The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Stromness witches

A Stromness witch

Many witches had an ability to raise storms and their favours were often sought by sailors and fishermen. Two Stromness witches well known for this were Bessie Miller and Mammie Scott.

Mammie Scott once took revenge on some men who made her angry when she crossed the Pentland Firth to Caithness.

At a house where they stopped she asked for a wooden bowl, which she set floating in a tub of water. She turned the water with her fingers until the wooden bowl capsized, and as it did, she said: "Aye there they go, but I’m sorry for the puir strange lad that’s wi them."

That evening the man who had infuriated her, along with his two sons and a stranger they were ferrying across the Pentland Firth, were all drowned when their boat capsized.

Bessie Miller

Bessie Miller (Millie) was a witch who lived in Stromness and would, for the sum of sixpence (2.5p), "sell favorable winds" to sailors. She is described as having a "typical witch's profile" with a long nose and chin, light blue eyes that gleamed, and skin that was withered and dried up like a mummy.

It is said that she was once visited by Sir Walter Scott and that she is the basis for his character Norna of the Fitful Head in his novel, The Pirate, which is inspired by the Orcadian pirate John Gow. Bessie also claimed to have known John Gow. If this is true, then that would have made her around 100 years old when Walter Scott visited her

 A witch's stone, on display at Stromness Museum