The original Skaill house was built in 1620, by Bishop Graham of Orkney (1615-1638). Over time, it’s evolved into the structure that can be seen today, by the commitment and developments carried out by successive owners.
The Skaill house is situated close to the neolithic village of Skara Brae, which was unearthed in 1850 by the owner of the property, William Graham Watt, the 7th Laird of Breckness.
In 1997, the Skaill House was opened to the public after undergoing extensive restoration work, returning the house to its former glory as a family home, which it had been used as in the 1950s.
Due to the extensive restoration work, Captain Cook’s dinner service, neolithic and iron age finds, Stanley Cursiter paintings, the Bishop’s original bed, among many more interesting items that have been collected over the years by the twelve Lairds of Skaill, can all be seen in the Skaill House today.
The name ‘Skaill’ is derived from the Old Norse word for hall, continuing the tradition, in which most of the farmsteads north and south of the Bay of Skaill also have Norse names. This suggests that the area has been continuously farmed for at least a thousand years, and further archeological evidence also supports this claim.
The Settlers of Orkney
The Skaill House is widely visited by tourists to Orkney, but close by, the neolithic village of Skara Brae is also widely visited, and considered to be one of the most astounding prehistoric monuments in Europe.
How the village was discovered is a remarkable story in itself.
In the winter of 1950, a fierce storm battered Orkney. Though storms are not unusual for the location, this storm was different. The winds were so strong, that large mounds of grassland were stripped away, revealing patchy brickwork beneath.
What lay beneath the grass mounds amazed William Graham Watt. There were stone remnants of buildings, which unsurprisingly provoked his interest, and led William to launch a much larger excavation.
In the 1970’s, radiocarbon tests were carried out which confirmed the settlement dated back to the neolithic. It is thought to have been inhabited for around 600 years, between 3200BC and 2200BC.
The current settlement which can be seen today, consists of eight buildings, which are linked together by numerous passages.
The mounds which covered the settlement have helped preserve them remarkably well for 4,000 years.
Fifteen Norse Skeletons Founds
The house is known to have been built on a burial ground.
Work was underway to prepare the house in preparation for its grand opening to the public, when under the gravel of the east porch, and just south of the south wing, fifteen skeletons were found.
Skeletons were also found under the floorboards of the main hall, which were removed to be replaced by oak flooring. The skeletons were placed back in their graves, where they remain to this day.
Radio Carbon dating tests were carried out, which confirmed that these skeletons were Norse.
Hauntings of The Skaill House
Major Malcolm Macrae, the Laird of Breckness, claims he witnessed a series of strange events while working in the Skaill House’s apartments surrounding the courtyard in 1991.
He claimed to have heard footsteps coming from outside the rooms, in the corridor outside at around 10:30pm.
His dog began barking, before it bolted out into the corridor. Following his dog, he found that there was nobody there.
He later claimed that what he had heard that night, must have been the ghost of Ubby.
Ubby was a man who had built a small island in the middle of Skaill Loch, many years prior.
The story of Ubby is that he used a small vessel to ship out a large amount of stones, continuously pouring them into the water, after a while, his mound formed a little island. It’s said that he died while on the island he had built, and now his spirit roams the Loch, and the grounds of the Skaill House.
One guest at the house claimed that he was just about to fall asleep, when he suddenly felt the weight of someone sitting down on the corner of the bed.
Scared, he jumped up, and as soon as he did, he felt the weight of the presence get up and leave. There was nobody else in the house at the time.
Other ghostly movements and presences have been heard and felt in the house, but there’s only a couple of occurrences in the Skaill House which have been reported as sightings of full blown apparitions.
The cleaners were in the courtyard early one morning, when they claimed to have witnessed the ghostly apparition of a woman, standing just inside the door of one of the apartments.
The cleaners were in agreement that the occupants of the apartment had not yet left, so they decided to leave the apartment until later to be cleaned. They later found out that the occupants of the apartment had already left for Orkney, and the apartment in which the woman had been seen, was in fact empty at the time.
After discovering the room was empty, the only explanation the cleaners had for the sighting, was that the woman must have been a ghost.
As tourists and staff members have come and gone from the Skaill House, a few more sightings of apparitions have been reported over the years.
One employee claimed she saw the reflection of a man in the shop, however, when she searched the shop to see who was there with her, nobody else could be seen.
Another tourist in the Skaill House claimed she had a question answered in the tone of a male voice in the gun room, but no male staff members were present working that day.
The final eerie report of hauntings at the Skaill House came again from Malcolm Macrae, the owner of the property. He claimed he was in his office up in the attic, when he caught the distinct smell of cigarette smoke. Another employee also claimed to smell the smoke, but no source for the smell could be found.
The Skaill House is renowned for its location and beauty, but it’s also becoming increasingly popular for its stories of ghostly occurrences and historic significance.