Upper Grain

Upper Grain, or the Breck o’ Grain, was also known as The Slap. In 1851 it was occupied by Isabella Inkster, widow of John Leonard of Grain, and by that time she was in her 74th year. She earned what money she could by knitting stockings, but she finally passed away in 1865 at the age of 89.

Living at the Breck o’ Grain in 1871 was Isabella Craigie, for which she paid rent of 12s., though over the years this fell gradually to 6s. in 1878/9 and 1s. in 1885. She was known as ‘Bell o’ the Slap’ and had a reputation for being well versed in the black arts of witchcraft and those who crossed her were in danger of having a curse called down upon their heads.

The following story was told to me some years ago by Robert Craigie Marwick, and it was later published in his book In Dreams We Moor:-

The Inkster family who were in Innister at that time, and who were about to flit to Nigley in Evie, had fallen foul of her in some way. On the day of the flitting they were making their way towards Frotoft from where a steam-boat was to convey them and their belongings across to Evie. As they approached the Slap they spied old Bell moving about on the road.

‘She’s crossed the road twice,’ observed Mrs Inkster to her husband. Being a Caithness woman, she knew about such things. ‘That’s no a good sign, I can tell thee,’ she added, shaking her head slowly.

Not a word was exchanged as they drew level with Bell at the side of the road, glowering at them from beneath the black shawl pulled low over her eyes.

‘That wis no a good sign,’ repeated Mrs Inkster. ‘I dread what this day will bring.’ As the boat took them across Eynhallow Sound a sudden, violent storm blew up, making it impossible to land on the Evie shore.

The storm raged all that day and all that night but shortly after daybreak it eased off and the Inksters, along with their stock and all their belongings were safely landed after a terrifying night at sea fearing for their lives. When they arrived up at Nigley they found that every window in the house had been blown in, such had been the violence of the storm. Later, Bell o’ the Slap gloated over what had happened and was heard to claim that if she had crossed the road a third time in the path of the departing Inksters the boat and all aboard would have perished.

In the early 1900s Grain itself was occupied by crofter/fisherman Hugh Marwick, his wife Isabella, and their five children; Hugh, Sarah Ann, Ida, Thomas, and James Gibson. The annual rent for that property was £2 Sterling. Hugh also paid the sum of six shillings for the half-year’s rent for Upper Grain on November 26th 1906.

This is an Ordnance Survey benchmark on a corner-stone at the Slap, and is shown on the OS map of 1903 indicating the height above ‘the assumed Mean Level of the Sea at Kirkwall and Stromness’ to be 292 feet and one inch.