Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site

The Mount (North House) excluding three associated outbuildings to west and northwest, Rackwick, HoyLB46377

Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Orkney Islands
Planning Authority
Orkney Islands
Hoy And Graemsay
ND 19899 99522
319899, 999522


The Mount is a single storey, three-bay, rectangular-plan, stone rubble cottage (also known as North House) of early 19th century construction, with a turf-thatched roof, located on the hillside to the northwest of Rackwick Bay, Hoy.

The front (east) elevation of the cottage has a deep-set boarded timber door to the central bay, with flanking windows. The south gable has a small window offset to the right. The north and west walls are blind with no openings. The roof has a turf covering over flagstone, supported on a timber frame. There are three roof lights inset into the rear pitch. Both gables have a corniced, rubble chimney stack. Windows are timber sash and case frames with a four-pane glazing pattern. There is a small timber lean-to addition to the north gable.

The interiors were seen in 2019. The cottage has a traditional two-room (but and ben) plan form with a small hallway area opposite the front door. The interior is understood to have been restored in the early 1960s. Each room has an enclosed, inset timber box-bed on the inner wall, and a fireplace with timber surround on the outer (gable) wall. The slightly larger room to the south has a raised stone fireplace for cooking with a recessed grate, and a metal hanging bar adjoining the timber surround. There is a recess with a protruding stone shelf to the left of the door. The ceilings are enclosed and lined with dark-stained timber. The floor is of irregularly shaped, local flagstone. Both rooms have timber doors with wooden latches.

Legal exclusions

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: The remains of three associated outbuildings located to the rear (west and northwest) of the cottage (North House).

The roofless remains of three ancillary buildings are located a short distance to the rear (west and northwest) of the cottage. These ancillary structures are shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (1880). There is a former barn or byre to the immediate west of North House with thick flagstone rubble walls, complete to wallhead (2019). To the north of the barn are the remains of a slightly larger rectangular structure, probably a former threshing barn with evidence of a low-set opening (winnowing door) for threshing purposes. Running parallel to the north is another small rectangular agricultural building, possibly a former net store or bothy, with evidence of an earlier turfed or thatched roof covering. Adjoining this building to the north and east are the upstanding remains of a walled enclosure. These structures are typical ancillaries of small farms and crofts of the 18th and 19th centuries and many survive throughout Scotland. While they contribute to an understanding of the historic layout, character and functions of the croft at the Mount as a whole, these buildings do not meet the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for listing. This is due to the extent of loss of fabric within the context of their common building type.

Statement of Special Interest

The Mount, Rackwick, Hoy meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

  • It is an important example of a small crofthouse of likely early 19th century date that is little-altered in its plan form and design, and which demonstrates a range of building techniques typical of Orkney.
  • The cottage has a fine and largely unaltered coastal setting and is prominently located within a wider group of surviving vernacular buildings at Rackwick.
  • The largely intact survival of croft cottages of this period in the Orcadian plan form, with box beds and turfed roof, is very rare.
  • It contributes to our understanding of life and community in Rackwick Bay throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • The cottage was restored and used as a base for painting by leading 20th century Orkney landscape artist Sylvia Wishart (1936-2008).

Historical development

The first documentary reference to a township at Rackwick is in Lord Henry Sinclair's Rental of 1492. The earliest identified inhabitants settled there following a shipwreck in 1679 (Rendall, 2006). It is not known how long a farmstead has occupied the site of The Mount, but the current buildings are thought to largely date from the late 18th or earlier 19th century, with the cottage likely dating from the earlier 19th century.

The buildings are first shown in their current plan-form on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map (surveyed 1880), but an earlier provenance is indicated by the relatively high position on the hillside, and the thickness and construction method of the cottage walls. The higher land was likely to have been more readily cultivable than the wetter ground on the valley floor.

The Mount is understood to have been in use as a working farmstead until the 1930s or 40s. By 1965, repair works had been carried out at North House, including a restoration of the but-and-ben interior with twin box-beds. The exterior and interior of the cottage have not changed since that date.

Architectural interest


The Mount is an important surviving example of a vernacular building of early-mid 19th century date that is little-altered in its plan form and design, and which demonstrates a range of traditional building techniques typical of Orkney.

Small traditional farm or croft houses of Orkney are usually single storey dwellings of two or sometimes three rooms with an adjoining or nearby barn. The design and construction of such buildings, the methods of roofing and the materials used relate to distinctly localised practices during the 18th and 19th centuries, influenced by the geology and climate of Orkney.

The plan form of the cottage at The Mount is unaltered and has notable surviving features. The 'but and ben' plan form, with timber box beds on the inner walls and fireplaces at the gables, is an important part of the special interest and is likely to be contemporary with the construction of the cottage.

The low form and thick and irregular rubble walls with no openings in the rear wall at The Mount are typical features of the region in protecting against Atlantic storms. The walls are constructed from undressed stone, which is likely to have been gathered from the surrounding land. These features, which are largely unaltered, add to the building's architectural interest and historic character.

The plan-form is typically narrow. The expense of suitable roof timber, particularly in Orkney where timber was scarce, restricted the depth which could be spanned, usually resulting in a narrow rectangular form as seen at The Mount (North House). The thickness ensures the walls could support the weight of the roof, particularly if a flagstone covering was used underneath the thatch.

The interiors of traditional crofthouses and cottages of this date were simple. Many of those that survive have been refurbished and the survival of historic fixtures is rare. The cottage at The Mount (North House) retains a turf roof covering and traditional two-room interior plan form. The survival of key features, including the enclosed timber box beds (set back to back at the centre of the interior plan), the raised fireplace for cooking, timber-lined ceilings, stone recesses and flagstone floors, are of special architectural and historic interest.


The cottage and associated ancillary buildings at the Mount are set within an open hillside landscape and are part of the remote coastal settlement of Rackwick on the island of Hoy, Orkney.

The location of crofting and fishing communities can provide valuable information about changing settlement patterns and land-use. Rackwick is a coastal valley located on the dramatic west coast of Hoy, the westernmost island in Orkney. Vertical red sandstone sea cliffs, the tallest in the UK, rise up on either side of the valley. This area takes the full force of Atlantic gales and has a warm microclimate in the summer.

Rackwick has a substantial amount of upstanding remains of earlier dwellings and buildings, showing the 19th century scattered settlement pattern as shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map (revised 1900). Some buildings have been restored as holiday accommodation while others survive as roofless shells. Overall, the level of survival and lack of later development and alteration at Rackwick makes it among the best examples of a pre-Improvement farming settlement in Orkney.

The Mount's relationship with its immediate and wider surroundings and its landscape, including views down over the wide arc of Rackwick Bay is part of its special interest. It is prominently located on a hillside surrounded by red sandstone cliffs and hills. The cottage retains its associated ancillary buildings and walled enclosures. While these buildings only partially survive (2021), and are excluded from the listing, they help demonstrate its function as a croft and contribute to the interest of its immediate setting. As part of a wider settlement, the Mount is also within sight of other thatched buildings, including the nearby Crow's Nest (LB42548), which is slightly further up the hill to the west, and Burnmouth Bothy (LB46375) and Muckle House (LB46376) which are located much closer to the sea. There is also a small cottage at Glen House which currently houses the Rackwick archive. The Old School House is conserved as part of a local museum group along with Crow's Nest and a heather-thatched threshing barn (LB52547). Collectively, these buildings show traditional vernacular methods of construction and therefore contribute greatly to the built heritage and historic character of Rackwick.

Historic interest

Age and rarity

The Mount has special historic interest as a surviving example of an earlier 19th century cottage that retains a traditional, two-room 'but-and-ben' interior plan, including box beds and fireplaces. Agricultural improvement period buildings that largely retain their traditional character are increasingly rare in Orkney.

The survival of thatch-roofed buildings and use of turf as a roofing material has a long tradition in Scotland but is now exceptionally rare in the Orkney Islands. There are only nine buildings in the Orkney Islands known to have thatched roofs (2020). Rackwick Bay contains the highest concentration of turf and heather thatched buildings, including Muckle House (LB46376) and Burnmouth Bothy (LB46375).

Social historical interest

Rackwick is a remote farming and fishing settlement on the largely uninhabited west coast of Hoy. There is little early recorded history relating to its development. The Old Statistical Account of 1795 notes that the size of farms on the island of Hoy were small and produced little grain. The remnants of several ruinous dwellings are spread across the bay. Most of the earliest dwellings that survive at Rackwick were probably constructed around 1800. The population grew from around 40 residents in 1850 to around 80 by 1900, before numbers dwindled again by the mid-20th century (Rendall, 2006). Rackwick-born Jack Rendall (1928-2015) became the sole remaining inhabitant for several years during the 1970s. Electricity was first introduced to Rackwick in 1979, and there are currently around five people in permanent residence (2021).

