelt there, overthrew the
Celtic dominion, and, like the Danes in England, prepared the way for
the eventual triumph of the Norman spirit and Norman institutions. In
the Lowlands this took place in the twelfth century, but much later in
the Highlands and surrounding islands.

As a close union was thus effected between the long-separated Highlands
and Lowlands, and a higher and more widely-diffused civilization
introduced among the people in both, it may justly be asserted that the
Norwegian conquests in the Highlands, and the Norwegian-Danish
settlements in the Lowlands, were particularly fortunate for Scotland.
It must always, indeed, be a subject of regret that so brave, and in
many respects so noble, a people as the Caledonians and their
descendants, should be exterminated. Who can observe without a feeling
of sadness how the last feeble remnants of Scotland’s ancient masters,
after having been expelled from the glorious Lowlands, cannot even now
find rest among the barren rocks, and in the few arable valleys of the
Highlands, but are obliged, year after year, in increasing numbers, to
seek another home farther west, in the new world beyond the Atlantic?
But, viewing the matter as it regards enlightenment and civilization, no
charge can be reasonably brought against the Norwegians or Northmen, for
having co-operated in Scotland to expel a people whose brethern and
kinsmen had in every country which they occupied shown themselves
incapable of adopting the new and milder manners of Christianity; and
who, once before subdued by the Romans, had been compelled to yield to
the fresher and more powerful Teutonic tribes of the Franks and

No small portion of the present population of Scotland, both in the
Lowlands and on the remotest coasts and isles of the Highlands, is
undoubtedly descended from the Northmen, and particularly from the
Norwegians. Both the Norwegians and Danes, wherever they established
themselves, introduced their Scandinavian customs, and preserved, in all
circumstances, the fundamental traits of their national character. It
becomes, therefore, probable that the Norwegian settlers in Scotland
must, in certain districts at least, have exercised a vast influence on
the development of the more modern life of the Scotch people, and on
their national character. This is indeed actually and visibly the case.
Yet, although the Norwegian kingdoms on the coasts of Scotland subsisted
long after the downfall of the Danish power in England, still the
effects of the Norwegian conquests in Scotland were far from being so
great, or so universally felt there, as the results of the Danish
conquests were in England. The Norwegian language was completely
supplanted in the Hebrides by old Celtic or Gaelic; and on the Shetland
Isles, the Orkneys, and the north coast of Scotland, by English. The
Norwegian laws and institutions either entirely disappeared in these
parts, or were formed anew after quite different models. Not even in the
purely Norwegian Orkneys and Shetland Isles, though they remained united
with Norway and Denmark until far in the fifteenth century, could the
inhabitants maintain the ancient freedom which they had inherited from
their forefathers. The free tenure of land, or right of “Udal,” was, for
the most part, annihilated by the most shameful oppression. Established
on many small, poor, and widely-separated islands, the Norwegians in
Scotland could neither obtain such influence for their laws and
institutions, nor concert so united and powerful a resistance against
oppression, as their more fortunate Danish kinsmen in the open, rich,
and densely-peopled plains of northern England.

In spite of the acknowledged fact that the Norwegians were the most
numerous of all the Scandinavian colonists in Scotland, we constantly
hear Norwegian achievements and Norwegian memorials referred to “the
Danes.” Under this common appellation are also generally included, as in
England, Norwegians and Swedes. The causes of this must probably be
sought in the long dominion of Denmark over Norway, in the brisker and
more uninterrupted communication which Scotland maintained with Denmark,
in comparison with any other part of the North, and lastly, in the
reciprocal marriages between the ancient Scotch and Danish royal
families, which in former times contributed, in no small degree, to bind
the Scotch and Danish people together. But the preponderance of the
Danish name must also be attributed to the pre-eminent power of the
Danes in ancient times, and in the early middle ages; and, of course,
more particularly to that supreme dominion which they had so gloriously
won for themselves in the neighbouring country—England.



The Lowlands.—Population.—Language.—Norwegian-Danish
Names of Places.

The boundaries between Scotland and England were anciently very
unsettled. After the time of the Romans, the Anglo-Saxon and Danish
kings speedily extended their dominion over the Cheviot Hills, and
frequently to the Firths of Clyde and Forth; whilst considerable tracts
of the north of England, particularly in the north-western districts,
were sometimes united with the Scotch Lowlands, or with kingdoms which
existed there. Until England and Scotland were at length united under
one crown, the north of England was almost uninterruptedly the theatre
of the bitterest border warfare. The blood of many thousands of bold
warriors has been spilt on that land which now teems with the blessings
of wealth and peace.

Part of this old border land, or the most southern part of the present
Scotland, from the Cheviot Hills to the narrow neck of land between the
Firths of Clyde and Forth,—a tract of about sixty English miles—has not
a much more mountainous character than the north of England. The hills
undulate in the same gentle forms; and it is only here and there that a
single rugged mountain shows its heath-covered or bare and peaked top.
Large and well-cultivated plains alternate with charming valleys, which
are frequently narrow, and so fertile that in some places creeping
plants, bushes, and trees, almost entirely conceal the rivulets that
wind through them.

The Highlands extend themselves from the Firth of Clyde to the
north-west and north; whilst the Lowlands take a direction from the
Firth of Forth along the eastern border of the Highlands, and by the
coasts of the North Sea. To the Firth of Tay, and northwards to the
Grampian Hills, the Lowlands are not very broad or extensive, whilst the
Highland mountains nearly approach the seashore. It is not till we have
crossed the Grampian Hills that those large level plains open upon us
which comprehend the north-easternmost part of Scotland, particularly
the present Aberdeenshire. From these less-wooded plains we turn towards
the north-west into the fertile and well-wooded Moray; whence a
transition again takes place to the Highlands, which begin in the
adjoining shire of Inverness. At this extreme point the Lowlands have,
as it were, exhausted all their splendour and abundance. Down towards
the coast the land is filled with gently-sloping hills, and intersected
by rivers, whose rapid currents remind one of the neighbourhood of the
mountains. At a distance from the coast the land rises, the tops of the
mountains become barer and sharper, the valleys have a greater depth,
and the roaring of the streams over fragments of rock is heard more
distinctly. The mountains, as they rise from the Lowlands to the
Highlands, afford in a still higher degree than the more southern border
mountains, the most enchanting prospects over the coasts and sea. It is
with difficulty that the spectator tears himself from the view of the
charms of the Lowlands, to bury himself in the dark mountains that rise
so solemn and menacing before him.

Throughout the Lowlands, the people, both in personal appearance and
character, very much resemble the inhabitants of the north of England.
This is particularly the case with the inhabitants of the southern
borders, between the Cheviot Hills and the Firths of Clyde and Forth.
The same light-coloured hair and the same frame of body, which, in the
north of England, remind us of the people’s descent from the
Scandinavians, indicate here also considerable immigrations of that
people into the southern part of Scotland, and thence farther up along
the east coast. According to a very common saying here, even the
language of the Lowlands is so much like that of Scandinavia, that
Lowland seamen wrecked on the coasts of Jutland and Norway have been
able to converse without difficulty in their mother tongue with the
common people there. This is undoubtedly a great exaggeration; but this
much is certain, that the popular language in the Lowlands contains a
still greater number of Scandinavian words and phrases than even the
dialect of the north of England. We must not unhesitatingly believe that
the Saxon language did not extend itself from the north of England to
the Scotch Lowlands till after it had been mixed with Danish; although
the remote situation of the latter, so high towards the north, was
certainly far more adapted to preserve the old Danish forms of words
than that of north England, which was more exposed to the operation of
newer fashions. But the Danish or Scandinavian elements in the popular
language of the Lowlands are too considerable to admit of such a
supposition, not to speak of the Scandinavian appearance of the
inhabitants. These necessarily indicate Scandinavian immigrations; and,
to judge from the present popular language, we might be easily tempted
to believe that a far greater number of Northmen had settled in the
Scottish Lowlands than in the middle and northern districts of England.
We might, consequently, also expect to meet with a proportionately
greater number of Scandinavian names of places in the Lowlands than in

But this is very far from being the case. Extremely few places with
Scandinavian names are to be found in the Scotch Lowlands; and even
those few are confined, almost without exception, to the old border land
between the Cheviot Hills and the Firths of Clyde and Forth, and to the
counties nearest the English border. Dumfriesshire, lying directly north
of Cumberland and the Solway Firth, forms the central point of such
places. Northumberland and Durham, the two north-easternmost counties of
England, contain but a scanty number of them; and consequently must have
possessed, in early times at least, no very numerous Scandinavian
population. Cumberland, on the contrary, was early remarkable for such a
population; whence it will appear natural enough that the first
Scandinavian colonists in the Scotch border lands preferred to settle in
the neighbourhood of that county. On the south-easternmost coast of
Scotland, they would not only have been separated from their countrymen
in the north of England by two intervening counties, but also divided by
a broad sea from their kinsmen in Denmark and Norway. Such a situation
would have been much more exposed and dangerous for them than the
opposite coast, where they had in their neighbourhood the counties of
Cumberland and Westmoreland, inhabited by the Northmen, as well as the
Scandinavian colonies in Ireland and the Isle of Man.

The Scandinavian population in Dumfriesshire evidently appears to have
emigrated from Cumberland over the Liddle and Esk into the plains which
spread themselves westward of those rivers; at least the names of places
there have the very same character as in Cumberland. Not only are the
mountains called “fell” (Fjeld) and “rigg” (Ryg), as is also the case in
the other border lands, but, what is more peculiar to Dumfriesshire, the
terminations of “thwaite,” “beck,” and “garth,” not to mention “by,” or
“bie,” are transplanted hither from Cumberland: as, Thornythwaite,
Twathwaites, Robiethwaite, Murraythwaite, Helbeck, Greenbeck, Botchbeck,
Torbeck, Stonybeck, Waterbeck, Hartsgarth, Tundergarth, Applegarth,
Locherby, Alby, Middlebie, Dunnaby, Wysebie, Perceby, Denbie, Newby,
Milby, Warmanbie, Sorbie, Canoby, and others.

These Scandinavian names of places are chiefly met with between the
rivers Esk and Nith. Various authors have also endeavoured to show that
the fishermen on the Nith have to the present day characteristic and
original Scandinavian terms for their tackle and modes of fishing:—for
instance, “pocknet,” Icelandic _pokanet_; “leister,” or “lister,”
Icelandic _ljóstr_, Danish _Lyster_; “haaving,” Norwegian _haave_,
_i.e._, to draw small nets in the water, &c., &c. Somewhat east of the
river, and north of the town of Dumfries, lies the parish of “Tinwald,”
a name undoubtedly identical with Thingvall, or Tingvold; which, as the
appropriate Scandinavian term for places where the _Thing_ was held, is
found in other districts of the British Isles colonized by the Northmen.
And it was, indeed, natural that the Scandinavian colonists in the
south-east of Scotland should fix their chief _Thing_ place in the
district most peopled by them.

From Dumfriesshire the Scandinavian names of places branch off as it
were in an arch towards the west and east. Some few appear at intervals
towards the west, as in Kircudbright (Begbie, Cogarth), in Wigton
(Sorby, Killiness), in Ayr (opposite little Cumbray, Crosby, Sterby,
Bushby, and Magby), and also in Lanark (Bushby, close to the south-west
of Glasgow). Towards the east, some few are met with in Roxburgh, as,
for instance, on the borders of Cumberland, “Corby,” and
“Stonegarthside,” and on the frontier of Northumberland several in
_haugh_ (Höi, a hill) and _holm_. But on the whole only a few in _by_
are still to be found on the borders between Berwick and Haddington
(such as Humbie, Blegbie, and Pockbie). Towards Glasgow and Edinburgh
the mountains are no longer called “fell” and “rigg.” The Scandinavian
names of places cease entirely in these districts; and only the
Scandinavian word “fjörðr,” or Fjord, is heard here, as well as farther
towards the north in the names of fiords (or firths) namely: Firth of
Forth, Firth of Clyde, Firth of Tay, Moray Firth, and Dornoch Firth.

In the Lowlands, the number of Scandinavian names of places is quite
insignificant when compared with the original Celtic, or even with the
Anglo-Saxon names. Whence we may conclude that though a considerable
immigration of Northmen into the Lowlands undoubtedly took place, it
must have occurred under circumstances which prevented them from being
sufficiently powerful to change the original names of places. We must,
in particular, assume that the immigration took place much later than
the Danish conquests in England; and on the whole we shall not be far
from the truth in asserting, that as the Danish conquests in England
must have driven many Anglo-Saxons into Scotland, so also the subsequent
Norman conquest must have compelled many Danes and Norwegians, settled
in the north of England, to cross the Scottish border.

According to this view, most of the Scandinavian settlements in the
middle and northern parts of the Lowlands are to be referred at the
earliest to the close of the eleventh century; and at so late a period
an entire change of the ancient names of places then existing there,
could not, of course, be effected.



Traditions concerning “the Danes.”—The Southern and Northern
Lowlands.—Danish Memorials.—Burghead.

We cannot venture to conclude, from the few Scandinavian names of places
found in the Lowlands, that the immigrant Scandinavian population was
but inconsiderable; nor can we presume to infer either the extent or the
period of the immigration from the numberless traditions respecting the
Danes preserved throughout that district. For, although the Lowlands
were far from being conquered by the Danes and Norwegians so early as
England was, still the number of alleged Danish memorials, even of a
remote age, is proportionately as great in the former as in the latter
country. Tradition has gradually ascribed almost all the memorials
existing in the Lowlands which are of any importance to “the Danes;”
nay, even the learned have, down to the present day, been too much
inclined to recognise traces of the _bloody Danes_ in the much more
ancient Pictish, Roman, and Scottish monuments.

The traditions about the Danes have much the same character in the
Lowlands as in England. They depict in vivid and touching traits the
misery of the people and of the country under the repeated attacks of
the wild sons of the sea, whose arrival, departure, and whole conduct,
were as variable as the wind. When large bands of Vikings had landed,
and the Scots had assembled an army to oppose them, it would sometimes
happen that in the morning, when all was ready for the attack, the
foreign ravagers were sought for in vain. In the darkness of the night
they had taken the opportunity secretly to re-embark, and rumour soon
announced to the army that the Vikings had again landed in quite a
different part of the country, where they were spreading death and
desolation. The Lowlander tells with horror of the many innocent women
and children, not to speak of the numbers of brave men, who were
slaughtered; of the churches, convents, and towns, that were destroyed
by fire; and of the numerous herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, which,
together with valuables of all sorts were carried off to the ships of
the Vikings.

Although the Vikings are renowned in England for drunkenness and other
kinds of dissipation, yet in Scotland tradition still more highly
magnifies the inclination of the Danes for intoxicating liquors, and
particularly for ale. It is also a general belief among the common
people throughout Scotland and Ireland that the Danes brewed their
strong ale from heather; a tradition which probably arose from the
circumstance that in ancient times the Northmen spiced their ale with
herbs; as, for instance, in Denmark with Dutch myrtle, or sweet willow
(_Dan._, Porse), which grows in marshy heaths.

For the rest, there can be no doubt that the Scotch stories about the
drunkenness of the Danes were a good deal multiplied in far later times,
at the period, namely, when the Princess Anne, a sister of Christian the
Fourth, was married to the Scotch king James the Sixth, or James the
First of England. Queen Anne was accompanied to Scotland by several
Danish noblemen, who introduced at court, and among its hangers-on, the
same carousing and revelling which at that time prevailed in far too
high a degree at the court of Denmark. Burns, in his poem of “_The
Whistle_,” celebrates an ebony whistle still preserved in the family of
Ferguson of Craigdarrock, which is said to have originally belonged to
one of Queen Anne’s Danish courtiers.

This Dane, who, even among his own countrymen, had the reputation of a
great drinker, challenged the Scotch to drink with him for a wager, and
promised the whistle to him who could drink him under the table. At the
same time he produced evidence to show that in all his many drinking
bouts at various northern courts in Russia and Germany, he had never
been vanquished. However, after drinking three consecutive days and
nights with Sir Robert Lawrie of Maxwelton, the Dane fell under the
table, and Sir Robert gained the whistle. Sir Robert’s son afterwards
lost it again at a similar drinking bout with Walter Riddel of
Glenriddel, from whose descendants it passed in the same way into the
family which now possesses it.

But as a contrast to the many naturally exaggerated tales about the
excesses committed by the Danes both in earlier and later times, it is
refreshing to meet with romantic traditions about Danish warriors, whose
bravery and comeliness could win the hearts of Scottish maidens, even
whilst the curses of the Scots were heaped on “the Danish Vikings.” A
Danish warrior had been carried off by the Scots during an expedition
into Morayshire, and imprisoned in a strong tower, where a speedy death
awaited him. But the daughter of the lord of the castle, who had fallen
in love with him, and found a requital of her affection, opened his
prison door one night, and fled with him. When morning came the lord of
the castle set off in pursuit of the fugitives, and overtook them on the
banks of the river Findhorn, which runs through Morayshire. The lovers,
who were both on one horse, attempted to swim the river; but the jaded
animal could not make head against the stream, and the fugitive couple
found a watery grave in the depths of the Findhorn. Near Dalsie, in
Nairnshire, is a small sequestered valley on the banks of the Findhorn,
inclosed by smooth sloping banks, overgrown with weeping birches. In the
midst of this charming spot is seen a grave composed of stones heaped
up, at one end of which stands a tall monumental slab, ornamented with
carvings of a cross and other antique figures. This slab, the people
say, is a monument to the unfortunate lady.

There is nothing intrinsically improbable in this tradition, since
history testifies that the daughters of Scottish kings married
Norwegian-Danish kings; whilst they, or at all events their countrymen,
were making war in Scotland. In the beginning of the tenth century, the
Scotch king, Constantine the Third, in conjunction with the more
northern Anglo-Saxons, beat the Danes, who had passed over from Dublin
under Reginald and Godfrey O’Ivar (Godfred Ivarsön), in a great battle
near the Clyde. Although Constantine, during nearly the whole of his
reign, had to fight against Danish and Norwegian Vikings, yet he gave
his daughter in marriage to Anlaf, or Olaf, king of the Danes in Dublin
and Northumberland; nay, he even fought with Olaf and his
Danish-Norwegian army against the Anglo-Saxons at the battle of
Brunanborg. Sigurd, Jarl of the Orkneys, was also married to a daughter
of the Scotch king, Malcolm the Second (1003-1033), although he had made
devastating incursions and conquests in Malcolm’s lands.

The attacks of the Norwegians and Danes on the Scottish Lowlands were so
continuous that out of seven monarchs who reigned over the Scots from
863 to 961, or about a century, three are related to have fallen whilst
fighting against the Danes. These monarchs are, however, said to have
purchased decisive victories with their blood. If we compare the
unsuccessful expeditions of the Northmen into the Scottish Lowlands with
the great conquests made by the Danes in England, we shall not wonder
that the inhabitants of the former country relate with a sort of pride
the many victories of their forefathers over “the Danes;” nor shall we
be surprised that the popular traditions, which point out the ancient
battle fields, scarcely admit even the possibility of the Danes having
been victorious.

