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Parish of Stenness

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1791-99: Firth and Stenness
1834-45: St Andrews

Stenness, an Orkney parish, whose church stands near the SE shore of the Loch of Stenness, 5 ½ miles NE of Stromness and 10 1/8 W by N of Kirkwall, under which there is a post office. It is bounded SE and S by Orphir, W by the Bay of Ireland, NW by the Loch of Stenness and Sandwick, N by Harray, and NW by Firth, to which last it is quoad civilia united. Its utmost length, from E to W, is 5 1/8 miles; and its utmost breadth, from N to S, is 4 ¼ miles. Several burns drain the interior to the Loch of Stenness or the Bay of Ireland; and the surface, largely consisting of moorland and heathy ridges, attains a maximum altitude of 514 feet above sea-level at a point 1 5/8 mile S by E of Stenness church. The Loch of Stenness consists of two Portions - upper and lower, or northern and southwestern. The upper, called sometimes the Loch of Harray, extends 4 ¾ miles south-south-eastward, and varies in width between 3 furlongs and 1 ¾ mile; the lower extends 3 ¾ miles south-eastward, and has a maximum width of 1 ½ mile. There are boats on the loch, which contains abundance of sea-trout, yielding capital sport in September. Hugh Miller, in his Footprints of the Creator (1849), describes the Loch of Stenness as ` a large lake about 14 miles in circumference, bare and treeless, like all the other lochs of Orkney, but picturesque of outline, and divided into an upper and a lower sheet of water by two long narrow promontories, that jut out from opposite sides, and so nearly meet in the middle, as to be connected by a thread-like line of road, half mound, half bridge, and known as the Bridge of Brogar. "The Loch of Stennis," says David Vedder, the sailor-poet of Orkney, "is a beautiful Mediterranean in miniature." It gives admission to the sea, the Bay of Ireland, by a narrow strait, crossed like that which separates the two promontories in the middle by a long rustic bridge, the Bridge of Waith. In consequence of this peculiarity the lower division of the lake is salt in its nether reaches, and brackish in its upper ones, while the higher division is merely brackish in its nether reaches, and fresh enough in its upper ones to be potable. Viewed from the E, in one of the long clear sunshiny evenings of the Orkney summer, it seems not unworthy the eulogy of Vedder. There are moory hills and a few rude cottages in front, and in the background, some 8 or 1 miles away, the bold steep mountain masses of Hoy, while on the promontories of the lake, in the middle distance, conspicuous in the landscape, from the relief furnished by the blue surrounding waters, stand the tall grey obelisks of Stenness.' These lichened `Standing Stones of Stenness ' are second of their kind in Britain to those only of Stonehenge. They occur in two groups - the smaller (composed, however, of the larger stones) on the south-eastern peninsula, and the larger or `Ring of Brogar' on the north-western. The smaller, 104 feet in diameter, with an outside ditch 50 feet in width, originally consisted of twelve stones, 15 to 18 1/3 feet high; but now only three remain, the largest prostrate, the other two still erect. Remains of a dolmen exist within this circle, near which, at the S end of the Bridge of Brogar, is a monolith 18 feet high, the finest of all the group. In another direction is a lesser monolith, only 8 foot high, 3 feet broad, and 9 inches in diameter. It is pierced with a circular hole, and by Mr Fergusson, in his Rude Stone Monuments (1872), is identified with the `Stone of Odin,' familiar to readers of Scott's Pirate. The Ring of Brogar, 340 feet in diameter, is likewise encompassed by an outer ditch, 1071 feet in diameter, 31 to 33 wide, and 6 deep. It originally consisted of sixty stones, 6 to 15 feet high; but only fifteen, 3 to 14 ½ feet high, are now standing, with remains of twenty-two others. The material of all is Old Red Sandstone. The famous tumulus of Maeshowe has been noticed separately. Near it is the House of Stenness or Turmiston, a grey old-fashioned building of no very imposing appearance. From it Scott makes the `Pirate' see the burning of his ship in Stromness Bay. In 1879 Stenness, with a small portion of the civil parish of Sandwick, was formed into a quoad sacra parish in the presbytery of Cairston and the synod of Orkney. The minister's stipend is £130. The church was built in 1793. There are a Free Church preaching-station and a public school. Pop. of q. s. parish (1881) 697, of whom 48 were in Sandwick.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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