Bernie’s Stories: Skaill House

Skaill House F Grahane

Skaill House (F Grahame)

We’d never been into Skaill House, as it gave me the creeps. We’d go to Skaill Bay, a lot, and to Skara Brae, now and then, but I’d look at Skaill House, and something said “no” – something about it, didn’t welcome me. Friend Andrew (Appleby) said that I should go there, to see what it is that gives me the creeps ( quite right, too) he also said that I should ask Malcolm MacRae about the bones. I asked what bones? He said to ask Malcolm MacRae!

Fair enough.  So, a few years passed – we never went into Skaill House, until one November night in 2015………….

The Jo Philby Band were playing there. We arrived, all fine, greeted by Lauren, who ‘manages’ Skaill House. We went upstairs to the concert room. All fine. I said it’d go to the loo and have a look round, before it started, as we were quite early.

As I went out of the room, I met someone I know, who was also hunting for a loo, she said that the Ladies, was in Mrs. Scarth’s bathroom I asked “Who’s Mrs. Scarth?”  She didn’t know, either, but we found the loo. As I waited, I thought I saw movement in the bedroom, next door, so I turned, to look properly.  There was no-one to be seen, but, there was someone in the room. I stood at the door, with a feeling I shouldn’t go in, and looked round.  The idea was, that she doesn’t like folk looking at her things, and going into her bedroom. I realized that this was Mrs. Scarth, and this was her bedroom, next to her bathroom.  She’s not pleased, at folk going into her room, willy-nilly and looking, and touching. I can see her point.

Then, loo was free, so ……..

Then, I went downstairs to have a look round, and there was a man standing with Lauren, who I thought would be likely to be Malcolm MacRae .  So, I asked if he was Malcolm MacRea – he was, indeed. So, I told him about how we’ve  never gone into the house etc., and about Andrew saying to ask about the bones. So…..first he told me about the two burials which were found under the hall floor, and are still there. Fine, they’re long gone, not a twinge. Then he told me of how he’d been having some work done outside, and they found a whole Christian ( I think early Christian?) burial ground, which, presumably, goes under the house, as well.  He told me of a young woman’s burial, with a small baby – possibly died in childbirth, she’s just by the front door. And of a burial where the skull has a stone either side of the head, and one on the forehead. I suggested that maybe this was to do with some idea of the skull being the seat of the mind, and that the stones, were to kind-of ‘keep him in’, so that this person wouldn’t be roaming, after death?  If it was an early Christian burial, there was still a lot of over-lap with the old ways.  Could it even be that they believed that certain kinds of stone, would be better at ‘keeping the spirit in’, than others?

All in all, though, I wasn’t getting anything in particular from all this.  It’s just what’s so……it’s what it is, and how it is.  If these folk were buried in the way they wanted to be buried, and were content with that, they will have just been folk – some pleasant, some OK, some horrid, as are all folk, incarnate or dis-incarnate. And, they have now been left in peace, where they were interred, in the first place. Also, it’s a long time ago, and most them should have had the sense to move on, by now.  As far as the burial site goes, I think it’s ok, and maybe I’d need to have a walk round, to feel anything otherwise. I told Malcolm MacRae that. He then said there are all kinds of stories . I asked is he receptive to these things, or does he “poo-poo.” He told me his own first experience of  a presence in the house, when he was fixing a plug in one of the flats – so, he  does accept these things.  As an aside, he said that a lot of this activity is in the flats – I wonder if it’s a case of them not liking all those folk traipsing in and out, and it changing all the time, and it being divided up, instead of being rooms, as it was.  The main events in the house where I grew up, started when my Dad put up a partition to make two rooms, out of one – just a thought, there may be more un-rest in the flats….because….they’re flats! And the old folk, don’t see the idea, or don’t like it?

Anyhoo, next….he told me about….young Ubby.  Now that, interested me.  A very interesting young person.  I thought I’d like to meet him, if he’d like to meet me!  A very interesting young person.

Then Malcolm noted that we had a minute to the performance, so, I scooted up-stairs!

I sat listening to Jo & Co. and…..I was told that young Ubby, was what would be called Autistic, these days.  He wasn’t a delinquent child, as described, or ‘simple’ as also described.  He was Autistic, and mis-understood. They simply didn’t understand, why on earth he behaved as he did. He wasn’t downright crazy, enough to be taken away and locked up. He also wasn’t dangerous or harmful, in fact, he was/is a very amiable lad.  But, he was decidedly odd, and they didn’t know what to do with him, so they confined him to a certain part of the house, where he could be kept an eye on, apart from being allowed out in his boat, which occupied him, harmlessly – always under supervision. I did ask who was telling me this, as I could tell it wasn’t Ubby himself, as it was all very clearly presented, and also, a grown-up. It was Sir Charles Bell (of Bell’s Palsy fame) Mike’s Great-great-great uncle, who was a neurologist ( that figures).  So, the idea was, that I see Malcolm, and tell him this, as it’s a bit un-fair on the lad, to be labelled as delinquent or simple, when he had a condition which is now recognized, and which can even be very productive, and inspired.  I did think that  dropping stones in the same place in the loch, fitted with the idea of autistic behaviour, but that’s just me, thinking through the general idea  – I wasn’t told that.