In the southern and middle Lowlands (to the south of the Grampian Hills)
the Firths of Forth and Tay afforded excellent landing places for the
ancient Vikings. Many battles, therefore, were fought in their
neighbourhood. In the vicinity of a rampart called “_the Danes’ dyke_,”
in the parish of Crail, close to Fifeness, and between the firths just
mentioned, the Scotch king Constantine, Kenneth’s son, is said to have
fallen in a battle against the Danes in 881. Forteviot, or Abernethy,
the ancient capital of the Picts, which the Vikings often tried to
plunder, lay in the innermost part of the Firth of Tay. The defence of
this place, by King Donald the Fourth, in 961, cost him his life. Near
Redgorton, in Perthshire, is a farm called “Denmark;” close to which are
to be seen remains of intrenchments, besides tumuli, and monumental
stones, said to originate from a defeat suffered by the Danes at this

The most famous battle in these parts is, however, related to have taken
place on the northern shore of the mouth of the Firth of Tay. In the
reign of Malcolm the Second, after the Danes had already made themselves
masters of England, the attacks of the Vikings began to assume a more
dangerous character. A number of them landed in the Bay of Lunan, in
Forfarshire, whence they plundered and laid waste the country for many
miles around. But to the east of Dundee, near Barry, they encountered a
Scotch army, which defeated them, and compelled them to make a retreat,
during which they were again repeatedly beaten. Even to the present day
tradition points out a line of Danish monuments extending from Barry to
Aberlemno, in the neighbourhood of which place the last battles were
fought, and where human bones of a remarkable size are said to have been
often found in the tumuli. At Camuston, not far from Barry, stands a
stone cross called “Camus Cross,” on which are carved various kneeling
figures in an attitude of prayer. According to the statements of the
common people the cross was erected in memory of the Danish general
Camus, who fell at this spot. At Kirkbuddo were formerly seen the
remains of a Danish camp called “_Norway dikes_.” In the parish of
Inverkeilor, and near the farm called “Denmark,” traces of Danish
ramparts are also to be found; and at Aberlemno, Murphy, and many other
places, are seen sculptured monuments, said to have been erected in
commemoration of the before-mentioned fortunate victories over the

It is of course by no means incredible that a great battle may have been
fought between the Scots and the Scandinavian Vikings in this district,
and at about the time mentioned. But it is perfectly clear that most of
the Danish monuments before noticed have no connection whatever with
this frequently-mentioned battle. The name _Camus_ is not at all a
Scandinavian one; and it is, besides, not only certain that the village
of Camuston was, in more ancient times, called “Cambestowne,” but also
that there are several similar names of places in the Lowlands, which
are most correctly derived from the old Celtic language. The sculptured
monuments in question have not, in fact, the least appearance of having
been erected after any battle. In a splendid work lately published (P.
Chalmers, “The Ancient Sculptured Monuments of the County of Angus,”
Edinburgh, 1848, folio), are to be found correct delineations of a
number of stones of the same kind, which are spread over Perthshire,
Forfarshire, Kincardineshire, and Aberdeenshire; and still more are to
be met with along the coasts of the northern Lowlands and north-eastern
Highlands. One, near St. Vigean, in Forfarshire, has an ancient Celtic
inscription; but, with this exception, no inscriptions are found upon
them. They are usually ornamented on one side with a cross and various
fantastic scrolls and ornaments, and on the other with biblical
representations, such as Adam and Eve at the tree of knowledge, Daniel
in the lion’s den, Samson with the jawbone of an ass, &c. Sometimes all
sorts of strange figures are found on them, such as crescents, sceptres,
mirrors, combs, and other articles; as well as serpents, lions,
elephants, horses, dogs, stags, elks, sphinxes, &c. On some stones we
find representations of the chase, with huntsmen, hornblowers, stags,
and hounds. The carving is for the most part executed with much skill,
and the whole style of the work seems referrible to the tenth or
eleventh century. It is beyond all doubt that these stones cannot be
ascribed to the Danish or Norwegian settlers, though several authors
have asserted the contrary. They are evidently Christian-Scotch
monuments, and have been erected with a very different aim from that
ascribed to them: some, probably, as boundary stones of landed
possessions and hunting-grounds; others as monumental stones to deceased

One of the Aberlemno stones—a rare exception to the rest—which stands
close by the church, represents on one side a battle, in which both foot
and horse are engaged, and in which a bird attacks a man wearing a
helmet, who tries in vain to cover himself with his shield. (See the
annexed woodcut.) Above is seen a mirror, and one of those inexplicable
figures which appear so frequently on stones of this kind. But in this
there is the peculiarity, that the figure intersected by the cross-bar
with the sceptres (?) at each end, is square, whilst in other instances
it is generally in the form of a crescent. On the back of the stone is
carved a cross covered with the finest scrolls and ornaments, and
surrounded by fantastic figures of animals interlaced together. The
height of the stone is about six feet. This monument might possibly have
been erected after a victory; but it still remains uncertain, whether
after a victory over the Danes. At all events, the stone is Scotch, and
not Scandinavian.

[Illustration: [++] Aberlemno Stone]

[Illustration: [++] Aberlemno Stone: Reverse]

The case is much the same with most of the so-called “Danish” forts,
camps, stone circles, and bauta stones; which are in general of Pictish
or Celtic origin. Had they really been erected by the Danes and
Norwegians, those nations must evidently have held confirmed dominion in
these parts for a length of time; but it is well known that, in the
early period in which these monuments were raised, they can be regarded
as masters, in the south and central Lowlands, only at very short and
far-distant intervals.

North of the Grampian Hills, and particularly in the district of Moray
(the “Mærhæfi” of the Sagas), the Norwegians and the Danes, it is true,
firmly established themselves for a somewhat longer period of time. In
the beginning of the eleventh century, for instance, they defeated the
Scots in a great battle near Kinloss, took the towns of Elgin and Nairn,
whose garrisons they put to the sword, and afterwards settled themselves
on the sea coast. But the kingdoms which they founded were speedily
destroyed without leaving any remarkable traces behind them; so that,
even in this district, we cannot place implicit reliance upon the many
different stories about the Danish monuments. According to a common and
not improbable tradition, the district of Moray, and the present
Aberdeenshire, were the theatres on which the last battles between the
Danish Vikings and the Scots were fought. Thus it is said that, in the
reign of Malcolm the Second, the Danes, after the battle of Kinloss,
suffered a great defeat at Mortlach in Banffshire, where Malcolm, as a
thank-offering to God, caused a convent to be built. This, again, was
partly the cause of Mortlach’s becoming the seat of a bishop. Popular
tradition states that the Scottish leader vowed during the battle to add
to the church in Mortlach as much as the length of his spear if he
succeeded in driving away the Danes. An ancient sculptured stone near
the church is mentioned as pointing out the Danish leader’s grave; and
the skulls of three Danish chiefs are still shown, built into the north
wall of the church, as a perpetual memorial. A similar tradition is
preserved about the church of Gamrie, also in Banffshire. The Earl of
Buchan vowed, in the heat of the battle, to build a church to St. John,
to replace that which the Danes had destroyed, if he gained the victory
over them. Three of the sacrilegious Danish chiefs, by whose command the
church had been desecrated, were found upon the field of battle, and in
a description of the church lately published we read as follows:—“I have
seen their skulls grinning horrid and hollow in the wall where they had
been fixed, inside the church, directly east of the pulpit, and where
they have remained in their prison house 800 years!”

It is further stated that, on account of the repeated defeats which the
Danes and Norwegians had suffered in the Scotch Lowlands, King Svend
Tvskjæg sent, in the year 1012, his son Canute, who afterwards became
king of England, with a large fleet and army to the northern part of the
Lowlands. Canute landed on the coast of Buchan (Aberdeenshire), near the
Castle of Slaines, in the parish of Cruden (or Crudane). Here a very
fierce battle was fought, which can scarcely have been favourable to the
Danes, since a treaty was afterwards concluded between them and the
Scotch, according to which the Danes were to evacuate the fortress
called “Burghead,” in Moray, then occupied by them, as well as the rest
of their possessions in the kingdom of Scotland. According to the same
treaty the field of battle was to be consecrated by a bishop as a
burial-place for the Danes who had fallen on it, and a chapel was to be
built there in which masses should be continually sung for their souls.
In this neighbourhood also there was certainly, at one time, a chapel
dedicated to the Norwegian saint, Olave; but the ruins of this chapel,
as well as the old churchyard, have since been destroyed by quicksands.
The wind, however, by blowing away the sand, still brings, at times, the
fragile bones of the Danes to the light of day.

Straight out of the town of Forres, in Nairnshire, stands a stone nearly
twenty feet high, on one side of which is seen a large and handsome
cross, and under it some indistinct human figures. On the other side is
carved a number of horsemen and people on foot, evidently representing
an execution on a great scale; several bodies are seen, and by the side
of them the dissevered heads. The sculpture is executed with the
greatest care, and displays some very tasteful ornaments, which,
however, are now partly effaced through the action of time on the soft
stone. The pillar is commonly called “Svenós stone,” and tradition
relates that it was erected to commemorate the treaty of peace concluded
between Svend Tveskjæg and King Malcolm, and the expulsion of the Danes
from the coasts of Moray. But the sculptures at present existing on the
stone do not in the slightest degree represent anything of the kind. The
stone belongs to the same class of monuments as the sculptured Scotch
stones before described, which are so numerous in the Lowlands, and in
the north-eastern Highlands, particularly Inverness-shire, Ross-shire,
and Cromartyshire.

One of the few places in the Lowlands, which may with reason be assumed
to have preserved considerable traces of the Danish expeditions, lies in
the neighbourhood of the towns of Forres and Elgin. It is a promontory
which projects in a north-western direction almost a mile into the sea.
Towards its head its steep craggy shores are from eighty to a hundred
feet high. This extreme point, which incloses a small harbour, and which
presents a level surface on its top, where the fishing village of
“Burghead” is situated, was formerly separated from the main land by
three immense parallel ramparts, fifteen to twenty feet high, with cross
ramparts lying between, as well as deep and broad ditches, of which
there are still considerable remains. That the Romans had a fortress
here (said to have been named “Ultima Ptoroton”) was clearly proved
several years ago, when a Roman well, which is still used, was
discovered cut in the rock. But for Vikings, like the Norwegians and
Danes, this place afforded a still better refuge than for the Romans.
Towards the land side, which is in some degree barren and uninhabited,
they could easily defend themselves; and from the sea, the Scots could
attack them only by entering the harbour, where the well-equipped
vessels of the Northmen of course prevented their landing. In all
probability, therefore, the Norwegians and Danes still further fortified
this important point, and gave it, perhaps, its present name. Tradition,
at least, relates that the Danes, after taking Nairn, isolated the town
or fortress, and called it “Borgen” (the castle); in which account it is
very probable that the names of Nairn and the neighbouring Burghead have
been confounded. The latter place gradually gained such importance that
it was the last stronghold the Danes possessed in the Lowlands.

It is therefore clear that the Danes, or rather the Norwegians and
Danes, have scarcely a right to claim many of the numberless monuments
in the Lowlands which both the learned and unlearned ascribe to them. In
fact, the whole eastern coast of Scotland, from the Cheviot Hills to
Moray Firth, is entirely destitute of characteristic and undoubted
Scandinavian monuments. It must, however, be remembered, that the actual
Scandinavian immigrations into the Lowlands certainly took place after
the Norman conquest of England; or, at all events, at so late a period
that the Northmen could not remould the Scotch names of places into
Scandinavian forms. Nor is it strange that the Scandinavian colonists in
the Lowlands, who at the close of the eleventh century had long been
Christians, and influenced by the civilization prevailing in England,
should neither have erected such monuments as stone circles, bauta
stones, cairns, and barrows, which presuppose a state of heathenism
among a people, nor have impressed their characteristics generally on
that district by means of peculiar memorials. For at that time they
played a subordinate part there, and afterwards gradually became very
much mixed with Celts, Anglo-Saxons, and subsequently even with Normans.

The very circumstance, however, that so large a tract of land as the
Scottish Lowlands lay out of the path of the Scandinavian conquerors
during the ninth, tenth, and first half of the eleventh centuries, was
the cause not only that the Danes were able to direct all their power
with more effect against England, but also that the Norwegians could
more easily subdue the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles, the Hebrides, and
various tracts in the northern and western Highlands. In these districts
much more perceptible traces of the Norwegian settlers, and of the
results which they produced, are still preserved, than in the Lowlands
of the in general transient devastations of the Danes and Norwegians.



The Orkneys and Shetland Isles—Natural

We might expect that the most northern isles of Scotland, which lie
exposed in a stormy sea, should possess the same wild and mountainous
character as the Faroe Isles and Iceland. Such a belief gains strength
when, for the first time, in passing from Scotland, we obtain a view of
the southern Orkneys, especially the considerable mountain heights of
the Isle of Hay. Indeed Hay obtained its name (originally “Haey,” or the
high island) from the old Northmen, on account of the mountains which
distinguish it from the rest of the Orkneys; for on sailing farther
northwards, past Hay and the adjacent South Ronaldshay (formerly
“Rögnvaldsey”), we soon discover that the Orkneys are in general flat
and sandy, although with cliff-bound coasts. Their heath-covered hills
scarce deserve the name of mountains, though here and there called by
the inhabitants “fjolds,” or Fjelde (mountain rocks). The islands are
destitute of wood, and exhibit frequent ling moors and desert tracts of
heath. But there is also much, and by no means unfertile, cornland to be
found; and an improved system of agriculture has made such advances,
that the stranger is sometimes surprised, in these distant isles, by the
sight of luxuriant fields of wheat.

The waves of the sea, and the powerful currents, have intersected the
Orkneys with innumerable winding bays, or sounds. Besides Mainland, the
chief island (first called by the Norwegians “Hrossey,” and afterwards
“Meginland,” or the continent), the archipelago includes a great number
of islands of different sizes, which spread themselves in a north-east
direction from the north coast of Scotland. The farthest of the Orkneys
is Fairhill, or Fair Isle (formerly “Friðarey”). It lies almost midway
between the Orkneys and the Shetland Islands, in the midst of the rapid
current now called Sumburg Roost, but which the Norwegians in former
times called Dynröst (from “röst,” a maelstrom, or whirlpool); whence,
again, the most southern promontory of the Shetland Islands has obtained
the name of Dunrossness (Dynrasternes). The Shetland archipelago (the
old Northern “Hjaltland,” “Hjatland,” or “Hetland”), like that of the
Orkneys, forms a long-extended line, but differs from it in consisting
principally of one large island, Mainland (“Meginland”), surrounded by a
great number of proportionately small and insignificant ones.

The most southern point of Dunrossness, on Mainland, forms the
promontory of Sumburg Head (“Sunnbœjar-höfði”), which, however, is of no
very great height; indeed the highest mountain in Shetland is only about
fifteen hundred feet above the sea. Although the Shetland Islands, with
regard to mountains, are not to be compared with the Faroe Isles, still
they exhibit a sort of transition from the flatter Orkneys to the
mountainous character of the Faroe group. Before the coasts of Shetland
stand many high and ragged rocks, called “stacks” (old Norsk, “stackr”).
The coasts themselves are steeper, and the mountains larger than in the
Orkneys. On the other hand, however, the valleys are both longer and
broader than the mountain valleys of the Faroe Islands. Heath and
moorland abound, whilst the corn-fields are small, and the corn harvest
in general very uncertain and difficult to gather. Fishing is the most
important source of profit for the inhabitants.

The Orkneys and the Shetland Isles were, as is well known, completely
colonized by Norwegians in the ninth and tenth centuries. They were,
however, known and inhabited much earlier. It is possible that the
Shetland Islands were the “ultima Thule” spoken of by Roman authors in
the first centuries after Christ; but it is certain that the Romans at
that time knew the Orkneys by the name of “Orcades:” whence it appears
that the primitive root _Ork_, in the later Norwegian name of the
islands, is very ancient, and probably of Celtic origin. Before the
arrival of the Norwegians, both the Orkneys and the Shetland Islands
seem to have been inhabited by the same Pictish or Celtic race that was
settled in the rest of Scotland. Of these older inhabitants memorials
still exist in different kinds of antiquities of stone and bronze that
are dug out of the earth, as well as in numerous ruins of castles, or
Pictish towers, originally built of flag-stones laid together, without
any cement of loam or mortar. There are also cairns and stone circles;
the most prominent amongst which are the “Stones of Stennis,” on each
side of Brogar Bridge, in Orkney. They are, like Stonehenge and Abury
circle in England, surrounded with ditches and ramparts of earth; and,
after Stonehenge, must be regarded as amongst the largest stone circles
in the British Islands. The immense masses of erect stones are
remarkable evidences both of the strength and of the religious
enthusiasm of the old Celtic inhabitants; and it is no wonder that they
made in ancient times such an impression on the Norwegians, on their
arrival at these islands, as to induce them to call the promontory on
which the largest circle stands “Steinsnes” (Stones-naze) and the
adjoining firth, “Steinsnesfjördr” (Stones-naze Firth, now Loch of

No sooner had the Scandinavian Vikings settled themselves, in the ninth
century, securely in these islands, than they became a central point for
the Northmen’s expeditions not only to the British Islands, but also to
Iceland and Greenland. Thus when Floke Vilgerdesön, or “Ravnefloke,”
went on a voyage of discovery from Norway to Iceland, he landed on
Hjaltland, or Shetland, in a bay which obtained from him the name of
“Flokavágr.” This bay must probably be sought on the east coast of
Mainland, about Cat Firth (Kattarfjörðr); for in its neighbourhood lay
the Loch of Girlsta (originally “Geirhildarstaðir”), which is said to
have obtained its name from the circumstance of Floke’s daughter,
Geirhilde, having been drowned in it during her father’s short visit to
the country. By degrees the islands became the rendezvous of a great
number of discontented Norwegian emigrants, who, to avoid the new order
of things, had withdrawn themselves from their old paternal home, and
from this distant place of refuge continually harassed the coasts of

This induced King Harald Haarfager to undertake an expedition against
the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles, as well as against the Hebrides, on
the west coast of Scotland; all of which he succeeded in subjugating. He
gave the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles, as an earldom under the crown
of Norway, to Ragnvald Möre-Jarl’s family. This family produced some
great men, who extended their dominion over large tracts in the adjacent
kingdom of Scotland. The islands continued, however, to be the resort of
many malcontent and fugitive Norwegians. The renowned Ganger-Rolf, the
founder of the royal Norman house, is said to have dwelt a long time on
them before he undertook his expedition against Normandy. When King Erik
Blodöxe, Harald Haarfager’s son, was driven with his queen, the
atrocious Gunhilde, from Norway, he fled to Orkney, whence he carried
devastation far and wide. Subsequently he obtained a kingdom in
Northumberland; but, after his fall, his sons again sought the Orkneys;
where they remained till they succeeded in obtaining the kingly power in
Norway. Snorre Sturlesön states, that after the fall of this dominion,
Gunhilde again fled to Orkney, where her daughter, Ragnhilde, had
married a member of the Earl’s family. Ragnhilde trod entirely in her
mother’s footsteps by occasioning dissension, and even murder, in the
family of the Earl. Somewhat later the Orkneys were visited for a time
by Kalf Arnesön, so well known in the more ancient history of Norway,
who, at the battle of Stiklestad in 1030, was one of the chief leaders
of the peasant army against King Olaf, the saint. He came to the Orkneys
just in time to take part in a severely-contested naval battle, fought
in the year 1046, near Rödebjerg (Rauðabjörg) in Pentland Firth, between
the Jarls Thorfin and Ragnvald Brusesön. Kalf supported Thorfin with six
long ships, and thus decided the victory in his favour.

The older history of the islands exhibits an almost uninterrupted series
of bloody combats between members of the Norwegian Jarl’s family. This,
however, did not prevent them from making violent inroads on the coasts
of Scotland and Ireland. Long after the Vikings’ mode of life had ceased
in the Scandinavian North, it continued to be preserved in these
islands. This was not only owing to their remote situation, opposite
hostile coasts, and to their characteristic independence, but also to
the population having inherited the old Viking spirit, and carefully
preserved the ancient Norwegian institutions. As long as Norwegian jarls
ruled, Norwegian laws, customs, and habits, as well as the Norwegian
language, were absolutely paramount in the islands. The connections
which the jarls and other powerful leaders maintained with Scotch and
Irish chiefs, and which often resulted in intermarriages between their
families, do not seem to have had much effect on the Scandinavian
national character of these island colonists. It was not till the
beginning of the fourteenth century, when the male line of the old
Norwegian jarls had become extinct, and when the Scotch Lord Saint
Clair, who had married a daughter of Magnus, the last jarl, had obtained
possession of the earldom, that the ancient liberties, customs, and
manners of the inhabitants, began to be seriously threatened; nor did it
suffice to protect the islands against the progress of Scottish
influence, that they continued to be under the supreme authority of
Norway. When, at length, the Danish-Norwegian king, Christian the First,
on the occasion of the marriage between his daughter Margaret, and the
Scotch king, James the Third, in the year 1469, pledged to Scotland the
Orkneys and the Shetland Isles as part of Margaret’s dowry, the last tie
was severed that bound those countries to their Scandinavian friends.
The Scottish kings and their successors, who also ascended the English
throne, acknowledged indeed the right of the Danish-Norwegian kings to
redeem the islands; but they continually found subterfuges to prevent
its being exercised. The lawful claims of redemption, repeatedly urged
by Denmark in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were perfectly
fruitless. The islands were too important, and far too conveniently
situated with regard to Scotland, for Great Britain to give them up,
without being compelled by the last necessity. The undoubted right of
the Danish-Norwegian kings was forced to give way to the superior power
and political influence of the British sovereigns.

