The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

The Trowie Glen

As everyone knows, trows (fairy folk) used to be numerous in Orkney. When people worked the land so closely, they had an affiliation with it and they could see things that we don’t see nowadays.

There is an area in the island of Hoy known as the Trowie Glen. It is in this glen that the Neolithic burial cairn known as the Dwarfie Stane lies. The surrounding hills are magnificent and when the mist comes down (as it often does) it can be also be a little eerie. It would not take much for the imagination to run wild here....

Now long ago, a man named Mansie Ritch was returning to Rackwick after spending the day at Longhope. He was following an old hill track and all was well for an hour or so, but then an unseen power seemed to overtake him and, no matter how he tried, he could not stop his feet from turning towards the Trowie Glen.

The Trowie Glen - home of the Trows, a dangerous place to be at night

He decided to be guided by this mysterious power and, on arriving at the head of the glen, he realised that he was not alone. An escort of trows, no bigger than a foot high, accompanied him until they reached the mouth of a large cave halfway down the glen.

The leader addressed Mansie and told him to stay where he was while he (the trow) would go inside and see if the ‘himsel’ was in and if he would see Mansie. A few minutes later, he was beckoned to come in.

What he saw when he entered amazed him – the walls were hung with tapestries and the furnishings were spectacular. Couches were placed around the hall floor and the floor was wonderfully carpeted.

There was a dance taking place and he watched for a short time before being shown into a small side room.

Soon afterwards, a gaily-dressed person came in while two menials brought in an elaborately-carved throne, which the trow sat upon. Mansie told later of how this trow was only 18 inches high and was dressed in blue with a turban on his head. He had a splended white beard and spoke Orcadian!

He looked at Mansie and said: “Boy, did thoo ken wha I am?”  Mansie replied that he did not, but that he was not scared of him, all the same.

The trow told him that he was the king of the trows and that Mansie was a brave man to come to his palace. He went on to say that he was the head man in Trowie Glen and that in order for Mansie to continue his journey, he needed a pass. This would be given to him, but first he had to have a drink with the trow. He was told that he would never “have tasted ale like it”.

Mansie drained his glass of heather ale and, at once, a change came over him. He felt light on his feet and began to dance with the trows. He later told of how he had danced with some very fine looking ladies, all of whom were dressed in white and were very beautiful. He danced for a while and was applauded by the audience.

Some time later he asked the king if it was alright if he had a smoke. Being given permission, he brought out his pipe. The pipe was filled with Bogie Roll, a very pungent tobacco and, as Mansie enjoyed his pipe, the trows watched in amazement as he blew lots of smoke from his mouth.

Suddenly, a truly dreadful thing happened, the happy trows turned as white as chalk and one by one they dropped to the floor. The last one to fall was the king and, as he fell, Mansie found himself at the entrance to a rabbit burrow. The trows had all disappeared!