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The Stane o' Quoybune, Birsay

The Stane o Quoybune: Image by Sigurd Towrie The Stane o' Quoybune, in Birsay, is a fine example of the solitary standing stones that dot the Orcadian landscape.

Standing at a height of almost four metres (13 feet), the Stane o' Quoybune is one of a number of Orkney megaliths attached to the folkloric motif of the "petrified giant".

Like the Yetnasteen, in Rousay, each New Year's Day, the Birsay stone 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.

For this 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 midnight approached the headstrong youth set out to begin his all-night vigil.

As time wore on, the foolish boy was gripped by a growing terror as 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 senses he:

"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.

The rescued sailor

Stane o' Quoybune, Birsay: Photography by Sigurd TowrieOne of the other 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.