The conduct observed towards the Norwegian population of these islands
after their union with Scotland was quite as unjust as their separation
from Norway and Denmark, and assuredly far more revolting to all proper
feeling. A large part of the inhabitants had till then been in the free
possession of their lands as freeholders, or “udallers” (Odelsmænd), and
had likewise possessed their old Norwegian laws and privileges, which
should of course have been respected when the islands were pledged to
Scotland. But the Scotch nobles, who, partly as vassals, partly as royal
lessees, obtained the government of the islands, took care to destroy
all traces of the ancient liberties and Scandinavian characteristics of
the people. The resistance of the islanders was fruitless. In the year
1530 they took up arms under the command of their governor, Sir James
Sinclair, in order to oppose the appointment of a crown vassal over the
islands. The Earl of Caithness himself, who had been dispatched against
them, fell, with five hundred of his men, in a sanguinary action near
the “Stones of Stennis.” But though the islanders thus asserted their
rights for a short period, the Scotch regents soon afterwards succeeded
in establishing crown-vassals in the islands.

Among these vassals none has left behind him a more despised or hated
name than Earl Patrick Stuart, who from 1595 to 1608, or about thirteen
years, oppressed the islands in the most shameful manner. He violently
deprived the holders of allodial farms of their right of possession, and
converted almost all the freeholders into leaseholders. He arbitrarily
changed the weights and measures, so that the taxes and imposts became
intolerable. Law and justice were not to be procured, for the Earl’s
creatures everywhere occupied the judgment-seats. To appeal to Scotland
was no easy matter, as Lord Patrick’s soldiers guarded all the ferries.
In the Orkneys the Earl compelled the people to build him a strong
fortress at Kirkwall, and in Shetland another at Scalloway; from which
places armed men ranged over the country, to punish and overawe the
malcontents. The ruins of these castles form a still-existing memorial
of “the wicked Earl Patrick,” who, for his tyranny, was at length
recalled to Scotland, accused of high treason, and beheaded.

The Scottish kings, it is true, now promised the islanders that they
should have relief in their need, and that no vassal of the crown should
be placed over them. But this promise was not kept; and so far from the
islanders again recovering their lost freedom, the feudal system of
England and Scotland continued to take firmer root in the islands.
Oppression stalked on with regular and steady step until it arrived at
such a pitch that not only did the Norwegian laws and liberties
disappear, but the islands themselves, with some few exceptions, became
the private property of a few individuals. The successors of the mighty
Vikings, descended from kings and jarls of Norway and the North, who in
winter dwelt as chiefs, or at least as freemen, in roomy mansions,
whilst in the summer they gained glory and booty in their long ships,
are now in general obliged to content themselves with inhabiting as
leaseholders, or rather as annual tenants, a poor cottage on a small
piece of land, where, by hard labour, they are able to gain, at best, a
very frugal subsistence. Their dwellings, particularly in Shetland, are
of the most wretched description. The walls are formed of small unhewn
stones, with turf and sea-weed thrust into the interstices, and, instead
of a chimney, the smoke escapes by a hole in the roof. Within the house
there are generally sleeping-places in the thick stone wall; but men and
cattle live together in friendly harmony in the same apartment. The fire
burns freely on the floor, and envelopes all in a dense smoke. If the
people seek their living on the sea by fishing, it is usually in boats
belonging to the proprietor of the estate, who consequently receives a
large share of their profits. The condition of the common people in the
Orkneys, and in the Shetland Isles, is certainly not at all enviable,
even in comparison with that of their Scandinavian kinsmen on the poor
and more remote Faroe Islands and Iceland; although commerce is still
limited and oppressed there by a monopoly which was soon abolished in
the Orkneys and Shetland Isles after their separation from the united
Norwegian-Danish kingdoms. But in spite of all their calamities, the
inhabitants of the Faroe Isles and Iceland have for the most part
preserved to our times that freedom of landed property which they
inherited from their forefathers.



Shetland.—The People.—Songs.—Sword-Dance.—Language.—Names
of Places.—Tingwall.—Burg of Mousa.—Tumuli.—Bauta Stones.[9]

Footnote 9:

Partly from S. Hibbert, P. A. Munch, and Chr. Plöyen.

If the present originally Norwegian population in the Orkneys and
Shetland Islands possessed, on the whole, any strongly-marked
Scandinavian characteristics, they would naturally occur most in the
islands farthest towards the north. But the oppressions and political
changes that have occurred there have done their work so thoroughly,
that even the Shetlanders no longer bear in their character and natural
disposition any strongly-marked feature of their Norwegian origin. The
only ones remaining are, perhaps, their love of the sea, and their skill
in contending with its dangers. Even their bodily frame has, through
many years of want and debasement, lost much of its strength and
nobleness. In the parish of Coningsburgh, in Mainland, precisely where
the largest and strongest-built people are to be found, the Scandinavian
population are said to have kept themselves most free from mixture. The
inclination for disputes and fighting amongst the people of Coningsburgh
is well known in Shetland. This trait is, at all events, more
Scandinavian than moroseness and want of hospitality to strangers, which
are almost unknown in the North, but which in the last century were
alleged to be vices of these same men of Coningsburgh. It was said that
they would not willingly give a traveller a night’s lodging, and that
directly at day-break they awoke him, saying:—“_Myrkin i livra; lurein i
liunga; timin i guestin i geungna_;” that is, “It is dark in the
smoke-hole, but it is light on the heath, and for the guest it is now
time to depart.” That this sentence, which was written down in the year
1774, consists of old Norwegian words, though in a corrupted form, is
quite evident.

The Shetlanders still retained, in the last century, many of the customs
of their Scandinavian forefathers. Thus surnames were given both to sons
and daughters, according to the genuine Scandinavian custom, from the
father’s Christian name. The eldest son, for instance, of Magnus
Anderson was called Anders Magnuson, and all the other sons had likewise
the surname of Magnuson; whilst the daughters, in like manner, were all
called Magnus-daughter, of course with different Christian names. Even
the Norwegian language is said to have been spoken at that time by some
few old persons in the most remote islands. The traditions and songs
handed down by their forefathers still lived among the people, whose
poets and poetical feeling have been celebrated from the earliest times.
It was customary to revive the memory of former days by festal
assemblies, in which the youth of both sexes danced to songs (“Visecks”)
and ballads, as they did in ancient times throughout the North, and as
is still the custom in the Faroe Isles. At Yule time (Christmas), which
was the chief festival, and the beginning of which was always announced
at daybreak by playing an ancient Norwegian melody, called “the
day-dawn” (_Dan._, Daggry), all kinds of merriment took place. A
favourite amusement was the so-called sword-dance, the origin of which
may be traced with sufficient certainty to the times of the heathens.
The Vikings were frequently very dexterous in playing with naked swords,
throwing several at once into the air without allowing them to fall to
the ground. This practice was easily converted into a dance, performed
by several men with drawn swords; and consisting of many windings and
figures calculated to develope a dexterous agility, which, in those
warlike times, must naturally have excited a lively interest among the
spectators. Later in the middle ages the sword-dance in the Shetland
Isles lost by degrees the wildness of its character, the number of
dancers being limited to seven, representing the Seven Champions of
Christendom, viz., St. James of Spain, St. Denis of France, St. Anthony
of Italy, St. David of Wales, St. Patrick of Ireland, St. Andrew of
Scotland, all under the command of St. George of England, who both
opened and closed the dance by reciting some English verses appropriate
to the occasion.

All this, however, is now much changed. In the farthest island towards
the west, that of Papa stour (“Papey stœrri,” the great Pap Island, in
contradistinction to the neighbouring Papa little, “Papey litla”), a
last shadow of the old warlike sword-dance is occasionally to be seen.
Instead, however, of being clothed in armour or shirts of mail, the
dancing knights have shirts of sackcloth; and, in place of huge swords,
they brandish straightened iron hoops, stripped from some herring-cask.
The old Norwegian songs are no longer heard. Of the ancient Norwegian
popular language the only remains are partly a few words, which,
however, appear conspicuously in the English dialect now used; and
partly a peculiarly sharp pronunciation, with a considerable rising and
sinking of the voice, not unlike the vulgar pronunciation in the Faroe
Isles. The old Norwegian words are particularly employed for certain
objects and implements which have been in use from time immemorial.

Thus, for instance, the hole through which the smoke escapes (_Dan._,
Lyre) in the roof of houses covered with flat turf (flaas) is sometimes
still called by the name of “livra” (in the Færoic language “ljowari”).
The high seat for the mistress of the house is called, in remote
districts, “hoy-saede” (_Dan._, Höisæde); her “bysmer,” which serves her
for weighing, exactly agrees, both in name and nature, with the “Bismer”
common in the North. The hand-mill, which is fast disappearing, is
called as in the Danish part of north England, “qvern.” The turf-spade,
called in the Faroe Isles “torvskjæri” (_Dan._, Törveskjærer), is here
named “tuysker.” The land-tax also, according to Scandinavian fashion,
is paid in “merk” and “ure” (Mark and Öre). The outlying fields are
called “hogan,” “hagan” (_Old Norsk_, “hagi,” an inclosed field). The
deep-sea fishery (_Dan._, Hav) is called “the haaf;” the fishing itself,
“haaf-fishing” (_Dan._, Havfiskerie); and the necessary lines, “tows”
(_Dan._, Touge). To the present day the Shetlanders use, in these
fisheries, boats imported from Norway, which are peculiarly suited, by
their construction, for the high seas and rapid currents on the coasts
of Shetland. The dress worn by the fishermen when out at sea bears a
striking resemblance to that of the Faroe men. The head is covered with
a cap knit in the form of a night-cap, and ornamented with the most
motley colours. They wear a coat of tanned sheep-skin, reaching down to
the knees, where it generally meets a pair of huge and capacious skin
boots, very carefully sewed. On land the Shetlanders use only a simple
kind of shoe called “rivlins,” consisting of a square piece of untanned
cow-hide, covering little more than the sole of the foot, and fastened
with a fishing-line or a strip of skin. The men of Faroe have similar
shoes, called “skegvar,” which, however, are far better made.

But what particularly reminds the Scandinavian traveller in Shetland of
finding himself in a country formerly altogether Norwegian, is the names
of places, all of which bear the impress of their Norwegian origin. This
remark applies to the names of the islands themselves, as well as to the
names of towns, farms, promontories, and bays existing in them. They, of
course, resemble, in a great degree, the old Scandinavian names of
places farther south, in Scotland and England. Thus, for instance, a
fiord is generally called “firth” (fjorðr); a creek “wick” (_Dan._,
Vig); a holm, or small island, “holm;” a promontory, or naze, “ness;” a
valley, “daill,” or “dale.” But it is peculiar to these districts, that
the forms of names of places which occur most frequently in the old
Danish part of the north of England, namely, those ending in _by_,
_thwaite_, and _thorpe_, are extremely rare in Shetland, and in the rest
of the old Norwegian possessions in Scotland. Of those in _by_, only a
few instances are to be found; those in _thwaite_ are still more rare;
and those in _thorpe_ are not to be met with at all. On the other hand,
these districts possess several Scandinavian names of places which are
also most frequently found in the old Norwegian colonies in the north
and west of Scotland, but which are perfectly unknown in the old Danish
part of the north of England. For instance, a small bay (_Dan._, Vaag)
is called “voe” (vágr); whence, on Mainland, we find “West-voe,” “Aiths
voe” (the bay by the tongue of land), “Lax-voe” (Lax, or Salmon-bay),
“Selia-voe” (sildavágr, the “Silde Vaag,” or herring-bay), “Hamna-voe”
(hafnarvágr, the Havne Vaag, or harbour bay), together with others. A
still smaller bay, navigable only by boats, is called “gjo,” or “goe”
(_Old Norsk_, gjá, an opening or cleft). For the rest, many farms have
names with such endings as _seter_ (Old Norsk, _setr_), _ster_ and _sta_
(Old Norsk, _staðr_, a place); and also _busta_, _buster_, and _bister_
(contracted from “bolstaðr,” a dwelling-place); whence, for instance,
Kirkbuster (formerly Kirkjubólstaðr); all of which names agree just as
well with those found in the Faroe Isles, Iceland, and the
mother-country, Norway, as the names of places in the north of England
ending in _by_, _thwaite_, and _thorpe_, agree with those in the
corresponding mother-country, Denmark. Although the difference between
the present traces of Danish colonization in England, and of Norwegian
in Scotland, is not considerable, still it may be recognised in this
manner. In consequence of the remote situation of the Shetland Isles,
the names of places, in spite of all revolutions, remain so much the
same, that the old political and religious institutions of the islands
are visible, as it were, through them. In the south part of Mainland
lies the farm of Howff, where in ancient times there was certainly a
“Hof,” or house of God; and far northwards, near Hillswick (formerly
Hildiswik), is the promontory of Torness (Þórsness), which probably once
had a Hof for the god Thor. Nor far from thence is the Lake Helgawater
(Helgavatn), or the holy water. Heathenism, however, lasted but a short
time in the islands. The Irish Christian priests (_Old N._, “Paper”)—the
memory of whom still lives in the names of the islands Papa (Papey), as
Papa stour (great) and Papa little—seem to have worked indefatigably;
insomuch that the Norwegian king Olaf Tryggvesön was able, at the close
of the tenth century, to introduce Christianity throughout the islands.
In place of the old god-houses there speedily arose a number of chapels
or small churches, consecrated to different saints: viz., to the
Norwegian saints, St. Sunifva (the daughter of an Irish king who
suffered shipwreck in Norway), St. Olaf, as well as, at a somewhat later
time, to St. Magnus, the patron saint of the Orkneys, after whom a great
bay on the north-west coast of Mainland is to the present day called St.
Magnus’ Bay. St. Magnus seems also to have been the patron, or rather
the chief saint, of Shetland; at least, the principal church in Shetland
is consecrated to him. This church did not stand in Lerwick, the present
chief town in Shetland, which has risen far later in the south-eastern
part of Mainland, on the site of an old sea-side town near Bressasound
(formerly “Breiðeyjarsund”). It lay about four miles to the north-west
of Lerwick, in the parish of Tingwall; where, as the name (Þingavöllr)
denotes, the chief _Thing_ of the islands was held for centuries, and
where, in heathen times, the chief place of sacrifice undoubtedly
existed. The parish of Tingwall comprises one of the prettiest and
best-cultivated valleys in Shetland. The old _Thing_ place is still to
be seen near the church, in a small holm, or island, in a lake,
connected with the land by a row of large stepping stones. Secure
against a sudden attack, here sat, when the island was free, the “foude”
(_Dan._, Foged), or magistrate, with his law-officers, whilst the
multitude of the common people stood round about on the shores of the
lake, and listened to what passed. Popular tradition says that the
church was at that time a free place, or sanctuary, so that a person
condemned to death was entitled to a pardon, if he could succeed in
running from the holm over the stones, and reaching the church without
being killed by the people. If this was really the case the commonalty
must consequently have had power to pardon a convicted person by
suffering him to escape into the church.

During the holding of the chief _Thing_, which in the olden times was
generally accompanied with great sacrificial offerings, as well as with
fairs and all sorts of merry-making, a multitude of persons always
assembled, and a great many tents and booths were erected, both at the
_Thing_ place itself and in the immediate vicinity. Hence it undoubtedly
arose that about three miles to the west of Tingwall, near a bay of the
sea, there was a collection of _Skaaler_, or wooden booths; whence the
present Scalloway (Skálavágr) which, next to Lerwick, is the most
important trading place in the islands.

In Mainland alone there were at least seven lesser _Things_, under the
jurisdiction of the chief _Thing_ in Tingwall. The names of five of
these are still preserved in Sandsthing (Sandsþing), Aithsthing
(Eiðsþing), Delting (Dalaþing), Lunziesting (Lundeiðisþing), and Nesting
(Nesþing); but the two other names, which are known from records,
Rauðarþing—probably the most northern parish, Northmavine—and Þveitaþing
(the most southern parish?), have disappeared. Special _Things_ were, of
course, also held on the larger islands, such as Yell (“Jali”) and Unst
(“Aumstr,” “Örmst”); but it is certainly very incorrect to infer, as
many persons do, from some stone circles near Baliasta, close by Unst,
that the chief _Thing_ of the islands was held there in the most ancient
times of heathenism.

These stone circles belong simply to low graves encircled by stones,
like those so frequently found in Norway, and whose date is of the
latest period of heathenism, or what is called the iron age. Skeletons
have been found in several similar graves in Shetland; and at different
times urns containing burnt bones and ashes have also been discovered,
together with other distinct traces of their having been burial-places.
For the rest, barrows or tumuli, bauta stones, runic inscriptions, and
similar monuments and antiquities of the heathen times, are by no means
frequently to be met with; the reason of which must naturally be sought
in the short duration of heathenism in these islands. The remains of
only a single insignificant runic stone, and that of the Christian æra,
have been discovered near Crosskirk, in the north of Mainland. The
numerous round towers, or castles, of loose flag-stones laid together,
which are often built on islands in lakes, and are called by many
“Danish burghs,” are, as before stated, of Pictish or Celtic origin.
They have no resemblance whatever to the old fortresses in the
Scandinavian North; whilst, on the other hand, buildings entirely
corresponding with them are to be found in the Celtic Highlands of
Scotland, and on the coasts of Ireland. The most that can be said is
that the Norwegians availed themselves of these buildings after their
conquests and settlements in these districts. Thus the remains of a
tower are to be seen on a holm in Burra Firth (Borgarfjörðr, or
Borgfjord, _i.e._ Castle fiord), in the west of Mainland, which may have
been inhabited in the beginning of the twelfth century by the chief
Thorbjörn, whom the Earls Magnus and Hakon attacked and killed in
“Borgarfjörðr.” The ground plan of the ruin (after Hibbert) shows how
the chambers were disposed in the thick stone wall.

[Illustration: [++] Tower: Burra Firth]

Another ancient Celtic tower, which tradition decidedly states to have
been occupied by Norwegians, and which, on that account, has a
particular interest for a Scandinavian, lies on the little island of
Mousa (the ancient “Mösey”), close to the sound that separates the
island from the south-eastern coast of Mainland. The tower is,
fortunately, the best preserved one of the kind in the British Islands.
It rises to the height of between forty and fifty feet, like an immense
and perfectly round stone pillar, but bulging out towards the middle.
Its appearance from without is quite plain, and no other opening can be
perceived in the wall than the entrance-door, which even originally was
so low that it was necessary to creep through it. To attack the tower,
even when the door stood open, was not easy, and the bulging of the wall
in the middle rendered the scaling of it almost impossible. The entire
tower is about fifty feet in diameter, and consists of two concentric
stone walls, the innermost of which encloses an open space of about
twenty feet wide. The two concentric walls are each five feet thick, and
stand at a distance of five feet from each other. The small space
between them formed the habitable part of the tower. From the open yard
we ascend a stone staircase, and, before we reach the top, seven
divisions or stories are passed, separated by large flag-stones, which
form a ceiling for one story and a floor for the next. In the different
compartments, which quite encircle the tower, are small square openings,
or air holes, one above the other, and looking out into the inner yard.
The annexed drawings and sections (taken from Hibbert’s description of
Shetland), which represent the tower in its evidently original state,
will serve to explain still more clearly the nature of this simple, yet
remarkable, building.

