Dingieshowe - a place where Vikings gathered

Bryce Wilson's illustration of Tom Muir, Orkney, Scotland storyteller, from Tom Muir's book The Mermaid Bride

We pronounce it:


The conspicuous mound called Dingieshowe was once an important place to our Viking ancestors.

The Viking thing mound at Dingieshowe, Orkney, Scotland

Skip down the page here to go straight to visitors' details.

Visit a Viking thing site

The name Dingieshowe is from the Old Norse ‘thing-haug,’ meaning assembly mound. It stands on the thin strip of land that connects the parish of Deerness to the rest of the East Mainland.

The mound covers an Iron Age broch, which in turn stands on a Neolithic site. Important sites were often re-used for millennia, with new buildings built upon older ones.

Neolithic Grooved Ware pottery was found here during excavations in the 19th century. The rather careless excavations of the day are responsible for the depression left in the top of the mound. 

Viking thing mound, Orkney, ScotlandThis large mound was the site of a Viking ‘thing’ - the assembly where taxes were set and disputes settled.

A wee bedtime story, Viking-style

It was likely at a Dingieshowe thing in the early 11th century that local landowner Thorkel of Sandwick (the bay at Skaill in Deerness) pleaded on behalf of the farmers for Earl Einar Wry-mouth to reduce his taxation.

The Earl replied that he had planned to fit out six longships to go raiding with that summer, but in order to reduce the taxes he would settle for just three.

Victorian era illustration of a Viking longship

However, he warned Thorkel never to repeat his request. 

Unwisely, Thorkel allowed himself to be persuaded to repeat his plea at a later thing.

Illustration of a Viking man speaking at a Viking thing

The Earl flew into a rage. Thorkel barely escaped with his life. He went into exile in Caithness.

Thorkel later became the foster-father of Earl Einar’s half-brother, Thorfinn. For this he was afterwards called Thorkel the Fosterer. 

Vikings sailing in longships

Peace talks were eventually held to reconcile the two men. Each was to host a conciliatory feast at his hall. The first was to be held at Thorkel’s home at Skaill in Deerness. (Skaill is from the Old Norse 'skali,' meaning drinking hall.)

Thorkel entertained Einar and some of his men with a feast. Next, it was Einar’s turn to host, but Thorkel detected the odour of rodent – in other words, he smelt a rat!

Illustration of Vikings in a drinking hall

Suspicious, Thorkel sent out spies while the Earl and his men lingered at Thorkel's hall. In three different places, the spies found armed men waiting to ambush and kill Thorkel. 

Armed with this information, Thorkel walked into his hall with his friend Hallvard, who was from the East Fjords of Iceland. There they found Earl Einar in a black mood.

“Aren’t you ready yet?” Einar growled.

“Yes, I’m ready now,” said Thorkel, and he brought his sword down on Einar’s skull, killing the Earl outright.

The dead Earl fell into the fire. 

“What a useless lot!” Hallvard said to the Earl's stunned men. “Can’t you pull the Earl out of the fire?”

Hallvard hooked his curved axe around the Earl’s neck and lifted his smouldering corpse onto a bench, before the two men ran outside to where a group of Thorkel’s men were waiting – fully armed.

Illustration of an armed Viking

The Earl's companions saw that he was dead, but no one raised a hand to avenge him.

Trowie mounds: if you go in, you might not get out

The mound at Dingieshowe was thought to be a notorious site for trows - Orkney's somewhat darker version of faeries. Indeed, all these large mounds were dreaded by local people.

I once heard of a Deerness man who had to walk home from Kirkwall past the large mounds at Langskaill - the Iron Age site of Mine Howe. To muster his courage, he first visited an ale-house to have a fortifying drink. 

Once he found his courage, the man continued on his way. But he kept a wary eye on on the mounds as he hurried past.

A few miles on, he was approaching the conspicuous mound of Dingieshowe. Naturally, the poor man had to visit another ale-house to top up his faltering fortifications before he could continue the journey.

We’re not told what the man's wife had to say when he finally arrived at home.

