British Folklore
Fairy Lore & Prehistoric Sites in Britain
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Dwarfie Stane

Dwarfie Stane

Rock-cut chambered tombs are reasonably common in the Mediterranean, but the only one in Britain is to be found on Hoy. The massive sandstone block was carved out around 4,000 years ago, forming a space that has been said to look like a bedroom with a hole in the top. The legend in the 16th century was that one giant was imprisoned here by another and gnawed his way out through the roof, though when Martin Martin visited the site around a hundred years later he heard the tradition that a giant couple had found shelter here. His description is very domestic:

At one of the ends within the Stone there is cut out a bed and pillow, capable of two Persons to lie in: At the other opposite end, there is a void space cut out resembling a bed, and above both these there is a large hole, which is suppos'd to be a vent for Smoak.

Considering as a worked stone it is immense, and the obvious labour involved in cutting it must have suggested giant strength. John Brand, writing in 1803, doubts the tale that a giant couple 'had this stone for their Castle':

I would rather think, seeing it could not accomodate any of a Gigantick stature, that it might be for the use of some Dwarf, as the Name seems to import, or it being remote from any House might be the retired Cell of some Melancholick Hermite.

A number of travellers from at least the 18th century onward have added graffiti to the tomb, inside and out. One name is that of the well-known antiquary Hugh Miller, and another that of 'a Persian Gentleman', Guilemus Mounsey, who apparently slept a couple of nights in the stone in 1850, and gave the Hoy locals a fright when he appeared from inside in his flowing eastern robes. Sir Walter Scott probably visited the site in 1814 and refers to it in his book, The Pirate (written in 1821):

The lonely shepherd avoids the place, for at sunrise, high noon, or sunset, the misshapen form of the necromantic owner may sometimes still be seen sitting by the Dwarfie Stone.

The 'necromantic owner' is name as Trolld, 'a dwarf famous in the northern sagas'. By this Scott means a troll, from Scandinavian legend, which has mutated in Orkney and Shetland into the trow (or trowie) and is much closer to a fairy.