I was rather shocked to have an article published in The Orcadian, though it was wearing my work hat rather than my student one. This is a slightly enlarged version of that published on 17 February 2022. In it I used the modern spelling – Faray, but within my dissertation I used the old spelling – Pharay. You’ll just have to deal with it.

The island of Faray – abandoned in 1947 – is something of an enigma, having been almost forgotten in the course of less than 100 years.  Debates rage over the pronunciation, the impending works on a new slipway or the proposed OIC windfarm.  Finally, Faray is back in people’s minds.    This, therefore, seems like as good a time as any to look at a bit of history of the island.   

Orkney has two sets of islands with similar names; North and South Ronaldsay and north and south Fara(y).  It is easy to distinguish between our two Ronaldsays, and they are rarely, if ever, written without their geographical prefix (and I’m not going to get bogged down in North Ronaldsay’s original name of Rinnansay).  However, the same can’t be said about our Fara(y)s.  Spelling is not an indicator, as both islands can share the same spelling, even within the same text.  The only way to really differentiate is to see which other islands are mentioned.  Any mention of Hoy, Flotta, Rysa or Scapa Flow mean south Fara, whereas anything about Westray, Eday or Stronsay would indicate north Fara, or Faray.

The name Faray comes from the Old Norse Færey sheep island or ram island, and has been variously known as Faray (modern spelling), Pharay, Fairay, North Pharay, North Fara, North Fairay, Fara, and Fairy. The island amounts to 180 hectares/445 acres and rises to a height of 32m/105 feet.  There is a single chambered cairn near Lavey Sound at the north of the island, which is its only documented prehistoric monument.   Faray Holm lies to the north of the main island and consists of mainly heather moor used for sheep grazing, it connects to Faray – at low tide – by a rock path.   Until it was bought by Orkney Islands Council in 2018, the island was owned by the Stewart Endowment, a charitable trust which has been in existence for over a hundred years. 

As to its pronunciation?  Fair-ee.

Faray once flourished and despite its small size, in 1871 it boasted a population of 83 people when there were eight crofts plus the schoolhouse.  Into the late 19th century, a metalled road ran the entire length of the island.  The people were once given the choice of a road or a pier by the then Orkney County Council.  By choosing the road the island was destined to isolation from its neighbours, but this was an impossible choice to have to make.  A road meant easy transport within the island.  A jetty meant easy transport to and from the island.   I am ever grateful to Ruth Sutherland and her family, who took me to the island in 2016. No jetty meant a leap from a small boat into the sea at the very edges of a beach.  Not elegant, but it got the job done. 

In 1946 the school was closed, making the island untenable for young families, particularly as no mention is made in any source to there being a regular visit from a doctor or midwife.  The last residents left in 1947.    Many of its former inhabitants settled in Eday or Westray, and between 1972-2009 the island was rented by first one family from Westray, and then another from Eday in order to raise sheep.  The first tried to raise deer on the island, who were not entirely impressed by their new surroundings with one stag and two hinds throwing themselves into the sea with the idea of swimming to Eday.  Unfortunately, one of the hinds didn’t make it, but when they were eventually captured and returned to the island it set off a chain reaction, with one deer after another making a break for it.  This daring new venture was eventually abandoned. 

We all know that education has a long history in Orkney, Kirkwall had a Grammar School in existence before the royal charter was granted in 1486, and by 1841 every parish had a Parochial School as well as other schools operated under the auspices of the kirk.   On the eve of the 1872 Education Act, around 80% of all Orcadian school-age children were enrolled in a school, though attendance was purely seasonal depending on their labour involved in collecting tangles, working peats or herding animals. 

 The School Boards began an ambitious building programme across Orkney, with five estimates received for Faray’s new schoolhouse in 1884.  There is no record of where the children received their schooling before this new schoolhouse was available.   Teachers seldom stayed long in the island schools, and weren’t often local, meaning they had little understanding or tolerance for the dialect.  One teacher at Sanday’s Cross Primary School noted “the old pronunciation still lingering notwithstanding continuing efforts to eradicate it.”  Faray too suffered from this problem with predominantly non-Orcadian speaking teachers, “The children have a nasty habit of pronouncing the long and broad sound of or as ahSaw, they say s(ah!), in every instance.” 

The Faray School Logbook held by the Orkney Library and Archive was started on 14 February 1893, when Jessie Marwick “took charge of this school on the 7th Feb.” Jessie was the first in a long line of teachers throughout the two remaining logbooks covering the years 1893-1946, a list containing 32 individuals.  Life for the schoolteacher in Faray was hard.  They were often cold, lacking in materials and felt that they had little support from the School Board with regards to non-attendance of the bairns.   Although speculatively teachers dating back to c1830 had worked in Faray, when Jessie took charge census records list only five ‘official’ teachers preceding her, four of whom were listed as residents of the island.  She was dismissive of the fact that no sewing had been taught, hardly surprising considering the five preceding teachers had all been male.  Sewing and knitting were seen as purely female pursuits, and on one occasion a separate (female) teacher is engaged to teach sewing to the children.  A few years and many teachers later, a visiting member of the school board comments upon the requirement for just such a person once again to complement the male teacher.  Throughout the pages of the logbooks, comments upon the quality of work and more often, the lack of materials to engage in these pursuits, are made.   Sewing materials appeared to be particularly scarce for the pupils, but jotters, workbooks and song books are also often scarce.

Nothing appears to have been spent on the upkeep or comfort of the school.  Comments such as (May 2 1902) “No supply of coal has yet been sent, for some days this week no fire has been in school and as the weather has been cold, it has been very uncomfortable both for children and teacher” and (Nov 2 1906) “School premises have not yet been repaired, making things very cold and uncomfortable both for teacher & children.”  Though not uncommon across all of Orkney’s schools, one island resident, born in 1865, wrote of being expected to take a peat or two with him to school each day along with his peers to keep the school’s fire going.  Ill-health was rampant amongst the children, with colds, bronchitis and other maladies featuring heavily throughout the log.  Comments such as (Oct 13 1905) “One boy under school age has left as the weather is getting too cold to attend” are relatively commonplace, and in 1918-1919 the school closed for 9 weeks due to a measles outbreak in the island.  Sometimes the thoughts and feelings of the teachers are made clear on the pages of the normally utilitarian logbook.  (Feb 15 1907) “The last teacher seems to have taken a delight in shirking her work.” (June 1 1906) “The singing of the boys is a perfect disgrace, they absolutely refuse to sing, some of them I am afraid to punish as I have already got into trouble about them.”  (July 20 1900) “The two Groat boys played truant two days and I got into great trouble about it, for alleging maltreatment of the children, thus frightening them from coming – a gross falsehood.”  On several occasions, reprimanding the children or providing them with perceived sub-standard schooling would incur the wrath of the parents, which in such a small community must have made for a rather uncomfortable experience.    Attendance was sporadic, with farm work, herding and illness being the main cause in Faray, though the weather is cited on several occasions for children who simply do not go to school in particularly rough weather.  The general shortage of teachers was one of the reasons cited for the island’s abandonment, and it had been closed for some years by the time the last family left the island in 1947.  Transporting children daily to Eday was impractical, so latterly children had been billeted “in more fortunate parts, away from their homes, a course open to criticism and often inadvisable.”

Reports of the “evacuation” of Faray note that it occurred shortly after April 1947 when only one family remained, the Wallace family of Ness.  Despite intensive advertising of the properties on the island no interest was shown, and they left soon after, citing the lack of regular boat service enabling them to maintain regular contact with the outside world.   Both The Orcadian (April 10, 1947) and Orkney Herald (May 13, 1947) give some insight on the eventual departure of the last Faray residents.  They cite the lack of manpower, emigration, the call of young people to war and their subsequent taste for a better life.  This left the older population behind, who began to find it increasingly difficult to maintain their inter-island communications, to man their boats, bring in food and other supplies and export their agricultural produce.  While Faray is by no means inaccessible in moderate weather, it requires considerable effort and skill in less-than-ideal conditions.  The arduous work and inherent danger incurred in contacting ships and other islands for shopping, shipment of cattle and for medical and other necessities required a young, healthy population.   