The story of Tam Bichan

Orkney folklore has it that Dingieshowe is the place where Tam Bichan disappeared into the mound, never to be seen again. Click on the arrow below, and I'll tell you the story.

Illustration of a man asleep on a trowie mound

Vikings, trows and a beautiful beach - what's not to love about Dingieshowe?

The first thing you'll find when you arrive is the welcome sight of a public toilet in the small car park.

Follow the path over the lovely sand dunes and you'll come to a beach that roars with great waves when the wind kicks up.

Sand dunes, Orkney, Scotland

But on calm nights, it's something special. Listen closely ... you can almost hear Tam's fiddle.

Moon rising over Dingieshowe Beach, Orkney, Scotland

Enjoy the beach, and when you're ready, make your way up the incline behind the beach to the mound to pay your respects.

You can help to preserve our history by not climbing on the mound, but you'll find that it's very photogenic. 

Sun sets behind the mound, Viking thing site in Orkney, Scotland

While you're out and about enjoying Orkney's beaches, you might notice trash cans sporting a 'Pick up 3 Pieces' sign.

Pick up 3 Pieces beach clean-up campaign, Orkney,Scotland

The idea is, if everyone grabs just three pieces of trash from the beach on his or her way out, we'll all be helping to keep Orkney pristine.

Trash picked up from the beach, Orkney, ScotlandThank you for helping to keep Orkney pristine.

When you come back to the car park, look across the road. You'll notice a line of WWII era 'dragon’s teeth' in the water. This was meant to be a barrier to stop tanks in the event of a German invasion from Norway.

Looking at them now, I have to think that the only way this defense might have stopped German tanks was if they stopped to point and laugh.

WWII defenses locally called dragon's teeth, Orkney, Scotland

Another beach tale

Click below to enjoy Assipattle and the Stoor Worm, as told by your friendly traditional Orcadian storyteller, Tom Muir.

~ Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh.

We hope you enjoy your visit to the Vikings' Dingieshowe.

Just remember, don't go into the mound!

Some Viking books you might enjoy:

As of this writing, the three books just below are available from The Orcadian Bookshop, who ship internationally.

Please click on the covers for information.

Viking Warrior Operations Manual, Angus Konstam - Orkneyology.com
Viking Law and Order, by Alexandra Sanmark - Orkneyology.com
Orkneyinga Saga, Penguin Classic

A few out of print and collectible books worth finding

These books aren't clickable. See our book hunting tips below. Good luck!

Orkney in the Sagas, by Tom Muir, Orkney storyteller, author, historian
The Shorter Orkneyinga Saga, by Tom Muir, Orcadian historian and traditional storyteller

Another one for the bairns

Looking for delightfully obscure Orkney books? 

We suggest a scrounge through the virtual book shelves of the reputable book sellers below.

But first, a hint or two to help fellow bibliophiles to track down that elusive book ...

Out-of-print Orkney book prices are often more reasonable on the AbeBooks and Waterstones websites than on Amazon, but not always.

It's a good idea to check them all if you can't find a decent deal. Sometimes one site is advertising a ridiculous price, while another has a very reasonable offer. Check back occasionally if you don't see what you want. New sellers and new offers are constantly added to these sites. 

And I'm sure I don't need to remind you of the happy chance that you'll discover unexpected bookish dainties while you browse.

Happy book hunting!

AbeBooks UK - AbeBooks has been acquired by Amazon, but many of their book sellers aren't on Amazon, so they're worth browsing. Most of the individual sellers on AbeBooks will ship internationally.

Waterstones - This UK-based company will ship internationally, too.

And last but not least, you can search in ...

Dingieshowe map

For a short (2.25 mi.) walk around the Dingieshowe area, see the map below.  Click here for more detailed instructions.

Go here if you'd like to know more about Viking thing sites.

Find more peedie adventures below

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Dingieshowe Beach, Orkney Islands, Scotland - a Viking thing site you can visit. Find out more at Orkneyology.com

Mermaid image (Rhonda's pages) and storyteller image (Tom's pages), and all other illustrations except where noted are here by the courtesy of our dear friend - Stromness author, artist and historian, Bryce Wilson MBE, who owns all copyrights. Thanks, Bryce!

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