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Summer Sailings
Chapter VI A Yacht Cruise among the Shetland Islands


The barren and distant Shetland Islands, in spite of the rapid tides and stormy seas which surround them, and of the total absence of all the softer features of scenery, present many attractions to the adventurous yachtsman. They abound in safe harbours, and their cliffs and headlands are unequalled among the British Isles. They also contain numerous remains of ancient forts or Burohs, whose age and uses are now7 matter for conjecture, and about whose builders as little is certainly known as about those of the pyramids of Egypt, or the round towers of Ireland. Rude Scandinavian instruments of husbandry, and picturesque inefficient old mills, are still in common use, and many Norse expressions yet linger in the ordinary speech of the islanders. The men, by their universal preference of a seafaring life, and contempt for agriculture, show themselves the true descendants of those old Vikings whose war galleys were, for three centuries, the terror of every coast in Europe; while the women not only knit those stockings, shawls, and veils, whose softness and warmth have become proverbial, but also cut and carry turf, and perform all the agricultural operations reserved in most other countries for the ruder and stronger sex. Inns are scarce, but the hospitality universally practised by the clergy, gentry, and farmers amply supplies their place; and the capital trout-fishing in the numerous fresh-water lochs, and at the head of the voes or narrow inlets of the sea, offers a strong temptation to the enterprising sportsman.

On our return from a voyage to Norway, we spent a fortnight among these rugged and treeless islands, which we now propose describing, first asking the reader to glance for a moment at their early history, which possesses many elements of romantic interest. In the ninth century a Norwegian prince, Haralcl fiarfagr, or the fair-haired, became enamoured of the beautiful Princess Gida, the loveliest maiden in Europe. He proposed to marry her, but the proud beauty rejected his suit. “You are not yet sufficiently renowned; reduce all Norway under your sway, and then I may listen to your love,” was Gida’s reply to her fair haired adorer. Harald accepted the task, and vowed to suffer his golden locks to grow until he had conquered the kingdom and won the bride. He did both ; but many of the petty princes of Norway whom he had driven from their country took refuge with their warlike followers in the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and thence made repeated and desolating descents upon the coasts of Norway. Summer after summer these were renewed, until at length Harald was roused to vengeance, assembled a powerful armament, sailed to Orkney and Shetland, and reduced both groups of islands under his sway. He then conferred them as an earldom upon Ronald, Count of Merca, who resigned the donation in favour of his brother Sigurd, first Jarl or Earl of Orkney. For several hundred years the Orkney and Shetland Islands remained under the dominion of the Norwegian crown; but in the thirteenth century they were transferred from the Government of Norway to that of Scotland, in security of 58,000 florins, part of the dowry of Margaret, daughter of the King of Norway, on her marriage to James the Third. In the previous century, Henry Sinclair, a Scotchman, who had by marriage acquired the best right to the Earldom of Orkney, received an investiture of it from the King of Denmark, then also monarch of Norway, and he and his descendants held the earldom for nearly one hundred years. But after the islands had been pledged to the Scottish crown, Lord Sinclair gave up his right in them to James the Third, in exchange for the castle and lands of Ravenscraig in Scotland, upon which the king by a formal statute annexed them to the Crown. Soon after this annexation, the Norsk language began to fall into desuetude ; but in their manners, domestic habits, language, and appearance, the Shetlanders still bear traces of their Scandinavian descent. The single stilted plough, and the rude corn-mills, now as of old in use, and the tusker, quern, and cassie, are genuine Scandinavian implements of husbandry, and nearly two hundred words of Norsk origin are still employed by the inhabitants. But though the Northmen have stamped the impress of their race indelibly on the character and habits of the Shetlanders, traces of earlier and more civilised conquerors are still to be found in many of the islands. Coins of Vespasian, Galba. Julius Caesar, and Trajan have been dug up in various places. In the year 84 of our era, Agricola visited the Orkneys during his circumnavigation of Great Britain ; and in the fourth century Theodosius also did so, and most probably extended his voyage to Shetland. As to the original inhabitants, they appear to have been a Pictish tribe of Celtic origin about whom little is known; but through the darkness and uncertainty which shroud these remote ages, we may discern three important epochs in the early history of these islands. First, Agricola’s visit when they were inhabited by a Celtic race; second, their conquest a.d. 368 by Theodosius, at which period they were the strongholds of Saxon pirates who made wasting descents upon the British coasts; and third, the sixth century, when they fell into the hands of the Scandinavians, the ancestors of the present inhabitants.

