John R Tudor.

The Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state online

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sixareen will occasionally, though pulled by six sturdy oars-
men, take to make the passage, and the apparently erratic
course she will have to pursue.

Any one wishing to explore the caves should either take a
boat from the island, or else obtain a pilot there, as so numerous
are the half sunk rocks or baas outside, to say nothing of the
rocks inside the caves, that it would be positively dangerous to
attempt doing so with a strange crew.

To enable you to enter all the caves the wind should have
been blowing for some time, and that moderately, from any
point between north-east and south-east, and dead neap-tides are
preferable, as the rush of water is then not so strong round the
points and through the arches as it is when the tides quicken.
If possible you ought to be provided with plenty of torches and
a few blue-lights, and some magnesium wire would, in some of
the caves, bring out some weirdly beautiful Rembrandtesque
effects. Starting from Melby to circumnavigate the isle from
the south round the west side you first come to the Clingarie
Geo Caves, a little to the west of the Kirk Sands. From the
sea these caves, or rather tunnels, one of which only can be
entered with a boat, present no particular feature, and can be
inspected best from the shore. The eastern and principal one is
about thirty-five yards long, and runs north-east and south-west
out of a huge gloup or blow-hole into which the sea flows, and
which is about seventy yards long, forty to fifty in width, and
about forty feet in depth. The walls are composed of flagstones
piled in layers horizontally, like thin slabs of slate, one on top
of another. From the south-west corner of the gloup the other
tunnel, in the roof of which a hole was made by a storm in
May 1880, runs to the shore, but owing to a rock at its mouth


is impassable for boats. Leaving Clingarie Geo you pass round
or through Revara Baas, from which point Foula appears not
unUke a Hon couchant, and seen with a setting sun hghting up its
glens and corries and gilding its peaks, has so weirdly beautiful
a look, that, if you have not already been there, makes you long
to visit it. Passing Gorsendie and Shepherd's Geos, in the
latter of which are a couple of caves, one a fine arched one,
you come to Hamna Voe, the winter fishing creek of the
island, on the shores of which Messrs. Adie of Voe have their
booth and curing station. Olas, or West Voe as the Papa men
term it, is the summer fishing station, and here are the lodges
of the foreign fishermen, who come here for the haaf season.
In the last century a large herring fishery was carried on from
Housa Voe, but since then, till the last year or so, the long-
line fishing has been the only one prosecuted from the
island. To return, however, to the caves.

Shortly after passing Hamna Voe you come to Francie's
Hole, one of the show caves, and though not very large, in the
writer's opinion the most beautiful one of all. You enter
through a perfectly arched entrance cut in the face of a cliff
of perhaps forty feet or so in height, and can almost fancy you
are in a cave in fairyland, so exquisite is the colouring of the
roof and sides, and so pellucid is the water. What the length,
breadth, or height may be the writer cannot say, so o\er-
powered with the beauty of the place was he, that he utterly
forgot to estimate them. The rock forming the sides and roof,
ai)parently porphyritic, is partly green from sea-weed or slime,
and partly red of many shades, and in places glistens like mica.
The roof is studded with bosses of a deep rich purple, like
the bloom on a grape, and resembling in form and regularity,
what are to be seen on the roofs of cathedral crypts and clois-
ters. Several oives branch off on the left, and at the head is
a beautiful pink beach, at the top of which are alcoves or
recesses like stalls in a church. Properly lit un this cave must
be superb.

Just north of Francie's Hole — in fact next door — is a recess

K. K 2


sunk in the rock like an outline of a door or gateway, as if Dame
Nature meant trying her hand at another cave. Next you come
to Brei Geo, the caves in which, though they are said to run a
long way up, are not accessible in a boat. All about here
the rocks assume the most fantastic forms, as often as not
resembling ruined castles, and a painter, in half a mile of the
coast-line, might find subjects for hundreds of sketches.

