Birsay

Towns & Villages

    Birsay, in Orkney's West Mainland, boasts the ruins of the once mighty Earl's Palace.

    Occupying the northwest corner of the Mainland, the parish of Birsay was the centre of Norse power in Orkney for several centuries before the earls moved to Kirkwall, some time after the construction of its cathedral. Today a tiny cluster of homes is gathered around the sandstone ruins of the Earl's Palace, which was built in the second half of the 16th century by Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney, using the forced labour of the islanders, who weren't even given food and drink for their work!

    By all accounts, it was a 'sumptuous and stately dwelling', built in four wings around a central courtyard, its upper rooms decorated with painted ceilings and rich furnishings; surrounding the palace were flower and herb gardens, a bowling green and archery butts. The palace appears to have lasted barely a century before falling into rack and ruin; the crumbling walls and turrets retain much of their grandeur, although inside there is little remaining domestic detail.

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