The Hogboon of Helliehow

On impulse, we took the ferry out to Sanday, but quickly discovered that 24 hours was nowhere near enough time to explore everything we wanted to see there.

One thing I wanted to explore in particular, was Helliehow up in the north end of Sanday. I have been into mound folklore lately, especially those stories which were widespread in Orkney in the past about mounds being inhabited by a type of creature known as the Hogboon or Hogboy. Helliehow in Sanday is one of these. The name intrigues me: It seems to mean holy mound in Old Norse. The Hogboon also comes from Norse folklore, and was originally an ancestor spirit. However, through the Medieval period it was transformed into more of a supernatural guardian of the mound, sometimes defending a buried treasure.

Stone Age object found at Helliehow, Sanday

Stone Age object found at Helliehow, Sanday

From Hellihowe there’s a lovely story about how the Hogboon was a guardian spirit of the farm by the same name. As long as people gave it offerings of food and drink and were good to it, everything went well. However, one day a new wife moved in, who didn’t respect the Hogboon. This had such disastrous results that the family in the end saw no other solution than to move away from the farm. As their were driving away, however, they turned to look at the horse cart with all their possessions, and who should they see sitting on top of the cart but the Hogboon, who exclaimed: It’s a fine day for a flitting!

I also know this exact same story from Norway.

Other Hogboons were scarier. The one living in Maeshowe, for example, was said to be extremely strong.

This morning, we decided we were in the mood to look for Hogboons, so we went up to Helliehow farm. It is in ruins now — Clearly a proof of what happens if you are not good to the Hogboon! We found some clues of its presence, though: Our little boys found a hole where he might have been hiding, and the shell of a Hogboon egg!

Christopher and I were more interested in locating the mound which gave its name to the farm: The ‘holy mound’. No obvious candidate presented itself (an observation which I now see is shared by the Royal Commission). Between the farm and the shore there was a slight rise with some stonework protruding. It could be a potential candidate. Some could also have been lost to coastal erosion. Behind the farm our nine year old boy exclaimed: “I’ve found the mound!” but he turned out to be standing on the remains of a 19th century horsemill. Unless it was built out of something older? In the distance, at Whitemill Point, we could see a huge mound, but it seemed quite far away to be the right one.

Christopher did, however, pick up something else which turned out to be the star find of the day: An absolutely beautiful Stone Age pecked tool. Did it belong to the Hogboon? We left it where we found it, just in case.

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