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  The Belted Knights of Stove

Until 1887, the farm of Stove, in Quoyloo, in Orkney's West Mainland, was the ancestral home of the Kirkness family.

This old Orcadian family had a particular legend attached to it that, to this day, is a curious mix of myth, history and folklore. According to folklore, in the 1530s the King of Scotland is supposed to visited, unannounced, and ennobled the Kirkness family.

As the story goes, the farmer of Stove at the time, John Kirkness, was soaking bere (barley) in a burn by the farm when a young red-haired man came into view.

Wishing Kirkness a good morning, the young man enquired about work at Stove. But Kirkness, a stern old man, saw at once that the applicant was no Orcadian, and, having an antipathy to "ferryloupers", was about to summarily dismiss him when his daughter arrived on the scene.

Entranced by the handsome young stranger, the Kirkness girl begged her father to give the young man a job. Kirkness was not keen, but finally bowed to his daughter's requests. The young man was tasked with watching over Stove's geese.

For day after day, the young visitor would sit in the meadow below Stove, resting against a large, square, standing stone - Sandwick's King Stone - while combing his long hair with what appeared to be a golden comb.

Over time, the locals came to treat the young man with something akin to awed respect, for, as the story goes, it had become clear to all that he was a man of status and good breeding.

But his time at Stove did not last too long and he soon announced his intention to resume his journeys.

On the day of his departure, the young man turned solemnly to John Kirkness and asked him kneel. Kirkness was taken aback by the goose-herd's air of authority, but nonetheless got down onto one knee.

Then, raising his stick, the young man brought it down softly on Kirkness's shoulder and declared:

"Arise Sir John Kirkness. You and your descendants shall from this day forth be known as the Belted Knights of Stove."

Then without a further ado, the young man took his leave and strode off.

The Kirkness family firmly believed that the young man was none other than King James V of Scotland - the monarch also known as "the Poor Man's King" because of his recorded "delight at wandering incognito among his subjects".

But charming though the tale is, the fact of the matter is that the Kirkness family were technically nobles long before the arrival of King James V. One Sir Thomas of Kirkness is documented, in the 14th century, as a witness to a charter by Earl Henry <Sinclair> to his brother.

Assuming the tale has some basis in truth, did James V actually visit Stove knowing well who his hosts were or does the folktale have its roots in an older, now lost, tradition?

The Sandwick King Stone