The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

The mermaid

In 1913 the crew of a Longhope fishing boat reported they had seen a mermaid in the deep waters off the south-eastern coast of Hoy.

The creature, they said, rose to a height of three feet above the waves and was "like a lady with a shawl draped around her shoulders".

Writer Walter Traill Dennison remembered as a child hearing the old folk on the island of Sanday arguing over the mermaid's tail.

The men said the tail was part of her body but the old women said they were fools, the mermaid was wearing a petticoat which was finely embroidered with silver and gold.

The husbands of mermaids were known as the Fin Folk. They were dark featured, well built and were powerful sorcerers who could travel over the sea in boats that were driven by magic.

They were always on the lookout for mortal women and would hug the shores in search of them. Once captured the unfortunate women would be carried away to Finfolkaheem, home of the Fin Folk, which was under the sea.

When a mermaid married one of these men she would lose her beauty and become a Fin wife – a haggard old crone.

If, however, she managed to wed a mortal man she would remain beautiful forever so, of course, such men were much sought after.