There were ponies at one time

Pharay at War

Pharay was still inhabited during both the first and second world wars, and despite its small size and population it was not spared from the drama and loss of the period. On 11 November 1942, Flight Lieutenant John Hugh Dixon of the Royal Australian Air Force was on an aerial photographic training flight over Orkney when his aircraft caught fire and had to be abandoned over the sea at 2,000 feet. The weather conditions at the time were cloudy but with good visibility, and the suspected cause was a glycol leak. The aircraft crashed around 2.30pm into Fersness Bay, Eday, whilst Dixon managed to parachute into the Sound of Pharay. Due to the noise overhead, the schoolteacher took the children outside the school, where they watched the pilot floating to the earth, with green dye marking his position.  After 30 minutes in the water Dixon was rescued in a small boat owned by Henry Leslie of Holland who, along with a few other men, managed to get the pilot on board although there was some danger of the boat capsizing in the process.  Leslie was later paid £1 for saving the pilot’s life.  A high-speed launch, the RAF HSL 173 left its moorings in Shapinsay at 3pm for a rescue mission, but upon arriving in the area were met and informed by Bobby Allan from Eday, who had also been out in his boat but was further away than those from Pharay, that the pilot had been saved.   Dixon was taken ashore to Pharay and managed to stagger to Lakequoy, where he was eventually picked up by the crew of the launch which subsequently made its way in to Kirkwall, where they landed at 5.30pm.

Flight Sergeant John Hugh Dixon subsequently became a member of the Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron in early 1943, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.  In some of his early sorties he flew reconnaissance flights to the major industrial centres of West Germany, including Berlin, and in early 1944 he volunteered to fly to Northern Russia with a detachment charged with obtaining the information necessary for a naval attack upon the German battleship Tirpitz.  His citation states that during this period “he completed several successful sorties despite Artic weather, enemy opposition and engine failure due to the intense cold.

Two years later Pharay once again saw military service, this time in the early hours of 2 June 1944, when a Spitfire developed engine problems and Battle of Britain veteran, Flight Sergeant RM Miller, had to make a forced landing in to a field at Lakequoy. Though foggy, there was broad daylight due to the time of year. Upon seeing a break in the fog, Miller took the opportunity to land, just missing a deep ditch but hitting some new fencing before coming to a halt, scattering parts of the Spitfire over two small fields. Shaken but unharmed, Miller made his way to Windywa, expressing surprise at finding himself in Pharay, but most relieved at not having hit any of the houses. The high speed launch moored at Elwick in Shapinsay was alerted at 6.45am, and made its way north. Miller had hoped to be able to telephone his position but finding that there was no telephone communication on the island was transported by boat over to Eday by Balfour Rendall and one of his brothers from Windywa. When the launch received the report that the pilot was safe at 8.30am it made its way to Carrick, Eday and had him back in Kirkwall by 11.00am.

When men made their way to the island to inspect and dismantle the crashed aircraft, the job was found to be rather larger than they anticipated, and they ended up spending the night at Windywa. When a tractor from Holland attempted to move the plane to the jetty it was unsuccessful, and eventually Robbie Leslie’s International tractor was found to have sufficient power. A Kirkwall based drifter employed for the task of taking the aircraft back to the Mainland also had difficulty in manoeuvring into the jetty, so eventually the wings were removed and the engine was placed on two boats lashed together, from which it was hoisted on to the drifter. Despite its damage, the plane but was later reassembled and flew again.

Tragically for such a small island, Pharay saw three men lost through the Great War, George Seatter, David Drever and perhaps most heartbreakingly James William Groat, who survived the war only to be taken by the sea in December 1918.

George Seatter was 23 when he was killed in action in France on 19 September 1917.  A Private in the 4th Battalion (Bn) Seaforth Highlanders, he was a farm labourer who lived at Quoys.    David Drever was 36 when he died of wounds on 25 April 1917.  His address is noted as Windywall, but a census return of 1911 lists him as Mate on a ship, though no further information on the name or home port of his ship is given.  He was listed as a married man at that time, and was listed as a Private in the 8th Bn Seaforth Highlanders.    James William Groat was lost at sea on 25 December 1918 aboard the steam ship Coronilla, most likely a fishing trawler.  He appears to have survived the war intact, only to die one month after the armistice.  His name, along with that of Seatter and Drever, appears on the war memorial raised in the neighbouring island of Eday.  

