The Stane o' Quoybune, Birsay
The Stane o' Quoybune, in Birsay,
is a fine example of the many solitary standing stones that dot
the Orcadian landscape.
Dating from the second millennium BC, and standing
at a height of almost four metres (13 feet), the Stane o' Quoybune
is one of a number of Orcadian standing stones attached to the folkloric
motif of the "petrified giant".
Like the Yetnasteen, in
Rousay, each New Year's
Day, the Stane o' Quoybune is said to walk to the nearby Boardhouse
Loch, where it dips its head to drink from the cold water.
Local custom dictates that anyone seeing the megalith
on its annual trek will not live to see another New Year.
reason, on New Year's Eve, it was not considered safe to remain
outdoors after midnight - especially for those who intended to watch
for the stone's movements.
The walking stone
Many stories circulated, most of which are now
forgotten, of individuals who wished to see the walking stone
for themselves. According to the tales, their corpses were invariably found the next morning.
One such story, documented in 1884, tells of a
young man from Scotland who, upon visiting the islands, scoffed
at the story of a walking stone.
Much to the horror of the locals,
as the hour of midnight approached, the headstrong youth set out
to begin his all-night vigil.
As time wore on, the foolish boy began to feel
a growing terror gripping him, and an eerie feeling crept over his
shivering limbs. At midnight, he discovered that in his frenzied
pacing, he had wound up directly between the stone and the loch.
Turning to check on the monolith, he was sure
he saw it move.
From that moment, he lost consciousness and his
friends found him, at dawn, lying in a faint. When he regained his
"could not satisfy enquirers
whether the stone had really moved and knocked him down."
Whether he survived to see the following New Year
is not recorded, but it is doubtful that this young incomer would
mock the islanders' beliefs again.
of the more tragic tales surrounding the Stane o' Quoybune concerns
a ship wrecked off the shores of Birsay.
On that cold,
stormy December day all hands, save one, were lost - victims of
Teran's cruel reign.
The sole survivor found refuge at a cottage close to the stone, and, on hearing
the tales of its annual march, resolved to see for himself whether
such a superstitious yarn could be true.
In spite of
the householder's protests, the sailor ventured forth on the last
day of the year. To make sure he missed nothing, he clambered up
on top of the massive megalith to await its stirring . . .
There he waited . . .
. . . and the first
morning of the new year dawned over the body of the foolish sailor.
How he died
remains unknown, but local stories recounted how the stone had rolled
over the pathetic mortal as it made its way to the lochside.