[Illustration: [++] Tower: Mousa]

[Illustration: [++] Tower: Mousa – Interior]

This tower appears to have stood deserted as early as the tenth century.
Whilst Harald Haarfager reigned in Norway, a distinguished Norwegian
Viking and merchant, Björn Brynjulfsön, carried off his beloved Thora
Roaldsdatter (Roalds-daughter) from the fiords. He brought her first to
his father’s house; but, as his father would not permit him to celebrate
his marriage there, he fled with her in the spring, on board his ship,
and sailed westwards. After suffering much from storms and heavy seas,
the couple landed at last on Mösey, and took up their temporary abode in
the castle there, whither they brought the whole of the ship’s cargo. In
“Möseyjarborg,” Björn celebrated his marriage with Thora, and dwelt
there through the winter. But next spring he learned that King Harald,
at the entreaty of Thora’s friends, had exiled him from Norway; and that
commands had even been sent by Harald to the jarls and chiefs in the
Orkneys, the Hebrides, and in Ireland, to put him to death. He therefore
again put to sea, and landed safely with his Thora in Iceland.

A few centuries later, the chief Erlend Junge fled from the Orkneys with
Margaret, mother of the Jarl Harald Maddadsön, who was as much
celebrated for her beauty as for her wantonness, and shut himself up
with her in “Möseyjarborg.” The Jarl Harald, who had opposed their
marriage, set out in pursuit of them, and blockaded the castle for a
long time, in order, if possible, to cut off their supply of provisions,
and thus compel them to surrender; for, by force, says the Saga, the
castle could scarcely be taken. But Harald at last became weary of the
siege, and concluded an agreement with Erlend that he should have
Margaret to wife on condition of swearing fealty to him as jarl.

This old and venerable tower has, therefore, not only been the scene of
sanguinary battles and deeds of cruelty, but its strong walls have also
afforded a secure asylum to sincere and all-sacrificing love.



The Orkneys.—“Þingavöllr.”—Monuments of the Olden Time.—Kirkwall.—St.
Magnus Church.

The Orkneys, on account of their greater fertility, and of their lying
nearer to Scotland, were in ancient times, as indeed they are at
present, of much more importance than the distant Shetland Isles. As the
chief seat of the Norwegian jarls, they formed the central point of the
Norwegian power in the north of Scotland. According to the Sagas, most
of the many Danes and Norwegians who settled on the islands to the north
of Scotland, resorted to the Orkneys; by which means, the jarls who
governed them were enabled easily to assemble large fleets, and to man
them with picked Scandinavian warriors. It was chiefly, therefore,
Norwegians from the Orkneys, who, under the command of the jarls of
Orkney, made such extensive conquests in the territories of the Scottish

Jarl Sigurd the Stout (_Dan._, Digre), who, as before mentioned, was
married to a daughter of the Scotch king, Malcolm the Second, and Jarl
Thorfin, his son by King Malcolm’s daughter, pre-eminently distinguished
themselves by bold Viking expeditions into the neighbouring countries,
and particularly by their conquests on the Scotch coast. They extended
these as far south as Moray; nay it is even said that at times they went
as low as to the Firth of Forth. Thorfin was the last of the jarls of
Orkney in whom the old Scandinavian Vikings’ spirit lived and stirred.
His power was greater than that of any of his predecessors or
successors; for he ruled, say the Sagas, over no fewer than eleven
earldoms (Jarledömmer) in Scotland, over all the Hebrides, and a large
kingdom in Ireland. But after the many warlike expeditions, raids, and
incendiarisms, in which he had played a part, he at length became
penitent, and undertook a journey through Denmark and Saxony to Rome,
where the pope gave him an indulgence for his sins. After his return, he
governed his kingdom peacefully till his death, which took place about
the year 1064. Notwithstanding that a new and Christian æra had
irresistibly established itself under this fierce Viking, the Orkneys
continued for more than a century after his death to foster men who were
Christians only in name, but in reality, both in their way of thinking
and conduct, were heathen Vikings. Svend Asleifsön, who, in the middle
of the twelfth century, lived on the little island of Gairsay
(Gareksey), close to the north-east side of Mainland, occupies a
prominent place among these Vikings. He was surrounded by a band of
eighty men, with whom in the winter he remained at home in his mansion,
living well on the booty that had been won. In the spring, after
seed-time, he set out with them on expeditions to the Scotch, English,
and Irish coasts. In the autumn he returned home for a short time, in
order to gather the corn into his barns; and then again set out and
harried the before-mentioned countries until the beginning of winter. On
one of these autumnal Viking expeditions he even took Dublin; but whilst
he fancied himself secure, the inhabitants suddenly fell upon and killed
him, together with a great number of his men, who defended themselves
with the utmost bravery.

In consequence of these important Viking expeditions, as well as of the
greater life and bustle which prevailed in the Orkneys, not only are
more historical accounts preserved of them than of the Shetland Isles,
but they likewise exhibit more conspicuously how the warlike spirit of
the Scandinavian population, when it began to be curbed by Christianity
and the abandonment of piratical expeditions, preyed upon itself, and
exhausted its strength in sanguinary internal conflicts. Memorials of
this are found on almost all the islands. In going from Shetland, the
first island made after passing Fairhill, and when approaching the
proper group of the Orkneys, namely, North Ronaldshay (“Rinansey”), was
the scene of a terrible revenge taken by Jarl Einar on King Harald
Haarfager’s son, Halfdan Haaleg (Long-legs), who had murdered Einar’s
father, Ragnvald Mörejarl, in Norway. Jarl Einar is said to have avenged
his father in the same manner as, according to the Saga, the sons of
Regner Lodbrog punished their father’s murderer, King Ella of
Northumberland; namely, by cutting a blood eagle on Halfdan’s back. At
Lopnes (“Laupandaness”), in the neighbouring island of Sanday
(“Sandey”), Jarl Einar Sigurdsön was killed in the following century
(the eleventh) by Thorkel Fostre, so called because he had brought up,
or fostered, Einar’s brother, subsequently the famed Thorfin Jarl. Not
long afterwards, Thorfin’s nephew, Jarl Ragnvald Brusesön, was killed by
the same Thorkel on Little Papa Island (“Papey”), to the north-west of
Sanday. Thorkel and Thorfin had previously surrounded and set fire to
the house, wherein the jarl was with his men. The jarl’s corpse was then
conveyed to and buried on the neighbouring isle of Papa Westray (“Papey
hin meiri,” the Great Pap Island), adjacent to Westray (“Vestrey”) and
the most northern of all the Orkneys. Thorkel Fletter, surnamed the
restless, was burnt in his house in Eday (“Eiðey”), in the twelfth
century; and in the year 1137 the Jarl Paal was surprised by Svend
Asleifsön on Rowsay (“Rolfsey”), and carried away prisoner to Athol, in
Scotland. About twenty years previously (1110) the celebrated jarl,
Magnus Erlendsön, was attacked and murdered by his kinsman, Jarl Hakon
Paalsön, on the adjacent island of Egilshay, (“Egilsey”). In honour of
Magnus, who was afterwards canonized, and became the patron saint of the
Orkneys, a church was built on Egilshay, which still exists, though in a
somewhat altered form.

Between the last-named islands and Mainland are the small isles Enhallow
(“Eyin helga,” the holy isle) and Wire (“Vigr”). On the latter Kolbein
Ruga had, in the twelfth century, a castle, the site of whose ramparts
can still be clearly distinguished. But Mainland itself is naturally the
island with which the most numerous and remarkable memorials of the
Norwegian dominion are associated. For centuries numberless Vikings’
fleets constantly rode at anchor in its bays and in the adjacent
straits; and almost every spot on the island is famous in the Orkneyinga
Saga as having been the residence of some distinguished man, or the
scene of some important historical event. The numerous Norwegian names
of places ending in _wall_ (vágr), _wick_, _firth_, _ness_, _buster_,
_toft_, _holm_, and so forth, which are everywhere met with in the
island, do not, however, merit particular consideration, since they
resemble those in the rest of the Orkneys and Shetland Isles; yet they
serve to establish that the Norwegians must have superseded here, no
less than in the other islands, the older Celtic population. We soon
discover that the vicinity of the Orkneys to Scotland, and their brisk
intercourse with that kingdom, as well as with England, have
contributed, both in Mainland and in the surrounding islands, to do away
with many of those names of places which are still found in Shetland as
witnesses of the old Norwegian judicial institutions. Thus we should
look in vain in Mainland for that “Þingavöllr,” or Tingvalla, which
anciently was the chief _Thing_ place of the island, as is expressly
mentioned in old records. We should be just as unsuccessful in finding
traces of the lesser _Things_, which, in Shetland, as we have seen, can
almost all be still pointed out in the names of places; and this
notwithstanding we know for a certainty that the Orkneys had a court of
justice in common with Shetland, till the year 1196 at least; from which
time Shetland was governed by its own laws. The same powerful Scottish
influence has likewise effaced in the Orkneys most of the few Norwegian
words, customs, and manners which still sustain a feeble existence in
the remote islands of Shetland. The Norwegian language, some vestiges of
which might be traced, in the last century, in the parish of Haray
(Herað), has left behind it only a peculiar singing pronunciation, and
some few characteristics in the English language now in use there; thus,
for instance, in addressing a person, the nominative and accusative
_thou_ and _thee_ are used, instead of _you_. The present language of
the Orkneys is almost a purer English than that of the Scotch Lowlands;
which is a natural consequence of English having begun at a later period
to be the ruling language in the islands. The present population of
Mainland, together with the other inhabitants of the Orkneys, has
undeniably preserved a certain Scandinavian appearance; and English
civilization has, among other things, both sharpened the people’s innate
inclination for a maritime life, and increased their coolness towards,
not to say ill-will and contempt for, the Gaelic Highlanders. On the
whole, however, Scandinavian characteristics are by no means conspicuous
among the people. English civilization, and Scotch-English institutions,
have been introduced to such a degree into Mainland, and thence into the
other islands, that a traveller would not know he was in the chief
country of the former mighty Norwegian jarls, unless he were able to
decipher the frequently transformed names of places; or, above all,
unless he had such a general knowledge of the island’s history and
antiquities that he could apprehend, and in some degree interpret, the
hints given by silent monuments of the brilliant but long-departed age
of heroes.

The memory of the warlike life of heathenism is conspicuously preserved
in Mainland by the many large barrows, or tumuli, which meet the eye on
all sides. It is, indeed, certain that several of these—viz., what are
called the “Picts’ houses,” which form in their interior stone chambers,
covered by small flag-stones laid over one another—must be ascribed to
the older inhabitants of the island; yet enough remain which we may with
good reason attribute to the Norwegians and Danes. They are not, like
those tumuli, or “cairns,” which are found most frequently in the north
of Scotland, a mass of small stones heaped together without any
filling-in of earth, but are formed, like our Scandinavian barrows, of
earth thrown up to a very considerable height. As in Scandinavia, they
are met with mostly on hills, and near the firths or seacoasts, whence
there is an uninterrupted view of the sea. To the ancient Northman it
was evidently an almost insufferable thought to be buried in a confined
or remote corner, where nobody could see his grave or be reminded of his
deeds. The greater chief a man was the more did he desire that his
“barrow” should lie high and uninclosed, so that it might be visible to
all who travelled by land and by sea. United with this desire to live in
the memory of posterity, the Viking certainly also indulged the secret
belief, that his spirit, or ghost, would at times arise from the barrow
to look out upon that beloved sea, and to refresh itself, after the
gloomy closeness of the grave, with the cool breezes which play upon its

Some of the largest and most prominent barrows in the Orkneys are found
about the middle of Mainland. To the west of the deep fiord in the
middle of the east coast, (formerly Örreðfjord “Aurriaðfjördr,” _i. e._
Trout firth, but now called Firth), and cutting its way northwards far
into the land, is the before-mentioned Loch of Stennis, with its famous
old Celtic stone circles. But the largest of these, which lies on the
ridge of a naze, or promontory (from Old N. “Steinsness”), is
encompassed by twelve considerable, and partly perhaps Norwegian or
Scandinavian, barrows; amongst which two in particular, to the
north-east and north-west of the circle, are distinguished by their size
and circumference. As the Saga informs us that it was on Steinsnæs that
the chief, Einard Klining, at the instigation of Erik Blodöxe’s
daughter, Ragnhilde, killed her husband Jarl Haavard, it is not
impossible that one of the last-named large barrows may be the jarl’s
grave. At all events it is natural enough that the Norwegians should
have had a predilection for being buried on that lofty promontory, which
was regarded even by the earlier inhabitants of the island as a holy
place, and had been adorned by them with a truly imposing circle of
immense blocks of stone. Future excavations will doubtless more clearly
show which of the barrows are really Norwegian; but this much is
certain—that the naze, with the circle of stones and the surrounding
barrows, as well as the view of the three immense monumental stones,
placed erect in a semicircle on the opposite side of Loch Stennis,
afford a prospect not only interesting to the antiquarian, but which
must strike every beholder.

Here and there, on Mainland, we meet with graves of the heathen times,
which are not at all uncommon in the Orkneys and Shetland Isles. They
are, however, of much lower elevation than those previously mentioned,
and in general rise very little above the surface of the soil. In some
of these, as in Shetland, besides urns, containing burnt bones and
ashes, bodies have at times been found that have been buried without
being burnt; together with swords of the Scandinavian kind before
described, heads of lances, daggers, and knives; as well as bone combs,
bowl-formed brooches of brass, and various other ornaments, evidently of
Norwegian workmanship.

Just as the barrows, or grave hills, in Mainland, indicate by their
peculiar size that in the heathen times the island was the chosen place
of assembly for the mightiest men in the Orkneys and Shetland Isles, so
also do the monuments of the early middle ages show that it continued to
maintain its former pre-eminence after heathenism had ceased. Farthest
towards the north-west, in the parish of Birsay, (Birgisherað), are to
be seen considerable remains of the old castle, inhabited in the most
ancient times by the jarls. Near the coast lies the Island of Brough
(Burgh) of Birsay, on which also are seen traces of fortifications that
have served to protect the jarls’ castle on the side of the sea. In the
neighbourhood of this castle, Jarl Thorfin built a church, called Christ
Church, in which both he and Jarl Magnus were buried. The latter,
however, being afterwards canonized, his body was taken to Kirkwall. In
the twelfth century, Bishop Wilhelm, the first bishop of the Orkneys,
had his throne in this church. In Orphir (“Orfjara”), on the south coast
of the island, was another castle where the jarls usually dwelt, until,
together with the bishops, they fixed their abode at Kirkwall.

This town, which lies close to an excellent harbour, and opposite the
Island of Shapinsay, has for about seven hundred years been the capital
of the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles. It seems, however, to have
existed even earlier, as a village, or small trading place. Its name,
“Kirkjuvágr” (“Kirkevaag,” _Eng._ Church-bay), since corrupted into
Kirkwall, was derived from a church which stood there. The elevation of
the town to be the residence of jarls and bishops took place in the
twelfth century, after Jarl Ragnhild had built a large cathedral there,
to which he caused to be conveyed the body of St. Magnus, the patron
saint of the island, to whom the cathedral was consecrated. Thus the
body of the saint effected for the town what its excellent harbour had
not been able to accomplish. In the parish of St. Ola’, within the town,
there was formerly also a church consecrated to St. Olaf, the patron
saint of Norway, but it has long since been demolished.

The traveller cannot but dwell, when in Kirkwall, on the remembrance of
the departed splendour of the island, as he views the proud ruins of the
jarls’ castle, which, however, in its last form was not built till the
fifteenth century, and of the bishops’ castle, in which King Hakon
Hakonsön of Norway died on the 16th of December, 1263. But what is still
more striking to him who has leisure to examine it thoroughly, is the
magnificent Church of St. Magnus, incontestably the most glorious
monument of the time of the Norwegian dominion to be found in Scotland.
Only one other cathedral church in all Scotland, namely, St. Mungo’s, in
Glasgow, has in its most essential parts escaped perfectly uninjured
from the violent religious commotions produced by the Reformation. The
annexed sketch (partly after a drawing by Billings) will, at least,
better serve to convey an idea of the remarkable appearance of this
cathedral than any detailed description. Its length is 230 feet, its
breadth 55 feet, or, if the transepts be included in the measurement,
101 feet, and its height about 50 feet. The arched vaults of the nave
rest on 28 pillars, of which the four, in particular, that bear the
tower are distinguished by their size and tasteful forms.

According to the Orkneyinga Saga, Jarl Ragnvald, by the advice of his
father Kol, made a vow to St. Magnus that he would build a splendid
church in his honour, if he (Ragnvald) succeeded in gaining the mastery
over the islands. He obtained the dominion of them in the year 1137, and
immediately afterwards began to lay the foundation of St. Magnus’
Church. “At first,” says the Saga, “the work went on so rapidly that
subsequently there was not done near so much in four or five years. Kol
was the person who, in fact, defrayed the expenses of the building, and
determined how everything was to be. But by degrees, as the work
proceeded, the expenses became burthensome to the jarl, whose pecuniary
means were much exhausted. He therefore asked his father what he should
do? Kol advised him to alter the law by which, upon the death of the
owners, the jarls had hitherto succeeded to all the allodial land in the
islands, so that the heirs had to redeem it, which they found very hard.
The jarl, therefore, summoned the inhabitants to a _Thing_, and offered
to sell them their right of Udal, so that they should no longer be
obliged to redeem it. The matter was easily arranged on both sides. The
jarl obtained a mark for every acre throughout the islands, so that
there came in money enough for the building of the church, which is very

[Illustration: [++] St. Magnus’ Church]

History, however, as well as the building itself, teaches us that the
whole church, as it now stands, was by no means the work of Kol and
Ragnvald. For, first, it is known that the pillars farthest towards the
east and west, marked in the annexed ground plan with the faintest
shade, belong to additions made at a far later period (viz., as late as
the sixteenth century); and secondly, it is not even decided whether Kol
and Ragnvald built the whole of the remaining part of the church, the
transepts included, or whether they built only that part of the present
choir which, from the two eastern pillars of the tower, comprises the
six nearest pillars to the east, marked on the ground plan with the
darkest shade. Between this last-named portion of the choir, which is
undoubtedly the oldest part of the church, and the portion lying to the
west, whose pillars on the ground plan have a rather lighter shade,
there is a perceptible difference of style.

That zealous and skilful archæologist, Sir Henry Dryden, Bart., of
Canons Ashby, to whom I am indebted for the original of the following
ground plan, likewise did me the favour to give me, among several large
drawings, a very excellent, but here very reduced, section of that part
of the choir which is certainly known to have been built by Kol and
Ragnvald. The section is taken from the middle of the nave, and
represents a part of the northern side walls nearest to one of the
pillars of the tower. It enables us to form an idea of the very
considerable size of the church, and of the importance of Kol’s and
Ragnvald’s labours, as well as readily to perceive in what style the
church was originally built. This style, which in England is called the
Norman, was indeed already somewhat obsolete in more southern districts
at the time when St. Magnus’ Church was built; but it was quite natural
that, so far northwards, it should be retained somewhat longer,
especially as the architect was a native of the still more northern
country of Norway.

[Illustration: [++] St. Magnus’ Church – Floorplan]

[Illustration: [++] St. Magnus’ Church – Interior]

The next considerable portion of the cathedral which might possibly have
been built by Kol and Ragnvald, or at least about their time, and which
includes the transepts, the two western pillars of the tower, and the
six pillars (three on each side) farther towards the west, has, indeed,
like the very oldest part, round arches. But in these, as well as in the
whole architecture, a much later style is clearly visible. It is, as we
have said, doubtful whether this part of the church is also to be
ascribed to Kol and Ragnvald. “Supposing that it is (says Sir Henry
Dryden, in a letter accompanying the drawings), I explain the difference
of scale and workmanship thus. Ronald began a church on a _much_ smaller
scale than the present St. Magnus. He became short of money, alienated
seignorial rights in Orkney, got plenty of money, and went on with the
church on a larger scale, and with better workmen than before. But (adds
Sir Henry), though I spent eighteen weeks at the building, and have
thought over the thing many times, I cannot make out the history of the
building to my own satisfaction. There is no doubt that there is a great
deal of copying in it; _i. e._, of building at one time in the style of
an earlier one. In Scotland the semicircular arch is used in all styles,
down to the year 1600.” In the additions made to St. Magnus’ Church to
the east and west, in the sixteenth century, round arches are also found
between the chief pillars.