But to pass from the days of war-galleys and vikings, when piracy was considered a gentlemanly and respectable occupation, to our present state of morality and civilisation, when we start on a cruise to cure dyspepsia or dispel ennui—it was a beautiful autumn morning when we came in sight of the majestic cliffs of Sumburgh and Fitful Head immortalised by Sir Walter Scott in the Pirate. Soon after, we passed through the Roost of Sumburgh, where we were terribly tossed about until we got beyond its stormy influence. Roost or Roust, a word of frequent occurrence among the Orkney and Shetland Islands, is a term of Scandinavian origin, meaning a strong tumultuous current caused by the meeting of rapid tides. Sumburgh Roost, even in calm weather, has the appearance of a turbulent tide stream two or three miles wide extending a short distance from the headland which gives it its name, and then gradually dwindling to a long dark line stretching away towards Fair Isle. At the commencement of the flood in the Roost, the tide flows to the eastward until it passes the head; it there meets a southern tide, which causes a divergence, first to the southeast, and then to the south. At high water there is a short cessation, called the “still,” after which the ebb begins, setting first north-west and then north, until the recommencement of the flood. A sloop lias been becalmed for five days between Sumburgli Head and Fitful Head, which are only three miles distant from each other, without being able to pass either, in consequence of one current impelling her into the eastern, and an opposing one into the western sea.

Viewed from the sea, Fitful Head presents a somewhat rounded and bluff outline, terminating in an almost perpendicular cliff, from which there is a gradual slope inland to the low ground that surrounds Quendal Bay. Beyond this, the land again rises, till it culminates in Sumburgh Head, which presents to the sea a sheer wall of rock, on the highest point of which gleam the white walls and tower of a lighthouse, to warn the mariner against the dangers of the stormy roost. Below the precipice are the Links of Sumburgh, famous in Shetland history as the scene of a desperate battle fought many centuries ago between the Shetlanders and the men of Lewis. The feud between them had been of long standing, and many a combat and wasting foray had embittered their mutual animosity, which is said to have originated in the following circumstance. In the middle of the thirteenth century, when King Haco of Norway, to whom Shetland then belonged, made his famous expedition against Scotland, which terminated in his defeat at the battle of Largs, he detached a body of troops to hold the island of Lewis in check. These troops impoverished the islanders by grinding exactions, and exasperated them by repeated acts of atrocity, until at length a plot was formed for cutting off the hated invaders. The lord of the island ordered the croistarich to be constructed, the ritual fire to be kindled, and a goat to be slain. The extremities of a wooden cross were then lighted, and the flames quenched in the blood of the slain animal. This emblem of fire and sword was tlien despatched by a swift messenger throughout the island with the terrible mandate, “Let every man slay his guest.” The messenger sped to the nearest hamlet, and there presented the token which bound him who received it, on pain of being pronounced infamous, to obey his chieftain’s command to slay his guest, and afterwards, in his turn, speed onward as bearer of the bloody token to the next hamlet, where a similar tragedy was enacted, and thus all Haco’s warriors fell beneath the steel of the islanders. But even this bloody vengeance did not satiate the hatred of the Lewismen, who transmitted their hostility to Shetland from generation to generation, and even subsequently to the union of the islands with the Scottish Crown, used to make desolating descents upon their shores. Their last battle with the Shetlanders is said to have been fought on the Links of Sumburgh, where the islanders, drawn up in battle array under the leadership of one of the Sinclairs of Brow, awaited the assault of their invaders. The combat that took place was of the most desperate character, and attended with great slaughter on both sides; but at length victory declared for the Shetlanders, and not a single Lewis-man returned to tell the fate of his companions.

The vanquished were buried in heaps where they fell, and mounds of sand piled above their graves. These were long afterwards swept away during a violent storm, which laid bare quantities of human bones thrown indiscriminately together.

