Stormy Weather

By Bernie Bell

Mike was talking with someone about Storm Arwen and discussing the places in Orkney which are more sheltered, and which are more exposed.  I’d rather they hadn’t called the storm Arwen, which means ’good’ or ‘fair’ in Welsh – and Arwen is Aragorn’s Elf-lady in Lord of the Rings. 

What should they call them?  Maybe after destructive Gods and Goddesses – Set, Titan, Kali…..

The man Mike was talking with was telling of the storm of 1952 ( before he was born, but he has the stories).

He was saying that most of the land in Shapinsay used to be owned by the Balfour family, in fact he said that Shapinsay was often referred to as ’Balfour’. The 1952 storm did so much damage that the landowners were reluctant/unable to pay for all the repairs needed, and preferred to sell farms at low prices to the tenants, who could therefore buy land which had been rented for generations, and make the repairs themselves.

And so, land moved out of the grip of the traditional owners, and into the hands of those who actually worked it. Hurrah!

The other story he told was – that Orkney used to play a large part in egg production – supplying to Scotland, and even further South. Then, in the 1952 storm many hen houses were smashed and hens were, literally, blown away.

He says his older relatives remembered hen houses being blown out to sea, with hens perched on top of them!

We thought these were interesting bits of Orkney history, especially the land ownership shifting in that way. The tenants couldn’t have bought that land but for the extensive damage done by the storms. Storm clouds with silver linings!

Someone else mentioned taking to her bed to keep warm as there was a power cut in her area, and I reminded her of the story I wrote about the family of 14 in Eynhallow – where I said the winter nights were long and cold and there wasn’t any telly.

I seem to remember that the same was true in the power cuts during the strikes of the early ‘70’s – sudden increase in the birth rate afterwards!

I’m sitting here with a torch next to me, for Justin Casey.  And being very pleased that we finally managed to get a stove installed!

If anyone has further info/stories of the storm of ’52, please tell!

Storm Arwen as it started to hit Orkney Image credit Kenny Armet

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