In the winter of 1263-1264 the body of the Norwegian king Hakon Hakonsön
was deposited in the cathedral; and somewhat more than twenty years
afterwards the Norwegian princess Margaret (the maid of Norway),
daughter of King Erik, the priest-hater, and of Margaret, daughter of
the Scotch King, Alexander the Third, was buried in it. Upon the death
of Alexander, her mother’s father, in 1289, Margaret, though only seven
years of age, became queen of Scotland, but died in Orkney on her
passage from Norway, in 1290. The cathedral naturally received the dust
of most of the Norwegian jarls, bishops, and other mighty men, so long
as the Norwegian dynasty lasted; but for their monuments we now seek in
vain. By the alterations and rebuilding in the interior of the church
they have all been long since destroyed.

For a Scandinavian, the church derives its greatest interest not only
from the fact that it was founded, and partly built, by a Norwegian
jarl, but more particularly from the circumstance that a Norwegian
chief, the layman Kol, is expressly stated to have been the person “who
was chiefly answerable for the building, and determined how everything
should be.” For we thus find on the British Islands, and far towards the
North, a manifestation of the same desire to build splendid churches and
convents, which farther southwards, as for instance in Normandy, so
vividly animated the Christian descendants of the emigrant Vikings. The
oldest part of St. Magnus’ Church will, on a close inspection, show not
a few resemblances to several of the nearly contemporary, but somewhat
older, Norman churches in Normandy.



Pentland Firth.—The Highlands.—Caithness.—Sutherland.—Fear
of the Danes.

The Orkneys are separated towards the south from the most northern part
of the Scotch Highlands by a firth about eight miles in breadth, called
Pentland Firth (_Old N._, Petlandfjörðr, the fiord of the land of the
Picts?). The maelstrom, or whirlpool, in this firth, where the currents
from the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet, is at least as violent and
dangerous as the “Röst,” so famed in ancient times, between the Orkneys
and Shetland. Even in calm weather the meeting currents raise the waves
to an astonishing height, so that at times the whole firth is one sheet
of white foam. If it happens that the current runs hard against the
wind, or if a severe storm blows, it would not be advisable for any
vessel to venture out into the firth. In the gales of winter,
particularly from the north-west, the sea rises to such a height where
the huge swell of the Atlantic is inclosed between the Orkneys and
Scotland, and beats against the coast with such force, that the foam is
driven far into the country, even over cliffs that stand more than four
hundred feet above the sea! The Island of Stroma (_Old N._,
“Straumsey”), which has obtained its name from the current, lies about
the middle of the firth; and by the eastern entrance of it are the
Islands of Pentlandskerries (_Old N._, “Petlandsker;” or _Danish_,
“Pentlandskjære;” _Eng._, sunken rocks off the Pentland Firth), near
which the waves form whirlpools that are still called by the inhabitants
“Swelchies” (or Svælg: _Old N._, “Svelgr;” _Eng._, gulf).

The old Sagas, indeed, expressly point out the dangers of the Pentland
Firth. Thus, when Olaf Trygvesön came from the West to the Orkneys with
the intention of Christianizing the islands, he was obliged to run into
the harbour of Asmundarvág (now Osmondwall) in the south of Hoy, because
Pentland Firth was not navigable; and on the return of King Hakon
Hakonsön from the Hebrides in 1263, one of his ships was lost in the
Röst, and another escaped only with the greatest difficulty.
Nevertheless the ancient Norwegians and Danes navigated this dangerous
firth regularly, and do not seem to have considered it as forming any
real boundary between the Orkneys and Scotland. At an early period the
Norwegians had settled themselves along the south coast of the Pentland
Firth, and founded colonies there which soon became so preponderatingly
Norwegian that they might almost be regarded as inseparable parts of the
Orkney jarldom. On this account the two most northern counties of
Scotland, both of which united originally bore the Gaelic name of
Catuibh, are still called after the original Norwegian forms,
“Caithness” (_Old N._, “Katanes,” the naze of Catuibh) and “Sutherland”
(_Old N._, Suðrland), or the land in the south; that is, as regards the
Orkneys. It would be perfectly inexplicable, in any other way, why the
north-western part of Scotland should be called the south land, or
Sutherland. It is, moreover, a remarkable proof of the Norwegian origin
of these names, that even the present Gaelic inhabitants do not adopt
them, but always call Sutherland, after the old fashion, “Catuibh.” For
the sake of distinction, however, they call Caithness “Gallaibh,” or the
stranger’s land, because so many Norwegians immigrated to, and settled
in, that county in preference to Sutherland.

The district of Caithness, or, as it was often called in ancient times,
“Næsset,” forms a real naze, shooting out into the sea in a
north-eastern direction. Its farthest point towards the north-east is
called Duncansby Head (formerly “Dungalsnýpa”), from the neighbouring
Duncansby (formerly “Dungalsbœr”). The broadest bay on the north coast
trends in between the promontories of Dunnet Head and Holburn Head; the
latter of which, by protecting Thurso Bay from western and north-western
gales, renders it a tolerably good harbour, in a place where good
harbours are scarce on this northern coast. Supposing, now, that we land
in the Bay of Thurso, by the town of that name, we soon discover the
outlet of the rivulet called Thurso Water (_Old N._, “Þorsá,” or
Thorsaa, Thor’s rivulet), which has given the easily-recognised
Scandinavian name both to the town and bay. The town and its immediate
environs afford a great number of Norwegian memorials. The Norwegian
king Eistein imprisoned the Orkney jarl Harald Maddadsön in Thurso
itself. Close to the eastern side of the town stands a more recent
monument, “Harald’s Tower,” erected over the body of Jarl Harald, who
fell there in a battle in 1190. Not far from thence is the mansion
called Murkle (formerly “Myrkhóll”), where, in the tenth century,
Ragnhilde, the daughter of Erik Blodöxe and of Gunhilde, caused her
husband, Jarl Arnfin, to be murdered. Immediately to the west of the
town, near Scrabster (“Skarabólstaðr”), are to be seen the ruins of the
palace formerly inhabited by the bishops of Caithness and Sutherland. In
the twelfth century Bishop Ion was blinded and mutilated there, at the
instigation of Jarl Harald. Five miles west of Scrabster, and close by a
foaming waterfall, stands the mansion of “Forss,” by the river Forss
Water. The rivulet called Thorsaa runs through a valley in ancient times
called Thorsdal (“Þórsdalr”), adjoining another valley “Kálfadalr,” or
Calf-dale (either the present Calder or Cuildal), in which Jarl Ragnvald
was attacked and killed by Thorbjörn Klærk. In the “Dales of Caithness”
(probably near Dale and Westdale, by Thurso Water) a battle was fought
in the tenth century between Jarls Ljot and Skule, in which the latter

Similar memorials present themselves everywhere on the promontory, with
the exception, however, of the most western and more mountainous part,
adjoining the frontiers of Sutherland. This district is still inhabited
by a Gaelic population, the remnant of the ancient inhabitants, as is
sufficiently testified both by the Gaelic names of places and the Gaelic
language of the people. In Caithness, as well as everywhere else in the
British Isles, it has been the fate of the Gaels or Celts to be driven
to the poor and mountainous districts, whilst more fortunate strangers
have taken possession of the fertile plains. The whole of the northern
and eastern part of Caithness is a rather flat and open country, over
which the sea wind sweeps freely without being intercepted by woods.
Fertile and well-cultivated arable land is mingled with heaths, marshes,
and small lakes. Wherever the soil is capable of cultivation, both on
the coasts and in the interior, a great number of undoubted Norwegian
names of places are still found scattered about, of the selfsame form as
those in Orkney and the Shetland Isles: as, for instance, those ending
in _toft_ (as Aschantoft, Thurdystoft, formerly “Þorðarþupt”) _seter_
(“setr”), _busta_, _buster_, or _best_ (originally “bolstaðr”); but
particularly in ster (staðr). The bays, which are mostly small and
narrow, are generally called _goe_ (from “gjá,” an opening). The larger
ones are called _wick_ (Viig); whence the town of Wick, the most
important hamlet in Caithness, derives its name; but they are never
called, as in the islands lately mentioned, _wall_ (“Vágr,” or “Vaag”).
Here and there a mighty barrow lifts its head, and sometimes—as, for
instance, near Barrowston, parish of Reay—so extremely near the coast of
Pentland Firth, that the spray washes over it. In general we shall not
be mistaken in imagining that we have found in such barrows the last
resting-places of the daring Vikings, who, not even in death, could
endure to be far separated from the foaming maelstrom.

At times the common people dig up in these mounds pieces of swords and
various kinds of ornaments, especially the peculiar bowl-formed
brooches, of a sort of brass, which are very frequently discovered in
the Scandinavian North, and particularly in the Norwegian and Swedish
graves of the times of the Vikings. These are never found in England;
and in Scotland they are discovered only in the Orkneys and Sutherland,
as well as in some of the Western Islands, where the Norwegians also

[Illustration: [++] Brooch]

Tall bauta stones are to be seen in several places in Caithness, to
which some legend about “the Danes” is generally attached; they now
stand in a leaning position, as if mourning over the departed times of
the heroic age. A monument of a somewhat later period, according to
tradition that of a Danish princess, who suffered shipwreck on the
coast, was also formerly to be found in a churchyard near Ulbster.
Danish fortifications, consisting partly of square towers, once existed
along the coast, principally near the navigable inlets; but these also
have now, for the most part, disappeared.

With several intervals, Caithness was subject to Norwegian jarls until
some time in the fourteenth century, or for about as long a period as
Orkney and the Shetland Isles. After that time, however, it does not
seem to have been oppressed to such a degree as those islands; which
circumstance, in conjunction with the originally great number of
Norwegian settlements in the country, is the cause that even in the
present day we are not referred only to inanimate memorials of the
ancient Norwegian population. The present living inhabitants bear a
decided and unmistakable impress of their Norwegian descent. The
language in the plains of Caithness, and in the open valleys, is the
same dialect of the English as is spoken in Orkney and the Shetland
Isles, because the transitions from Norwegian to English have been the
same. The people have in some parts, as in the parish of Wick, pure
Scandinavian names: Ronald (Ragnvald), Harold, Swanson (Svendsen),
Manson (Magnuson), and others; and their tall and personable figures, as
well as their light hair and broad faces, render them a striking
contrast to the shorter and more swarthy Highlanders. As the descendants
of an old Gaelic and of an old Norwegian population adjoin one another
in Caithness, we have an excellent opportunity of observing, on a small
scale, how the Norwegians and Danes have actually implanted in the
British Isles a more seafaring spirit and greater nautical skill. Even
to the present day the Gael, in Caithness, as well as throughout the
Highlands, has a decided aversion to the sea, nay, a downright fear of
its dangers. It is pretty well known that in general, and except on the
most urgent necessity, one should not venture out into the Pentland
Firth in boats steered and rowed by Gaels or Highlanders; for, in the
event of a storm, all steady command is speedily lost, and gives place
to anxious irresolution. The descendants of the old Norwegians, on the
contrary, who are familiar with the sea from childhood, and amongst whom
lies Wick, the most important fishing station in Scotland, show
themselves precisely in the hour of danger the worthy sons of their
forefathers, the ancient Vikings. It is only the man at the helm who
speaks, and he gives his orders in a few decisive words. He is
punctually obeyed, and the misfortune is said to be rare, if his
coolness, joined to his knowledge of the sea and its currents, do not
gain the victory over the violence of the storm and the turbulence of
the billows. This seafaring population of Caithness do not, like the
Highlanders, disdain to resort to fishing, in order to bring home the
riches of the sea. As their soil, moreover, is by no means barren, and
as they have naturally greater activity and more inclination to work
than the Highlanders, as well as, through their English dialect, greater
facility in their traffic with the more southern districts, it is not to
be wondered at that the prosperity of Caithness manifests a great and
constant progress. We may even justly assert that the descendants of the
Norwegians in Caithness are in a far more fortunate situation than their
kinsmen in the Orkneys and Shetland Isles.

In ancient times, a Norwegian population speaking its native language,
was undoubtedly spread over the whole eastern coast of Caithness, as
well as over several districts of Sutherland. But the English language,
which in our times has superseded the Norwegian, ceases to be the common
language of Caithness immediately to the south of the parish of Wick. A
line drawn from Clyth Ness, in a north-western direction to the
before-mentioned mansion of Forss to the west of Thurso, will indicate,
as near as may be, the boundary between Gaelic and English. If, however,
we travel southwards from the parish of Wick, through the parish of
Latheron, where the common language is already Gaelic, we, nevertheless,
pass a great many villages and farms bearing Norwegian names; as, for
instance, Lybster and Forse (by a waterfall). The mountains here begin
to be higher, and to stand closer and closer together towards the sea.
At length, after passing the deep valley of Berrydale (_Old N._,
“Berudalr”), and the beautiful wood-crowned banks of its river, we
ascend the steep mountain ridge called “the Ord of Caithness,” which
runs boldly out into the sea, and forms a natural boundary between the
narrow projecting promontory of Caithness and the broader Sutherland.

The first large valley in Sutherland to the south of this mountain ridge
is Helmsdale, which is watered by a river of no mean size. That
Helmsdale is a Norwegian name (in the Sagas “Hjalmundsdalr”) is at once
evident from the present Gaelic inhabitants calling the valley in pure
Gaelic, “Strath Ullie,” or with a strange confusion of language, Strath
Helmsdale; for as Strath signifies in Gaelic a valley or dale, the word
_dale_ is added both at the beginning and end. It is a similar
repetition which we so often hear when the “Orkney Isles” are spoken of,
in the original language “Orknö,” but which, translated as now used, is
Orknö Öerne (or the “Orkney-islands-islands”). Along Helmsdale River
several places are met with whose original Norwegian names are still to
be discerned; as, for instance, Eilderabol, Gilaboll, Dviaboll, and
Leiraboll. All these have the ending _bol_, which is peculiar to a
number of Norwegian names of places in Sutherland and in some of the
Hebrides; but which, in Caithness, the Orkneys, and Shetland Isles, as
well as in Lewis and several of the Hebrides, appears in the longer form
of “bolstaðr.” To the north-west of Helmsdale are the vales of Kildonan,
which run up as far as the Vale of Strathmore in Caithness. Here, it is
supposed, on the frontiers of Caithness and Sutherland, lay
“Eisteinsdalr,” so famed in history as the spot where the Scotch king
William encamped in the year 1198. It is, however, very uncertain
whether “Easterdale” in Strathmore be in any way connected with the name
of Eisteinsdal.

On leaving Helmsdale the coast opens, and fertile and beautiful fields
begin to expand themselves. Past Midgarty and Wester Gartie (the middle
and western Gaard, or farm, from _Old N_. “garðr”?) the road runs along
the shore of the Bay of Dornoch (an arm of the “Breidifjördr,” or broad
firth mentioned in the Sagas, in which the Moray Firth is also included)
to the little village of Brora, which is built on a considerable river,
and where for a long period the only large bridge in Sutherland was to
be found. It was possibly from this circumstance that the Norwegians
gave the village its name (“Brúrá,” the bridge rivulet). A river in
Iceland is also still called Brúrá, from a bridge which crosses it. The
ancient seat of the Earls of Sutherland, Dunrobin (Robin’s tower, from
_dun_, a tower), lies on the seashore, in the neighbourhood of Brora,
surrounded by fine corn-fields and considerable tracts of woodland. The
latter, however, were planted at a recent period. In the background rise
considerable mountains, covered with heath. In this place, so highly
favoured by nature both as regards scenery and fertility, the Norwegian
jarls who ruled over Sutherland undoubtedly had one of their chief
residences; as, for instance, Sigurd Jarl, a brother of Ragnvald
Möre-Jarl, Sigurd the Stout (+ 1014), and his son Thorfin (+ about
1064). Norwegian antiquities, like those discovered in Caithness, are
found in graves near Dunrobin, particularly the well-known bowl-formed
brooches or buckles. In the neighbourhood several places with Norwegian
names can be pointed out; for instance, just south of Dunrobin, in the
fertile valley by the river Fleet, Mickle Torboll and Little Torboll
(from _Thor_ and _bol_); and on the coast, Skelbo, Skibo, and Embo (from
_bol_, or perhaps more correctly from _bœr_, _bö_). Sigurd, the first
conqueror of Sutherland, is said to have extended his dominion as far as
Ekkjalsbakke. As _bakki_ in the ancient language signifies the bank of a
river, there cannot be the least doubt that Ekkjal is the river Oykill,
which still forms the southern boundary of Sutherland. Sigurd himself is
said to have been interred at Ekkjalsbakke. He gained the victory in a
foray over the Scotch jarl Melbrigd, and cut off his head, which, in the
overweening pride of his triumph, he hung to his saddle; but a sharp
tooth that projected from the head chafed his leg, and caused a wound
which proved his death. On different parts of the banks of the Oykill
numerous barrows are seen, indicating the many battles that have been
fought in ancient times on the frontiers of Sutherland. But nobody is
able to point out the barrow of Sigurd Jarl; the tradition relating to
it has vanished with the Norwegian population.

For the rest, names of places prove that the Norwegians had also settled
themselves along the coast to the south of the Oykill. On the narrow
naze called Tarbet Ness, between Dornoch and Cromarty Firths, are the
villages of Arboll and Wanby, as well as the town of Tain, whose Gaelic
name, “Bailed Dhuich” (or St. Duthus’ Town), shows at once that “Tain”
must be of foreign origin. Tain is, moreover, a corruption of “Þing,” a
_Thing_; and in like manner the somewhat considerable town of Dingwall,
at the extremity of Cromarty Firth, was originally called “Þingavöllr,”
or _Thingwalla_; whence the remarkable fact is evident, that the
Norwegians were once sufficiently numerous in these districts to have
both an inferior _Thing_ (Tain) and a superior one (Dingwall). Dingwall,
like Tain, besides its original Norwegian name, has also the Gaelic one
of Inverphaeron. As the Norwegians, therefore, must have permanently
possessed considerable tracts in these districts, it is clear that their
settlements on the east coast of Scotland must have extended quite down
to Inverness-shire and Moray. The before-mentioned stronghold of
Burghead in Moray, which the Northmen maintained to the last extremity,
lies pretty close to the east of Cromarty Firth, the inlet to Dingwall.

As the Norwegian language and other Norwegian characteristics have given
way to the Gaelic tongue, manners, and customs, in the former Norwegian
districts on the north coast of Scotland, from Clyth Ness in Caithness
to Dingwall on the Firth of Cromarty, we can scarcely be surprised that
the north coast of Sutherland, whose rocks and heaths offered much fewer
allurements to the Norwegians than the fertile valleys and plains of the
east coast, and which were therefore far less colonized by them, should
have preserved distinct traces of these foreign conquerors only in a few
names of places. A remarkable instance of the Gaelic language having
expelled the Norwegian is to be found immediately on the borders of
Caithness, in the valley of Halladale. In a river there are two
waterfalls, of which the uppermost is called Forsinard, and the lower
one Forsindin. In both these names the Norwegian “Fors” is not to be
mistaken; but Gaelic terminations have in later times been added by the
Gaels, so that Forsinard now signifies the upper Fors, and Forsindin the
under, or lower, Fors. Halladale is likewise frequently called by the
additional Gaelic name of Strath—“Strath Halladale.”