After passing Sumburgh Head, we entered the Sound of Mousa, as the arm of the sea which separates the island of that name from the Mainland is called. The most interesting relic of antiquity in the whole Shetland group is the curious old tower termed the Burgh of Mousa. It occupies a site close to the sea, is circular in shape, and measures about fifty feet in diameter at the base, by forty-two feet in height, swelling out from the foundation, and then getting smaller towards the top. The stones of which it is built are of medium size, carefully laid together, but without any cement. The doorway is low, and leads to a narrow passage which can only be explored by creeping on the hands and knees. This traversed admits to an open area inclosed by the walls of the building, which are of the great thickness of fifteen feet. The diameter of the open space is twenty-one feet. The walls of this singular structure are hollow, and pierced by several rows of small chambers, to which access is afforded by means of a winding stone staircase three feet in width. In fact, the shell of the building consists of two concentric walls, one about five feet, and the other about four and a half in thickness, while a space of nearly similar extent is occupied by a number of small low chambers. The roofs of the lowest range of apartments form the floors of those above; and, in this way, no less than seven tiers of chambers wind round the building. The Burgh is supposed by some to have been intended as a place of refuge from the attacks of the pirates by whom these islands were once devastated, and these small dark chambers, protected by thick strong walls, are believed to have been constructed as places of shelter for the women and children, and also as repositories for grain and other valuables. This, however, is mere conjecture; for the origin, intention, and history of the Burgh of Mousa are alike a mystery which the researches of the subtlest antiquarians have hitherto failed to penetrate.

Strangely enough, the Nuraghe of Sardinia present in their external aspect a striking resemblance to the Burgh of Mousa. These Nuraghe are round towers generally built on the summit of hillocks or artificial mounds commanding an extensive view over the surrounding country. In form they are truncated cones varying from 30 to 60 feet in height, and from 100 to 300 feet in circumference at the base, and no fewer than 3000 of them, in a more or less ruinous state, are said to be still existing in the island of Sardinia. Their walls are composed of rough masses of stone, built in regular horizontal layers, and gradually diminishing in size to the summit. In most instances they show no marks of the chisel, but in some cases the stones appear to have been rudely worked by the hammer, though not exactly squared. The interior of these Nuraglie, however, is very different from that of the Burgh of Mousa. It is thus described by a recent traveller.1 uTlie interior is almost invariably divided into two domed chambers one above the other; the lowest averaging from 15 to 20 feet in diameter, and from 20 to 25 in height. Access to the upper chamber is gained by a spiral ramp or rude steps between the internal and external walls. These are continued to the summit of the tower, which is generally supposed to have formed a platform, but scarcely any of the Nuraghe now present a perfect apex. On the ground-floor there are generally found from two to four cells worked in the solid masonry of tlie base of the cone.” Afterwards, the entrance to one of these Nuraghe is described.

“The entrance was so low that we were obliged to stoop almost to our knees in passing through it. A lintel, consisting of a single stone some two tons weight, was supported by the protruding jambs. No light being admitted to the chamber but by a low passage through the double walls, it was gloomy enough.” It will thus be evident that though the position, external appearance, double walls, low narrow entrance, and cells excavated in the solid masonry of the base of these Nuraghe bear a striking analogy to the Shetland Burghs, yet the arrangement of their interior into two great domed chambers presents a marked contrast to the seven tiers or nests of apartments that wind between the concentric walls of the Burgh of Mousa. The origin, history, and purposes of these Nuraghe have excited quite as much interest among Sardinian antiquaries as those of the Burghs have done among ourselves; and La Marmora and Father Bresciani, the most recent and best authorities, agree in supposing them to have been intended to serve as religious edifices or tombs for the dead, and in imputing to them an eastern origin, probably Canaanitisli or Phoenician.