Christie's Hole, the next cave to be visited, is situated at the
head of a narrow geo walled in by perpendicular rocks, pro-
bably from eighty to one hundred feet in height. Just before
the entrance to the cave stands a very fine picturesque stack
hke an obelisk on guard before the gateway of a temple. This
passed you pull through an archway some thirty or forty yards
long, like the covered approach to an old castle, then about a
hundred yards open to the sky, though walled in by rocks of
the same height as those forming the sides of the geo, brings
you to the cave itself, which extends some seventy or eighty
yards, and ends in a beach which seals are said to frequent.
Pigeons build in the arched and open portions, and cormo-
rants, filthy ill-omened birds, flop down to the water as you
enter the cave. The view from the archway of the sentinel
stack would make a very pretty picture. From here you cross
Eshy Wick to Lyra Skerry, and Fugla. On the latter cattle
are depastured during summer months, a proceeding which has
probably led the gulls, which in former times are said to have
bred on its grassy summit in such quantities as to give it
its name of Fugloe or Fowl Isle, to desert it and shift their
quarters to the summit of Lyra Skerry, inaccessible to any one
except birds and Shetlanders. When Low^ wrote. Lyrics or
Manx Shearwaters, from which birds the stack gets its name,
were the only birds which occupied it. They may still be there
and yet not be seen, as according to Saxby, they are rarely in
the day-time seen out of their holes during the breeding

At the south-eastern corner of this skerry is a solitary columnar
^ Low's Tour, p. 124.


Stack, known as the Foot of Lyra Skerry. The feature of
the skerry however, is the magnificent arch or tunnel, with a
groined roof not far off 30 feet in height, which runs through
from north to south, a distance of about 100 yards, and which
is crossed by two other tunnels, one of which, according to the
6-inch Ordnance Survey, is 11 chains, or 242 yards, in length.
It is not every day you can traverse this arch, as the tide at
times flows through it like a mill race, and an upset in such a
spot would probably make some of the party, as the x^mericans
say, pass in their checks.

Just off the north of Lyra Skerry is the Snolda Stack, a
similar one to the Foot of Lyra, but which standing out by
itself, is far more imposing. Of this stack Shirreff ^ says, " Here
also, near 200 yards from the shore, stands the Stack of Snalda,
a grand perpendicular column of rock, at least sixty, but
more probably eighty, feet high, on the summit of which the
eagle has annually nestled from time immemorial. There is
no instance of the young being ever taken, but an old one has
been shot at different times in the recollection of a person now
living on the island. About thirty-five years ago, an eagle,
carrying a lamb from the Mainland, dropped it still alive, at
a place on this island called Mid-Sater. A boy, who happened
to be within a {q.\n yards of the place where the lamb fell, on a
ploughed field, immediately seized it, and preserved it from the
clutches of his feathered majesty. Being a female, it produced
several lambs, which proved very useful in establishing a breed to
his father's family, who had none before this windfall happened."
From here you see the Ve Skerries, many acres of rock very
little above the sea, some four or five miles to the north-west,
where the Arctic Tern is said to breed in swarms, and where
the seals,2 formerly so thick on the western coast of Shetland,
are said to have migrated to. From Eshy Wick round to
Bordie are the finest cliffs in the island, though probably they

1 ShirrefTs Shetland, p. 5.

-' Mr. Howard Saunders, the well-known ornithologist, was told that the
bladder-nosed seal (Cysiop/ura cristata) frequented the Ve Skerries.


do not exceed 200 feet, if they reach that height, as Virda
Field, the most elevated point on the isle, is only 287. The
view from the summit of Virda Field, when a nor'-wester is
hurling green masses of water over the Snolda Stack, must be
something to remember. The Horn of Papa is now in sight,
one of the most curious, fantastically-shaped headlands con-
ceivable, an arch being driven through the lower part, whilst
the summit is surmounted by a horn-like protuberance.

After leaving the Horn, and passing a small geo, you come
to the Hole of Bordie, a tunnel which runs right through the
head of the same name. Papa people say it is three quarters
of a mile in length, and as by the Ordnance survey it is shown
to be twenty chains from side to side, and it is said to zigzag a
good deal, it is possible it is half a mile in length. You enter
through an arch, cut in a low cliff, into a lofty vestibule as it
were, which runs from north-west to south-east, and from the
roof of which a curious lozenge-shaped rock has fallen away.
At the end of this vestibule the tunnel proper turns off at
right angles. It is of no great height, but, as far as the writer
went, broad enough for a boat to be pulled, not merely shoved
along. Even without torches you are said to be a very short
time in total darkness, as, soon after losing the light from the
one side, you see it glimmering from the other. The passage
is said to be very safe in one respect, as there are no rocks
inside to guard against; but the northern entrance, where
there is often a very nice lift on, is studded with baas.
The day the writer was there, in July, 1880, there was too
much sea to risk pulling through, and out at the north-eastern
side ; but, after penetrating about two hundred yards in from
the western side, he was pulled round with some difficulty, so
strong was the tide setting on the head, to the other entrance,
where he had ocular evidence of the baas. Inadvertently the
boat had been permitted to get too near one, and had hardly
sheered clear when, on the lift falling, a jagged point of rock
was suddenly protruded through the falling water, that would
have cut through the timbers of the boat like a knife had it


