Buckle's Tower

Bryce Wilson's illustration from The Mermaid Bride, by Tom Muir, Orcadian storyteller

Look up and to your right as you drive along the main road to Finstown from the direction of Stromness. You'll notice a slightly leaning tower perched on the hillside.

This is Buckle’s Tower.  Orcadians pronounce it Buckle's 'Tooer.'

View of the tower, Firth, Orkney, Scotland

Skip down the page here to find out how to visit.

William Buckle was a local lad who lived in a small cottage behind the Pomona Inn, Finstown, in the late 19th century.

At around age 13 he was employed as a herd to watch over the cattle from Binscarth farm as they roamed the hillside, grazing.

Boredom - the real mother of invention

Snowy field near the tower, Firth, Orkney Islands, ScotlandWilliam Buckle's morning commute

It might seem like a romantic occupation to the modern mind, but tending cows must have been a tedious job for the young man. It's hardly surprising that Buckle needed some kind of diversion. 

Whatever his reasons, he made use of the stones lying around the former quarry to build a tower.

Building with stone is second-nature to Orcadians. William's workmanship must have been of good quality, because Buckle's Tower still stands.

Buckle's Tower, Firth, Orkney Islands, Scotland

One man's folly ...

Canmore classifies Buckle's Tower as a 'folly.' Generally, this term is applied to buildings that seem to serve no practical purpose. But an older connotation of the word means 'delight' or 'favorite abode.'

I like to think that William Buckle took delight in his wee folly.

View of the lonely tower in Firth, Orkney, Scotland

Buckle worked without the aid of scaffolding, leaving stones stuck out in a spiral around the tower to serve as temporary steps. He stood on these as he built his tower higher.

Once he was finished he broke the stones off flush with the rest of the tower, starting from the top and working downwards. 

Buckle the bibliophile?

A nice story is told that young Buckle was fond of reading, and his tower gave him an elevated view over the grazing cattle while he enjoyed a good book. 

Buckle's Tower, Firth, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Mmmmm ... probably not.

Originally, Buckle's Tower stood slightly higher than it is now and was narrower at the top. I think it would have been an unlikely seat and not very comfortable, especially on windy days.

It's a nice story, though.

Sailors' sightline

Buckle’s Tower became an important ‘mead’ - a sightline used by sailors at sea.

View from below the tower, Firth, Orkney, Scotland

By lining up Buckle’s Tower above the spire of the Auld Kirk, sailors knew that they were in deep water when they sailed through the Bay of Firth to Finstown’s Maitland’s Pier. This pier was used by boats shipping stone and slates from the local quarries.

A more recent folly

You'll notice a second tower nearby. It was built by James Wilson of Lavendale to celebrate the new millennium.

James began work in 1999, and he put the final stone on top on New Year’s Day 2000.

Millennium tower, Firth, Orkney Islands, Scotland

See a whale bone arch

If you walk a bit farther from Buckle’s Tower, you'll come to the sad remains of a whale bone arch in the gate of a field dyke.

Whale bone arch, Firth, Orkney, Scotland

The structure was made from the jawbone of a whale, set upright to form an archway. It was destroyed when the top, which was once fastened together, was pushed apart in order to get a tractor through the gate.

One of the jawbones has since fallen. Only one now remains upright.

Whale bone arch, Firth, Orkney, Scotland

Getting to Buckle's Tower

The Hill of Heddle, where the tower rests, is a beautiful place to spend a few quiet moments. You'll probably have the hill to yourself.

As is usually the case in Orkney, this hill offers an inspiring view.

Hoy hills as seen from the tower, Firth, Orkney, Scotland

To walk to Buckle’s Tower, you can leave your car in the car park across the road from the Heddle Hill Quarry. Walk down the road towards Finstown for about 200 yards. You'll see a path on your left hand side.

Go here for a sample of the panoramic view you'll find there.

May you enjoy a time of delight and purposeless folly.

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Visit off the beaten path beautiful places in Scotland's Orkney Islands. This one is called Buckles Tower by locals, and it was built by a shepherd boy long ago. Find the story at Orkneyology.com

More peedie adventures

Mermaid image (Rhonda's pages) and storyteller image (Tom's pages) courtesy of our dear friend - Stromness author, artist and historian, Bryce Wilson MBE - Thanks, Bryce!

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