Prior to 19th century agricultural improvements the parish was sub-divided into ten townlands or 'fermlands'. Boundaries were mostly disregarded and lost during the 19th century but many townland names remain identifiable in farmstead names ending with Mains.
Various legends and folk tales are associated with the parish. Here are two.
Versions of these tales appear in James T Calder's History of Caithness 1887 (pages 55 to 61, as republished 1973 by Stansfield, Fortrose). The hillock and well of Sysa figure in both. According to Calder, the well dried up as a result of 19th century agricultural improvements. The hillock is still there, on the south side of Olrig Hill ().
At the time of Clontarf, the 1014 battle near Dublin, Caithness was ruled as a part of the Norwegian earldom of Orkney. At Clontarf Earl Sigurd the Stout of Orkney made a bid to become High King of Ireland, in battle with Brian Boru, the established High King. Both Brian and Sigurd died in the battle. Sigurd's bid had been invited by Sigtrygg Silkbeard, the Norse King of Dublin. Sigtrygg survived and prospered.
The battle was fought on Good Friday and, in legend, on the same Good Friday, a Norse poet called Daraddus or Dorrad had a vision, an apparition of the Valkyries, twelve in all, on horseback at Sysa. They seemed to ride into the hillock.
Daraddus himself approached the hillock and found an opening in its side. Inside he saw the Valkyries were weaving a cloth, and singing as they sang. Daraddus recorded what he heard and saw:
When the bloody cloth was woven the Valkyries tore it into twelve pieces. Each took a piece and remounted her horse. Then the twelve rode furiously away, six to the north and six to the south.
Again at Sysa, one sunny tranquil day in the leafy month of June, a cowboy called Peter Water stopped to drink and linger at the well, while on his way home to Windy Ha. He rested and slept till near sunset, when he was awakened by a touch on his shoulder. A young lady was beside him, dressed in green, her eyes blue and her hair in golden ringlets. Peter was bashful and felt himself blushing.
"I have come to make a man of you" the lady said. Peter mistook her meaning and demured. She laughed and continued with her offer: "I will put you in the way of rising in the world and making your fortune" she said, and she asked Peter to choose between a book and a pipe.
Both were magical. In the book Peter saw the status and fortunes of a popular preacher. In the pipe he saw those of a popular musician. He was attracted by both but, though he had never fingerd a pipe before, the pipe is what he chose. He found he could play the pipe immediately, and play it well. One condition was attached to the lady's gift: that he swear by the well to return in moonlight on the same evening seven years hence. Peter promised that if alive he would do so.
Peter was soon a popular and properous musician, growing in fame and fortune throughout the next seven years. Then he was true to his word and returned to the well of Sysa. Peter has never been seen since, but still his pipe is sometimes heard in Olrig. (The skeptical attribute the sound however to the wind playing though the radio masts on top of the hill.)