This is a tale from Ness, in the words of Donald S. Murray in his book The Guga Hunters – it’s one my Dad once told me while we were walking along the Machair near the Butt of Lewis, the northern tip of the island.
It is a tale of how the Vikings had attempted to drag the entire archipelago of the Western Isles from its foundations off the north-west coast of Scotland back to Scandinavia with them. They looped rope through the Eye of the Butt – a hole in the rock that the sea has gnawed out there – and pulled, using their longships to help them in the task. They hauled and sweated; swore and cursed; heaved and tugged, in their efforts to alter the location of the piece of real estate they had obtained, but without any obvious result.
Apart from some unexpected ones. These came in the form of some messages the were being relayed from the crew of some of the other longships that were supervising the southern end of this massive removal.
‘Barra has broken away…’
‘So have the Uists…’
‘Harris is threatening to go…’
It was this bad news that brought the entire enterprise to an end. The men of the longships sadly and reluctantly unfastened their rope and headed for home, unable to realise their dream of having the Hebrides hitched up alongside their own coast. One of the more ambitious examples of Scandinavian empire-shifting had come to an abrupt close.