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Deerness, Orkney

Historical Description

DEERNESS, for a time a quoad sacra parish, in the parish of St. Andrew's, county of Orkney, 12 miles (S. E.) from Kirkwall; containing, with the island of Copinshay, 777 inhabitants. This place, the name of which is supposed to have originated in the number of deer frequenting it in ancient times, is a peninsula about four miles in length, and from one to three miles in breadth, connected with the rest of the Mainland by a narrow isthmus. It is bounded on the west and north-west by the harbour of Deer Sound, which separates it from the remainder of the parish of St. Andrew's, and on the south and east by the North Sea. According to tradition, the whole of the peninsula was one wide forest; and roots and trunks of trees, and the antlers of deer, have from time to time been dug up at a considerable depth. The surface is varied with gentle elevations, and towards the north-east rises into a lofty promontory called the Mull head, about 200 feet above the level of the sea: the soil is not unfertile, and considerable improvement has taken place in the system of agriculture, and in the construction of implements of husbandry.

Deer Sound is more than four miles in length, and from one to two miles and a half in breadth; the bottom is clay mixed with sand, and the depth of water sufficient to render it accessible to vessels of considerable burthen, to which it affords safe anchorage and shelter from the winds. The situation of this place is peculiarly favourable for a fishing-station; and in addition to the various kinds of fish taken off the coast, the herring-fishery is carried on to a very considerable extent, affording during the season full employment to fifty boats, each having four men and a boy. Facility of communication with Kirkwall and other parts of the Mainland, is afforded by one of the best roads in this part of the country. Cattle and grain are sent to Leith, to which place there are regular packets, and a steamer in summer. The district was separated from the parish of St. Andrew's for ecclesiastical purposes in May 1830; it is in the presbytery of Kirkwall, synod of Orkney, and in the patronage of the Crown. Deerness church is a plain building, erected about the close of the last century, and affords sufficient accommodation for the inhabitants. The stipend of the minister is £120, with a manse, and about three acres of glebe land. A school is supported by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, who pay the master a salary of £12 per annum, to which £3 are added by the heritors. Near the summit of Mull head was formerly an ancient chapel of very difficult access, to which numerous pilgrims were accustomed to resort; there are also some tumuli and remains of Picts' houses in the district. In the north-east end of the parish is an excavation, or gloupe, as it is here called, about 150 paces in length and sixty in breadth, the entrance into which is below ground, and admits of a boat sailing into it. See Copinshay.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis