"Orphir (yarpha, 'fibrous peat'), a village and a parish in the S of Orkney. The village stands on the southern coast of Pomona, near the W end of Scapa Flow, 9 miles WSW of Kirkwall, under which it has a post office.
The parish consists mainly of a section of Pomona, but includes the island of Cava and the skerry called Barrel of Butter. The Pomona section is bounded N by Firth arid Stenness, NE by Kirkwall, S by Scapa Flow, and SW and W by Hoy Sound. Its utmost length, from E to W, is 7 miles; its breadth varies between 2⅛ and 3¾ miles; and the area of the entire parish is 12,762 acres. CAVA island has been separately noticed. Barrel of Butter skerry, lying 1¾ mile SSE of the nearest point of the mainland, has a curious outline, and is well known to seamen. The bold and rocky coast of the Pomona section, 13¼ miles in extent, on the S is finely indented by Houton, Myre, Swanbister, and Waulkmill Bays. Inland the surface rises gradually in a series of undulations and hills, with intersecting dales, chief elevations being Houton Head (195 feet), Veness Hill (206), and Roo Point (74) along the coast, with Gruf Hill (619) and Ward Hill (880) behind heights that command a view of twenty-five islands and twenty-three parishes, or of most of Orkney and much of Caithness and Sutherland, besides a large expanse of the eastern and western oceans. The eastern district abounds in heathy rising-ground and peat-mosses, which furnish fuel to both Orphir and Kirkwall; and everywhere are dales which were not brought under tillage till 1818 or later, but are now in a state of high cultivation. The Loch of Kirkbister (1⅜ x ½ mile; 49 feet above sea-level) contains plenty of sea and loch trout. Springs of pure water are very numerous and mostly copious; a few are chalybeate, and enjoy some local medicinal celebrity. Trap rock, suitable for building, is frequent; but sandstone of various kinds and quality predominates, and ilcis both pavement-flag and roofing slate. Fine white and blue clay, used for colouring hearthstones, is at Staugro; and bog iron ore is comparatively plentiful. The soil in a few places on the seaboard is a rich loam mixed with small boulders; elsewhere is mostly either clay or moss, separate or in mixture. The principal antiquities are three tumuli; remains at Swanbister of a circular tower, 180 feet in circumference, which was probably the residence of Sueno Boerstrop, who was killed at the house of Jan Paul towards the close of the 11th century; and ruins or vestiges of several pre-Reformation chapels. Claistron House, near the W coast, 17 miles W by S of Kirkwall, was the birthplace of Sir William Honynian, Bart., Lord Armadale (1756-1825), a lord of session. Other mansions are Smozrow and Swanbister. Orphir is in the presbytery of Cairston and synod of Orkney; the living is worth £167. The parish church was built in 1829, and contains 574 sittings. The Free church was rebuilt in 1885 at a cost of £1000; and Kirkbister and Orphir public schools, with respective accommodation for 85 and 10 children, have an average attendance of about 65 and 90, and grants of nearly £75 and £115. Valuation (1884) £1834, (1893) £2613, 18s. Pop. (1801) 864, (1831) 996, (1861) 1133, (1871) 1040, (1881) 1015, (1891) 1001, of whom 13 were on Cava."
From Francis Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, 1882-4