This much, however, is clear, that the whole of the north and west coast
of Sutherland was once colonized by Norwegians. Besides various names of
places west of Halladale, which likewise end in _dale_, such as
Armadale, Swordale, and Torrisdale, it is surprising that we should
still meet with pure Norwegian names on four of the largest firths of
the north-west of Sutherland; viz., on the north coast the “Kyle of
Tongue” (from “túnga,” a tongue of land, a naze), together with the
adjoining village, Kirkiboll (Kirkebolet); further, Loch Eriboll, with
the large farm of Eriboll (the _bol_ on the Eir, or tongue of land, from
the _Old N._ “eyri”); the Kyle of Durness, or Dyrnæs, with the _bol_, or
dwelling, of Crossboll; and lastly, on the west coast, not far from Cape
Wrath, Loch Laxford (Laxfjorden, or the Salmon Firth; _Old N._,
“Laxafjörðr”). “Loch” is the Gaelic name for a lake or firth, and
consequently, in Loch Laxford, expresses tautologically the existence of
a fiord or firth; just as the name “valley” is twice expressed in Strath
Helmsdale and Strath Halladale. The last three of the above-mentioned
firths seem to have been of much importance to the Norwegians. There is
an excellent harbour in Loch Eriboll, which is still frequented by
numerous ships. The neighbourhood round Loch Durnes afforded excellent
opportunities for hunting the deer, particularly on Durnæs itself, which
extends between Loch Durnes and the Atlantic up to Cape Wrath (_Old N._,
“Hvarf”), and which, still later in the middle ages, was celebrated for
its excellent deer. Loch Laxford, which obtained its name from the
salmon (Lax) in the river and at its mouth, is commonly known to the
present day as one of the rivers in Scotland most abounding with that
fish. Several isolated rocks in the sea by the coast of Sutherland are
called, as in the Shetland Isles, “stacks;” and in several names of
islands we meet with the Scandinavian _sker_ or _skjær_; such as
Skerroar (Skjæröerne, the rock islands); and in Loch Eriboll, Dhusker,
Skerron, and others. A little island near the middle of the west coast
is called Calva (_Old N._, “Kálfey,” or the Calf Island), a name
frequently given by the Northmen to small islands that lay in the
neighbourhood of a larger one (for instance, the Calf of Man). For the
rest, Calva is one of the last decidedly recognisable Scandinavian names
of places on the west coast of Sutherland. The real Norwegian population
evidently ceased at Laxfjord. Norwegian names of places are scarcely to
be found on the coasts of the Highlands to the south of Sutherland. The
country there was so wild, rocky, and remote, that foreign conquerors
could only with the greatest difficulty have maintained a position
against the Highlanders, who were always prepared to make sudden and
dangerous attacks from the mountains in the interior. Aware of this, the
Norwegians seem to have limited themselves, on the western shores of the
Highlands, chiefly to the levying of provisions along the coast, and to
the plundering of cattle and other property. Round about the mouths of
the Highland firths are still to be seen the remains of old castles,
which the Scotch kings, and particularly Alexander the Second, are said
to have built, in order to prevent “the Danes” from making these
devastating descents.

The memory of the conquests and predatory incursions of the Norwegians,
or “Danes,” is still preserved in a remarkable degree among the poorer
classes in Sutherland, as well as in the rest of the Scottish Highlands.
Numberless traditions are in circulation respecting the levying of
provisions by “the Danes;” and barrows, or cairns, are not unfrequently
pointed out, in which a Scandinavian prince, or king’s son, killed by
the natives whilst on some Viking expedition, is said to be buried.
Besides the usual cruelties ascribed to the Danes in the traditions of
the Lowlands, and of England, they are here accused, into the bargain,
of having burnt the forests, and thus caused that want of wood which
acts so injuriously on the climate of the Highlands. In proof of this it
is adduced that roots and trunks of trees, sometimes perceptibly
scorched, are discovered in the turf-bogs of the Highlands. It is not
considered that similar discoveries are very common in other countries,
as, for instance, in Denmark itself; where trunks of trees, especially
firs, have been dug up, precisely as in the Scotch Highlands. They are
the produce of vegetative processes in the pre-historical times; and the
apparent scorching has been produced either by accidental fires, or
more, probably, by the simple mode of felling trees in use among the
aboriginal inhabitants of Europe; who, like certain savage tribes at the
present day, for want of metal tools, were obliged to burn the trunks of
trees which they wished to fell.

By way of amends, the Danes have now and then the honour of being
regarded in the Highlands as having been the teachers of the natives.
One of the first jarls of the Orkneys was, according to the legends,
called by the name of Torf Einar, because he was the first who caused
turf to be dug on a point of land (Torfnæs) in Scotland. This
promontory, probably the present Tarbet Ness, was at all events either
in Caithness or Sutherland; and it is certainly a remarkable
coincidence, that the common people of that district still relate that
“the Danes” taught them to burn turf. We likewise hear at times that
“the Danes” taught the use of hand querns, or hand-mills; nay, even that
the favourite national instrument of the Highlanders, the bagpipes, was
originally introduced by the Danes. In short, if anything, whether good
or bad, be of doubtful origin, it is frequently attributed to “the

But it is peculiar to the north-western and most remote districts of the
Highlands, that the common people still harbour no small degree of dread
lest “the Danes” should return, and repeat their cruel devastations.
About thirty years ago (according to J. Loch, “An Account of the
Improvements on the Estate of the Marquis of Stafford,” London, 1820,
8vo.), English engineers were employed in measuring all the heights in
Sutherland. This caused much sensation among the natives, who thought
that these engineers were sent by the Danes to make maps and plans of
the country, previously to the arrival of the Danish army. They imagined
that the king of Denmark had an old feud with the Mackays, and that he
was now coming to take a sanguinary revenge on the whole clan.

During my stay in Sutherland I had repeated occasion to convince myself
not only that the fear of the Danes has not yet died away there, but
also that tradition has connected with them things with which they had
nothing whatever to do.

Close outside the town of Dornoch, on the east coast of Sutherland,
there stands a stone pillar in an open field, which is simply the
remains of one of those crosses so frequently erected, in Roman Catholic
times, in market-places. As a matter of course, the arms of the jarls of
Sutherland are carved on one side of the stone, and on the other are the
arms of the town—a horse-shoe. Tradition, however, will have it that the
pillar was erected in remembrance of a battle fought on this spot, in
which the Jarl of Sutherland commanded against “the Danes.” In the heat
of the battle, while the Jarl was engaged in personal combat with the
Danish chief, his sword broke; but in this desperate situation he was
lucky enough to lay hold of a horse-shoe that accidentally lay near him,
with which he succeeded in killing his adversary. The horse-shoe is said
to have been adopted in the arms of the town in remembrance of this
feat. In the cathedral church of Dornoch is a carved stone monument of
the middle ages, representing one of the ancient bishops who once
resided in Dornoch. He also is said to have fallen in the same battle,
but my authority, the person who showed me over the church, added:—“I am
proud to tell that the Danes were defeated.”

Having employed myself in examining, among other things, the many
so-called “Danish” or Pictish towers on the west and north-west coast of
Sutherland, the common people were led to believe that the Danes wished
to regain possession of the country, and with that view intended to
rebuild the ruined castles on the coasts. The report spread very
rapidly, and was soon magnified into the news that the Danish fleet was
lying outside the sunken rocks near the shore, and that I was merely
sent beforehand to survey the country round about; nay, that I was
actually the Danish King’s son himself, and had secretly landed. This
report, which preceded me very rapidly, had, among other effects, that
of making the poorer classes avoid, with the greatest care, mentioning
any traditions connected with defeats of the Danes, and especially with
the killing of any Dane in the district, lest they should occasion a
sanguinary vengeance when the Danish army landed. Their fears were
carried so far that my guide was often stopped by the natives, who
earnestly requested him in Gaelic not to lend a helping hand to the
enemies of the country by showing them the way; nor would they let him
go till he distinctly assured them that I was in possession of maps
correctly indicating old castles in the district which he himself had
not previously known. This, of course, did not contribute to allay their
fears; and it is literally true, that in several of the Gaelic villages,
particularly near the firths of Loch Inver and Kyle-Sku, we saw on our
departure old folks wring their hands in despair at the thought of the
terrible misfortunes which the Danes would now bring on their hitherto
peaceful country.



The Hebrides.—The Northern Isles: Lewis and Harris; (Næs);
Skye.—Ossian’s Songs.—Iona.

The rocky western coast of the Highlands south of Sutherland was not, as
I before mentioned, permanently inhabited by the Norwegians. They had,
indeed, regular settlements on the west coast, but these were on the
islands. They were here secure from the sudden attacks of the Gaels, or
Highlanders, who, generally speaking, would scarcely have ventured out
on a sea which then swarmed with Vikings. The farther, therefore, the
islands were from the mainland, so much the more secure would the
Norwegian settlers be, and so much the greater, in effect, did their
colonies become. By degrees they settled themselves on all the islands
along the west coast, from Lewis to Man, which they called under one
name, “Suðreyjar,” or the southern islands, from their situation with
regard to the Orkneys and Shetland Isles. Sometimes, however, they did
not reckon Man among them, and then divided the rest of the islands into
two groups, in such a manner, that only the islands to the south of Mull
were called “Suðreyar,” whilst Mull itself, and the islands to the
north, obtained the name of “Norðreyar.” The Irish, and the rest of the
Gaels, on the contrary, after the conquest of the islands by the
Norwegians, called them “Inis Gâl” (the foreigners’ isles).

The most northern and largest of the northern isles was the extensive
one which forms the present Lewis and Harris (the “Ljóðhus” of the
Sagas). It is separated from Scotland by the broad, stormy, and troubled
channel called the Minch. The southern part of it only, or Harris, where
the mountains reach the height of between two and three thousand feet,
can be called mountainous, for the rest of the island is rather flat,
devoid of wood, and covered with heaths and moors. Some good arable land
is, however, to be met with here and there along the coasts. Even in
very early times this island was very densely inhabited by the Gaels, of
which, among other things, some immense rows of stones, near Callernish,
bear witness. In like manner, the Norwegians must, at a later date, have
had considerable colonies in it. On this head we must not, of course,
implicitly rely on the numerous traditions related by the common people
about the landing of “the Danes,” their rising power, and subsequent
overthrow. But, what is more certain, the names of not fewer than about
ten large lakes in the island still retain the Norwegian termination
_vat_ (“vatn,” Vand, water); and three of the largest are called Loch
Langavat (the long water). Several coves (Vige) in Harris are called
_vagh_ (“vagr”); as Groesavagh, Flodavagh; and in Lewis _wick_, as
Sandwich (Sandvig; _Eng._, Sand-bay), and Norwich (Nordvig; _Eng._
North-bay). To these may be added a great number of Norwegian names of
places ending in _stra_ or _sta_ (staðr, stead); as Little Scarristra,
Meickle Scarristra (Harris); Erista, Mangersta (Lewis); in _bost_
(bolstaðr), as, in Harris, Nisibost, Hagabost, Chillibost; and in Lewis,
Callbost, Habost, Luirbost, Crossbost, Melbost, Garrabost, and others
(in all about thirteen). Further, we find such names as Laxay (Laxá,
Laxaa; _Eng._, Salmon river), Laxdale, Nether Holm and Upper Holm, Tong
(túnga), &c. These Norwegian names of places are met with as well
towards the south and west as on the east coast, where they are most
numerous about Loch Seaforth (Sæfjörðr), and in the vicinity of the
little town of Stornoway. But they are chiefly concentrated at one
point, the most northern in the island, in a district which still
retains the pure Norwegian name of “Ness.”

On this Naze, or promontory, are the lakes Langavat and Steapavat; the
valleys Dibidale, Eorodale, North Dell, and South Dell; the manors and
towns Skegersta, Swainbost, Habost, Cross, and at the farthest extremity
Oreby or Eoropie (“Eyribœr,” the town on the Eir or Naze?); with the
adjacent headland of Raven, which may possibly have been called after
Odin’s sacred bird. At all events, there is good ground for assuming,
from these names of places, that the promontory had a pre-eminently
Norwegian population, which, indeed, is unmistakably apparent even at
the present day.

Throughout Harris and Lewis, for instance, the Gaelic inhabitants are
small, dark-haired, and in general very ugly. But no sooner do we arrive
at Ness, than we meet with people of an entirely different appearance.
Both the men and women have in general lighter hair, taller figures, and
far handsomer features. I visited several of their cabins, and found
myself surrounded by physiognomies so Norwegian, that I could have
fancied myself in Scandinavia itself, if the Gaelic language now spoken
by the people, and their wretched dwellings, had not reminded me that I
was in one of those poor districts in the north-west of Europe where the
Gaels or Celts are still allowed a scanty existence. The houses, as in
Shetland, and partly in Orkney, are built of turf and unhewn stones,
with a wretched straw or heather roof, held together by ropes laid
across the ridge of the house, and fastened with stones at the ends. The
houses are so low, that one may often see the children lie playing on
the side of the roof. The family and the cattle dwell in the same
apartment, and the fire, burning freely on the floor, fills the house
with a thick smoke, which slowly finds its way out of the hole in the
roof. The sleeping-places are, as usual, holes in the side walls.

It is but a little while ago that the inhabitants of the Naze, who are
said to have preserved faint traditions of their origin from Lochlin
(called also in Ireland, Lochlan), or the North, regarded themselves as
being of better descent than their neighbours the Gaels. The descendants
of the Norwegians seldom or never contracted marriage with natives of a
more southern part of the island, but formed among themselves a separate
community, distinguished even by a peculiar costume, entirely different
from the Highland Scotch dress. Although the inhabitants of Ness are
now, for the most part, clothed like the rest of the people of Lewis, I
was fortunate enough to see the dress of an old man of that district,
which had been preserved as a curiosity. It was of thick coarse woollen
stuff, of a brown colour, and consisted of a close-fitting jacket, sewn
in one piece, with a pair of short trousers, reaching only a little
below the knees. It was formerly customary with them not to cover the
head at all. In a carefully compiled Scotch and English guide book
(Anderson’s Guide, 1842) it is stated, that “The islanders of the
northern part of Lewis, with their long, matted, and uncombed hair,
which has never been restrained by hat or bonnet from flowing as freely
in the wind as their ponies’ manes, and their true Norwegian cast of
countenance, form living portraits of the ancient Norsemen. The other
inhabitants are chiefly of Celtic origin.” The difference between the
descendants of the Gaels and of the Norwegians is consequently so
apparent that it is as striking to a Scotchman or an Englishman as to a

It is said on the island that the inhabitants of Ness are more skilful
fishermen and better sailors than the rest of the men of Lewis. However
that may be, as a pretty numerous Norwegian population on it has long
kept itself unmixed and distinct from the Gaels, it is not improbable
that those men of Lewis who are related to have formerly harried
Shetland, until they were entirely defeated in a great battle in
Mainland, may have been inhabitants of Ness, who, after the custom of
the ancient Norwegians, went on expeditions beyond sea, either to gain
booty, or, more probably, to decide some old dispute by the sword. That
men of Lewis, of Gaelic descent, who have never liked the sea, but, on
the contrary, always feared it, should have ventured repeatedly, and in
great numbers, so far as Shetland, altogether exceeds belief.

On the coasts of Lewis and Harris are several small islands, with still
recognisable Norwegian names, such as Calvay (“Kálfey”), Pabbay
(“Papey”), Skarpa (Skarpey), Scalpay (Skalpey), together with the places
called Meathallybost, Bernera (Bjarnarey), and others. In the south-west
there are three large islands in a row; North Uist, Benbecula, and South
Uist (in the Sagas “Ivist”), where there are also evident traces of a
Norwegian population. A small island to the west of North Uist is called
Kirkibost (Kirkjubolstaðr); on Benbecula there are the lakes Loch
Ollevate and Langavat, as well as the _Vaage_, or inlets, Uskevagh,
Kenlerevagh, and Riavagh; and on South Uist there are likewise lakes and
inlets called _vat_ and _vagh_; to which may be added such names of
places as Frobast, Kirkidale, Hillisdale, and lastly, a mountain called
Heckla, probably from the well-known volcanic mountain in Iceland. In a
bay in the middle of South Uist are the islands Calvay and Pabbay. There
is still a great number of small isles on the coasts of these islands,
whose names in a greater or less degree all betray their Norwegian
origin; for instance, Grimsa (“Grimsey”), Barra (“Barey”), Lingay
(“Lyngey”), Hellesay (“Hellisey”), Eriskay (“Eiriksey”), and others. The
Norwegians must even have visited the little island of St. Kilda, which
lies about eighty miles west of Lewis; at least, two of the
often-mentioned and peculiarly Scandinavian bowl-formed brooches have
been discovered on the island; one of them I have seen in the
Andersonian Museum, in Glasgow. Similar brooches were also found, with a
skeleton, in the island of Sangay, between Harris and North Uist.

To the east of North and South Uist is the large island of Skye
(“Skið”), separated from the Highland mainland by a narrow sound
(“Skiðsund”). Between its more northern part and the mainland, where the
sea is broader, are the islands of Rona, Raasay (“Hrauneyjar”), Scalpa
(“Skálpey”), Pabba (“Papey”), and Longa (“Langey”). Skye, towards the
south, is remarkable for its numerous and lofty mountains, whose
beautiful forms are visible at a great distance. Towards the north the
island becomes gradually flatter and broader. In the west and north-west
parts it is indented by deep firths, round which are to be found the
most fertile districts in the island. The east coast, on the contrary,
is not so capable of cultivation, as it has large tracts of moorland
heath and sand. The Norwegians, therefore, advisedly chose to settle on
the western and north-western firths, which, besides being more fertile,
were not so exposed to the attacks of the Gaels as the eastern and
south-eastern coast, which very nearly approach the mainland. Not a few
Scandinavian names of places may be still clearly recognised near Loch
Snizort, such as Scuddeburgh, Skabost, Braebost, and, near a waterfall,
Forscachregin (the Norwegian _Fors_ with a Gaelic termination). By
Dungevan Loch are the inlets Kilmaluag and Altivaig, and the villages
Husabost, Collbost, and Nisabost. By Loch Bracadale (the “Vestrifjorðr”
of the Sagas) are Fors, Orbost, Collbost, and Eabost. By Loch Harporth,
Carabost; and by Loch Eynort, Husedalebeg and Husedalemore; which
latter, in a mixture of Norwegian and Gaelic, signify little and great
Huusdal (Housedale); and, with a similar mixture, Ghionaforsenary. A
little more inland is the valley of Tungadelebeg, where the Gaelic beg
(little) is added to the Norwegian Tungadal.

From the frequent Gaelic terminations and corruptions of the Norwegian
names, it is sufficiently evident that the Norwegian language has lost
its former dominion in the island, and that the Gaelic has resumed its
ancient pre-eminence. The western districts of Skye, as well as the
previously-mentioned Norderöer, or northern islands, from Lewis to
Barrahead (which last are often called under one name, “the Long
Island”), are precisely those places in the Highlands where the Gaelic
tongue is most unmixed, and where the greatest quantity of old Gaelic
traditions and songs still survives among the people. It was here also,
that a great number of the world-renowned songs of Ossian were first
composed. It is true we no longer hear the people sing them, but there
can nevertheless be scarcely any doubt, particularly if we regard the
perceptible traces of the ancient metre in the Gaelic texts, that the so
frequently and warmly disputed edition by Macpherson is really founded
on ancient songs, although these may have been somewhat altered by lapse
of time, and by a not very happy translation. They have quite a peculiar
interest for the Scandinavian North, from the striking agreement in tone
and spirit which they present to several of the songs of the Sagas and
Edda. These last, again, afford a strong proof of the genuineness of
those attributed to Ossian, since the songs of the Sagas and Edda, at
the time when Macpherson published his Ossian, were either not at all,
or but very imperfectly known, even in Scandinavia itself, not to speak
of other countries. The real age of Ossian’s songs is very uncertain,
and very difficult to discover; but this much is clear, that they
indicate a lively intercourse between Alba (Scotland) and Lochlin
(Scandinavia), long before the times of the Vikings, and previously to
all historical accounts of connections between those countries. We
cannot, however, venture to conclude from this that the Orkneys, or any
other part of Scotland, were at so early a period inhabited by a
Scandinavian people. That such a colonization should really have taken
place before the time of the Vikings, which began at the close of the
eighth century, there are not only wanting historical and archæological
proofs, but likewise all internal probability.

