Site Overview

The scene of exciting episodes from the Orkneyinga Saga

The Bu was the scene of some exciting episodes in the 'Orkneyinga Saga'. This was the Earl's home farm in the 12th century and it was for the sake of his soul that the Earl commissioned the building of a rare, round church, the ruins of which can still be seen today.

In the 12th century his settlement here would have consisted of many elements, including a hall for feasting and ring-giving, to maintain his followers. There would have been extensive farm buildings including those for overwintering cattle and possibly sheep. A mill lade runs through the site, and the pit for a horizontal mill for grinding flour can still be seen.

The saga describes the Earl’s hall: "There was a great drinking-hall at Orphir, with a door in the south wall near the eastern gable and in front of the hall, just a few paces down from it, stood a fine church. On the left as you come into hall was a large stone slab, with a lot of big ale vats behind it, and opposite the door was the living room."

Today, it is good to stand amongst the foundations of the buildings and recall the story of the two Sweins: Swein Asleifsson, the saga’s notorious pirate, murdered Swein Breistrope at a “grand Yule feast, which (the Earl) prepared at his estate in Orphir, and invited many guests.”

Excavations have identified many buildings of the Norse period. No single building has yet been certainly identified as the Earl’s hall, yet recent scientific evidence from the bone waste retrieved from nearby middens has shown that here was a site where feasting took place. The midden here contrasts greatly with other settlements that have shown a need to eat up every bit of available meat and sea bird.