On emerging from the Sound of Mousa, we came in sight of two tall and precipitous cliffs, called the Bard of Bressay and Noss Head. The former is pierced by a singular cavern, through which a boat may be rowed from sea to sea. We sailed past yet another headland, called the Ord of Bressay, and then—leaving it behind us and rounding a low point—entered the landlocked Sound of Bressay, the first port we made in the Shetland Islands. This Sound, separating the island of Bressay from that of the Mainland, forms one of the finest harbours in Great Britain, and is a favourite rendezvous of vessels bound for the whale-fishery in the northern seas. On the western sides of the harbour lies the little town of Lerwick, the capital of Shetland. It contains about 3000 inhabitants, and, viewed from the Sound, its appearance is both picturesque and peculiar, the gables of most of the houses facing the water, while numberless piers and jetties 2>roject into the harbour, whose sheltered waters stretch north and south for nearly four miles with an average breadth of about a mile. The town is built along a peninsula, whose northern extremity is crowned by a fort commanding a fine view of the harbour and of the opposite island of Bressay, green with rich pasture fields, and famous throughout Shetland for its milk and butter. This fort was erected in 1665, at a cost of 28,000, and, during the Dutch war of that period, was garrisoned by Colonel William Sinclair and 300 men for three years. At the commencement of the eighteenth century it was attacked and burnt by a Dutch frigate, but was repaired in 1781 and named Fort Charlotte; at present a sergeant and a few artillerymen are its only garrison. There is a good deal of bustle and gaiety in Lerwick during two periods of the year : first in spring, when a great number of whaling vessels come into the harbour to get manned; and afterwards, in August and September, when French and Dutch men-of-war often come in to look after their boats engaged in the fisheries along these coasts. Several Dutch fishing smacks were anchored close to where we lay ; they are clumsy but picturesque-looking craft, carrying a tall mast and heavy square-sail, while a smaller mast, on which a slioulder-of-mutton sail is spread, is stepped close to the stern of the vessel. The skippers of these boats were strange-looking animals, fat and unctuous, dressed in thick woollen jerseys and most voluminous breeches. It was amusing to watch them scrambling over the lofty sides of their vessels from the low shore boats in which they had been pulled off from the town. These Dutch fishing smacks carry no boats of their own, and keep the sea in all weathers.

A dangerous rock lies in the northern entrance to Bressay Sound. It is known as the Unicorn, a name which it acquired from the following catastrophe. When the profligate Earl of Bothwell became an outlaw and a pirate, he captured several of the vessels belonging to these islands; and, in order to protect them against his attacks, the Scottish Government despatched two ships of war in pursuit of him. One of these vessels, commanded by Kirkaldy of Grange, and named the Unicorn, got close to the ship of the pirate earl near Bressay Sound. Kirkaldy s steersman was ignorant of the coast, but his gallant commander crowded all sail in pursuit, and the Unicorn was rapidly gaining on her foe, when the skilful pilot who held the helm of Both well’s vessel steered her so as just to graze the hidden danger. Kirkaldy followed close in her wake ; but his ship, less adroitly handled, struck upon the rock, and soon went to pieces, and ever since that time the fatal reef has borne the name of his luckless vessel.

Our first object, on landing at Lerwick, was to find out the Post Office, which stands in Commercial Street, a long narrow thoroughfare, paved with flat stones, which traverses the whole length of the town. We received our letters from an amusing and eccentric public functionary, who, besides acting as clerk to the Postmaster, binds books, teaches elocution and dancing, and takes photographs. Afterwards we walked to Cleikum Loch, about a mile and a half from Lerwick, where, upon an island connected with the shore by a narrow causeway, are the ruins of an ancient Pictish fort supposed to have been similar to that on the island of Mousa. The island in the loch, covered with gray masses of time-worn stones, and backed by brown and bleak hills, forms a fine subject for the pencil. Next day we made an excursion to the Lochs of Tingwall, about five miles distant from Lerwick. The road traverses a hilly district, and, near the town, every hill-side is scarped and broken up by the operations of the turf-cutters. We met numbers of them going to and returning from the peat moss. They were all women, and carried the peats on their backs in baskets exactly like inverted beehives. Many of them, as they trudged along the road, bending under their loads, were engaged in knitting ; several were good-looking and picturesquely dressed; and an artist might easily have formed from among them an excellent foreground group for a picture of turf-cutting in Shetland. The Lochs of Tingwall fill up a hollow, with steep hills on one side and gentler slopes on the other. They abound in fish ; but, to fish them successfully, one must either wade very deep or procure a boat, as there is a great extent of shallow water along their margins. These lochs derive their name from a small green holm or island close to the shore of the upper loch, where courts of law used formerly to hold their meetings, from which it was termed— like similar places of convocation in Iceland and elsewhere—Thingvalla, now corrupted into Ting-wall. The Court of Tingwall was under the jurisdiction of the Foude or Governor, and the laws relating to particular districts were framed at the law tings or assemblies of the householders of these districts. Under the Norwegian rule, there were five of these tings in Shetland, and, under the Scottish dominion, ten, and they continued to exist in Orkney and Shetland until 1670. Lord Dufferin, in his delightful Yacht Cruise to Iceland, etc., gives an animated description of his visit to a Thingvalla in that island ; there, the ting was held on a rock, surrounded on all sides by a profound chasm passable only at one place, where a narrow ledge of rock connected it with the surrounding plain. On this rock the Icelandic householders held their meetings, just as those of Shetland did on the green holm. The ledge leading to the rock, and the causeway to the holm, were guarded by armed men during the meetings of the tings ; but, in Shetland, if a criminal could break through the guards and reach the ancient Church of Tingwall without being captured, he was permitted to escape unpunished. There is still to be seen, in the churchyard near the ruins of the old church, a stone almost covered with moss and lichens, and bearing the following inscription—