Mull (“Myl”) is the largest of the most southern Norderöer, or northern
islands, but it is not richest in memorials of the Northmen. In the
narrow strait or sound (“Mylarsund”) which separates the island from the
mainland, there lies straight before Tobermory, the most important place
in the island, the little island of Calve (“Mylarkálfr”); and somewhat
farther south of Tobermory, on a rivulet by the coast, are the ruins of
the palace of Aros (from “árós;” _Dan._, Aarhus, the mouth of the
rivulet or Aa), once frequently inhabited by the rulers of these
islands, called “Lords of the Isles.” Another river in Mull, well
stocked with fish, was formerly called Glenforsay (Monro, “Description
of the Western Isles,” 1594), from the Norwegian “forsá” (Fosaa; _Eng._,
Waterfall-river), to which the Gaelic _glen_ has since been added. With
the exception, perhaps, of Assapoll (from _-bol_), in the south-west,
the island has no Norwegian names of places. Of such names, however,
several are to be met with on the islands west of Mull, particularly on
Coll (“Kóln”), where we find Crossapull, Gisapoll (from _bol_), Arnabost
(-bolstaðr), and Balehough; and on Tiree, Tyrvist, together with
Kirkapoll, Heylipoll, Vassipoll, and Crossipoll. In the bay formed by
Mull, towards the west, are found many small islands with originally
Norwegian names, such as Ulva (“Ulfey”), together with Soriby, Gometra
(“Guðmundarey”), and Staffa (“Stafey”), so famed for its stalactic

But of all the Hebrides, none is more renowned than Iona (Ithona, “the
Waves’ Island”), or Icolmkill, “the island with Columba’s cells,” which
lies in the open Atlantic, near the south-west point of Mull. It is not
distinguished either by size and fertility or by numerous and splendid
ruins; it is now but an inconsiderable island, with some few remains of
churches, conventual buildings, and ancient Christian sepulchral
monuments. But about thirteen centuries ago it was the light of the
western world; for, after St. Columba settled there, it became the
central point whence Christianity diffused itself towards the east and
north, over Scotland and the surrounding islands. Iona thus obtained
such repute for sanctity, that it was said that a deluge which was to
overwhelm Ireland, and the islands round about, would have no power to
inundate it. Tradition adds, that, for this reason, the ancient Irish,
Scotch, and Norwegian kings, besides many other chiefs and mighty men,
both at home and abroad, chose Iona as their place of burial; and that
at the commencement of the sixteenth century, no fewer than three
hundred and sixty splendid stone crosses, or tombstones, were still to
be found on the island, which, however, with some few exceptions, have
now entirely disappeared.

According to an old description of the island, by Dean Monro (1594),
there was to the north of the Scotch graves an inscription, which ran
thus:—“Tumulus regum Norwegie,” or, “the tombe of the Kings of Norroway,
in the quhilk tombe, as we find in our ancient Eriske cronickells, there
layes eight Kings of Norroway, and also we find in our Eriske
cronickells, that Coelus, King of Norroway, commandit his nobils to take
his bodey and burey it in Colmkill, if it chancit him to die in the
isles; bot he was so discomfitit, that ther remained not so many of his
army as wold burey him there.” By the kings of Norway here mentioned we
must of course understand only the kings of the Sudreyjar, or southern
islands, and the Irish kings of Norwegian descent. It is in itself very
probable that these kings often desired to be buried in Iona, where the
first bishops of the proper Sudreyjar, “the bishops of the isles,”
dwelt, and whose church of St. Mary was consequently the chief church in
the islands. The tombs of the kings, however, can at present scarcely be
pointed out with certainty; we only know that they must have been in the
large and still visible burial-place consecrated to St. Oran. On this
place there is likewise a little chapel consecrated to the same saint,
which, according to the opinion of some, is of Norwegian workmanship—a
point, however, which must be very doubtful.

In the chapel are to be seen the remains of a carved monument erected in
the year 1489 to Lachlan Mackinnon (Mac Fingon), and on it, underneath
the inscription, is a ship, which is still to be found in the family
arms of the Mackinnons, but which is said to have been originally the
heraldic bearing of the Norwegian kings in the Isle of Man.

[Illustration: [++] Monument – Boat Decoration]

The Island of Iona was of special importance in ancient times, not only
to Scotland, but to the Scandinavian North. From it Christianity was
assuredly disseminated among the Norwegians in the Sudreyjar, or
southern isles, the Orkneys, and the Shetland Isles; whence, again, it
was often carried by Vikings and merchants to Norway and Iceland. In the
latter place, where not a few men from the southern isles were among the
first colonists, there was even a church dedicated to St. Columba.
Whilst, therefore, heathen Norwegians plundered and destroyed the
churches and convents of Iona, the Christian Norwegians seem to have
respected its sanctity. The Sagas, which call it “Eyin helga” (the holy
island), state, that the Norwegian king, Magnus Barfod (Barefoot), when
in his first expedition to the Sudreyjar and Ireland, in the year 1097,
he came to “the holy island,” gave all the inhabitants a guaranty of
peace and security, and allowed them to retain their possessions. It is
also stated that “King Magnus opened the little Kolumkille Church, and
went therein; but that he directly locked the door again, and said that
no one should dare to enter; and since that time the church has never
been opened.”



The Sudreyjar, or Southern Isles.—Cantire.—Islay.—Man.—Names of
Places.—Runic Stones.—Kings.—Battle of Largs.—“Lords of the
Isles.”—Tynwald in Man.

Iona was not always accounted one of the northern isles. Farther towards
the north, on the north-west coast of Mull, are the islands of
Treshinish, and among them a steep rocky island, called Cairnburg, which
is said to have formed, at all events at times, the boundary between the
northern and southern isles, or Sudreyjar. Cairnburg is accessible only
at one spot, and by its height above the sea it forms an important
stronghold, which in former times was often numerously garrisoned. The
Sagas, which call the island “Bjana,” or “Bjarnarborg,” state that it
was one of those strong fortresses in the southern isles, the surrender
of which was in vain demanded by King Alexander the Second of Scotland,
from the Norwegian tributary king, Ion Dungadson; and tradition still
tells that “the Danes” often fought for the possession of this important

“The Sudreyjar” (in which, among the larger islands, were included
Colonsay, Oransay, Jura, Islay, Arran, Bute, the Cumbr Islands, and
likewise the Peninsula of Cantire) are, strictly speaking, far from
being so numerous as the northern islands; but in general they are
distinguished from these by a richer and more fertile soil, which is the
result of their more southern and more protected situation. This remark
applies particularly to the charming islands of Arran (“Hersey”), Bute
(“Bót”), and the Cumbr Isles (Kumreyar), which lie eastwards of the
Peninsula of Cantire (“Satiri”), at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde; and
which, together with the rocks, heaths, and moors of the Highlands,
possess the woods and corn-fields of the Lowlands. They also enjoy a
fine climate.

But although these last-mentioned islands were often under the dominion
of Norwegian kings and jarls, they do not appear to have been inhabited
by a settled Norwegian population; at all events, Norwegian names of
places have disappeared from them. It is probable that they lay somewhat
too near the hostile coasts of Scotland, and somewhat too far from the
larger Norwegian colonies, for Norwegian settlers steadily to maintain
upon them a position against the Gaels; nay, the Norwegian name,
“Kumreyar,” the Cumbr Islands, seems to indicate that Cimri or Gaels
dwelt upon them.

Names of places on the Peninsula of Cantire, on the contrary, where we
find Smerbys (from _by_), Killipol (from _bol_), Torrisdale, and the
pure Norwegian Skipness, but more particularly on the islands outside
the Peninsula, near the west coast of Argyle, indicate a very
considerable Norwegian colonization. Not only have several of the small
islands Norwegian names, as Scarba (“Skarpey”) and Lunga (“Langey”), but
the largest and most fertile of them, Islay (the “Il” of the Sagas),
which Dean Monro as early as 1594 found to be fruitful, full of good
pastures, abounding with large deer, having many forests, excellent
hunting, and a river called Laxay (the pure _Old N._ “Laxá”) in which
many salmon were caught (“_with ane water callit Laxay, whereupon maney
salmon are slaine_”), still exhibits various traces of decidedly
Norwegian settlements. On its east coast, as is usually the case with
the Hebrides lying nearest to Scotland, few or no Norwegian names of
places are found; but in the middle of the island is Nerby; by Loch
Indal, Lyrabolls, Scarabolls, Conisby, Nerabolls, and Elister; and by a
rivulet, Skeba (“Skipá;” _Dan._, “Skibeaaen,” or the ship rivulet);
whilst on the west side of the island we find Olista, Culaboll, &c. This
agrees very well with the accounts that the kings and jarls of the
Sudreyjar of Norwegian descent had one of their chief residences in
Islay; for it was quite natural that they should surround themselves
with countrymen on whose courage and fidelity they could rely. The
island abounds, moreover, in traditions and pretended memorials of “the
Danes.” Near the bay of Knoch are two large upright stones, called “the
two stones of Islay,” under which it is said that the Danish princess,
Yula, after whom the island is named, lies buried. In various parts of
the island are shown what are called “Danish” castles, encampments, and
fortifications. It is also stated (see Anderson’s Guide), that there is
a circular mound of earth on the island, with terrace-formed steps,
which may possibly have once been used by the Norwegians as a _Thing_
place, like a similar one in the Isle of Man.

The chief seat of the Norwegian power on the islands was, however, still
more southward than Islay, namely, the Isle of Man (the “Mön” of the
Sagas), which lies in the Irish Channel, to the south-west of Solway
Firth, about midway between the coasts of Cumberland and Ireland. A
peculiar dialect of the Gaelic tongue, called Manx, is spoken throughout
this island, and the inhabitants have in general the same appearance as
their Gaelic neighbours in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. But no other of
the western islands affords so many and such incontestable proofs of its
having once had a very wide-spread Norwegian or Scandinavian population,
who spoke their own language, and who, through a long series of years,
must have been the predominant race.

The highest mountain in the island, which is about 2000 feet high, is
called “Sneafell” (_Norw._, Sneefjeld; _Eng._, Snow-mountain). On the
east side is the rivulet and town of “Laxey” (Laxaa); in the south-east
is the long naze, “Langness.” To these may be added the bay called Derby
Haven, which the Norwegians called “Rognvaldsvágr,” whence the
neighbouring Ronaldsway derived its name. There are also the inlets of
Perwick and Fleswick; the islands Calf of Man, Eye (Oë), and Holm, near
the town of Peel; and, lastly, the villages Colby, Greenaby, Dalby,
Kirby (Kirkeby), Sulby, and Iurby (formerly “Ivorby”—Ivarsby?), &c. The
proportionately large number of names of places ending in “by,” which
suddenly appear in Man, in contrast to the more northern islands, with
their pure Norwegian names of places ending in “bol” and
“bolstaðr,”—which, it must be observed, are not to be found on Man,—is a
sort of proof that it received some colonists from the neighbouring old
Danish Cumberland, by which means a mixed Norwegian-Danish population
arose in the island.

The antiquary is much surprised to find on Man not merely one, but
several of those runic stones, with genuine Scandinavian inscriptions,
which he may have sought for in vain in England and Scotland. The
different districts of the island contain altogether about thirty
ancient sculptured monuments or sepulchral crosses; and of these at
least thirteen have once had runic inscriptions, which in great part are
still preserved. It is remarkable enough that these runic inscriptions
are found exclusively in the more northern half of the island (at Kirk
Andreas, two; at Kirk Michael, four; at Kirk Braddan, one; and at Kirk
Onchan, five); whence we may, with some degree of probability, conclude
that, at the time when these runic stones were erected, the Scandinavian
language was the most prevalent one in the northern part of the island.
The chronicles, indeed, state that the Norwegian, Godred Crovan, who
conquered Man in the year 1077, retained the southern part of the island
for himself and his followers; but the before-mentioned runic stones are
certainly older than Godred’s conquest. The inscriptions on the stones
have hitherto been copied and explained only in a very imperfect manner;
but since casts in plaster have been taken of them, their interpretation
has become incomparably easier and more simple. I have myself closely
examined and compared them in two places (at Edinburgh, in the Museum of
the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, and at Canons Ashby, in England,
the seat of Sir Henry Dryden, Bart.); and I have since had an
opportunity to renew my examination of all of them, in conjunction with
the learned Norwegian professor, P. A. Munch, to whom I am indebted for
several very important hints relative to their correct interpretation
(amongst others that the rune ᚮ, which in most inscriptions signifies
_o_, must in these always be read as _b_).

[Illustration: [++] Stones – Runic Inscriptions]

The annexed cut, after a plaster cast, represents one of the finest and
best preserved runic stones in Man, namely, at Kirk Braddan, about the
middle of the island.

The stone is fifty-seven inches high, eight inches broad at the base,
and when the cross was whole, had a breadth of twelve inches at the top.
Both its broad and one of its narrow sides are ornamented with serpents
ingeniously interwoven, whilst the fourth side has the following runic

“Thurlabr Neaki risti krus thana aft Fiaks … bruthur sun Jabrs.”

(“Thorlaf Neaki erected this cross to Fiak … brother, a son of

Another extremely well-preserved monumental cross, on which are carved
various scrolls, animals, birds, and other things, such as horses, a
stag, cows (?), swine, &c., stands in Andreas churchyard, and has the
following inscription:—

“Sandulf ein suarti raisti krus thana aftir Arin Biaurg kuinn sina.”

(_i. e._, “Sandulf the Swarthy erected this cross to his wife

[Illustration: [++] Monument: Andreas Churchyard]

(The drawing of this monument, as well as those of the following
inscribed stones, is borrowed from W. Kinnebrook’s “Etchings of the
Runic Monuments in the Isle of Man,” London, 1841, 8vo. But the faulty
inscriptions in that book are here corrected.)

[Illustration: [++] Monument: Kirk Michael]

In the middle of the village of Kirk Michael, close to the northern
corner of the churchyard, is a stone not less richly sculptured than the
preceding one, with all sorts of figures of stags, dogs, serpents,
horses, horsemen, &c., which are placed round a large cross covered with
interlacings, or scrolls. The inscription on it runs thus:—

“Jualfir sunr Thurulfs eins Rautha risti krus thana aft Frithu
muthur sina.” (Or, “Joalf, son of Thorolf the Red, erected this
cross to his mother Frida.”)

At the end of the inscription is carved the figure of a man (probably
Joalf), with a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand. (See the
annexed cut.)

The language of the inscriptions, as well as the Scandinavian names
which appear in them,—as Thorlaf, Arnbjörg, Frida, and particularly the
names compounded after the genuine Scandinavian fashion, as Sandulf the
Swarthy, and Thorolf the Red,—sufficiently prove that these monuments
were erected by Northmen, or Norwegians, to their relatives who had died
in the Isle of Man. A piece of runic stone in the wall of Michael’s
Church bears the name of Grim the Swarthy (“Grims ins Suarta”); and in
some similar fragments of inscriptions near Kirk Onchan we find the
names of Thurid (“Thurith raist runir,” _i. e._, Thurith engraved runes)
and Leif (“tra es Laifa fustra guthan son Ilan”). The well-known
Scandinavian name, Asketil, is also found on the remains of a runic
inscription in the museum in Douglas (“p. Askitil vilti i
trigu——aithsaara siin;” _i. e._, whom Asketil deceived in security,
contrary to his pledge of peace). At the same time, however, we may
infer from names like Neaki, Fjak, and Jabr, that the Northmen must,
when these inscriptions were written, have already mingled with the
original Gaelic inhabitants of Man. A stone at Kirk Michael, which is
ornamented with a finely sculptured cross, on the sides of which are
seen a stag, a dog, a harper, and two figures apparently in an attitude
of prayer, has a Norwegian inscription with purely Gaelic names, such as
Mal Lumkun and Mal Muru:—

“Mal Lumkun raisti krus thana eftir Malmuru fustra sin…;” (_i.
e._, “Mal Lumkun erected this cross to his foster father Malmor.”)

[Illustration: [++] Monument]

Some hitherto inexplicable fragments of inscriptions at Kirk Onchan may
also possibly contain Gaelic words. The Manx runic stones bear, both in
form and workmanship, a striking resemblance to the previously-mentioned
sculptured monuments in the Lowlands, and on the north-east coasts of
the Highlands. Yet several of the Manx stones exhibit certain
peculiarities; as, for instance, the singular scale-covered serpents
surrounded with interlacings, which do not appear in a similar form on
the Scotch monuments. But as these serpents and interlacings very much
agree with ornaments on different antiquities of the heathen times found
in Scandinavia, and, as the language of the runic stones is pure
Scandinavian, there is every reason to conclude that the splendid
specimens on Man were carved by Norwegians, who, though they imitated
the monuments in vogue in Scotland, frequently allowed their own
characteristically fantastic ideas to display themselves in peculiar
devices. This view is confirmed in a remarkable manner by a few Manx
runic inscriptions, the real interpretation of which was first given by
Professor Munch. On the stone at Kirk Michael, represented below, is the
following inscription:—

“Mail Brigdi sunr Athakans smith raisti krus thana fur salu sini sin
brukuin Gaut girthi thana auk ala i Mann.” _i. e._, “Malbrigd, son
of Athakan (the) Smith, erected this cross for his soul…. Gaut
made this (cross) and all on Man.”

According to this, Gaut, who, to judge from the name, was a Norwegian,
erected all the crosses which, it must be observed, were at that time on
Man. Another inscription perfectly agreeing with this, though taken from
a very much defaced and broken monument near Kirk Andreas, on which has
been carved a cross with many scrolls (delineated in Kinnebrook’s work,
No. 8), runs as follows:—

“… thana af Ufaig fauthur sin in Gautr girthi sunr Biarnar …”
“(N. N. erected) this (cross) to his father Ufeig, but Gaut Björnsön
made it.”

Gaut’s surname, here given, further proves his Norwegian, or
Scandinavian, descent. From the language and manner of writing in the
Manx inscriptions still extant, we may assume that, with the exception
perhaps of some few pieces at Kirk Michael (Mal Lumkun’s inscription)
and Kirk Onchan (Leif inscription), which, according to Professor
Munch’s opinion, are of a somewhat later period, all these inscriptions
were from the artist-hand of Gaut Björnsön. It is even probable that
several of the other sculptured stones in Man, which are not known to
have had inscriptions (particularly at Kirk Onchan, Kirk Braddan, and
Kirk Lonan; see Kinnebrook, Nos. 16, 17, 20, 22, 23), were carved by
Gaut, or at least by a Northman. At all events, they are somewhat
different from the corresponding stones in Scotland; and some of them
(Onchan, 20, and Braddan, 23) prove themselves to be genuine Norwegian
runic stones, by the same peculiar figures of dragons and serpents as on
those before described.

