Cairn, Birsay, Fairy Folk, Mainland, Orkney, Scotland

Birsay cairn built by fairy folk? These mysterious constructions can be found throughout the island of Mainland, and I would love to photograph them all! Location: Orkney, Scotland


Birsay (Old Norse: Birgisherað) is a coastal parish in the north west corner of Mainland. While its land is mainly devoted to agriculture, it also has its fair share of monuments.



A cairn is a human-made pile (or stack) of stones. The word comes from the Scottish Gaelic càrn. Cairns have had a broad variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present. Therefore, they are often landmarks, a use they have have had since time immemorial. However, they have also been used as burial monuments and for ceremonial purposes, sometimes relating to astronomy. In addition, they function as markers for locating buried items such as caches of food.


Fairy folk

Curiously, the average Orcadian cannot see these supernatural creatures. Nonetheless, a 19th century writer described them as being “short in stature, with small faces and yellow complexion. Fairy folk have red eyes and green teeth. They dress uniformly in dark grey. Both sexes wear murat [natural brown wool] mittens.” Furthermore, trows are the most common species of fairy folk. Moreover, they are warlike creatures and are greatly feared. Consequently, trows delight in stealing new born babies and leaving changelings in their place.