only touched ihem. There is not much to see between Bordie
and Housa Voe, though no doubt some caves might be found.
At the south-eastern corner of the island is an arched passage
through a holm, called Brei Holm, and which is sometimes
used as a short cut by boats going to Housa Voe. Low,^ who
passed through it, described it as " the common passage, but
it is rather horrible." ^Vhat would the worthy minister have
thought of Bordie or the tunnel through Lyra Skerry ? You
enter through an arch cut in the face of a cliff of perhaps 40
feet in height. Not long after entering a circular hole in the
roof, the diameter of which is about the breadth of the cave,
brings you into broad daylight for a short space, after which
you pull through a wide-arched cavern to the sea outside.
Like Francie's Hole, the roof is studded with beautiful red
bosses. On the left-hand side, close to the circular open
space, another tunnel branches off in a south-westerly direc-
tion, at the mouth of whicli a small rock, known as the Maw
Stack, makes a very pretty picture, set ns it is in the frame-
Avork of the mouth of the cave.

Close to the north-eastern mouth is a stack on which can
still be traced the remains of a building of which Brand - tells
the following legend : " At a little distance from Papa Stour,
lies a Rock encompassed with the Sea called Frau-a-Stack,
which is a Danish word, and signifieth, our Ladys Rock, upon
which are to be seen, the Ruines of a House, wherein they say
a Gentleman did put his Daughter, that so she might be shut
and secluded from the Company of Men ; but tho a Maiden
when put in, yet she was found with Child when brought out,
notwithstanding of her being so closely kept, but whither this
came to pass by a Golden Shower (the most powerful Court-
ship) or not the Country hath lost the Tradition." They
must have had some difficulty in getting the young woman up,
unless she could climb like a cat, or they hoisted her up.
Munch ^ says Fniarstakkr is the usual name for such steep

1 Low's Tour, p. 122. Bmnd's Orkney atid Zetland, ji. 109.

^ Mem. des Ant. dti Nord, 1850 — 60, p. 122.


isolated stacks on the Scandinavian coast, and that there is a
Fruhohn near Ingo in Finmark. There is another Frau or
Maiden Stack near tlie Mull of Eswick, on the east side of the
Mainland, of which a similar legend is told, and there is a
Maiden Stack close to the Grind of the Navir.

In addition to the Frau Stack there are several others
clustering together off the southern end of Housa Voe, from
which point you get a very fine view of the Noup of Norby,
Cor Ness, Snarra Ness, the Neing of Brindaster, and of the pre-
cipitous red granite cliffs from which Muckle Rooe takes its
name. Housa Voe is horseshoe-shaped, and is fringed by a
beach of exquisitely fine white sand. On the southern side of
the voe can still be traced the foundations of the old mansion
house that belonged to the Mouats, of Bauquhally, in Banfi"-
shire, whose armorial bearings with the Monte alio were seen
on the house by Hibbert.^ The house has long since been
pulled down to build cottages, in one of which one of the
carved stones from the old mansion is built as a door-post ;
another stone was lying on the ground outside one of the
cottages in 1880 The church is situated on the south side of
the island, not far from the Kirk Sands, and is a new building
a Httle to the west of the site of the old one. Into the south-
eastern corner of this building is built the stone which Low ^
described as elliptical in shape, and having a groove round it
as if it had been used as an anchor, and which he thought
might have been deposited as a votive offering. The local
tradition was that it had been washed ashore with a man's
boJy attached to it. It is now so covered with mortar that
nothing of it can be seen.

According to Hibbert,-'' a Dutch (probably a Hamburger)
merchant presented, in the early part of the eighteenth century,
the church bell, a silver communion cup, and a curious copper
basin for holding water at baptisms. There is a tombstone in
the churchyard, which has a very flowery inscription recording in

^ 'iV\\i\,Qx'C% Shetland Isles, p. 552. - Low's 7ii«r, p. 124.

