At last, after two failed attempts, we have conquered Kit Huntling’s. This is a site far away into the peat hills between Harray and Evie parishes. We first tried to get to it from the wrong direction, which meant wading through waist-deep heather and climbing the ups and downs of rows and rows of old peat banks — too much for our little boys. This time, though, we had taken some good advice from a Harray farmer, and found a better route. So to get to Kit Huntling’s, turn in by the Smithfield Hotel in Dounby, follow the road to a big windmill, and then walk along the peat track that runs over to Evie. Some way along, you will see Kit Huntling’s in the hillside on the left, where a burn cuts a small gorge and there’s a green spot with trees. Yes, there is some heather wading involved, but not nearly as bad as from the other direction.
The site is this beautiful little green bit on the steep bank of the burn, up on the hillside, with a grove of trees below. You can see stones sticking up out of the heather with the hint of structures underneath. Most visible is the flight of cute little stone steps, leading down the steep bank to the stream. The site seems prehistoric, but there’s a folk story about it which claims it was built in the 18th century. Most likely, the story has been made up to fit the visible structures there.
The story, which is published in Around the Orkney Peat Fires, tells of the old woman Kit or Kate Huntling or Huntley, who built a small stone house and the stone steps there in the wilderness to keep her son safe from the Press Gang who wanted to enlist him in the war against France. They managed to hide safely there for a while, but one day the Press Gang came to her little house nonetheless. So clever Kit Huntling gets the men drunk on heather ale, while her son hides in a hole outside.
Now, the story takes two directions. In one version, the Press Gang men start fighting with each other and tear each other’s clothes off in the fight. Poor Kit is brought to court in Kirkwall, accused of having torn the clothes off the men.
In the other, she pulls the main beam of the roof out, to let the house collapse on the drunk Press Gang officers!
PS: Christopher found the hiding hole by falling into it.