Here lies an honest man, Thomas Boyne, sometimes Foucle of Ting wall.

After fishing the lochs with tolerable success, we walked to the fine old ruin of Scalloway Castle, passing on the way a tall upright monumental stone, which, according to one tradition, is said to have been erected to commemorate the death of a Danish general who was there slain while endeavouring to reduce the Norwegian colonists to submission. Another legend, however, affirms that it is a memorial stone raised to mark the spot where a son of an ancient Earl of Orkney was murdered by his father’s orders. This youth, having incurred his father’s displeasure, fled to a stronghold on an island in a loch in the district of Tingwall; upon which the incensed earl sent a party of retainers from Orkney with peremptory instructions to bring back the fugitive dead or alive. They came up with the unfortunate nobleman in the valley of Tingwall, and immediately attacked and killed him, after which they cut off his head, and, on their return to Orkney, laid the ghastly token at his father’s feet to show how faithfully his commands had been obeyed. But they met with a retribution they little anticipated. In a sudden revulsion of feeling, the stern earl wept over the head of his son, ordered his murderers to instant execution, and afterwards erected this stone on the spot where he fell.

Scalloway Castle was built in the year 1G00 by the infamous Earl Patrick, the tyrant of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, whose crimes at length brought him to the scaffold. It is a square tower three stories in height, with large windows, and on the summit of each angle of the building is a small round turret. It is now a mere shell, and the interior is allowed to remain in a filthy state, no effort whatever being made to preserve this fine old ruin from dirt and decay. In order to defray the expense incurred in building {Scalloway Castle, Earl Patrick imposed heavy taxes upon the Shetlanders, by whom he was deservedly and universally hated. On completing the castle, he applied to a Mr. Pitcairn, minister of Northmavine, a bold and witty man, for an inscription to be placed over the gateway of his new abode, and received the following verse of Scripture in answer —“That house which is built upon a rock shall stand, but built upon the sand it will fall.” Disguising his resentment at the implied censure, the earl quietly remarked, “My father’s house was built upon the sand, its foundations are already giving way, and it will fall; but Scalloway Castle is founded on a rock and will stand.” He then desired Mr. Pitcairn to turn the verse he had selected into a Latin distich, which he caused to be sculptured over the principal gateway of the castle, where traces of the letters are still visible.

Nearly a third of the adult male population of the Shetland Isles are occupied in seafaring pursuits; from 1000 to 1500 engage annually in the Greenland whale and seal fisheries, and as many go southward to serve as sailors in merchant vessels. On this account it is often very difficult to get agricultural labourers even at high wages, and they sometimes require to be imported from the county of Caithness. The boats almost universally used by the Shetland fishermen are Norwegian skiffs, small fragile craft carrying a large lug-sail, in the management of which they are very expert. The smaller skiffs, those from ten to twelve feet keel, are brought over from Norway complete, while the larger ones, from twelve to twenty-two feet keel, are first put together in Norway, then taken to pieces, and sent over to Shetland in planks numbered and assorted, so that they can be easily put together again.

Some curious superstitions still exist among the Shetlanders; one of the most singular relating to the extraordinary powers of those who belong to masonic fraternities. The fishermen will scarcely go to sea on the day when a masonic lodge meets, and the common people very generally believe that freemasons have the power of discovering lost and stolen goods. A woman recently walked fifteen miles to inquire of a gentleman belonging to a lodge of freemasons what had become of an old petticoat which she had lost; and, on another occasion, a young man came from a considerable distance for the purpose of ascertaining from a freemason who was the real father of an illegitimate child which had been unjustly fathered upon him. Many curious anecdotes are told of the discoveries made by Shetland freemasons ingeniously taking advantage of the popular belief in their extraordinary powers. Thus a poor labourer had been robbed of his little hard-earned stock of money, and applied to a freemason for assistance in discovering the robber and getting back his hoard.

