January 21st, 2020
Now settled in our new premises.
October 1st, 2019
The Hairst issue of the society magazine Coontin Kin is now available, it’s now full colour throughout as we continue to develop and improve the publication. Issue no.112 has a wide range of interesting new material.
- Shetland Parish Map
Shetland Parish Map
Click on the map to see information on the individual parish.
Dunrossness is the southernmost mainland parish of Shetland. The old Norse is Dynrastarnes or the ness of the dinning tidway. That refers to the noise of the Sumburgh Roost.
This area of Shetland boasts some of the best beaches on the islands, certainly the most in number. It is also one of the most fertile areas in Shetland and it is still extensively used for agriculture today.
Famous sons and daughters include Betty Mouat
Situated 13 miles south of Lerwick Sandwick (Old Norse Sandvik or Sandy Bay) consist of various distinct smaller settlements that have grown closer together. These smaller settlements include Sanick, Hoswick, Leebitton, Broonies' Taing, Stove and Swinister.
Cunningsburgh, formerly also known as Coningsburgh (Old Norse Konungsborg or King's Broch ), lies eight miles south of Lerwick.
A fertile belt of Shetland the district has a rich history including ancient settlement and a particularly active socialist agitation over a dispute over access and land rights with the local landlord during the late 1880’s.
In the hill to the south west of the village, at the Catpund Burn, are the remains of an ancient quarry, where hundreds of years ago utensils, such as bowls, were carved from soapstone. Excavations at Jarlshof, some 24km to the south, produced a variety of steatite vessels that can be matched by the blanks and discarded waste in the quarries, and steatite grit used to strengthen the clay for pottery vessels demonstrates that steatite was being exploited by the beginning of the second millennium BC. Its properties were known long before the Vikings settled Shetland, but they were very fond of using it for making large bowls.
Useful Links: Cunningsburgh History Group
The Old Norse word Quarff means portage. The area has long been a site where goods could be transported the short distance between the east and west coasts avoiding a 40 mile sea journey around Sumburgh Head. It was reported in 1794 that, “ The people of Quarff are frequently employed in transporting goods from one side of the country to the other, which brings them in considerable sums”.
Clearly a long settled area of Shetland, in 1900 a local crofter excavated a stone age mound on his croft and found a stone slab covering a stone-lined chamber containing a skull and a bowl. Similar chambers were found in the locality.
Generally referred to as Burra, East and West Burra are joined by a very short bridge. Burra is then linked to the mainland by two bridges via the island of Trondra.
The Old Norse name of Borgarey means Broch Island. While this is unlikely, as no broch exists, the place name Brough, on West Burra lends some support to this case. However, the form used in the Orkneyinga Saga is "Barrey".
Lerwick is the largest town on the Shetland archipelago. The name comes from Old Norse Leirvík, meaning “muddy bay”. The town is situated on a fine natural harbour on Bressay Sound, almost equidistant from Bergen, Norway and Aberdeen, Scotland, the main transport link by sea.
Lerwick scarcely existed until the early 17th century. A few huts sprang up there when Dutch fisherman began to come to Bressay Sound during the late 16th century. Lerwick continued as a fishing village to the beginning of the 19th century, when the Napoleonic Wars resulted in another building spurt. Until then the settlement stretched mainly along its front road (today's Commercial Street). It has grown steadily since and is now Shetland's modern capital.
The parish of Tingwall also includes the village of Scallway and Gott and Callif to the north. The small promontory at the end of Tingwall Loch, known as Tingaholm or Law Ting Holm was once home to Shetland's earliest parliament. It was once an islet entirely surrounded by water and accessed by a stone causeway. In the 1850s the level of the loch was lowered, and the holm took on its present form.
There are a number of ancient and historical monuments in Tingwall, including a standing stone known as the murder stone. This stone is traditionally said to be the site where the Earl of Orkney killed his cousin in a power struggle over Shetland. Local folklore also suggests that a person could escape punishment at the Ting if they were able to run to the stone and claim sanctuary. Other versions of this story involve running to the Kirk, or the nearby croft at Griesta.
Famous sons of Tingwall include brothers Laurence (Lollie) and John Graham. Two of Shetland's most influential authors and historians.