Jack Hercus, Champion Oarsman

Surprisingly, given its small size and sparse population, Pharay managed to produce its very own sporting champion, John (or Jack as he was better known) Hercus, born in the island in 1872.  By the age of 14 he, in common with many boys of his generation, left the island to begin a four-year apprenticeship in the office of the Kirkwall Town Clerk.  Kirkwall was obviously of little interest for this young adventurer, as he set his sights on the big city of Glasgow just four years later where he began 47 years of service for the Glasgow Corporation, joining many other Orcadians recruited by the Orcadian Sir James Marwick, Town Clerk of Glasgow.  The city’s Lord Provost, Sir John Samuel, also had close family links with Orkney.  

Shortly after his move to Glasgow, Hercus joined the Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club, of which he eventually became not only president, but also President of the Scottish Amateur Rowing Association.  It is not noted when he won his first rowing title, but he carried off the trophy for the amateur skiff championship of Scotland in 1897, which he managed to repeat the following year.   However, newspaper reports were such that the 1898 event was somewhat absurd, as there were only two competitors, one of whom fell in the water

“Hercus got away best and in the first fifty yards had a lead of a couple of lengths.  His opponent Calder appeared very nervous at this point, caught a ‘crab’ and fell out of his boat.  Hercus stopped and waited till he again came to the mark.  On the second attempt, Hercus again got away smartest and had gained a lead of fully three yards in the first 200 yards.  Calder was unable to reduce the gap and Hercus won, rowing easily on the home journey, by about four lengths.   The valuable Castle Trophy now becomes the property of Jack Hercus, having won it for the second time in succession.  The race was in open skiffs, the distance being half a mile.”

In The Orcadian report of 16 July 1898 they noted that this would add to Hercus’ already long list of achievements.   It was, however, something else entirely which made Hercus’ name within his adopted home of Glasgow.  He was the city’s Fuel Overseer, and as such was credited with “keeping the home fires burning” throughout World War One.   His name became a household name, as it would appear on thousands of fuel permits issued whilst coal was strictly rationed.  “Without his chit, Glasgow grates would have been cheerless things,” the Glasgow Evening News later commented.

Hercus became General Manager of the Glasgow Corporation Halls Department in 1921, and as such would have participated in the many distinguished events at which people were given the Freedom of the City.  It is also possible that he appeared on the stage, as he was an accomplished violinist and cellist.  Hercus retired in 1937. 

The Heroes of Pharay

Pharay’s losses were not the first time the war impacted upon the lives of the islanders.  A rescue in the winter of 1908 saved the captain of a vessel which would later go on to sink a U-boat within the waters, and home of the British Home Fleet, of Scapa Flow during the First World War.

Due to its small size and location, it would be highly unusual to find that the people of Pharay were not excellent seamen, as is shown by the following tale.  During a 70pmh snowstorm on the evening of 28th December 1908, a Peterhead-registered steam trawler skippered by Andrew Youngson, amongst whose crew of 8 was his own 17 year old brother, Hope was driven ashore on the Holm of Pharay (Hazell 1999: 28) after her anchor chain had been cut by the screw of another trawler which had drifted down on her where they had both been anchored at Fersness Bay, Eday (Drever: 12). 

Of the eight families living in nine crofts on the island at the time, five men from different houses attended the wreck when the alarm was raised in the early hours of the following morning; William Burgar of Cott, John Hercus of Doggerboat, James Groat of Leaquoy, Robert Reid of Holland and John Drever of Windywall, all risking their lives in a thirteen feet long fishing boat to save the nine men aboard, using a thick rope which they helped them get across the riptide which runs between the Holm and Pharay (ibid; Hebden 2008: 182).

After the alarm was raised there was a hurried muster of men to The Quoy, where they each had their fishing boats nousted and secured.   Willie Burgar’s yole May was launched, loaded with ropes and lines with which a cable was made, one end of which was left in charge of willing helpers ashore while the other was on the boat, thus forming a link between land and sea.  Two trips were deemed necessary, the first bringing five men to safety, the second bringing the remaining four.  When the rescuers arrived on the Holm they found that the crew of the stricken vessel had somehow managed to escape to land, where in a crevice of rock they were found huddled together and suffering greatly from exposure, having lain there most of the night.  They were in such a state of exhaustion that some had to be carried to the rescue boat and upon being landed on Pharay they were distributed amongst the island’s households for warmth and sustenance (Drever: 12).  The continuing bad weather meant it was not until 4 January 1909 that the men were able to leave the island, bound for Kirkwall and onwards transmission home to Aberdeen (Hazell: 28).

The story quickly became global with the men being hailed as “The Heroes of Pharay”, and receiving gifts from as far afield as New Zealand (Hazel), even a raw lump of gold was sent from “the distant colonies” (Drever, 13).  Dr Andrew Carnegie, already familiar with Orkney having around 1889 given Kirkwall a generous donation for the purchase of a “large and varied selection of books of all kinds” and another further sum of £1,500 in 1903 for the erection of a ‘Free Library Building’ (OIC 2010), became aware of the men, giving each of them a £10 cheque (worth around £1,000 in today’s money[1]) (Browning 2014) at a public function in Kirkwall (Drever: 13).  The crowning event of the whole affair, however, came when in the autumn of the year 1909 the men were invited to appear before King Edward VII at Balmoral, as a special mark of honour and esteem (ibid), where they were to be presented with Board of Trade silver medals for gallantry, “a good pipe and some tobacco” as well as a tour of the Castle and grounds (ibid; Hazell 1999: 28).   The wreck of the Hope was later purchased by some Pharay men, from which they salvaged 30 tonnes of scrap metal (ibid). 

The skipper of the ill-fated Hope, Captain Youngson, was also later to be honoured by royalty, this time by King George V, for his part in helping to sink the first enemy submarine of World War One by ramming her with the patrol trawler Dorothy Gray, also known as Minesweeper No 96. One of her duties was to patrol inside Scapa Flow and on 16–17 October 1914 the German U-boat U18 was spotted by look-outs on the Switha shore.  Reportedly, the tension experienced by the men in the area was “described as the equivalent of reporting ‘a cobra in a drawing room.’”  The U18 was commanded by Kapitän Leutnant Heinrich von Hennig who, although submerged, had to go to periscope depth from time to time in order to navigate his way through the strong currents in the area.  However, he did this once too often, and the Minesweeper No 96 rammed the U-boat, throwing her on her beam ends, putting her reserve steering-gear out of action and her periscope bent over at right angles.   She was rammed again by the Kaphreda but it was the Pentland Skerries which eventually led to her demise.    Due to the sharp rocks on the seabed, Hennig could neither wait on the bottom nor navigate the blind and unmanageable submarine to the relative safety of deep water, so to save the lives of his crew was eventually forced to surrender to the Allied forces, blowing his tanks and hoisting a white flag to attract attention.   The lookout at Brough Ness in South Ronaldsay was Robert Wilson, a Post Office employee who would eventually become a Kirkwall Town Councillor.  At a naval reunion dinner after the war he told those gathered that when reporting the surrender of the U18 to Naval HQ “he was asked if he could tell the difference between a U-boat and a whale, to which he replied – “Well, if it’s a whale it’s got 25 men standing on its back.”

[1] roughly equivalent to £1019.18

A lintel at Windywalls, Pharay

Transcript of D31-47-5, Orkney Library & Archive

Amongst the collected papers of Ernest Marwick


An interview with Mr R G Burgar, Shoehall, Eday, 1969

When Mr Burgar was a boy, there were eight households on north Faray, and a population of fifty-two, with fifteen or sixteen children at school.

The crofts varied from 12 to 20 acres.  Holland, the biggest farm, was 40 acres.

Holland had a pair of work horses.  One or two of the other bigger farms used a horse and a cow or a horse and an ox.  Others had a pair of fairly large work oxen.  These work oxen were usually kept until they were around four years old, when they averaged fifteen hundred-weights. 

The harness consisted of a straw wassie (collar), and chains and rope.  Oxen, when trained, were tractable animals.

The farms were worked on the ‘Fifth shift’; that is, so much corn and so much oats, potatoes, and turnips, and the rest down to grass.

Cattle were usually sold as young stores to farmers on Eday and Westray.  The large work ox, when fattened, fetched around £12.