The circumstance that those sculptured monumental stones in Man, which
are Norwegian, have both runic writings and peculiar representations of
figures, certainly affords a strong corroboration of the opinion before
expressed, that the sculptured monuments, generally so finely executed,
which are found on the east coast of Scotland, are in fact, though
called “Danish,” not Scandinavian, but Scotch. As, on the other hand,
the runic stones in Man have expressly preserved the name of the person
who made them—the Norwegian skilled in runes, Gaut Björnsön, who
imitated and altered the Scotch models with great expertness and
taste—it is clear that the Norwegians in the remote Western Isles must
not be regarded, any more than their kinsmen in the Orkneys and in
England, as merely rude barbarians, living only for plunder, war, and
bloodshed, and having no feeling for anything higher and nobler. The
discovery of Gaut Björnsön’s name may be regarded as an instructive
addition to the proofs before adduced, that the cathedral in Kirkwall
was originally founded, and partly erected, by a Norwegian layman, the
chieftain Kol; as well as that there existed at the same time in England
a considerable number of Danish, or Scandinavian, coiners. Of the
latter, as we shall see, there were likewise several employed by the
Norwegian-Danish kings in Ireland. For the rest, these characteristic
Scandinavian runic writings suffice to show that, with regard to the
civilization then prevailing, the Norwegians or Danes settled in these
districts were by no means deficient in education. The Northmen on the
Isle of Man were, besides, at a very early period, Christians. Almost
all the Manx runic stones are ornamented with the Christian cross; and
on a defaced piece of such a monumental stone at Kirk Onchan we even
find the words Jesus Christ (“Jsu Krist”). From the language of the
inscriptions there is reason to suppose that they were for the most part
engraved in the eleventh century. We cannot, therefore, doubt that
Christianity must at that time have been already disseminated among the
Scandinavian population in the Isle of Man. There was a bishopric in the
island in very ancient times; and we learn from history, as well as from
the names of the bishops, that in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth
centuries several of them were of Norwegian descent; for instance, in
1050-1065, Roolwer (Rolf?); 1077-1100, Aumond M’Olave; 1181-1190,
Reginald, or Ragnvald; 1203-1226, Reginald (son of a sister of King
Olaf, of Man); and his successor, John Ivarsön. Unfortunately there is a
gap in the chronicles of the bishops of Man from about the year 700 to
the year 1025. Had they been perfect, we should possibly have been able
to find Scandinavian bishops in the island even earlier than 1050.

The Norwegian monuments in the Isle of Man already mentioned are in
themselves numerous and considerable enough to convey an idea of the
power which the Norwegians must have possessed there. At all events, the
names of places and the runic stones contribute in a high degree to
strengthen and illustrate the assertion of the Chronicles, that
Norwegian kings and jarls held confirmed dominion in the Sudreyjar, or
southern isles. When, in the ninth century, the Norwegian king Harald
Haarfager succeeded in subjecting the Orkneys and the Sudreyjar, he is
said to have appointed a viceroy or jarl in Man. During the tenth and
eleventh centuries a long series of Norwegian kings ruled there, whose
descent is clearly shown by their names; _viz._, Godred (Gudröd),
Reginald (Ragnvald), Olave, Hacon, Harold, &c. In the eleventh century
the connection between these kings and the Norwegian or Scandinavian
kings of Dublin was so particularly close, that either the same, or at
all events nearly-related kings, reigned over both Man and Dublin.

The kings of Man were tributaries of Norway, and acknowledged the
supremacy of that country, although in reality they ruled
independently. At that time their dominion extended over the rest of
the Sudreyjar. But in the year 1077 the Norwegian, Godred Crovan,
succeeded in conquering Man, after a battle near “Scacafell,” or
Skyhill, in which King Fingal, a grandson of Sygtrig (Sigtryg), “King
of the Danes in Dublin,” fell, as well as Sygtrig Mac Olave, the
actual Danish king of Dublin. Godred Crovan now assumed the government
of the islands, and appears to have declared himself perfectly
independent of Norway. Subsequently he conquered Dublin also, as well
as the province of Leinster in Ireland. In order to maintain Norway’s
right of supremacy, the Norwegian king, Magnus Barfod, shortly
afterwards undertook an expedition to the west. He committed great
havoc along the firths of Scotland (“Skotlandsfirðir,” or the coasts
by the Caledonian Sea), and in the Sudreyjar, Man, Anglesey, and
Ireland, and regained the kingdom which his forefathers had possessed.
According to a treaty with the Scottish king Malcolm, all the islands
lying to the west of Scotland, which Magnus could approach with
sailing vessels, were to belong to Norway. King Magnus accordingly
caused his ship to be hauled over the narrow isthmus (Satíriseið)
which connects the peninsula of Cantire with the mainland, and which
to the present day is called by the Gaels “Tarbet” (a place over which
vessels can be dragged). The King himself sat at the helm, and thus
acquired the peninsula, besides all the Western Islands. Having
appointed his son Sigurd king of the Sudreyjar, he returned home to
Norway, where, with several of his followers, he adopted the dress
generally worn in the Western Isles. “They went about the streets with
bare legs, and wore short coats and cloaks; whence Magnus was called
by his men Barfod, or Barbeen” (Barefoot, or Barelegs), says the
Icelandic historian, Snorre Sturlesön, who, as is well known, lived in
the first half of the thirteenth century. It is remarkable enough that
this is the oldest account extant of the well-known Scotch Highland
dress, whose high antiquity is thus proved.

The Jarl Ottar, who after Magnus Barfod’s expedition was made governor
of Man, was expelled by the inhabitants of that island (“Manverjar”),
who chose in his place another jarl named Macmanus (or Magnusön). But a
civil war now broke out in the island, and as King Magnus Barfod fell in
Ireland in 1103, when on a fresh expedition to the Western Islands,
Godred Crovan’s family regained the Manx throne. It appears, however,
that they acknowledged the supremacy of Norway; at all events, the
previously distinct bishoprics of the Sudreyjar (founded in 838) and of
Man were united after Magnus Barfod’s expedition, and connected more
closely than ever with Norway, by being subjected to the archbishopric
of Trondhjem. From 1181 until 1334 the bishops of the Sudreyjar
(“Episcopi Sodorenses”) were consecrated by the Archbishop of Trondhjem.
In the year 1380 the bishopric of Man was again separated from that of
the other Sudreyjar; but the subsequent bishops of Man have retained to
the present day the old title of bishop of Sodor (and Man), taken
originally from Suðreyar.

About the same time that the proper Suðreyar were, with, regard to
ecclesiastical matters, united with Man, many of them were, as to
secular government, separated from that island; although, since the time
of Harald Haarfager, all had been governed by the same kings. Jarl
Somerled, who was related in various ways to the Norwegian chiefs on the
islands, had assumed the dominion of Cantire, Argyle, and Lorn (the
“Dalir i Skotlandsfirdi” of the Sagas). After a naval battle, in the
year 1156, with the Manx king, Godred Olavesön, Jarl Somerled compelled
Godred to resign to him all the Sudreyjar from Mull to Man, which
possessions afterwards remained in his family (“Dalverja-Ætt”). His
youngest son, Dugal, the founder of the family of the Mac Dougals of
Lorn, obtained Argyle and Lorn, whilst Cantire and the islands were
assigned to his eldest son Ragnvald, or Reginald. Meanwhile Godred
Crovan’s successors reigned over Man, and frequently, as it seems, over
the islands to the north of Mull likewise, and particularly Lewis. They
constantly sought to strengthen their diminished power by forming
alliances with royal families, and other powerful races in Ireland,
Scotland, and Norway. Thus King Harald Olafsön, whose father King Olaf
Godredsön had, in the year 1230, repaired to King Hakon Hakonsen in
Norway, and taken the oath of allegiance to him, married King Hakon’s
daughter Cecilie; but on the voyage home from Norway in 1248, the royal
couple perished in the dangerous Somburg Röst, to the south of Shetland,
together with the Manx bishop, Lawrence, and a numerous retinue of Manx
chiefs. Harald’s brother, King Ragnvald, was shortly afterwards murdered
by the knight Ivar, and was succeeded on the throne by his youngest
brother Magnus, who was the last of Godred Crovan’s descendants, and
above all the last Norwegian who filled the throne of Man.

The Scotch kings had long been aiming at the expulsion of the Norwegians
from the north and west of Scotland. Alexander the Second (1214-1249)
repeatedly sent ambassadors to King Hakon, in Norway, offering to
purchase the right of that kingdom to the Norwegian possessions in
Scotland; but as they did not succeed, Alexander declared that he would
not rest till he had planted his banner on the farthest point of the
Norwegian dominions in Scotland. But whilst he lay with part of his army
at the island of Kerrera (“Kjarbarey”), not far from Mull, he fell sick
and died, after which the army was disbanded. However, his successor,
Alexander the Third (1249-1289), zealously prosecuted the plan for the
expulsion of the Norwegians. The Scots having at length begun to ravage
the Sudreyjar, and particularly the Isle of Skye, with fire and sword,
King Hakon, when the tidings reached Norway, equipped a large fleet, and
issued orders for an expedition to avenge the attack that had been made
on his dominions.

Accordingly, in 1263, he sailed with a large and well-appointed force to
Elwick (“Ellidarvik”) on Shapinsay, in the Orkneys, and thence to
Ragnvaldsvaag (“Rögnvaldsvágr”) under South Ronaldshay, near Pentland
Firth. He had despatched several ships before him to the Sudreyjar,
whose crews devastated the coasts of Sutherland, particularly the
district around the firth of Durness (“Dyrnes”), where they destroyed a
castle and burnt more than twenty mansions. The King then sailed to the
before-mentioned isle of Kerrera, where he assembled his fleet,
consisting of about 200 ships. King Magnus from Man, and King Dugal from
the Sudreyjar, joined him there; but Ion, the other king of the
Sudreyjar, or, as he was called in Scotland, Ewen, was exempted by King
Hakon from fighting against the Scots. King Hakon permitted his men to
devastate the islands and coasts of the Firth of Clyde. Some of his
chiefs sailed up Loch Long (“Skipafjörðr”), and hauled their ships over
the narrow strip of land, called Tarbet, into Loch Lomond (“Lokulofni”),
whence they harried the surrounding district of Lennox (“Lofnach”).
Meanwhile verbal messages passed between the Norwegian and Scottish
kings, but without leading to any reconciliation. The time was thus
whiled away till late in the autumn, when King Hakon anchored with his
fleet under Cumbrey in the Clyde, opposite the hamlet of Largs. Here he
was assailed by such a furious storm, that his Norwegians, unacquainted
with the equinoctial gales on the west coast of Scotland, imagined that
the tempest had been evoked by witchcraft. Some of the King’s ships were
driven ashore near Largs, when the Scots immediately began to attack
them. As the Scotch king had in the meantime arrived on the spot with a
large army, a fierce battle took place on the plain near Largs (3rd of
October, 1263), in which the Norwegians, who were exhausted by their
endeavours to save their ships, and who on account of the storm could
not avail themselves of their whole force, were overpowered. King Hakon
then sailed with the remainder of his fleet round Cape Wrath to
“Goafjörðr” (undoubtedly the excellent harbour in Loch Eribol in
Sutherland), and after suffering much from violent storms and tempests,
at length again reached Ragnvaldsvaag in the Orkneys. He now prepared to
pass the winter in Kirkwall, where, however, he shortly afterwards died
(16th December, 1263).

The battle of Largs, the last combat in these western regions between
the kings of Scotland and Norway, was of a decisive character. The kings
in Sudreyjar and Man, who could now no longer venture to reckon upon
adequate protection from Norway, submitted to the dominion of the Scotch
king. King Magnus Hakonsön, of Norway, found it most advisable (1266) to
cede Norway’s supremacy over the Sudreyjar and Man to the Scottish crown
for the sum of 4000 marks sterling and a yearly tribute of 100 marks.
But the Scots did not obtain immediate possession of Man. King Magnus
died there in 1265, and was buried in the convent of Russin, near Derby
Haven (“Rögnvaldsvágr”), which one of his forefathers had founded, or at
all events enlarged, in 1134, and which already contained the bones of
several Norwegian kings, chiefs, and ecclesiastics (as, for instance, of
Bishop Reginald, + 1225; King Olave Godredsön, + 1237; and the chief
Gospatrick, + 1240). With Magnus the family of Godred Crovan became
extinct; but the powerful knight Ivar assumed the dominion of Man; and
it was not till the year 1270 that the Scots, who had landed in
Ragnvaldsvaag, succeeded, in a hard-fought battle, in killing Ivar,
together with a great number of the leading men of the island, who had
fought desperately for their independence.

Thus was terminated the actual Norwegian dominion over the Sudreyjar. As
the battle of Largs considerably contributed to this event, it is no
wonder that this battle, and above all King Hakon’s expedition, still
figure in Scottish traditions. On the battle-field near Largs—where
human bones, as well as “Danish axes” and swords, are often found—are
still to be seen two almost unique barrows or tumuli, the most
remarkable in Scotland, being about 25 feet high, and nearly 20 feet
broad at the top, in which the Norwegians and Scots who had been slain
are said to have been buried. One of the mounds, which stands just at
the back of the town, and close to the shore, is probably the grave of
the Norwegians; for the Sagas, whose accounts agree on the whole so
exactly with the localities that they must have been derived from
eye-witnesses, relate that King Hakon, the day after the battle, buried
his dead on the coast, in the neighbourhood of a church. The other mound
stands on the plain, a few thousand paces farther off. According to the
statements of the common people, on the day of the battle, blood flowed
instead of water in a little rivulet or beck that runs past “Killing
Craig.” A number of smaller barrows and scattered stones, formerly to be
seen on the plain, were likewise ascribed by tradition, though certainly
without reason, to the same battle. They undoubtedly belonged to a far
more ancient time; as is also the case with an excellent silver-gilt
brooch found near Hunterston, about three miles from Largs, which was at
once said to have been lost by some Norwegian who fled from the field of
battle. There is a short Scandinavian runic inscription scratched on the
back of it; but, from what has hitherto been deciphered, it would rather
seem to denote the name of a Scotchman than of a Norwegian. Professor
Munch reads, and certainly with good reason, as follows:—

“Malbritha a dalk thana” … or, “Melbrigd owns this brooch.”

In workmanship, moreover, it resembles the contemporary Irish and Scotch
more than Scandinavian ornaments.

The remembrance of this last expedition of the Norwegians is scarcely
less vivid in several of the harbours which King Hakon visited with his
fleet; as, for instance, Lamlash (“Melasey”), in Arran; Sanda (“Sandey”)
near the south point of Cantire, where are shown the remains of a chapel
and a churchyard, in which are said to repose the bones of many Danish
and Norwegian chiefs; also in Gigha (“Gúdey”); Kerrera (“Kjarbarey”),
with its “Danish” fort “Gylen;” and lastly, in Kyle Rhee (the King’s
Strait), and Kyle Akin (Hakon’s Strait?), in the straits between the
Isle of Skye and Lochalsh, on the coast of Ross-shire. According to a
tradition, which is, however, entirely without foundation, King Hakon,
in his flight from Largs, was attacked in this strait and killed,
together with a great number of his followers. With similar exaggeration
the Scots relate that all the Norwegians round about in the Sudreyjar
were killed after the battle of Largs. On one of the islands near Barra
was shown, not long since, and perhaps is even still, a heap of human
bones, as the remains of the last Danes murdered there. On Lewis there
is the following tradition—that when the Danes were quartered round
about in the island, and were very troublesome on account of their
oppressions, the Gaels laid a plan to murder them. The “fiery cross” was
circulated through the island, with this brief announcement: “marbhadh
ghach then a Bhuana;” that is, “every one shall kill his guest.” The
strangers, who had not time to assemble together, were thus murdered one
by one.

It cannot admit of a doubt that the Norwegians on the Sudreyjar, who for
centuries had taken fast root in the islands, and become mixed with the
families of the Scotch chiefs, could not thus disappear all at once
without leaving a trace behind them. In Lewis, as I have before proved,
vestiges of a Norwegian population still exist. The best refutation of
the tradition is, however, the circumstance that with the exception of
Man, the Sudreyjar continued to be governed by the same chiefs who had
ruled the islands under the Norwegian dominion; and who, being descended
from Somerled himself, were in a great degree of Norwegian extraction.
Somerled’s successors also continued, after the old fashion, to defy the
Scotch kings, who often sought in vain to subdue the bold “Lords of the
Isles,” so famed in song and legend. Sometimes they declared themselves
independent, and sometimes they were compelled to yield to the superior
force of the kings, and acknowledge them as their feudal lords; until at
length, but not before the sixteenth century, the power of these island
chieftains was entirely subdued. Even to the present day many Highland
clans assert that they are descended from the Danes, or Norwegians. This
much is at all events certain, that several clans have Scandinavian
blood in their veins, as appears clearly enough from the names of
Clan-Ranald (from Reginald or Ragnvald) and Clan-Dugal (from Dubhgall,
“the dark strangers,” the usual name for the Danes); both which clans,
it is expressly stated, are descended from Somerled. To these may be
added the clan of Macleod in Skye, whose chiefs still commonly bear the
pure Norwegian names of “Torquil” and “Tormod.”

But the enduring influence of the Norwegian dominion in the Sudreyjar is
best established by the fact that since the battle of Largs, the Isle of
Man, through all the vicissitudes of fate, and after passing by sale
into the possession of the English crown, has uninterruptedly retained
its peculiar position as a kingdom, having its own originally Norwegian
or Scandinavian constitution, and its annual assemblies on the identical
Thing-hill, Tynwald (or, as it was formerly called Tingualla,
“Þingavöllr”), from which, about a thousand years ago, the Norwegians
governed the Sudreyjar. Although the British Parliament makes laws for
England, Ireland, and Scotland, they are of no validity in the Isle of
Man, unless they are in accordance with the ancient laws and liberties
of the island, and, after being confirmed by its own Parliament, are
proclaimed from Tynwald Hill.

The Manx Parliament, whose origin is lost in the mists of remote
antiquity, but whose establishment is usually ascribed to the Danish
king Orry (Erik?), who settled in the island in the beginning of the
tenth century, consists of the three “estates” of the island: 1st, the
king, or superior lord; 2nd, the governor and council; 3rd, the
twenty-four representatives of the island (“Keys, or Taxiaxi”). The
upper house, or council, consists of the bishop, two superior judges
(“deemsters”), and six other of the highest officers in the island. The
representatives in “the house of Keys” fill up vacancies themselves, and
hold their seats for life, without being in any way responsible to the
people for their votes.

This aristocratic mode of election reminds one of the time of the
Norwegian conquest, when the Norwegians made themselves lords over the
natives. The _Thing_, or Tynwald Court, which can be assembled by the
governor at any time whatever, possesses, according to old Scandinavian
custom, both the judicial and the legislative power. The house of Keys
is the first, and the Council the second court of appeal for certain
causes, after they have been tried by the inferior courts in the island.
The Council can reject proposals for laws brought in by the house of
Keys, and the king again can reject the united proposals of both houses.
On the other hand, what all the three estates have agreed on becomes a
law (“a Tynwald act”); but it is not in force until it has been
proclaimed from Tynwald Hill.

This hill, which stands in the midst of a valley on the west coast of
the island, close to the northern side of the town of Peel, is said to
have been originally raised with earth taken from all the seventeen
parishes in the island. It forms four terraces, or steps, the lowest of
which is eight feet broad, the next six feet, the third four feet, and
the topmost six feet. There are three feet between every step, or
terrace, and the circumference of the hill is about 240 feet. It is
covered with green sward. (See Cumming. “The Isle of Man.” London,

Once a year, on St. John the Baptist’s Day, the governor of Man,
attended by a military escort, sets out from Castle Town, and, together
with the Tynwald Court, attends divine service in St. John’s Chapel,
situated a few hundred paces from the hill. After the service, the whole
court repairs in solemn procession to the hill, whence all the laws that
have been passed in the course of the year are proclaimed in English and
Manx. The procession then returns to the chapel, where the laws are
signed and sealed.

Amongst all the Scandinavian Thing-hills, or Thing-walls (“Þingavellir”)
that can be traced in the old Danish part of England, in the Norwegian
part of Scotland, as well as in the Orkneys and Shetland Islands, and
which also formerly existed in Iceland, Norway, and throughout the
North, Tynwald in Man is the only one still in use.

It is, indeed, highly remarkable that the last remains of the old
Scandinavian _Thing_, which, for the protection of public liberty, was
held in the open air, in the presence of the assembled people, and
conducted by the people’s chiefs and representatives, are to be met with
not in the North itself, but in a little island far towards the west,
and in the midst of the British kingdom. The history of the Manx _Thing_
court remarkably illustrates that spirit of freedom and that political
ability which animated the men who in ancient times emigrated from
Norway and the rest of the Scandinavian North.

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