Useful links: Tingwall "Thing" site
8. Whiteness & Weisdale
Weisdale bay opens near the northern extremity of Scalloway, and strikes four and a half miles to the north east. Whiteness, in Old Norse Hvitanes or white headland lies further to the east of Weisdale.
Weisdale was the scene of a series of evictions of crofters in favour of large scale sheep farming in the 19th century. Approximately three hundred and eighteen crofters were evicted from the Weisdale valley in what is described as the clearances.
Useful links: Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale History group
Sandsting was a parish in the west mainland forming a southern arm of the Walls Peninsula. It forms part of the modern parish on Sandsting and Aithsting.
The parish included the settlements of Skeld, Reawick, Westerwick and Culswick.
Now part of the modern parish of Sandsting and Aithsting.
Aithsting is one of the old parishes on the Westside with the large Kirk at Aith the parish church. Included in the parish are Noonsborough, Tresta, Vementry and East Burrafirth.
Nesting is a parish in the east of the mainland. One of the old parishes of Shetland. The parish once stood alone so to speak but is now merged with Lunnasting and the islands of Whalsay and Out Skerries
The population in 1958 was 1549 and includes the settlements of Benston, Catfirth, Freester, Gletness and Skellister in the south and Billister, Brettabister, Dury, Kirkabister and Laxfirth to the north.
The coast of Nesting is indented with many voes and headlands, generally very picturesque indeed. Gletness is one of the most picturesque corners of Shetland, the hills are packed with field systems, houses and burial cairns from ancient times offering wonderful walking.
The lighthouse at the Moul of Eswick has a panoramic view from Whalsay and Skerries to Bressay and Noss. Close by lies the Hoo Stack light warning of the Voder and Climnie reefs in South Nesting Bay. The coast road to North Nesting passes a prehistoric standing stone at the Skellister junction and, a little further on, an ancient settlement and field system below the Loch of Skellister. From Brettabister a side road leads to the headland of Neap, the starting point for fine coastal walks out to either the Staney Hog or Stavaness.
Useful links: Nesting Local History Group
North of Nesting lies Lunnasting. The parish includes the settlements of Laxo, Vidlin, Swinning, Lunna, Lunning and Outrabister. Vidlin (Old Norse: Vaðillinn, The Ford) is the main village and lies at the head of Vidlin Voe. It is an ancient settlement with an Iron Age broch lying under the foundations of the present Methodist kirk.
North lies Lunna with its famous kirk and house. North again, Lunna Ness, is studded with the ruins of croft houses from the Clearances in the 19th century.
The Lunnasting stone is a stone bearing an ogham inscription and was found by Rev. J.C. Roger in a cottage, who stated that the stone had been “unearthed from a peat bog” in April 1876 and presented to The National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland that year.
Useful links: Lunna House
Under construction. Please look back later.
14. South Yell
South Yell encompasses the location of today’s ferry terminal at Ulsta as well as the communities of Burravoe, West Sandwick, Aywick, Otterswick and Gossabrough.
Burravoe is the location of The Old Haa of Brough, built for Robert Tyrie, a merchant, in 1672. The building is used today as a local museum, cafe and garden.
In 1924 the German ship Bohus was wrecked near Otterswick. A replica figure head from the ship is sited here.
Useful links: Welcome to Yell
15. Mid Yell
Mid Yell is the largest settlement on the island and the area also includes Camb and North-a-Voe.
The Vikings, probably during the 800s, founded a settlement beside the inlet they called Reydarfjordur. By the 1500s this had become Refurd or Reafirthand, and the name of the settlement was later changed to Mid Yell.
Today it is a thriving village with fishing and fish processing the mainstays.
On the road into Mid Yell the prominent house on the hill has a colourful history. Windhouse is said to be haunted. First built in the 1600's on a site higher up the hill, then it was moved in 1707 to the current site which is believed to be on an ancient burial ground. It was rebuilt in 1880. The house has been derelict since the 1920's and has slowly fallen into complete disrepair.
Among the stories of mystery, death and haunting are:
• The 'Lady in Silk': This is the ghost of a housekeeper, who is said to have broken her neck when falling down the stairs of the lodge. A woman's skeleton was discovered under the floorboards of the main stairs during renovations in 1880. The skeleton is believed to belong to the Lady in Silk.