There were not so many of the larger breeds of sheep, perhaps two or three on some of the farms; but each house had from twenty to thirty native sheep on the Faray Holm.  These were used to augment the island’s food supply.

Food was mostly home grown.  Oatmeal and bere meal were baked into bannocks. ‘We always had a boll of flour, which cost from 15 to 18 shillings, but that was kept in case of bad weather cutting off supplies.’

A lot of fish was eaten; haddocks if they could be got, and also cuithes and sillocks.  Cuithes and sillocks were often dried in fairly large quantities.  They were relished when eaten with homemade butter.

Although the native sheep were killed for food, the larger sheep and cattle were not.

Every farm kept a pig until it was around 16 to 18 stones in weight.  Then it was killed, cured, and hung up in the roof of the house – and pieces cut from it as they were needed.

Geese were not kept, but hens and ducks were.

The boats used were the traditional Orkney Yawls.  There was a North Isles yawl and a South Isles Yawl, slightly different from each other.  The South Isles yawls had a bit of a rake at both ends.  They were usually manned by two men to a boat, but in winter when not many boats were going out three or four men would go in a boat. 

Sometimes in winter time the Faray men would go fishing as far as Papa Westray. The fish they caught were equally shared.


The island always had a school teacher with an occasional vacancy of two or three months.

There was no church on the island, but sometimes travelling evangelists would arrive to stay at one of the farm houses, and hold meetings in the school.  On Sundays, when the weather made it possible, the people crossed by boat to Eday – a two mile sail, and then two or three miles walk over Eday to the church, according to where a landing was made.  The church-goers left Faray around 10am, and they usually got back to the island between 2pm and 3pm.  There was no food in the interval except ‘a biscuit in our pocket and a few pandrops.’

Neighbours visited each other a lot during the winter, for a chat or a game of cards or draughts.  There was a lot of story telling, usually about seafaring and wrecks, and about fishing and gales.

Each farm as it finished cutting the crop at harvest had a special ‘aff-shaering’ tea.  There was usually lemonade that night – a small bottle for each person.  In those days lemonade was a special treat.

Dances were not often held, except when there was a wedding on the island.

Music was mostly supplied by fiddlers; ‘but in my grannie’s day they used to sing to the dancing; they had tunes they sang without words.  My grannie used to say that “they would put a tirl in their tongue and sing to the dancing”.  They had work songs, but these were not used much.  When they were waulking a loom they had a special song.  I remember a web of cloth coming from a loom in Westray, and folks getting on to it and waulking it on the table. They sang as they did it, but I cannot remember the song.  I can’t remember special songs for spinning.  It was the grannie of the house who usually did the spinning, and it was mostly hymn tunes she sang.’


At Christmas everybody had their home-brewed ale.  They made their own malt and ground it and brewed it.

On Christmas Day, the man in the furthest north house visited his neighbour, and then they went to the next house, and so house by house to the southmost house, the numbers getting bigger as they went along and were joined by the men from each house.  By the time they got to the southmost house most of the men of the island were in the party. There were no women, however: they stayed in the houses to offer hospitality.  On New Year Day the procedure was reversed: the main in the southmost house started the succession of visits which ended at the northmost house.

Mr Burgar could not remember any old island songs.


People depended a very great deal on their boats.  Grain was boated to Eday or Westray, and sometimes to Rousay.  Peats were brought to the island from Eday.  There was some peat on the island, but not much.

So much boating was hazardous.  In winter there was much land sea [sic], and it was often pretty rough.  The island would run out of supplies, and men would have to go over to Eday for them in rough weather.  There were numbers of lives lost, especially when boating animals or in similar circumstances.  The animal might capsize the boat, or put a foot through the planking.  Latterly, the men always took a small boat in tow, but in earlier days they were more foolhardy.

‘My grandfather and my great grandfather were both lost; one in a boating accident, the other when coming across from Faray Holm to Faray – the tide swept the feet from the old man, and he lost his life.’


The eventual evacuation of Faray was really caused by people who had families growing up realising that if the children were to have a better standard of life they must get out of the island.  ‘The older people began to take farms outside Faray; then incomers came in, and they weren’t the real Faray folk.  They seemed to get tired of the island, and after the second wold war they made a general evacuation.  It was in the year 1947 that most of the inhabitants went out.  There were probably somewhere between forty and fifty people at the time of the evacuation.

