Vikings, Pirates, and Shipwrecked Princesses

2022 is Scotland’s Year of Stories. Here in Orkney, many families have a story or legend that explains their surname or a placename.

For example, in Westray there was a surname Angel. The story goes that a Russian ship came ashore on Westray, and the only survivor was a little boy. He couldn’t say his name, but the wrecked ship had the name Archangel on it, so the boy was named Archie Angel. He grew up in Westray and later married a local girl, Jane Drever, and so Archie Angel became the ancestor of the Angels. Another story is about a Spanish Armada survivor called Sebastian. Orkney folk found this Spanish name difficult to pronounce, so his descendants became known as the Sabistons. The Clouston family were according to legend descended from a baby who was found abandoned on a doorstep. He had a ball of wool – a ‘clew’ – and a stone beside him, and therefore got the name Clew-Stone. And why is there a place in Flotta called the King’s Hard? This is where King George V landed when visiting Flotta to inspect the troops during World War I. The project is not limited to old stories; there are some lovely newer stories too. Maybe you have a story to tell?

Vikings, Pirates, and Shipwrecked Princesses is the name of a project to capture such stories. Raggie Ljosland from Orkney College’s Archaeology Institute leads the project, with volunteer researchers from Orkney Blide Trust. Over the next few months, Raggie and the volunteers hope to speak with as many people as possible to record stories. They would like to interview people in person, but also reach out via an online survey to be sure of a wide reach.

As you can see, some of these stories are true, while others are legend, and that is fine. In this project, the question of historical truth does not matter. Do not worry if the story is ‘right’ or not. This is not about family history, and neither is it about correct etymology. The interesting thing is that people tell these stories and that they are alive in our community. If there are several slightly different versions of a story, then all the better. It also does not have to be a long story. Any snippet is valuable.

The aim of the project is to capture as many stories as possible and publish them. For the coming Orkney Storytelling Festival and Book Week the plan is to hold storytelling events where everyone is welcome to come and hear some of the stories that have been collected. After that, the plan is to upload some stories online recorded by an experienced storyteller, and finally to publish a book. Vikings, Pirates, and Shipwrecked Princesses is supported by Orkney Islands Council Culture Fund and the Scottish Book Trust.

If you have a story to tell and would like to speak with Raggie in person, email to arrange to meet.

You can find the online survey here: