The origin of the name of St Margaret's Hope is the subject of disagreement. It was probably named after Malcolm III's wife, who became St Margaret after her death in 1093 (see our Historical Timeline). The existence of an early chapel here dedicated to her supports this view.
The confusion is caused because of an event that took place here in 1290. After the untimely death of Alexander III in 1286, the crown of Scotland passed to his grand-daughter, Margaret, the Maid of Norway. She was three years old, and the daughter of the King of Norway. In July 1290, the Treaty of Birgham between Scotland, Norway and England agreed the marriage between Margaret, Maid of Norway, and Edward, the son of Edward I of England and heir to the Crown of England.
In September 1290, Margaret set sail in a Norwegian ship from Bergen bound for Leith. Storms drove the ship off course to Orkney, and it eventually landed at St Margaret's Hope. Here Margaret, Maid of Norway, died, apparently from the effects of sea-sickness, still aged only eight.
Had her marriage to Edward gone ahead, the crowns of Scotland and England would have been united some three hundred years earlier than they eventually were, in 1603. And three hundred years of bloody history would probably have been very different.
Today's St Margaret's Hope is the third largest settlement in Orkney and sits at the head of a sheltered bay at the northern end of South Ronaldsay. The village has become a busier place than it used to be following the opening of a car ferry link to Gills Bay near John o' Groats by Pentland Ferries in 2001.
The village's growth owed much to the establishment of a herring fishery here in the early 1800s, and this was consolidated through the development of a naval base in Scapa Flow during the two world wars. Fishing has diminished in importance, but the harbour, boatyard and slipway areas remain very active, even when the ferry isn't berthed.
St Margaret's Hope itself offers visitors a step back in time with its interesting streets and attractive waterfront. There are a number of things to do in the village, including a visit to the William Hourston Smiddy Museum celebrating the role of the village blacksmith in local communities. You can also visit the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery here.
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