Tales for Troubled Times

In these uncertain, surreal days of illness and self-isolation due to COVID-19 I found myself wondering what more I can do to help people get through the long days. I felt that if ever there was a need for stories, then this is it.

I have decided to do some rough, one-take stories of favourite folk tales to post on Orkneyology.com. I must admit, they are rougher than I would normally do, but I felt that speed was of importance. So, all the stumbles are left in. This is not about showcasing my storytelling skills, but an attempt to get stories out there for young and old as quickly as possible and at regular intervals. It's not about 'me', it's about us.

These are stories that I don't normally tell, as well as old favourites, and the lack of an audience is a great miss. It is just me, alone in our library with a small recording device on a cushion and with cars and vans driving past our house in the street outside.

I hope you find something that you like and that it helps to get you through the day. Please take care and stay safe.

Love, Tom.

You'll notice that the first titles are links. These lead to other pages on Orkneyology where the story was originally placed and where you can find more details.

All the other tales on this page are the rough and ready versions.

Tales especially for the bairns are here.


* Check back regularly for new stories.

~ Tales for everyone ~

Bessie Millie and Mamie Scott

Hear about the Stromness weather witches of long ago and learn why you should never steal a witch's duck!

Edwin Muir's
"The Horses"

A haunting poem by Orkney poet Edwin Muir

The Happy Valley Coffin Story

A humorous tale from Orkney's beloved Happy Valley

The Hogboon of Hellihowe

Find out how to stay on the right side of the hogboons - an important thing to know in Orkney!

Dancing Giants

What happens when giants get carried away with their dancing?

The Story of St Magnus

Hear the story of Orkney's patron saint, the Norse earl Magnus Erlendsson. (Settle in with a cup of tea. This one's a longer tale, as any self-respecting saga should be.)

Pirate John Gow and the Odin Stone

What does a young pirate from Orkney have to do with the Odin Stone? (Bairn warning - somewhat gruesome)

Death of the Mainland Faeries

Why do you never see faeries in Orkney's West Mainland anymore?

The Fiddler and the Trow

The tale of Tam Bichan, who mysteriously disappeared one midsummer day

The Hattie Man o' Ree

How did the Hattie Man stone come to Graemsay?

The Press Gang

How Orcadian men - and women - dealt with the dreaded press gangs during the Napoleonic Wars

The White Lady of Clestrain ~
an Orkney ghost story

The tragic tale of a nasty laird and his unfortunate wife

Wreck of the Albion

The true story of a ship wrecked near the island of Graemsay and the good that came of the tragedy

The Dancers Under the Hill

The story of a fairy mound

Tom wants to correct his mention of the dig at Howe. It was 1978, not 1977.

The Westray Storm Witch

The story of the storm witch of Westray, based on a real person.

Gunn Woman

Áine King's wonderful short play is performed by local artists Jennifer Wrigley, Bruce Mainland and Antony Hodgson, who recorded the story at Áine and Antony's beautiful home, Highland Park House.

Why the Sea is Salt

A tale from the Viking age that explains why the sea is salt

The Everlasting Battle

A legend from the Viking age

Sigurd the Powerful

A tale from the Orkneyinga Saga

The Selkie Wife

A selkie tale from Orkney

How Tam Scott Lost His Sight

An Orkney finfolk tale

The Selkie Lover

A strange thing happens when a Stronsay lady is unhappy in her marriage

A Wartime in Graemsay Story

A wartime story of the clever folks living on the island of Graemsay

The Mither o' the Sea

An ancient Orkney tale of seasons

The Swan Maiden

A Swedish tale of a magical bride

The Trows of Trowie Glen

A tale from the magical Trowie Glen on the island of Hoy

~ Tales especially for the bairns ~

The Midgies and the Giant

An unexpected turn of events when villagers kill a horrible giant (Warning: a bit gruesome, but only in the fairytale way that bairns love)

The Three Feathers

A tale of three brothers who want to rule the kingdom - but which is the wisest?

The Three Heads in the Well

Would you wash three magical heads in a well if they asked you to? Find out why you might want to consider it, if it ever happens to you.

The Enchanted Cooking Pot

Scottish Traveler's tale about a pot with a mind of its own

Silly Jack and the Princess

Sometimes a good heart is more important than a wise head.


A Scottish Cinderella tale

Whuppity Stoorie

A Scottish Rumplestiltskin tale

Assipattle and the Stoorworm
~ For Erin ~

A Viking age creation tale

Mallie and the Trow

A Shetland tale of generosity and kindness

Dedicated to Shetland storyteller and our dear friend

~ Lawrence Tulloch ~

You might like these pages, too!

  • Orkney Folklore Trail - Explore Orkney Through Legend, Myth, Folklore

    Download our free, self-guided Orkney Folklore Trail. Drive Orkney's beautiful west coast with stories by native Orcadian storyteller and folklorist, Tom Muir.

  • Orkney Storytelling Lives Again

    Not that long ago, traditional Orkney storytelling was breathing its last. Today, an acclaimed "little festival with a big heart" is going strong, welcoming storytellers from all over the globe. How did the storytelling revival begin, and how can you take part?

  • Books by Tom Muir - Orcadian Folklorist, Storyteller and Historian

    Books by Tom Muir - The Orcadian storyteller and folklorist tells traditional tales from his native Orkney Islands. His humorous delight comes through the stories. Tom wears another hat, as well - that of historian. Visit Orkneyology.com to discover Tom's world of stories.

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Hear some audio folk tales by Orkney Islands storyteller Tom Muir. Tales for Troubled Times to soothe your soul during the COVID-19 scare or anytime you're feeling like a good story from Scotland.

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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