The freemason directed him to give public notice of his application to him, and to advertise on the church door that the money must be brought back to a place specified in the neighbourhood of the house from which it had been taken by a certain day, at the same time promising that no one would be on the look-out to observe who restored it; and such was the influence of the popular belief, that the stolen money was actually returned on the appointed day.

Before leaving Lerwick Harbour, we spent a day very pleasantly in an excursion to Noss Head, the loftiest cliff in these islands. We landed on the island of Bressay, which is about two miles wide, walked across it, were ferried over the narrow channel which divides the islands of Noss and Bressay, and then commenced the ascent of the steep grassy slope that leads to the summit of the magnificent headland, so familiar an object to all who visit these stormy seas. In three-quarters of an hour we reached the verge of the cliff, where, upon lying down and peering cautiously over, we could see the ocean washing the foot of the precipice 700 feet beneath; while countless flocks of sea-birds were wheeling and screaming in midair, or dotting every ledge and projection on the face of the rock like spots of snow. The view from the summit was magnificent. To the northward, divided by many a winding sound, and indented by many a voe, island after island stretched away farther than the eye could reach. Eastward lay an unbroken expanse of sea. To the westward were the green slopes of Noss, the island and Ward Hill of Bressay, and the town of Lerwick; while far to the south rose the bold cliffs of Sum-burgli and Fitful Head. After enjoying for some time this noble and varied prospect, we proceeded to visit the Cradle of Noss, which is a movable wooden chair or box attached to two slender ropes, spanning a tremendous chasm which separates the Holm of Noss from the main island. The Holm of Noss, thus rudely joined to the larger island of the same name, rises abruptly 160 feet above the sea, and is girt in on all sides by inaccessible precipices. It is very small—about 500 feet long by 170 wide, but its surface is flat, and covered with tolerable pasturage. The chasm across which the cradle extends is sixty-five feet wide; the sea below thirty feet deep. The farmer on Noss breeds a great number of Shetland ponies, and some of those we saw on the island were exceedingly handsome. There are several fresh - water lochs on Bressay, in one of which there are fine pink-fleshed trout. They are, however, very shy, and we only succeeded in enticing two good ones into our basket.

Next day, under the guidance of a gentleman to whose unwearied kindness and attention we were deeply indebted during our stay, we set out on a walk to the ruined Burgh of Brindister, about five miles to the south-west of Lerwick. On our way we passed the pretty bay of Gulbervik, where there is a good deal of cultivation, chiefly on what is termed the run-rig system. There is no rotation of crops practised in Shetland, and one of the farmers will often take five successive crops of corn from the same field. Another wasteful and injurious custom is also prevalent : the turf is cut away from the tops of the hills, and mixed with the cornfields on the lower and more sheltered slopes, in order to improve their soil, and in this way any agricultural value which these uplands may once have possessed is destroyed for a long term of years. After a pleasant walk of an hour and a half we reached the ruined Burgh, picturesquely placed on the verge of a precipice rising 100 feet above the sea which washes its base. The low massive doorway faces westward, and scarcely a yard of green sward intervenes between it and the edge of the precipice. The walls of the ancient tower still rise twelve feet above the ground, gray, time-worn, and overgrown with lichens. On passing through the doorway, you enter a dark passage or gallery three feet square, extending for about thirty feet into the interior of the building ; and a short distance beyond the entrance, a narrow aperture opens on the right of the passage, just wide enough to admit the body of a man of ordinary size. Into this one of our party, a zealous antiquarian, who had provided himself with a torch, contrived to crawl; and, after wriggling about for some time, was lost to view in the darkness. A few minutes afterwards, we saw a head begrimed with dust emerge from the opening, followed by the shoulders belonging to it; but having got thus far, the head and shoulders remained stationary ; so that, after having satisfied ourselves that the dusty apparition was our friend who had shortly before disappeared, and not a Pictish Troll come to assault the invaders of his privacy, we promptly laid hold of him, and by a vigorous pull hauled him out of the passage, and then into the open air, where his heated visage and dusty garments provoked a general laugh. He had, however, succeeded in reaching the penetralia of the ancient Burgh ; for, after crawling through the narrow opening in which he so nearly stuck, he came to an inner chamber of larger dimensions, apparently about eight feet in length and height, and about four feet in width, beyond which there appeared to be no possibility of penetrating. The curiosity of our antiquarian friend being thus fully satisfied, we bade farewell to the Burgh of Brindister, whose gray stones have looked out from their wave-washed precipice, over the waste of waters, for more than a thousand years; and, could they but find a tongue, might tell many a strange and thrilling tale of the warships of Theodosius, manned by the all-conquering Romans; of the Saxon pirates who afterwards became the terror of the Celtic Aborigines; of the Norsk Sea-kings who followed in their track; of King Haco and his mighty expedition against Scotland ; and many another story of “the old, old time.”

