Sule Skerry: Part 2

From Orcadian Papers (1905)

With contributions from James Tomison, lighthouse keeper.


Vernon Hill The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry 1912

The island is cut up in a similar manner in several place, three of which are worthy of notice. At the east end there is a channel from 12 to 20 feet broad running nearly north and south and dividing off a part which adds at least 200 yards to the extreme length of the island. West from this, about 100 yards, there is a tunnel right through underneath the ground and at low water one can walk from end to end, a distance of 60 to 80 yards.

The inside measurements of this tunnel or cave are:- width, 10ft to 15ft, length, 15ft. During a storm in winter the sea rushes through with tremendous force. Again to the west of the lighthouse there are two goes, one opening to the S.E. and the other to the N.W., directly opposite each other and only separated by about 30 yards of rock and soil. At the upper end of each are incipient caves which show that the sea is quarrying away at the bottom and when it gets in a considerable distance the rocks overhead will tumble down for want of support.

This is particularly marked in the south goe at the upper end there are some hundreds of tons of rock overhanging with apparently very little support. In fact they overhang so much that one feels a little doubtful about standing beneath them.  An extra heavy sea at no very distant date will loosen their hold and shorten the space between the two goes. In addition to the landings mentioned there are some half a dozen other places where landings are occasionally made as necessity requires.

The lighthouse the erection of which by the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners was begun in the year 1892 is situated on the highest part of the island and is painted white which renders it very conspicuous during the daytime. It is elevated about 120 feet above high water mark and at night shows a flashing light all round the horizon the characteristics being group flashing in 30 seconds. The light is equal to 90,000 candle power visible eighteen miles and was first lighted in the autumn of the year 1895. It is attended by four light keepers three of whom are always on the island and one at the shore station in Stromness. They are relieved every fortnight by the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners’ tender ‘Pole Star’.

Life on Sule Skerry is very lonely but the routine of the keepers is such that they have no time to weary, the lens alone requires the attention of two men for about six hours daily and they are well provided with books papers and magazines with which they while away their leisure hours. Since the establishment of the lighthouse on Sule Skerry the island has under its keepers become anything but the dreary place it was to begin with. They have imported rabbits which have increased abundantly and they have also a number of goats and poultry which thrive on it and give a supply of good milk and fresh eggs.

The seals that frequented the island before the advent of the lighthouse and keepers seemed to resent the company of workmen and keepers alike and for a time left the island altogether but recently they have begun to put in an appearance and come back to their old haunts notwithstanding the powerful light and  the presence of man, Sule Skerry would thus appear to be a good place for the study of natural history in many forms and the light keepers who turn their attention to the scene appear to find interesting matter especially during the migratory season.

Sule Skerry

The Stack:

….is a bold rock surrounded by deep water 4 1/2 mles S.W. by W. from Sule Skerry and rises to a height of 120 feet above high water mark. On approaching the rock from the south and while still in the distance it has the appearance of a ship under sail. This pinnacled rock is the home of the solan goose and in the breeding season has a very lively appearance being practically white with birds. At one time these birds were much sought after by adventurous men both from Orkney and the distant Lewis who made periodical visits to the rock in small boats in search of them. Many tales of daring adventure and hair breadth escapes are told in connection with these excursions but since the passing of the Wild Birds Protection Acts the practice has ceased. Yet this bold rock still remains a menace to the mariner should he unhappily be driven too close to its dangerous crags during misty weather and when the friendly rays of Sule Skerry are unobservable.

The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry

Caorolyn Allan and Jenny Keldie sing the song and explain it’s meaning to Phil Cunningham. Click on the link above to watch the video

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