Crofting settlements fulfilled the individual and communal needs of the community. Buildings would be built using long-established and simple construction methods without the need for highly specialised tools. A croft was often a component of a larger farming settlement or 'ferm toun'. This type of subsistence living based around the need for shelter, fishing, seasonal livestock and crop management, changed little in Orkney for many hundreds of years.

The gradual evolution of crofts took place during the 19th century as improved agricultural methods were adopted in Orkney, but at a significantly slower pace in comparison to mainland Scotland. As a result, substantial elements of traditional, pre-improvement farming patterns and building techniques survived well into the 20th century. By the end of the 20th century, the farming landscape of Orkney had been comprehensively altered by a wide range of factors. These included improved transport links, changes in agricultural legislation and the importing of standardised building materials from mainland Scotland. Many pre-1900 crofthouses were either rebuilt, substantially reworked or abandoned by 1960.

The Mount (North House) is a particularly good example of a crofthouse that was restored around 1960 in a manner that reflects distinctly localised construction practices from the 18th and 19th centuries. The building is of special social historic interest for its contribution to our understanding of life and society in Rackwick Bay during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Association with people or events of national importance

During the early 1960s, one of Scotland's leading contemporary landscape artists, Sylvia Wishart (1936-2008) renovated North House. She spent time here painting, periodically, for the remainder of her life, with many of her works depicting scenes in and around the cottage. This direct association, demonstrated by the artwork of Sylvia Wishart that depicts Rackwick, has special interest in listing terms.

Wishart was friends with Orkney poet George Mackay Brown (both were from Stromness originally) and illustrated his well-known collection 'An Orkney Tapestry' in 1969. Rackwick was also a source of inspiration for a number of other important artists during the latter part of the 20th century including, from around 1970, the renowned composer Peter Maxwell Davies (see also Mucklehouse, Rackwick (LB56376

who lived in Rackwick for many years and set several of Mackay Brown's Rackwick poems to music. Photographs of Sylvia Wishart and George Mackay Brown at North Cottage date from the late 1960s and early 1970s (Hoy Heritage Centre)

Statutory address, category of listing changed from C to B and listed building record revised in 2021. Previously listed as 'The Mount, Rackwick, Hoy'.



Canmore: CANMORE ID 182459

Ordnance Survey (Surveyed 1880, Published 1882) Orkney, Sheet CXII (includes: Hoy And Graemsay; Walls And Flotta), 1st Edition, 6 inch to one mile. Ordnance Survey: Southampton.

Ordnance Survey (Revised 1900, Published 1903) Orkney Sheet CXII (includes: Hoy and Graemsay; Walls and Flotta), 2nd Edition, 6 inch to one mile. Ordnance Survey: Southampton.

Printed Sources

Fenton A. (1978) The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, pp.184-86.

Historic Environment Scotland (2018) INFORM Guide: Thatched Buildings.

Old Statistical Account of Scotland (1795) Hoy and Graemsay Parish, County of Orkney, Vol. 16.

Rendall, D. (2006) Rackwick – Yesterday and Today (published locally – copy available at Orkney Archives, Kirkwall).

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings Scotland (2016) A Survey of Thatched Buildings in Scotland. London: SPAB.

Walker, B., McGregor, C. and Stark, G. (1996) Technical Advice Note 4 Thatch and Thatching Techniques: A Guide to conserving Scottish thatching traditions, Edinburgh: Historic Scotland.

Online Sources

Historic Environment Scotland (2018) Scotland's Thatched Buildings: Introductory Designations Report at

Hoy Heritage Centre, Sylvia Wishart - Artists & Hoy – Hoy Heritage Centre HOY KIRK ORKNEY ( [accessed 19/05/2021].

Ordnance Survey Name Books, 1879-1880, Orkney, Volume 11 at OS1/23/11/20 | ScotlandsPlaces [accessed 19/05/2021]. Thatching on the Orkney Islands at [accessed 19/05/2021].

Undiscovered Scotland (2018) Hoy at [accessed 19/05/2021].

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

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The Mount, principal elevation of cottage looking west, with Moor Fea hill rising to rear, on a dry day with blue sky
Rear of cottage with remains of farm buildings in foreground, looking southeast. Rackwick bay and seacliffs in the distance, on a dry day with white sky

Printed: 28/09/2022 04:44