^ \\\\:>\iQ\:\!% Shetland Isles, p. 553.


verse the virtues of the deceased, and, in order that it should
be known unto all men that he came of gentle blood, most
elaborate armorial bearings are carved on it, and below, to
show that all things are vanity, are sculptured cross-bones, a
skull, and a coffin on handspikes. Walls ^ and Sandness were
the parishes where elephantiasis^ locally called leprosy, lingered
longest and raged worst in Shetland. In the Sessions records
it is mentioned, that in 1742 a special day of thanksgiving was
appointed on account of the disease having become nearly
extinct. The leper-houses for the western districts, in which
the unfortunates were compelled to live apart from their
fellows, were situated on this isle, and it is said their site can
still be pointed out. It is one of the moot points whether it
was infectious or not ; Arthur Edmondston ^ was of opinion that
it was, and that it was aggravated in Shetland by want of fresh
meat and vegetable food combined with a total disregard of
cleanliness. Leprosy^ by the way is still prevalent on the
west coast of Norway, and there are leper hospitals at Bergen
and Molde, Papa is wonderfully fertile for Shetland on its
eastern and south-eastern sides, and in summer red clover
grows wild over a good deal of the island. Looking across
the cultivated portion in a north-easterly direction, with
Rooeness Hill in the background, you can fancy you are in
some rich fertile Scotch Lowland county, with the Highland
mountains in the distance. Want of fuel is the great draw-
back, and peat has to be boated either from Sandness or Papa
Little at the head of Aith Voe. Many families have in con-
seciuence emigrated in the last ten years for New Zealand, the
colony Shetlanders mostly prefer, and some have simply moved
over to the Mainland. In 1871 the population all told
amounted to 351, in 1881 it had fallen to 253, showing a
decrease of more than a fourth in the decade. If you have
time you may arrange to see the sword-dance performed,

^ First Statistical Account, vol. xx. p. 101.

2 Edmondston's Shetland Islands, vol. ii. p. 104.

8 Murray's j?Vi7rii:'aj/, sixth edition, 1878, p. 71.


though probably the performers are not up to the mark of fifty
or sixty years ago, when Hibbert saw them. On the northern
shores of Housa Voe is a house somewhat larger than the
others, in which Hibbert was entertained by Gideon Hen-
derson, the factor for one of the two proprietors who then
owned the island. Whilst Henderson was hospitably enter-
taining Hibbert, he was also illegally detaining Edwin M .

M. is not the initial letter of the surname, but it will

serve equally well. One of twins, born in 1786, Edwin for
some time served in the army out in the East Indies, till
on refusing to go out when called, he was compelled to throw
up his commission and return to England, whence, after living
for a time under a cloud, he seems to have been smuggled up
to Shetland either in the year 1808 or 181 5, and placed under
the charge of Henderson, who for looking after him seems to
have been, remembering what living can have cost in those
days, handsomely remunerated for converting his house into an
unlicensed lunatic asylum. The parish schoolmaster, a kirk
elder to boot, was also in the swim, and for making a declaration

that Edwin M.^ was insane, was said to have received ;^i5 a

year. The father of the alleged lunatic charged by his will a
freehold estate with the payment of ^^150 a year for his
maintenance, which is said to have been paid by his brother to

Edwin M. , who does not seem to have been ill-treated

beyond not being allowed to leave the island, was in 1831
discovered by a Methodist lady, who was acting as a female
missionary through the islands, and in May, 1833, she saw
him again, and arranged to help him to escape. Now another

character comes on the stage — a Captain P.^ , who having

been a captain in the corps of Royal Engineers was entitled to
be, according to the old saw, either mad, married, or Methodist,
and who in fact seems to have been more or less touched on
some points, and wholly Methodist into the bargain. His
career had been a chequered one. Born a year before Edwin
M. , he entered the Sappers in 1804, and on getting his


company in 1S14, and being stationed at Barbados, fell out
with the major-general commanding the forces, whom he
brought to a court martial on a charge of malversation of pub-
lic moneys. The general was found guilty on one count, and
ordered to be reprimanded, whilst his accuser found the truth
of the old Scotch proverb that " he, who would sup kail with
the deil, needs a long spoon," and was chasse'^ out of the
service. Afterwards he wms for a time civil engineer at Sierra
Leone, and then colonial engineer and town surveyor in
Trinidad. To him the Methodist lady applied for assistance,
which he accepted, evidently seeing his way to a little
preachee, preachee, during the course of his visit. On arriv-
ing at Lerwick, after lecturing on the sin and unlawfulness of
warfare, he went, via Reawick, to Walls, where he lectured
again, and then proceeded through Sandness, where he lec-
tured once more, to Papa, where, finding Gideon Henderson
from home, he insisted the following morning on removing

