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19 September 2014
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The Dark Ages

The Story of the 200 Foot Woman

Dark Age annals can throw up some pretty incredible stories, but none so incredible as the story of the giant woman washed up on the shores of Scotland - a woman just under two hundred feet tall, with a body as white as a swan. No less than four different annals record this story - not as a fantasy story but quite simply as a fact.

Here's what the Dark Age press had to say about it...

In Annals of Ulster - 891AD
" The Sea threw up a woman in Scotland. She was a hundred and ninety-five feet in height; her hair was seventeen feet long; the finger of her hand was seven feet long, and her nose seven feet. She was all as white as swan’s down."

In the Annals of Innisfallen - 906 AD
"A great woman was cast upon the shore of Scotland in this year. She was a hundred and ninety-two feet in length; the length of her hair was sixteen feet; the fingers of her hand were six feet long, and her nose was six. Her body was as white as swan’s down, or sea foam."

Chronicon Scotorum - 900 AD - copied from the Annals of Tigernach
"A great woman was cast ashore by the sea in Scotland; her length 192 feet; there were six feet between her two breasts; the length of her hair was 15 feet; the length of a finger on her hand was six feet; the length of her nose was 7 feet. As white as swan’s down or the foam of the wave was every part of her."

The Annals of the Four Masters - 891AD agree with the Annals of Ulster except her hair had grown another foot and was 18 feet long.

Is this a well known story of the time, hence the formulaic repetition of, 'white as swan's down'? Are the annuls merely copying each other? Is this Celtic superstition? Echoes of the old pagan religion? Or a Dark Age fantasy?

The Scottish couple roaming the American continent 500 years before

Ask anyone who the first Europeans to set foot on the American continent were, and they’ll say Christopher Columbus and his crew. But there is good evidence to suggest that the Vikings were roaming the eastern seaboard of that continent 500 years before the more famous expedition that Columbus led, and included - according to a story in the Icelandic Sagas - a Scottish couple.

The first European in America was a Viking named Leif Ericsson, who, according to the ’Saga of Eric the Red’, was blown off course on a voyage to Greenland in the year 1000AD. The land he found became known as Vinland (wine land) on account of the ‘wine berries’ found there.

Around 1004 AD (1010AD in some versions), Thorfinn Karisefni led a new expedition to this promised land of wine. He took with him up to 160 men, three ships, gifts from King Olaf of Norway and two Scottish slaves - a man named Haki, and a woman named Hekja, both reputed to be fleeter than deer such was their speed at running.

When the Vikings reached an attractive place on the west coast of America, they sent the Scots ashore to run along the waterfront and gauge whether or not it was safe for the rest of the crew to follow. Only once the Scots had survived a day of this baiting of any potential enemies did the Vikings deem it safe to spend the night ashore.

The expedition to Vinland was abandoned three years later, after Karisefni's expedition encountered unfriendly natives and a distinct lack of the promised wine. It does, however, demonstrate how daring and pioneering Viking culture was at the turn of the first millennium and also how far it widened the horizons of the Scots who were embroiled in their constant adventuring.


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