The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

How the island of Graemsay and the hills of Hoy were formed

Giants are a common feature in Orkney folklore, which is hardly surprising, as they formed a lot of the landmarks we see today. They made some vast changes to the Orkney landscape.

It is well known that a Caithness giant was responsible for creating the island of Graemsay and the hills of Hoy...

This giant came over to Orkney one day and took two large handfuls of earth to put in his caisie (a straw basket which he had on his back). This left two large holes which filled with water and these became the lochs of Stenness and Harray.  

Looking across to the Hoy Hills

The earth in the caisie was waterlogged and soon water was flowing out of the holes, making the burden unstable. Making his way home, a lump of earth fell from the caisie and created the island of Graemsay.

Annoyed but undeterred, he carried on homewards, but his troubles were far from over and shortly afterwards the strap of the caisie broke and the whole load of earth fell to the ground, creating the hills of Hoy.

Straw caisies

The giant would have carried the earth in caisies like these in the photograph.

Made of straw or heather they had many different uses depending on the spaces between the rows. They were used to carry earth, peats, grain, seaweed and other goods. Some were made specially small to hold horn spoons and these were called spoon cubbies.

These caisies are on display at Orkney Museum, Kirkwall.