The Odin Stone


The Odin Stone

An artists impresssion of the original Odin Stone

Before it was destroyed in a single day by Captain W. Mackay in December 1814, the original Odin Stone stood approximately 140m to the north of the Standing Stones of Stenness in what is now part of the Orkney's World Heritage Site.

Erected around 3000BC, by the time of its destruction it had become a focus for a fascinating range of important local rites, customs and beliefs. Generations of Orcadian babies had been passed through the large hole in the stone to prevent infant diseases. As adults, they pushed their limbs or heads through it to cure their ailments. People clasped hands through the hole whilst intoning their 'Oath of Odin' to seal all sorts of contracts and vows, including marriage.

In the 18th century, a Stromness Merchant's daughter, Miss Gordon, who'd undertaken this solemn and binding vow with a certain John Gow, had to later travel to London to free herself by touching his corpse after he'd been hanged for piracy.

Ernest Marwick, the emminent Orcadian historian, believed the Odin Stone of Stenness was unique in that it was the only holed megalith in Britain he had been able to find that possessed both curative and contractual powers.

ORCADES – A hydrographical survey of the Orkney Islands

A Murdoch Mackenzie Chart

First published in the 1750s and now commonly known as the ‘Mackenzie Charts’, they are the earliest scientific surveys of Orkney waters. They were produced by Murdoch Mackenzie, one-time schoolmaster in Kirkwall, (later to become Surveyor to the Admiralty) whose charts continued to be used for almost a hundred years. His calculations of latitude remain astonishingly accurate despite the fact that his tools & methods were primitive by today’s standards. The marine sextant and chronometer weren’t yet developed and, as the Prime Meridian at Greenwich wasn’t established till over a century later, Mackenzie’s meridians cut through Kirkwall.

He was a pioneer in the field of surveying in recognising that proper measurements of the land were necessary to make accurate surveys of the surrounding seas. He introduced consistent symbols in his charts, some of which are still in use and he went on to invent the ‘Station Pointer’, which remains an important navigational aid to global shipping despite the introduction of modern GPS systems.

The Ba'

Every year, on Christmas Day & New Years Day, the Ba' is played through the streets and lanes of Kirkwall. The origins of this ancient game (a kind of primitive football or rugby) have been lost in time but the tradition is maintained with great pride by the fanatical players and supporters.

To the outsider it appears that there are few rules and no limit to the number of players on each of the two opposing sides, the 'Uppies' and the 'Doonies'. The 'Uppies' attempt to get the Ba' to the south end of town and touch the wall at Mackinson's Corner while the 'Doonies' try to push north and get the Ba' into the sea at Kirkwall Harbour.

Play starts at 1pm in front of St Magnus Cathedral in Broad Street and can last for many hours as the steaming scrum attempt to push, pull or smuggle the Ba' towards their respective goals. Once it has finally reached it's goal a noisy debate ensues as the various factions of the winning team try to decide which lucky player will get to take the Ba' home, where the celebrations continue long into the night.


Modern Ba' photo taken in the early 90's The Ba' - In 1920

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