Tales for Troubled Times

~ Folktale Archive ~

Tom's original greeting from what has become the Tales for Troubled Times folklore archive:

"In these 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. If ever there was a need for stories, then this is it.

I'm recording rough, one-take stories of favourite folk tales. I must admit, they are rougher than I would normally do. All the stumbles are left in. This is not about showcasing my storytelling skills. It's not about 'me', it's about us.

These are stories that I don't normally tell, as well as old favourites. The lack of an audience is a great miss. It is just me, alone in an attic bedroom with a small recording device on a cushion.

I hope you find some tales that help to get you through the day and imagine better days. Please take care and stay safe.

Love, Tom."

First a special treat:

Read more about the Orkney Storytelling Festival here.

The stories ...

The first stories are cameos borrowed from other pages.

Except as otherwise noted, all other tales are the rough and ready versions recorded during lockdown.

Tales especially for the bairns are here.


~ 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

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 Mound

The Orkney Islands folktale 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

Illustration by our dear friend, Bryce Wilson

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

The Mermaid Bride

A folktale from the Orkney island of Sanday

The Red and White Roses

A Faroese tale dealing with the harshness sometimes found in in humans ... and forgiveness.

Please note: sensitive listeners may find this wise tale upsetting. Proceed with caution.

Jonny in the Cradle

How to get rid of an unwanted fairy

The Selkie That Didna' Forget

Always do a favor for a selkie if you can. It's the right thing to do, anyway, but there's another reason ...

The Ugandan Fart Story

The true story of where farts go after ... well, you know

The Wreck of the Archangel

The true story of a shipwreck on the rocks of the Orkney island of Westray ... with a Muir family twist at the end!

The Minister and the Skull

A cautionary tale from the Scottish Travellers

Angus and Bride

An ancient Celtic myth

The Seal Killer

A folktale from Caithness showing that a seal isn't always what it seems to be

How the Mermaid Got Her Tail

An old Orkney myth

The Caithness Giant

An old Orkney Islands story about a giant from Caithness who loved to garden

The Miser's Ghost

An Icelandic tale showing why you should spend your money while you can


A traditional Orkney Islands folk tale about a magic vanishing island

Some of these tales are also available in Tom's folklore books.

~ 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 Traveller'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 ~

East of the Sun West of the Moon

Tom retells the classic Norwegian folktale

I Love You More Than Salt

A Scottish Travellers' tale about what's really important

The Trow's New Clothes

What not to do if you ever get your own house trow.

Kate Crackernuts

The tale of two devoted stepsisters, one of them particularly clever

Robbie Anderson and the Trows

 A Shetland folk tale: a fiddler gets a surprising - and fortuitous - invitation.

The Fairy Harp

A tale from Wales showing why you must never misuse a fairy's gift

Finn McCool and the Scottish Giant

The legend of how Ireland's Giant's Causeway came to be

The Three Fairies

A traditional Slovenian folktale

The Water Sprite

A folktale from Germany that teaches how to deal with pesky water sprites


A traditional folk story from Italy about a brave, young girl and her adventures

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    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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