Betty Corrigall’s grave is possibly the loneliest place in the world. As a young woman in the late 18th century, she was abandoned by her lover when he discovered she was pregnant.
Shunned by the local community and with no way out, Betty killed both herself and her unborn child. Their grave is located on wild and unconsecrated moorland on the Orcadian island of Hoy.
Betty’s story in greater detail
Betty Corrigall lived in the late 1700s at Greengairs Cottage near Rysa on the island of Hoy. Aged 27, she discovered she was pregnant by her sailor boyfriend, who deserted her. Betty was so ashamed she attempted to commit suicide.
The first time, she tried to drown herself by walking into the sea, but was spotted and stopped. Betty later hanged herself in the family barn. In those days, church law meant that those who took their own life could not be buried in consecrated ground such as a graveyard. Subsequently, neither the Laird of Hoy nor of Melsetter would let her be interred on their estates. This meant that she had to be buried on unconsecrated ground – the parish border between Hoy and North Walls – with the boundary line halving the coffin. So it was that there came to be a coffin buried in a peat bank with only a stick to mark its existence.
A twist in the tale
In 1936 or ’37, locals were digging on the moor and came across the corner of a wooden box. Thinking that it could contain treasure, but not sure what to do with it, they contacted the late Issac Moar, Hoy’s postmaster, who phoned the police for advice. They said to open it. Taking the spade to the corner of the box, the diggers revealed a pair of feet. Then they brought up the whole of the coffin and discovered that it contained the body of a young woman. Surprisingly, she was not a skeleton as the peat had preserved the body. The woman’s dark hair was long and her skin, which was tinged brown with the peat, was drawn in and wrinkled. The piece of rope which had been the noose lay beside the body, but turned to dust when exposed to the air
Betty Corrigall’s grave; location
Her grave is located about 50 yards from the main Hoy Road, near the Water of Hoy.