Eday .. Heart of the North Isles
The drawing room floor of Carrick House still has a dark stain said to be the blood spilled by the notorious pirate Gow during a failed escape attempt.
Situated centrally among the North Isles of Orkney, 14 miles north-east of Kirkwall, Eday, the isthmus isle, eight miles long and pinched at the waist, according to the novelist Eric Linklater, offers a unique blend of heather-clad hilly moorland with panoramic views over sea and islands, sheer cliffs, sweeping beaches and sand dunes.
Most of the crofts and farms are located on the fertile coastal strip and the numerous derelict houses are clear indicators that Eday’s population was once much greater.
There is a wealth of evidence of man’s presence on this island over many thousands of years from the mysterious Standing Stone of Setter, often compared to a giant’s hand and probably the finest stone of its type in Orkney, to 17th century Carrick House and the dwellings of today’s farmers and crofters.
The great outdoors
In all seasons Eday offers a wealth of interest. Spring provides an abundance of birdlife.
Below the sea cliffs of the Red and Grey Heads, Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins dive into the clear waters in pursuit of darting fish while high above Fulmars ride the air currents, showing off their white wing flashes, Great Skua and Arctic Skua chase gulls and Arctic Terns until they drop their beakful of fish. Above the heather moors Short-eared Owls hunt their prey and over oat stacks Kestrels hover, targeting unwary mice.
A survey was taken in 1996 and Miss Elaine Bullard states that 120 species of wild plants were recorded.
Seals & dolphins
Both Grey and Common seals can be seen around Eday. The dog-like Common seal frequently hauls out at low tide along the east side of Calf Sound. If you visit Eday in June or July you may see very dark newly-born Common seal pups on the shore or swimming with adults. The heavier Grey seal can be seen anywhere around the coast and both species haul out on Seal Skerry at low tide. The elusive otter is also present in Eday.
The first settlers arrived in Eday some 5000 years ago. These early people were farmers and their chambered tombs are the most notable monuments on the island. It is thought that each of these tombs belonged to a small community and served as communal burial places.
There were various types of tomb in use over a long period from well before 3000 BC until some time after 2000 BC.
On the Calf of Eday, the group of structures, including prehistoric houses, chambered tombs and traces of field boundaries, is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the British Isles. Also on the Calf there are ruins of 17th century saltworks which are probably the best surviving examples of their type.
Industry and crafts
Many skills and crafts associated with Eday’s traditional way of life can still be seen. Fishing and shell fishing is carried out and fresh lobsters, crabs and scallops are available during the season. Sea fishing trips can be arranged and fishermen still make their own creels or lobster pots. Peat, once exported as far as the Edinburgh distilleries, is still the main fuel and is cut during the early summer using a traditional tool called a ‘tuskar’.