The Dwarfie Stane and Scott

Explore Scott's diary of his voyage around Scotland’s coast in summer 1814

In summer 1814, Scott kept a diary of his voyage around Scotland’s coast, sailing with the Commissioners of the Northern Lights - the board responsible for Scotland’s lighthouses. 

After visiting the Ring of Brodgar earlier in the day, Scott’s party set off from Stromness in the evening. He writes that they ‘about four o’ clock took our long-boat and rowed down the bay to visit the Dwarfie Stone of Hoy. We have all day been pleased with the romantic appearance of that island’.

The Dwarfie Stane in Orkney is the only wholly rock-cut prehistoric tomb in the British Isles.

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Listen to 'Pillow Cold'

Listen to Walter Scott’s account of visiting the Dwarfie Stane in August 1814.

Read 'Pillow Cold'

We land upon the island and proceed up a long and very swampy valley broken into peatbogs…
Upon the slope of [the] last hill… lies the Dwarfie Stone. It is a huge sandstone rock, of one solid stone, being about seven feet high, twenty-two feet long and seventeen feet broad. The upper end of this stone is hewn into a sort of apartment containing two beds of stone and a passage between them. The uppermost and largest is five feet eight inches long, by two feet broad and furnished with a stone pillow. The lower, supposed to be for the Dwarf’s Wife, is shorter and rounded off, instead of being square at the corners…

Opposite this stone and proceeding from it in a line down the valley are several small barrows and there is a very large one on the same line, at the spot where we landed. This seems to indicate that the monument is of heathen times and probably was meant as [a] temple…There are no symbols of Christian devotion, and the door points westward; it therefore does not seem to have been the abode of a hermit, as Dr Barry has suggested.

The Orcadians have no tradition on the subject, excepting that they believe it to have been the work of a dwarf to whom, like their ancestors, they attribute supernatural powers and malevolent disposition. They conceive he may be seen sometimes sitting at the door of his abode, but he vanishes on nearer approach. Whoever inhabited this den certainly enjoyed pillow cold and sheets not warm.

Sir Walter Scott - Celebrating 250 Years

In 2021-22, Scotland celebrates the 250th anniversary of one of its most famous sons, Sir Walter Scott. This online exhibition and audio trail of his legacies is part of the celebrations.

'Pillow Cold' has been performed by Edinburgh actor Gavin Paul, who is looking forward to visiting some of these important historical sights.