ousay

R

R

emembered

HETHER BLETHER

A very long time ago there lived a young woman in the island of Rousay. One fine day she went to the hill to cut peats. When her work was done she sat down among the heather to rest. She was surprised to see that she was not alone, for there was a strange man on the hill too. He came towards her and started to talk. They sat there chatting away for some time. At last the man asked the girl if she would come home with him. She refused at first, but the man had a silver tongue and he soon gained her trust and she went with him.

275 EYNHALLOW

When she never returned that night her family became worried. A search party was formed and they set out for the hill. They looked here, they looked there, but there was no sign of the girl anywhere. It was with heavy hearts that they returned to their homes that night. There were no hearts heavier than those of the girl’s own family.

 

A long time after, the girl’s father and brother went to sea to fish. When they had travelled a good way to the west of Eynhallow a thick fog rolled in around them. It was so thick that they could see nothing and they had no idea where they were. At last the boat touched land. They jumped over the side of the boat and pulled it up the shore. The only place it could be was Eynhallow, so they set off in search of shelter.

325 EYNHALLOW IN SUN

Out of the mist they could see the shape of a large house ahead of them. It was like no house that was on Eynhallow, they were sure of that. They went up to the house to see if anyone lived there. The old man knocked on the door and waited for a reply. Who should answer the door but his own daughter who had been lost in the hills all those years before. They greeted each other with many hugs and kisses and words of joy. She took them in and made them something to eat. She told them she was married to a sea man who was a very good husband to her.

 

As they talked a great brown wisp of heather simmans came rolling in and went through the house to the ben-end. In a few minutes a tall handsome man came back into the room. He was introduced as the girl’s husband, and greeted his in-laws with great kindness. Two more heather simmans rolled in, and out of them came two more sea men who had been out fishing.

Eynhallow a

After a pleasant visit the fog cleared a little, so the men had to say farewell. The old man pleaded with his daughter to return with them, but she said she was happy living there with her husband. She did give her father a knife, telling him that as long as he had it he would always have luck with the fishing. He could also use it to find his way back to see her again whenever he pleased. They said a sad goodbye on the shore, then gripped the gunwales of the boat and pushed her back into the sea. As the boat pushed off the old man let slip the knife and it sank to the bottom of the sea. In a moment the boat reached the Rousay shore and the island had disappeared. The island of Hether Blether can still sometimes be seen west of Eynhallow, but remains untrod by human foot.

Eynhallow b

My thanks to Tom Muir for allowing me to reproduce this from his book The Mermaid Bride and other Orkney Folk Tales. – the original being in Duncan J Robertson’s 'Orkney Folk-Lore’, published in Vol I Proceedings of the Orkney Antiquarian Society, 1922-23, 40.

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