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  Ghosts and Restless Spirits

Phantom animals

Although few tales made it onto paper, the idea of phantom, or spectral animals, in Orkney was widespread and fairly common - even in recent years.

Although on first glance these tales appear to be nothing more than absurd stories, at their root lies an ancient Scandinavian belief in guardian spirits.

It was once thought that everybody had a companion spirit or 'varden'. The varden accompanied the person throughout his life, usually in the form of an animal, howling dismally when that person was about to die.

The clearest parallel to the varden and these animal tales, lies with the phantom dogs.

Ghostly hounds and harbingers of doom

  • At a cottage called Dirlings, in the parish of Evie, a spectral dog used to hang its head over the half-door that separated the byre from the house's living quarters. All we know about his hound is that it was reputed to bark furiously.

  • In a similar vein, the bridge of Quholmsley, in Stromness parish, was once said to be haunted by a phantom dog. Click here for details.

  • Deaths in the Balfour family of Westray were foretold by the howling of the Boky Hound - the name given to Noltland Castle's spectral dog.

Spectral sheep

The long-gone farm of Nether Benzieclett, in the West Mainland parish of Sandwick, was one of the oldest houses in Orkney. There, it was said, "a king of Norway once spent the night".

According to legend, a man was supposed to have been murdered at the farm, the act being committed in the ale-hurry - a chamber in the wall in which the ale was stored. Thereafter, a ghostly grey ewe would appear in the ale-hurry at 1am every night.

Quite what the connection was between the man and this phantom ewe, I dread to think!

The Horse o' Hillaroo, Stronsay

Although technically not a ghost, the Horse o' Hillaroo, in Stronsay, was a winged, white horse that preyed on late-night wanderers around Rothiesholm. The creature was also said to sweep down from the mound of Hillaroo, and carry off young children.

There is, unfortunately, little else recorded about the Horse o' Hillaroo.

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