The Orkney Islands have a long and
illustrious farming history.
At one time, the islands' golden swathes of crop
fields were renowned across Europe, so much so that a mid-sixteenth
century account described Orkney as:
"The chief nourishers and storers of the southland
Corne, victell and oil."
The people of Orkney have worked the land for
millennia, and, until the 19th century, there was very little change
in the tools or methods used.
Considering the length of time the islands' fertile
soils have been worked, it will come as no surprise to learn that
many of our most tenacious traditions were firmly rooted in the
earth. As such, many ancient customs surrounded the everyday tasks
carried out in the fields.
In these days of supermarkets and intensive farming
techniques, it's all too easy to forget that, to my forebears, a
poor harvest meant a harsh winter with starvation and, very possibly,
Is it any wonder that many of their customs were
to ensure fertile fields and a bounteous "hairst", or
Traditionally, the high point of the agricultural
year was the successful gathering and storing of the harvest, but
in Orkney's agricultural past there were many customs that had to
be observed before these final celebrations.