Standing at an impressive 4.5m (15ft) high, the tallest single standing stone in Orkney commands breath-taking views over natural scenery, such as the grand Red Head Mill, the Calf of Eday and the haven for rare birds that is Mill Loch.
Thought to be a ritualistic stone due to the placement of various chambered cairns in the vicinity, the true nature of the megalithic stone remains a mystery, but what is known about this 4,000 year old monument is that it is steeped in local lore and mythology.
Tales from Norse folklore often tell stories that stones such as the Stone of Setter were placed by giants who roamed the countryside.
Another such tale regarding the Stone of Setter is that it was erected by a Laird of the island of Eday. No one is sure why a laird would opt to raise such a stone, however, the legend continues. This Laird and his men had great difficulty in righting the stone into a hole that was dug into the peaty ground. The Laird's wife joined the efforts and sat upon the Stone of Setter before tumbling into the hole just as the stone was righted. The Laird, being known to despise his wife made no efforts to retrieve or help is wife, entombed under the cromlech.
An interesting tale that dates to the mid-18th century is the local legend of the Sorcerer Captain Weller. In 1755 an inscription appeared upon the stone which read:
“Andreas Matheson hucusque fugit a Veneficiis Ducis Weller 1755”.
This Latin message translates to "Andrew Matheson fled here from the Sorcerer Captain Weller in 1755"
Witchcraft and sorcery was rife in Orkney at this time, or rather, the accusation and blame of being a witch or involved in sorcery. A monument to the Orkney Witchcraft trials has been erected in Kirkwall and is well worth a visit.
I have not been able to find any documentation to support the fact that Andrew Matheson was ever on Eday, but that does not prove that he wasn’t. However, Captain John Weller was indeed a Royal Navy captain in 1755 and was in charge of a lightly armed yacht called Dorset. It would not be unreasonable to think that he frequented the harbours of Orkney in the pursuit of smugglers, pirates or as part of a press gang. Maybe Andrew Matheson was fleeing from capture of the pressgang.
There is indeed a place on Eday called Mirk Hole, which is an inland cave that locals would use to hide to evade the press gangs. Mirk is an archaic variation of the word murk, ie, dark and gloomy, perhaps relating to the natural darkness of the cave, or to the emotions of the men hiding away for days at a time. I wonder if Andrew Matheson was aware of this place!
The above photo comes from the Ordnance Survey Name Books, a census of houses, places and geological features composed in 1879-1880.
As yet, we are yet to find Mirk Hole, but as and when #MumDeeWalks to it, we will update you!
A local's view
My husband James and I moved to a remote island of Eday in Orkney Islands back in December 2016 and we've been living at the North end of this beautiful island ever since. This blog is all about my view of life on this remote island and some information that we at Happy Homestead get frequently asked for. If there is anything I didn't cover yet, be sure to contact me.
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