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  Orkney's Harvest Lore

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 with
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, death.

Is it any wonder that many of their customs were to ensure fertile fields and a bounteous "hairst", or harvest.

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.

Casting the heuks

Section Contents
Casting the Heuks
The Last Sheaf
The Straw Dog - "The Bikko"
Straw Figures and "Last Man" Capers
The Harvest Bannock
The "Ritual Bannock" Connection
Offerings to Nature
Harvest Home and Muckle Supper

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