The old community got disrupted.  At the time of the evacuation there was only one of the old Faray families among the people, and they were the last to leave the island.


‘There was only one shipwreck in my time – in 1908, when a trawler drove ashore in a very heavy snow storm from the south-east.  After some time, five Faray men got a fairly big yawl, and crossed the sound from Faray to the Faray Holm.  They took off the trawler’s crew in two loads: five one trip and four the next.  The survivors were in pretty poor condition, for they had gone ashore in terrible weather.  They had to stay in Faray for a week before conditions improved.  They were distributed among the houses.

‘An older shipwreck that stayed in the memory was of a small smack that went ashore on the south end of the Faray Holm with a load of bere meal.  The meal was packed in the hold, as if it were in a girnel.  There was one man left on the Holm to guard the ship.  They built a small house for him to stay in.  He used to go round the point there and say to himself, “Dog’s bones”.  It was a poor place, just like the dried bones of a dog.  It goes under that name yet – The Point o’ Dogsbones.’

‘A big ship, the Earl of Bute, drove ashore on the south end of Faray at one time.  It was a heavy storm; one of the square sails blew out of the bolt ropes and went right over the island.  The Faray folk ran to the shore to do what they could.  The crew thought they were savages.  Two jumped into the sea to swim away, and they were lost.  The remainder got ashore.  The story goes that the old captain came up to Holland, the biggest farm there; and the old lady was sitting spinning.  The captain seized the spinning wheel and set it on the fire to raise heat.  They were rough days!’



[Square brackets indicate extra material taken from the handwritten letters of William Sabiston]

[[Italics in double brackets are my comments]]

  1. POINT OF SCARABAR – landing place for small boats
  2. SCARAALAN – a low-lying sandy beach from which ware used to be carried
  3. GRUATANG – there are big boulders are covered with tang
  4. SANDBISTER BIGHT – a fairly large bay on the western side of the island
  5. WELLGEO – there are two geos here with the common name of Wellgeo.  Crevices in the rocks hold fresh water
  6. LONG LANGIE GEO – [this geo as the adjective implies] runs a long way inland
  7. SMALL LANGIE GEO – a smaller version of the preceding geo (cf. in Birsay – in Marwick – Braid Geo and Smaa Geo; in Northside, Donnabya and Doonaminga)
  8. CHAIR – not exactly a chair, but rather a shelf where one can sit and fish sillocks
  9. SHEEPRIGHT GEO – no information
  10. KIRK NOUST – a place where small boats were hauled up
  11. BRENGEOS – there are stacks here of high rocks with grass on top, formerly used to conceal malt from gangers.  [Long grass grow down the sea] There are three geos here each named Brengeo.  In addition to this triplet geo, we have the twin geos Wellgeo, Langie and Sandy geo.  This seems to be a feature of the shore names of this little island
  12. CASTLE OF SINNACLETT – [The usual rock stack a little distance from a crag, a common rock formation on the Orkney shore] a rock stack a little distance from a crag
  13. SINNACLETT – long coarse grass grows here.  It is a nesting place for wild birds
  14. RAMIGEO, STARYGEO – [I have here two names] the two names have been given.  Ramigeo is possibly the local variant of Ramnageo or Ramlygeo in other districts
  15. FUEGEO – no information
  16. GATE OF NEERBORLEY – high shore with jagged rocks.  One goes down here to get to another place to where ware is found
  17. SANDYGEO BROAD – name self-explanatory
  18. LONG SANDiGEO – name self-explanatory [[William’s spelling has an ‘i’, Ernest had a ‘y’]]
  19. KILNS – these are holes in the ground at the top of the cliffs through with the sea sprays up in stormy weather like smoke from a mill kiln
  20. GERBO STACKS – one small castle – a bare rock.  [[In Birsay, on the old estate map – 1760 – preserved in Kirkwall library, there is the name Gervie Stone.  No one remembers the name; it is called Stane Randa today.  Dr Marwick gives the name Gervie Stone, but the ‘v’ is hard to determine, perhaps it could be some other letter.]]
  21. WART – a ‘Pict’s House’; a little hillock visible from the whole isle.  Could have been the beacon site if there was one on the island
  22. KEMMO – a flat beach where ware comes ashore.  Sheep came across from the Holm to eat the seaweed here
  23. THE AYRE – when the tide is out, sheep cross over here from the Holm
  24. QUOY GEO – a landing place for boats at high water
  25. MULLERGEO – a geo where there is much shingle
  26. TOBER – not a rock, but  ledge on the shore
  27. SURRIGEO – a place where boats were hauled up
  28. SEACOO ROCK- a big flat rock visible at ebb tide.  A bit sea-coo was once seen  lying here asleep, hence the name (it was probably a manatee, Manatus senegalensis)
  29. CLEGSGEO – a deep geo
  30. JIBBYGEO – a deep geo
  31. ROUSE CRAIG – the rocks are red in this place. Not the English word but the Orcadian
  32. RINGYGEO – where yellow freestone used to be quarried
  33. POINT O’ NAVE – rocks are black here, and scarfs sit on them.  Fish were dried here
  34. PUMP POODLE – a low lying place, easy to walk on
  35. TARHELRIE – a freestone beach where fish used to be dried
  36. BARE GEO – jetty where stores are landed
  37. WART – another old ‘Pict’s House’ near the sea.  Here there is good natural grass
  38. BLOW HOLE – not a hole in the land back from the cliffs, but in the cliff itself, through which the sea sprays up in storms