Edwin M. . Taking a boat as far as Deep Dale, they

walked into Walls, and from there proceeded by boat to Scal-
loway. At Scalloway they chartered a vessel to take them to
the Orkneys, but Gideon Henderson, in conjunction with
the Procurator-Fiscal, having applied to the Sheriff Substitute,
Charles Duncan, for a 7ie exeat, or whatever it may be called
in Scotland, they had to appear before his lordship, who ruled
that Edwin M. was perfectly competent to look after him-
self — a decision that, on their arrival in England and filing a
bill in Chancery against Edwin's brother to compel payment of
the annuity bequeathed by the father, was upheld and justified
by the then Vice-Chancellor of England. That Edwin was
illegally detained by Henderson, acting under the instru-
mentality of his relatives, who, had they lived in France in the
days of Louis le Grand, would have applied for and got a
letire de cachet, there can be little doubt ; but that there may
have been a screw loose is shown by the fact, that Edwin's
twin brother was for some time under the care of a minister
in Orkney, and, from what the writer has' heard, not treated as


he should have been by his reverend custodian, though un-
doubtedly of weak intellect. The whole story reads like a
nineteenth-century version of Rachel Erskine, Lady Grange's
imprisonment at St. Kilda. Ever since the days of Laurence
Bruce of " worthie " memory, Shetland seems to have been
looked upon as a locus penitenticB for detrimentals ; whether on
the whole it has been fair to the isles to treat them as a disin-
fecting establishment, or whether it is always the best treatment
for the patients themselves, is another matter.


From a sketch by Sir H. Dryden, Bart.




Situated some fifteeen miles a little to tlie south-west from
Vaila Sound, Foula {Fitghv), in all probability the Ultima Thule
of Agricola's legionaries, is undoubtedly for its size one of the
most interesting islands in British seas, if not the most

Formerly looked upon as nearly as inaccessible as St. Kilda,
owing to there being no regular postal communication with the
Mainland, Foula, like Fair Isle, now has, wind and weather
permitting, a regular fortnightly mail, which is conveyed to the
island by one of Messrs. Garriock and Co.'s smacks from
Reawick, by which smack the would-be visitor could be landed
on the island and if willing to spend a fortnight or so —
revelling in the finest, St. Kilda perhaps only excepted, rock
scenery in Britain, observing the habits of the various sea-fowl,
which during the breeding season frequent the western side in
countless numbers, or sitting down at a respectful distance,
glass in hand, watching the aerial antics of the Scoutie Allan,
or the graver " sentry go " of the more lordly Bonxie, and
all the time inhaling the purest air going — can return in the


smack to the port whence he embarked. To those however,
whose time is Hmited, Walls is by far the best starting-point, as
with an easterly, or even a good " sojer's," wind the island can
be reached in a fourareen in three hours or so, and with a
sixareen in half an hour less. In addition, if the wind should
fail you, not an impossibility in June or July, you have the oars
to fall back on, and need not go drifting about like

" A painted ship upon a painted ocean,"

at the mercy of the tide. By writing to Mr. James Garriock,
of Reawick, the factor for the Melby Estate, you could ascer-
tain whether you could obtain permission to occupy the rooms
reserved at Mr. Peterson's, close to the landing-place at Ham,
for members of the Melby family or Mr. Garriock, and which
consist of a sitting-room with one box bed in it, and a smaller
closet with similar accommodation. Failing the factor's house
you might get accommodation at the Congregational Manse,
but it would be as well to ascertain in Walls as to this before
starting. Take meat, bread, and whatever liquids you may
require, as the island larder will probably be limited to fish,
eggs, and perhaps poultry, and bear in mind the hint already
given in connection with Fair Isle (p. 430). Take also well
nailed boots, as the grass is sometimes so dry and the heather

Online LibraryJohn R TudorThe Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state → online text (page 42 of 59)