Saturday, 11 April 2015

Holiday Nightmares in the 17th Century

Have you planned your perfect trip to Orkney? Have you researched the best way to get here, the best hotels, guesthouses, the best island transport? Isn't it great that you can find out all this information before you get here using the wonderful websites available?

In the 17th century, researching your trip was not so simple and you could easily find yourself at the mercy of weather, strange locals, rubbish lodgings or even bogus tour guides. Perish the thought!

Thomas Kirk's trip to Orkney in 1677 was certainly one that he would not forget in a hurry. Here is a snippet from his journal from Tours in Scotland 1677 & 1681 edited by P Hume Brown.

"Thursday 28th, we landed in Kirkwald, the chief town in Orkney; we were all of us sufficiently sea-sick, the wind being brisk and the tide strong against us.

Friday 29th, we viewed the town; here is a church built in the form of a cross with a steeple in the middle which they value much, esteeming it one of the largest churches in Scotland; but we did not think it so.   

We were told that formerly here was a race of giants; one large man we saw of the same race; in the room where I lodged; I found a sword of an extraordinary size, which they told us was John of Groat's sword.

Monday 2nd July one Mr Kinnard, a bailiff of the next Isle of South Ronoldshaw and one Mr Steward, were at Burra's house before we were ready to go; we dined before we went away, having been well treated, and at our departure he bestowed a little Shetland horse upon us, so low that I could easily stand on the ground with the horse under me. From this house we walked to the next ferry and passed to South Ronaldshaw...from whence we were to ferry over the Pinchland Frith to the main land. [At] John of Groat's house. Our weariness caused us to enter mean beds, and we might have rested had not the mice rendezvoused over our faces."
Euuurrgghegh! *shudders*

Marks out of ten?
General quote: Why did I bother?
Was this review helpful? Yes/No

We are happy to tell you that everything has improved in the last 338 years. Check out Visit Orkney for more information and join us across the "Pinchland Frith*"!

From Archive reference: D68/7/3 - Professor Ronald Miller papers

Children on Shetland Ponies at Scapa Pier, date unknown. Photographer: Tom Kent (Ref: TK1464)

*actually Pentland Firth...oh for goodness sake..


  1. I love Mr Kirk's account of his stay. I wonder where the little horse ended up? Milday Stud is in our village (Socks was born here) and it's foal time - it will be hilarious in a few weeks when they're bouncing around. Much like the John O' Groats mice ;-)

  2. Is that Socks the moonwalking pony? That video was excellent. I don't know what happened to Mr Kirk's pony, as it is not mentioned in the journal extract again.

    1. Yes, Dusty - he's the moonwalker :-) His various relations are producing more little characters...

  3. Love the footnote! ^_^ But John O' Groats can keep the mice.

    1. Thanks Sue. Yes, I agree with you. I love the language of the description of the mice, but not the image of his experience.


Are you delighted by what you have just read? Are you revulsed and appalled? Do let us know, we'd love to hear from you.