Storytelling in Orkney

In centuries gone by, stories were often told naturally and spontaneously. Long winter evenings were spent by the fire, and while the women sewed or knitted, tales would be shared between young and old.

Sometimes the stories were simply family anecdotes; their retelling kept alive the names and lives of ancestors long gone. These stories gave people a sense of identity, and provided a way of belonging to a particular place or culture.

Other stories could be of the epic kind, featuring heroes and monsters, whose adventures could lead to the formation of lochs and mountains, such as the story of Assipattle which gave Orkney its very own creation myth.

By the fireside, folk would enjoy old favourites alongside new stories brought by visitors and travellers. As the evenings grew late and the children were heading for bed, the stories might become more grown-up in nature – youngsters permitted to listen could pick up lots of interesting information about the adult world, as well as learning valuable lessons about the difference between good and bad.

Now, in the 21st Century, we have hundreds of different leisure activities to amuse and distract us. Storytelling still goes on, but takes different forms: a joke told in a pub, a story about a bad day at work, family histories inspired by an interest in genealogy… they are all forms of storytelling.

The Orcadian Story Trust aims to capture Orkney’s tales, and promote their retelling. We also want to support new forms of storytelling and keep alive the oral tradition in a modern world!