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The spirits of Skaill House

Skaill House: Picture by Sigurd TowrieBy the sandy shore of the Bay o' Skaill, in Sandwick, and a short distance from the stone-age village of Skara Brae, stands the majestic 17th century manor house known as Skaill House.

Built in 1620, tradition has it that Skaill House is home to a number of restless spirits, with ghostly goings-on still being reported.

The Laird of Breckness, Major Malcolm Macrae, was witness to one such occurrence while working in the apartments around the building's courtyard in 1991. At around 10.30pm, he heard the distinct sound of footsteps coming along the corridor outside.

The major's dog began to bark and growl and, with a snarl, ran from the room into the corridor. Following the frenzied animal into the corridor, the major found it empty.

Some time later, after recounting the incident to a relative, he was told that he must have heard the ghost of Ubby.

The story has it that Ubby was a man who, many years previously, had constructed a little island in the middle of the nearby Skaill Loch. He did this by repeatedly rowing out into the loch and dumping stones overboard.

Load after load he shipped out into the loch and, eventually, his growing mound of stones formed a small islet above the lapping waters. Ubby is said to have died on his little island and for some reason his spirit seems to have adopted Skaill House as its home.

The Skaill House ghost appears to have a distinct effect on dogs.

Later visitors to the house explained how on one occasion their dog went berserk in the early hours of the morning. It barked, growled and "howled like it had never howled before". When a bedroom door was opened, the terrified animal fled the room and lay cowering under a bed.

Whatever had terrified the animal so much was invisible to the human occupants, who saw and heard nothing out of the ordinary.

Skaill HouseOn another occasion, a visitor to the house had just retired for the night. After climbing into his bed, the guest was almost asleep when he felt the strange sensation of someone sitting down on the corner of his bed.

Startled, and thinking there was someone in the room with him, he jumped up. Almost as quickly as it had appeared, the feeling of weight seemed to get up and leave. There was no-one else in the building at the time.

But although the spirits of Skaill House have been heard, sensed and in a way even felt, there is only one occasion recorded where anything was seen. Early one summer morning, the cleaners were in the courtyard when one of them glanced up and caught sight of a woman standing, with a shawl over her head, inside the door of one of the apartments.

Assuming the occupants were still in residence, they left the apartment, deciding to clean it later. When queried as to why they had not cleaned the guest's rooms, the cleaners discovered that the visitors had left Orkney earlier that morning.

At the time they had clearly seen a woman by the door, the building had been empty.