• A man in a top hat and a long black coat is seen to wander the house. In 1887 the skeleton of a large man was discovered in the building walls. No evidence of a coffin was found, so it's believed to be the result of a murder. It is thought that the ghost in the top hat, could be the ghost of this skeleton.
A newspaper report from 1887 stated:
Human Remains Found. While some workmen, who are engaged repairing the manor house of Windhouse, were removing some debris from the back of the house, they came upon the skeleton of a human being. It had apparently been that of a man of large stature, as the bones measured fully six feet long. It was lying in the position it had been put down, the arms folded over the breast. It was only a small distance under the ground and there was no evidence of their ever being a coffin, which gave rise to an opinion that it had been a murder; but if it has it is not in the memory of any of the inhabitants nor does any remember any person ever being missed.
• A baby's skeleton was said to have been found in a kitchen wall.
16. North Yell
The north of Yell includes the communities of Cullivoe, Breckon, Stonganess, Garth and Gloup.
The area witnessed one of the many Haaf Fishing disasters to have struck Shetland during the 1800’s. The loss devastated the community of Gloup. The day of 20th July 1881 had started as what is referred to in Shetland as a "day atween wadders", there had been strong winds for days and the boats had been kept ashore, but the morning of the 20th dawned clear with light winds, and although there was still a heavy sea running, the men were keen to get to sea. However, the fast moving depression which had formed to the west near Iceland rushed in with Hurricane force winds that caused devastation to the boats fishing 40 miles offshore.
The 58 drowned haaf fishermen left behind 34 widows and 85 orphans. As was always the case the pain was felt across Shetland and beyond and an appeal, set up in Lerwick, raised £16,000, equivalent in 2013 value at approx £1.3 million.
Useful links: Cullivoe Up Helly A'
Unst is the northernmost of the inhabited British Isles, “above all others” as the locals will tell you with a wide smile.
The meaning of the name Unst is unknown, but it appears to be of pre-Norse origin, like a number of other islands in the Shetland. It is presumably a name given by the pre-Scandinavian inhabitants, and perhaps originated among people speaking a dialect of the Pictish language.
In Old Norse the island was called Ornyst. This is possibly Old Norse for “eagle's nest”. Packed into an area just 12 miles long by five miles wide are stupendous cliffs, jagged sea stacks, low, rocky shores, sheltered inlets, golden beaches, heathery hills, freshwater lochs, peat bogs, fertile farmland - and even a unique, sub-arctic, stony desert. In short, it has long been an island settled due it’s unique geography.
Robert Louis Stevenson's father and uncle were the main design engineers for the lighthouse on Muckle Flugga, just off Hermaness on the north-west of the island. Stevenson visited Unst, and the island is claimed to have become the basis for the map of the fictional Treasure Island
Fetlar is well known locally as “The Garden of Shetland” due to it being by far the greenest of all the islands. Indeed, the name Fetlar is reputed to originate from the Viking term “Fat Land”, further strengthening the island's claim to be a fertile area suitable for crops.
One of the strange features of Fetlar is a huge wall that goes across the island known as the Funzie Girt or Finnigirt Dyke. It is thought to date from the Mesolithic period.
Another attraction on the island is the Gothic Brough Lodge, built by Arthur Nicolson in about 1820. Its most famous son was Sir William Watson Cheyne Bt FRS FRCS. Cheyne was a Fetlar man who had become assistant to Lord Lister and one of the pioneers of antiseptics. He was professor of surgery at King's College London, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and wrote many books on medical treatments. He was made a baronet for services to medicine in 1908, was an MP first for the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews and then the Combined Scottish Universities in 1917 and 1918. He was Lord Lieutenant of the Shetland Islands from 1919 to 1930. Cheyne died on Fetlar on 19th April 1932.
With a population of 86 at the time of the 2001 census, its main settlement is Houbie on the south coast, home to the Fetlar Interpretive Centre. Fetlar is the fourth largest island of Shetland and has an area of sixteen square miles.
