Tales for Troubled Times

~ 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.

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  • First a special treat:

    Read more about the Orkney Storytelling Festival here.

    Below are the audio stories

    The first titles are links which 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

    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 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 selkie story/song collaboration between Tom and our dear friends Katarina Juvančič and Dejan Lapanja.

    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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    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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