Skaill House B Bell

Ubby’s Place Skaill House ( B Bell)

The fact that I was given the  info. about Ubby, didn’t necessarily mean he’d want to make contact with me – I had a feeling he would though, as us odd-bods, do like to meet up. That’s something else, I think he’s still there because he likes the company!  He likes to have company. It’s always best if they can move on, best for them, best all round, but, he likes the company.  It’s not all that long since he passed, so, he’s staying for a while. As to who he wants to make contact with – it’s up to him.  I am intrigued by him, and do feel that he’s an interesting chap, who could have/would have produced some inventive and creative …work, if his condition had been understood, at the time.  I think he was happy enough, in a way – they kept his life simple, he had a routine, and that suited him.

Meanwhile, Jo & Co were giving a lovely concert.

So, come the Interval, I said I wanted to show Mike Mrs. Scarth’s room, and see what he thought.  So, we went to Mrs. Scarth’s bedroom door – no further in than that!  There were quite a few people in there, admiring, yes, admiring her things , but….she really, really doesn’t like it!  They weren’t being dis-respectful of her things, quite the opposite, but, she just doesn’t like it, and, again, I can see her point.  I know, those folk think she’s long gone, and they’re just looking round an empty room, but, if they did get the idea of her continued presence, they might understand by relating it to how they’d feel if someone went into their bedroom, and looked, and touched, and commented! A bedroom is a very personal place.  One lad who was in there, asked did I “feel the vibes” as he’s come across me before. I said yes, and that Mrs. Scarth, didn’t like folk being in her bedroom, at all!  Which shook him up a bit!

Anyway, next thing, we went into the Bishop’s bedroom, which made a clear contrast. An empty room, Bishop not there, no-one there, an empty bedroom, full of old things. Interesting, but…empty.

So, we had a wander round, and went back for the second half of the concert.

Malcolm and Lauren were doing the raffle, so, before they got going, I took the opportunity to tell him about young Ubby being Autistic. He did ask was that my interpretation of it, and I said no, I’d been told that, but, the dropping stones in the loch bit, as a sign of Autism, was just my interpretation.

After the show, I went to the loo, again ( middle aged bladder – long-ish journey home!). As I passed Mrs. Scarth’s door, it was almost as if she was calling “Here, here, come here” quite imperiously! I said, just a minute! and went to the loo, then, went and stood in the doorway again. A very strong idea, again, of her not being best pleased about the situation. I said  yes, I can see her point,  but what can I do about it? Maybe if a cord was put right across the door-way so that folk didn’t actually go in, that would be better? She still isn’t happy at the idea of them looking into her bedroom, but it’s the going in and touching, which really gets her goat. So, I said I’d mention that, if I ever get the chance. She’s a very strong-willed woman.

All in all, there’s a lot going on in that house.  After all these years of not wanting to even go inside, both Mike and I, now wanted to go and visit again, properly. Have a real walk round, see the place, feel the place, maybe meet some more of the folk there, maybe not – it’s up to them! I don’t go for calling them, I think it’s up to them, whether they want to meet me, or not. Some folk, want to meet some folk, some want to meet other folk, others are oblivious to our existence!

Andrew was absolutely right, I needed to go and see why it gave me the creeps – but I didn’t want to!  Willful little bear, that I am.  Having made an initial connection, I thought it could become a place we will like to be.  Young Ubby is certainly someone I think I’d like to meet.  Mrs. Scarth is a strong woman, not at all unpleasant, just a strong character, who is mightily annoyed at all this intrusion. She wasn’t even being ratty with me about it, she just took the opportunity to let someone know, when that opportunity arose.  That’s a strong family – strong personalities.

When I looked at Skaill House, yes, it gave me the creeps – something said “no”, but, is that because there’s just so much there? there’s so much to it, that it gives off a strong…….whatever it is it gives off!  It’s only by going there, and meeting the place, you could even say meeting the Spirit of Place ( and everywhere has one of those), that a person can take stock of how they actually feel about it.

A similar thing happened with the Eagle Cairn – similar, in a way. I went into the cairn, when I was ready and it was ready, to receive me. Things do tend to happen, when they’re ready to.

That’s something else – I do think it’s rude when folk call them “ghosts” and say they’re scary – this is people’s family that they’re talking about. Just because they’re dead, doesn’t make them “scary”. I think that’s just rude.

There’s an awful lot going on there – figures, though, there will have been folk there, as long as there have been folk – a very good position – everything you need to make a living. – all down the ages – and many of those ages, are represented, in that house, in its contents, around that house, and under that house!

Mike and I are spreading the word, that there’s nothing ‘creepy’ there, or, I’ve not encountered anything, so far!  The place has a great feel to it, a strong feel ( and that can deter folk, sometimes – as they can be ‘put off ‘ by a strong personality), but, I think it has a generally good feel to it, and if it doesn’t, in places, then it’s for us to work out why, and maybe even help, if possible.

Bernie Bell is a regular contributor to The Orkney News

Skaill House website 


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