We afterwards paid a visit to the interior of a Shetland cottage belonging to the tenant of a small farm in the neighbourhood. It was a thatched house, containing two tolerable rooms with scarcely any furniture, but carefully swept and scrupulously clean. The outer room had an earthen floor and a large circular stone hearth, on which a peat fire was burning brightly, while above the fire was an iron rod with a hook attached, from which a kettle might be suspended. The inner room contained a box-bed and a few chairs; chimneys there were none, the smoke escaping through apertures in the roof. The farmer and his wife were a good-looking couple, and, like all the Shetlanders we met, most kind and hospitable. They gave us some good brown bread and sweet milk, and an acid composition not at all palatable, called run milk. We had afterwards a delightful walk back to Lerwick in a clear mild autumn evening, and got on board our cutter much pleased with the day’s excursion.

Next morning, at ten o’clock, we sailed from Lerwick bound for Balta Sound in the island of Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland group. There was a strong breeze, which freshened towards the afternoon, so that we were obliged to shorten sail; but, under its favouring influence, we bowled merrily along all day, passing many a stack and skerry, many an island and voe. We took the inner passage between Lerwick and Balta Sound, which has the advantage of being sheltered by islands, for the greater part of the distance, from the swell of the sea; but which is also intricate and beset with rocks, so that large ships generally prefer to keep outside the islands. We, however, had two Shetlanders among our crew, who had been familiar with the navigation from boyhood, and knew every rock and roost among the islands, so that, to us, the inner passage presented no dangers. We passed the Unicorn rock formerly mentioned, and, beyond it, the Inner Voder, the Mid Voder, and the Outer Voder, as well as the long line of jagged crags, rejoicing in unpronounceable names, which together form what are termed the Stepping-stones. After running the gauntlet through these threatening reefs, we passed the island of Whalsey belonging to Mr. Bruce of Sim-bister, one of the richest and farthest-descended proprietors in Shetland. Simbister House is a large, plain, square building, standing on a slope above a sheltered bay. It is built almost entirely of granite, and the offices and outbuildings seem very extensive. After passing Whalsey we crossed an open expanse of sea, where we felt the full force of the heavy swell from the eastward, and were a good deal knocked about until we got under the lee of the island of Fetlar, belonging to Sir Arthur Nicholson, whose residence of Burgh Hall, with its massive round tower and strangely-grouped buildings, forms a conspicuous and picturesque object from the sea. Sir Arthur Nicholson is the representative of an old baronetage dating back to the creation of 1629. Beyond Fetlar, we entered the harbour of Uya Sound, as the channel between Unst and the little island of Uya is termed. At this point two of our party left the cutter and landed at the little village of Garda in Unst, intending to walk across to Balta Sound, while the yacht should stand on for the same destination round the eastern shore of the island. After landing they proceeded to the Loch of Belmont, about two miles distant from the village, where very fine trout are often caught; but, owing to the cold and boisterous weather, they had so little success that they determined to give up fishing and attempt to get a sketch of Mouness Castle, one of the most interesting remains in Shetland, situated about four miles from the scene of their piscatorial operations. This castle consists of a square mass of building with round towers at two of the opposite angles, and hanging turrets at the other two. It was founded in 1598 by Lawrence Bruce, from whom the two Shetland families of Sim bister and Sumburgh claim to be descended. It stands on a headland forming the south-eastern extremity of Unst, and over the doorway is the following inscription very beautifully carved :—

List ye to know this building Qulia began?
Lawrence the Bruce he was that worthy man;
Quha earnestly his ayris and afspring prayis
To help and not to hurt this work alwayis.