Northmavine (Old Norse: Norðan Mæfeið, meaning the land North of the Mæfeið isthmus or Mavis Grind, is a peninsula. It is in the north west of the mainland and contains the villages of Hillswick, Ollaberry, and North Roe.
An isthmus, Mavis Grind, about a hundred yards across, forms the sole connection with the rest of Mainland.
Notable landmarks and historical sites of interest include the fishing stations at Steness and Fedaland, Tangwick Haa (see link below), the Eshaness cliffs and coastal scenery and Ronas Hill, the highest point in Shetland where there is a large Neolithic cambered cairn.
Regarding Fethaland, Samuel Hibbert, author, antiquary and geologist, said in 1822: “On a narrow isthmus of low marshy land that connects the peninsula of Feideland to the mainland, is interspersed, with all the disorder of a gypsey encampment, a number of savage huts, named “summer lodges” and in the centre of them is a substantial booth used... for curing fish.”
The Out Skerries, to give this little group of islands the correct name, are a small archipelago lying to the east of the mainland. Locally, they are usually called Da Skerries or just Skerries.
They have been permanently inhabited from the Norse period onwards. Presently the population stands at around 70, around half what it was in the mid-19th century. All the inhabitants live on Housay and Bruray, which are linked by a bridge.
Whalsay (Old Norse: Hvalsey or Whale Island), known widely as the "Bonnie Isle" lies off the east coast of the north east Shetland Mainland.
The main industry of the island has always been fishing. The harbour facilities at Symbister have been greatly improved over recent years to accommodate the large pelagic trawlers which are based in the island.
A museum has been created in the restored Symbister Pierhouse, also called the Hanseatic Booth (or Bremen Böd), to exhibit details of fishing from centuries past, when German merchants from the Hanseatic League traded for the cured fish which were caught from open boats, called Sixareens, in the days of the Haaf Fishing. For hundreds of years the salt fish trade was in the hands of German merchants of the Hanseatic League. Ships from Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck sailed to Shetland every summer, bringing seeds, cloth, iron tools, salt, spirits, luxury goods and hard currency. Generations of the same families made the voyage and some merchants are buried in the islands.
The main village of Symbister is also the home of the ferry terminal to the mainland. Also of note is the impressive Georgian Mansion, Symbister House. Overlooking Symbister harbour it was the built by the Bruce family in the early 1800s. The cost of the building, over £30,000, virtually bankrupted the family.
22. Papa Stour
Located to the west of mainland Shetland and with an area of 828 hectares, Papa Stour (Old Norse: Papey Stóra or big island of priests) has been inhabited for over 5000 years. This Norse name refers to a community of Celtic missionary priests that lived on the island, perhaps as early as the 6th century.
In fact, the oldest surviving Shetland document, dating from 1299, was written in Papa Stour. It deals with a dramatic incident in the house of Duke Hakon Magnusson, who was later to become King Hakon V of Norway. There is a circle of stones near the beach at Housa Voe, which are the remains of a 'ting', or local assembly. This was the scene of a duel, fought and won by Lord Thorvald Thoresson, who was accused of corruption in the 1299 document and was later called ‘dominus de Papay’. The remains of Duke Hakon's thirteenth-century house are still visible near Housa Voe.
The population peaked in 1885 when 360 people lived on the island when it was an important fishing centre. Sadly, the population is probably critical in 2013 with only nine people staying there.
Sandness, locally known as Sannis or Saanis (the d is always silent), is a district on the far Westside of the Mainland, adjacent to the island of Papa Stour.
It is a strip of arable coastal land approximately three miles from Bousta in the east to Huxter in the west, and one mile from the coast to the hilldykes on Sandness Hill.
The central area of sandy-soiled meadows in Sandness is the best land. Originally crofts laid out on a regular pattern around the Melby and Norby Lochs in the 1870s under the guidance of an improving laird Dr. R.T.C Scott of Melby.
Sandness is another area which has been inhabited from very early times, many of the historical sites are yet to be fully investigated. There is a fort at Garth, a broch at Huxter and a pre-Reformation chapel at Norby. Sandness also has an historic school at Cruisdale, thanks to its most remarkable 19th centuary figure, Robert Jamieson (1827-1899), who provides a lengthy description of the place as part of his campaign to establish the school in the years around 1870. His partisan bias is perhaps evident when he describes it as "the prettiest parish in Shetland", but comparison aside, it is a beautiful 'end of the road'.