FIELDS OF:       

  • COTT               a. Mayshead; b. Tober
  • DOGGERBOAT c. Dale field; d. Neeborley; e. West Tummal
  • HAMMAR        f. Bu; g. Garhens; h. Ha
  • HOLLAND        i. House of Steaches; j. Sandbister; k. Tammies Moss
  • LAKEQUOY      l. Grips; m. Hull; n. Pakel; o Well Field (NB Grips was a heuld for cattle during the whole year)
  • QUOY              p. Pea Rig; q. Wart Land (where peats used to be cut)
  • WINDYWALL   r. Mouthoolie; s. North Tummal; t. Westerleon


  • LADY WELL: a well on the farm of Hammar
  • HAMMERS – reputed (hide-out?) of the Picts on the farm of Hammer
  • TAMMIES MOSS – a low lying place on the farm of Holland
  • BRAE OF DRAM – a steep brae on the farm of Holland has a strange shape as if one could hide on it
  • GANKSTEATHES- the name of a piece of waste land on the farm of Windywall
  • HULL – waste land on the farm of Lakequoy



The ground of Mounthoolie was added to that of Windywall, and the ground of the Bu added to Hammer and Lakequoy.  The man who had the Bu had to build a house, which he called the Ness.  The reason for the change is not known.


An English fishing boat which had been fishing at the Dogger Bank was becalmed off Fara on her homeward voyage.  The captain came ashore and my informant’s great-grandfather, who was just finishing the building of his house, met him.  The Captain asked what name he was going to give it, but he said he had no name.  At this, the visitor suggested that he should call it Dogger Bank.  He had just been fishing there he said and liked the name.  The builder, for some reason, named his house not Doggerbank but Doggerboat. 


There used to be a chapel in the island with a blind window, to evade window tax.  (This could have been a window with a stone flag built in, which would leave a recess inside).  When transgressor was found out, he was set in that window for three Sundays with a sieve on his head.


At the shore at Small Langie Geo there is an opening, and right opposite it there is another.  A woman lost a rooster here and failed to find it after a careful search.  A day or two afterwards, when the family were sitting in their house, they heard a cock crowing.  The sound seemed to come from beneath the fireplace.  The guidman of Windywall lifted the hearthstone, and there beneath it was the lost bird quite unharmed. (Cf. In Birsay, a pair of tongs disappeared through a hole in the hearthstone at the Gloup and was afterwards found on the foreshore at Longagleeb).

The above material was supplied by William Sabiston of Scrutabreck, Birsay, on 12th January 1971.  His informant was an old lady who had lived on the island of North Fara. 

[1] There was indeed a ‘blind’ window in the St Boniface Church on Papa Westray, as described by Jocelyn Rendall in the fundraising guide book of the Church