Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

Orphir, Earl's Bu

Horizontal Mill (Norse), Settlement (Norse)

Site Name Orphir, Earl's Bu

Classification Horizontal Mill (Norse), Settlement (Norse)

Alternative Name(s) Bu Of Orphir

Canmore ID 1970

Site Number HY30SW 2

NGR HY 3346 0442

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Orphir
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY30SW 2 3346 0442

(HY 3346 0442) Ruin (NAT) (Site of)

OS 6" map, Orkney, 2nd ed., (1903).

See also HY30SW 4 and HY30SW 15.

Excavations in 1859, 1861 and 1899 revealed massive wall-foundations and the remains of buildings near St Nicholas's Church (HY30SW 1 - 12th century Church). During the 1899 excavations part of a Viking comb was found near the apse of the church (A W Johnston 1903).

The Commission supports the opinion of the excavators that they had found the remains of the 'Earl's Bu', a drinking-hall mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga in AD 1136 (G Petrie 1927).

RCAHMS 1946.

The MOW plaque states that the exposed foundations, consisting mainly of turf-covered walling varying from c 0.2 to c 1.0m in height and from 0.5m to 1.0m in width, are believed to be the remains of the "Earl's Bu".

The remains appear to consist of the foundations of one long building or two conjoined square buildings with overall dimensions of c 15.0m N-S by c.6.0m E-W, with several internal divisions.

Surveyed at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (RL) 10 May 1966.

Scheduled with HY30SW 1 as 'Earl's Bu, Norse settlement and mill, Orphir'.

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 29 February 1996.

'The Orkney Herald' in 1902 reported the excavation of a wall from 1899 to 1902, adding that the site was buried under 5' of debris including bones, shells and ashes. A comb was found too.

M Howe 2006.


Geophysical Survey (1989 - 1991)

A geophysical survey was undertaken in the environs of the Earl's Bu, as the first stage of investigation of the site in advance of a proposed development for visitor car-parking. In 1989 and 1990, geophysical surveys were conducted immediately to the N of the churchyard wall and produced results which implied the presence of significant archaeological deposits, and in an area to the W which also produced promising results.

In 1991, resistivity and gradiometer surveys were conducted in concurrence with each other. The results of the resistivity survey demonstrated curvilinear features, possibly concentric, the inner-most of which may be circular and possibly represents walling. Within these are three series of linear features. The results of the gradiometer survey suffered from metallic interference yet still produced promising results, including curvilinear features, some of which were detected last year, and putative linear anomolies.

Sponsor: Dept of Planning and Museums, Orkney Islands Council.

P G Johnson and R C Harry 1991.

Field Visit (1998)

HY 335 044 - The Earl's Hall at Orphir, a high status building of the later Norse period, is mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. It was the seat of Earl Hakon Paulsson who gained infamy from the slaying of Earl Magnus on Egilsay around the year 1117AD.

He is also credited with building the round church at Orphir (Listed Category 'A'), for which the inspiration is said to have been the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The remains of a large building which may have been the Earl's Hall, a horizontal watermill and part of the church lie close to the road, several hundred metres from the coast. The scheduled area extends from these sites to the coast edge, although there are no visible archaeological remains present within the coastal zone.

Moore and Wilson, 1998

Orkney Coastal Zone Assessment

Orkney Smr Note

'...The immediate neighbourhood abounded with numerous traces of ancient buildings, which are believed to be the remains of the palace of Jarl Paul...' and also mentions the large number of animal bones from domestic animals. [R1]

There is a report of excavations made by the author and R Flett made in 1899 through 1901. 'The site of the Jarl's Bu lies immediately to the N of the church as described in the 'Orkneyinga Saga'. 'In 1899 Rev Caskey, informed Mr Johnston that Mr Flett, of Mussaquoy, the gravedigger, had come across the foundations of a

wall in digging two graves at the NW corner of the graveyard, the wall lying from E to W'. [R2]

As prevous authority. [R3]

Excavations in 1859,1861 and 1899 revealed massive wall foundations and the remains of buildings near St Nicholas's Church (HY 30 SW - c12th Church). During the 1899 excavations part of a Viking comb was found near the apse of the church.The commission supports the opinion of the excavators that they had found the remains of the 'Earl's Bu', a drinking hall mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga, in AD 1136.

Under guardianship. [R4]

Information from Orkney SMR [n.d.]


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions