in the not too distant past, Orkney was said to have at least two extra islands.
Both of these magical isles were said to
rise, from time to time, green and fertile from the churning ocean waves.
first and best-known of Orkney's vanishing islands was Hildaland,
the summer home of the Finfolk.
later became identified with the monastic, and now uninhabited, island of Eynhallow.
Hildaland was the lesser-known Hether Blether. Its location
was also ambiguous but was thought be in the same area as Eynhallow, but further
out to sea, just on the horizon.
Hether Blether was also
a dwelling place of the Finfolk, indeed both islands appear in numerous Orkney
folktales. Their roles, however, are interchangeable, with some tales recounting
how the daring mortals chance upon Hildaland, with variants of the same story
stating Hether Blether.
In Orkney, it is not uncommon for
sea-mists and thick fog-banks to appear and disappear rapidly, obscuring all from
view. Perhaps here we have an origin for the tales of our vanishing islands -
in all the accounts involving the Finmen and their hidden homes, the mortals who
come across them are first enshrouded by a magical mist which soon clears revealing
the enchanted isle.
Because it was wrested
from the grip of the Finfolk, Eynhallow can be seen today, sitting between
the Orkney Mainland and the island
is surrounded by the ferocious tides known as "roosts" that are immortalised
in the children's rhyme:
Eynhallow stands in the middle of the sea
With a roaring
roost on either side
Eynhallow stands in the middle of the tide."
Hether Blether,on the other hand, was never taken from the Finfolk and is still
said to rise - albeit infrequently. Unfortunately, however, these days, few people
know about this vanishing island, and even less care.
dictates that any man who saw the islands on their brief appearances should hold
steel in his hand while rowing towards it, never once taking his eyes off its
If he managed to place a foot on the island the
enchantment that hid it from mortal eyes would be broken.