The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Bessie Skibister

Bessie Skibister is a Hoy witch who had the gift of second-sight and was a 'dreamer of dreams'.

It was customary on the island for men to ask Bessie whether boats that were in danger would come home or not. She was never wrong, and a common saying among the folk in Hoy was "Giff Bessie say it is weill, all is weill".

Once she was found crying and there was a fear that the boats at sea would be lost. She was not crying for the loss of the boats, however, but for "the truble they wer in". The boats arrived home safely and by the route she had predicted.

On another occasion an oar was washed up at Walls. The woman of Bu, Hoy, was greatly concerned, as she knew the oar had come from the boat in which her eldest son was sailing. She went to Bessie who told her not to fret, that "they ar all weill, and will be home or they sleep". The crew, including her son, all arrived home safely.

Although Bessie was well respected, she came to a horrible end after she was accused of more serious witchcraft.

She was eventually sent to trial in 1633 and was hanged at Gallowa Ha in Kirkwall.

The top of the Clay Loan, Kirkwall, formerly site of the gallows     Part of the gallows, on display at Orkney Museum, KirkwallThe hangman's ladder, on display in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall