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Skaill House

Said to be the finest 17th-century mansion in Orkney, and certainly the most complete, Skaill House lies at the centre of the Breckness Estate in Sandwick parish, between the Bay of Skaill and the Loch of Skaill, 1¼ miles (2 km) southwest of Quoyloo. As a tourist attraction, the house is now closely associated with the Skara Brae Neolithic site. Part is open to the public, managed by Historic Environment Scotland, while other areas are let as holiday accommodation. The house remains in the ownership of the Laird of Breckness.

The name 'skaill' comes from the Old Norse, meaning 'hall' and the area has been settled for thousands of years - indeed part of the house occupies the site of a Norse burial ground. Built c.1620 for Bishop George Graham, most likely on the site of an earlier hall, Skaill House is not grand, but the treeless environment with lawns which merge into the surrounding pasture, create a dramatic situation. It has been extended from the original two-storey block and courtyard and now forms a rambling complex of buildings. A chapel, doo'cot and walled garden were added in 1770. The chapel was demolished in 1806, but the house was extended again in the 1880s. The structure was greatly altered in the 1950s and now presents a distinctive profile of crow-stepped end-gables connected by screen-walls.

Skaill House was restored over a period of three years and opened to the public in 1997. The interior is subdued Georgian, but the house is presented as a cosy family home of the 1950s. Visitors can see Bishop Graham's bedroom, Captain Cook's dinner service from his ship the Resolution and a Gun Room with sporting and military memorabilia. There are also paintings by Orkney artist Stanley Cursiter (1887 - 1976) and many other items collected during the lives of the family who lived here. The house is said to be haunted.

The same coastal erosion which exposed Skara Brae has ensured that Skaill House is now rather closer to the shore than it once was.


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