St. Margaret's Church at Melby, now disused, dates from 1645. Here a fascinating symbol stone embedded in its walls was recorded by George Low but its wherabouts is now unknown. In its churchyard are the War Memorial and the stone dedicated to the men who were lost at the Ve Skerries when the Ben Doran sank in 1930.
Walls, known locally as Waas, Old Norse: Vagar or Sheltered Bays (voes). Ordnance Survey added the double L as they thought it was a corruption of "walls". Walls, a settlement on the south side of West Mainland, at the head of Vaila Sound and sheltered even from southerly storms by the islands of Linga and Vaila.
Useful links: The island of Vaila
At the latest count there were 31 inhabitants on Foula.
The island west of the mainland is certainly one of the most remote inhabited islands in Britain. Inhabited since Neolithic times, the island is rich in historical significance. In 1720, a smallpox epidemic struck the two hundred people living on Foula. Because the islanders were so isolated from the rest of the world, they had no immunity to smallpox, unlike most North European peoples at that time, and nine out of ten of the island's population died in the epidemic.
The island was one of the last places where the Norn language was spoken (although it is claimed that Walter Sutherland of Skaw on Unst was the last speaker), and the local dialect is strongly influenced by Old Norse.
Useful links: Foula Heritage
Lying to the east of Lerwick the island of Bressay (from Old Norse Breiðey or Brús(a)ey meaning either 'Broad Island' or 'Brusi's Island') the isle is 11x8 km (7x3 miles) and creates a superb sheltered harbour for shipping – the reason for Lerwick's establishment as a major trading port. From Viking times Bressay Sound has provided a safe anchorage and in the mid 17th century up to 1,500 Dutch herring fishing vessels gathered here.
The population is around 400 people, concentrated in the middle of the west coast, around Glebe, Fullaburn and Maryfield. The island is made up of old red sandstone with some basaltic intrusions. Bressay was quarried extensively for building materials, used all over Shetland, especially in nearby Lerwick.
Useful links: Bressay Heritage Centre & History Group
Noss is separated from the island of Bressay by the narrow Noss Sound. It has been run as a sheep farm since 1900.
Noss had a population of 20 in 1851 but has had no permanent inhabitants since 1939. The main focus of settlement on Noss was around the low lying west side of the island at Gungstie (Old Norse: a landing place). Gungstie was built in the 1670s and is currently used by the seasonal wildlife wardens. Another settlement at Setter, on the south east of the island was inhabited until the 1870s and now lies derelict. Among the few families living on Noss were the Booth family headed by Joseph Booth (1765–1847). Genealogical records indicate that he was occupied as a farmer and fish curer. Records show that he was resident on Noss as early as 1834.
Today Noss is a National Nature Reserve with over 100,000 pairs of breeding seabirds. The island is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage and staffed by seasonal wardens who provide a weather-permitting summer boat service.
28. Fair Isle
Fair Isle is now the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom with some 70 inhabitants. The island is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, they bought it in 1954 from George Waterston, the founder of the bird observatory.
Fair Isle has been occupied since the Bronze Age which is remarkable because of the lack of raw materials on the island, although it is surrounded by rich fishing waters. There are two known Iron Age sites - a promontory fort at Landberg and the foundations of a house underlying an early Christian settlement at Kirkigeo. Most of the place-names date from after the ninth-century Norse settlement of the Northern Isles. By that time the croft lands had clearly been in use for many centuries. On 20 August 1588 the flagship of the Spanish Armada, El Gran Grifón, was shipwrecked in the cove of Stroms Heelor, forcing its 300 sailors to spend six weeks living with the islanders. The wreck was discovered in 1970.
Today about 60 crofters work the land on the island. It has 14 scheduled monuments, ranging from the earliest signs of human activity to the remains of a World War II radar station. The two automated lighthouses are protected as listed buildings. The island's historic role as a signal station continues today with its high-technology relay stations carrying vital TV, radio, telephone and military communication links between Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland.
Useful links: Fair Isle.org