Monsters of the Deep
Accounts and Sightings of Mermaids
"And I have heard a hundred times more about mermaids from the lips of Orkney peasants than I have ever saw in books." Walter Traill Dennison
Despite Walter Traill Dennison's statement - quoted above - documented mermaid tales in Orkney are few and far between. Far more common are the tales of the and the .
However, a few historical records show that the sea was not merely home to . There are actually a few accounts with creatures that the witnesses referred to as "mermaids".
The Deerness Mermaid
What is probably the most famous sighting of a mermaid took place over a few summers around 1890. At this time there were a series of sightings of a mysterious creature that came to be known as "the Deerness Mermaid".
A regular visitor to Newark Bay in , the mermaid went on to achieve considerable fame with hundreds of eyewitnesses swearing to the validity of their encounters. From documented reports it appears that the creature stayed some distance from the shore so exact details are vague.
But one account does provide a good description of a sighting and, as you will see, it was a far cry from the archetypal storybook mermaid:
"It is about six to seven feet in length, has a little black head, with neck, a snow white body and two arms, and in swimming it just appears like a human being. At times it will appear to be siding on a sunken rock, and will wave and work its hands."
The Hoy Sea Woman
Another mermaid encounter was reported in 1913, and details the multiple sightings of a mermaid in the deep waters off the south eastern coastline of .
In this case the crew of a Longhope fishing boat, at the creels off the Old Man of Hoy, claimed they had witnessed the mermaid rising from the waters of the Pentland Firth. The creature, they said, rose to a height of three feet above the waves and was described as being like a lady with a shawl draped around her shoulders.
This sighting was their third encounter with the mysterious sea-woman although the account makes no mention as to whether she preferred to frequent the same stretch of water or whether all three sightings had taken place in different locations.
The King's Mirror
What is intriguing about the Hoy mermaid account is the similarity between it and a medieval Norse text called "The King's Mirror". Within this text the author gives a description of a merman encounter at sea: