You might wonder what connection there could be between my novel, Sisters of the Bruce, and Orkney but the legends and stories which litter history can be quite illuminating. One such tale relates to this fascinating collection of islands to the north of Scotland. Here the Laird of Halcro is reported to have offered Robert the Bruce sanctuary in those missing months at the end of 1306 and early 1307.
Earlier in 1306, Robert had been crowned King of Scots at Scone in central Scotland, but he was soon on the run after the devastating rout at Methven. Where did Robert and his small band of supporters find safe refuge from the hostile English and Scottish forces which were scouring Scotland? One option, off- touted, suggests the Isle of Rathlin which sits within easy distance of both the Mull of Kintyre and the coastline of Northern Ireland. This would have been a safe temporary measure to be sure, but to my mind, it was far too dangerous a place for a longer period of much-needed respite. I will leave you to ponder on one of history’s abiding mysteries.
Some of you might be thinking Orkney was part of Scotland ─ as it is today ─ but its cultural and historical origins were more closely aligned with Norway. Orkney was a Viking settlement from around 700AD onwards. It was not until 1231 and the death of the last Norse earl that the earldom passed to the son of a Scottish earl, the Earl of Angus. At one stage, Inga ─ the daughter of the deceased King Eric of Norway and his queen, Isabel, the sister of Robert the Bruce ─ was betrothed to Eric, Earl of Orkney and Caithness. These intriguing links with the Bruce family proved beguiling to me as a writer.
Medieval Orkney was still owned by Norway and the earl owed his allegiance to the Norse king. It was much later in the 15th century that Orkney was pledged as part of a dowry by Christian I, King of Norway, for his daughter’s betrothal to James III of Scotland. The money was never paid and Orkney passed into Scotland’s care and control. By 1472, it was formally annexed by the Scottish crown.
During my visits to Orkney, I have been struck by how the islanders’ past links with Norway remain a defining aspect of Orcadian life. Orkney is one of the most evocative places to visit with its imposing burial mounds, brochs and the ancient site of Skara Brae.
Located in Skaill Bay on the west coast of the main island, Skara Brae is a Neolithic village which was exposed in a wild storm back in the 19th century. Since then, it has been the subject of intense archeological exploration bringing this extraordinarily homely site to life.
One of the many things I love about Orkney is the freedom with which you can wander around the host of standing stones without the confines of fences. Some stand as markers beside roadways whilst others form silent circles. To take in these extraordinary sights on your own at sunset is the stuff of dreams.