After completing their sketches of Mouness Castle they started to walk to Balta Sound, a distance of about seven miles over a brown trackless moor. They had, however, taken the precaution of laying down their course by compass, to which they steadily kept, so that, on coming in sight of the bay, the first object that greeted their eyes was the cutter lying snugly at anchor just below where they stood. On their way they saw great numbers of snipe and large flocks of golden plover; there are no grouse in these islands, though they are plentiful among the Orkneys. They passed several sombre-looking lakes and shallow mountain burns. The largest of these lakes lies in a deep hollow about three miles from Balta Sound; it is called Watley Loch, and is said to afford excellent sport to the angler. They reached the yacht at eight in the evening; and, as it blew a gale during the night, they had every reason to congratulate themselves 011 having gained so safe an anchorage. Balta Sound is a long narrow bay completely landlocked by the small island of Balta, which lies across its mouth. There is a deep-water entrance both on the north and south sides of the island, but the first is very narrow. Within the Sound the British navy might securely ride at anchor, for there is not a finer harbour on our coasts than this remote bay. It is the first port that vessels bound to this country from Archangel can make, and our whaling ships have frequently recourse to it for shelter. At present there is no lighthouse on the island of Balta, where such a guide to the storm-tossed mariner might often be of the greatest service, but we were told that it was intended to erect one as soon as possible upon its southern extremity.

Unst is one of the largest of the Shetland Islands, measuring twelve miles in length by three in breadth, and containing a population of 3000. Among the hills near Balta Sonnd is a small stream, remarkable for the crystal purity of its waters, which have long enjoyed a local celebrity for their healing powers. Those who wished to profit by the sanative virtue of the waters were directed to walk to the source of the stream, throw three stones on an adjacent piece of ground, and then drink of the waters of the spring, which, under these conditions, were supposed to ensure health to the drinker. The name of this stream is the Yelaburn, or Hielaburn, which means the water or burn of health. The hills of Crucifield, Hagdale, Buness, and several other places in the neighbourhood of Balta Sound, contain the valuable mineral known as chromate of iron, first discovered by Dr. Samuel Hibbert in the beginning of the present century. It is now extensively wrought, and a steam-engine has recently been erected in connection with these mines, which belong to twenty-two different proprietors, of whom the principal are Mr. Edmonston of Buness, and Mrs.

Mowatt Cameron, Buness House. The residence of Mr. Edmonston is memorable as having been the place where the celebrated French Philosopher Biot, in 1817, carried on a series of experiments for the purpose of determining, in this high latitude, the variation in the length of the seconds pendulum ; and, in the following year, he was succeeded by Captain Kater, who occupied the same station with the same purpose. For his assiduous and unremitting attention to these accomplished strangers, Mr. Edmonston received the thanks of the Royal Society of London and of the National Institute of Paris.

On the road from Balta Sound to Burra Fiord, on the other side of the islands, lies the Loch of Cliff, the largest sheet of fresh water in Shetland, and the most northerly loch in the British Isles, filling a narrow limestone valley, between rocks of gneiss and serpentine. It abounds in trout of moderate size, of which we captured six dozen in the course of a day’s fishing. There are said to be not fewer than ninety fresh-water lochs in the Shetlands, most of them well stocked with trout; they generally communicate with the sea, so that in the latter end of August and month of September sea-trout frequent them in great numbers; add to this, that the fishing is not preserved, and it must be allowed that these islands hold out great attractions to the enterprising angler. On reaching the Burra Fiord, our attention was fixed by the commanding form of the hill which rises above its eastern shore. It is called Saxafiord; and on its summit are the ruins of a tower said to have been erected by a giant named Saxa. The name of the hill signifies the watch-tower of Saxa, who seems to have been a distinguished personage in these parts, as a deep circular cavity communicating with the ocean also takes its name from him, being termed Saxa’s Kettle, the giant having used it for cooking his broth.

The morning after our expedition to the Loch of Cliff rose bright and beautiful; and, favoured by a gentle breeze from the south-west, we left Balta Sound, bound for the Outer Stack, the northernmost point of Her Majesty’s British dominions, and in about the same latitude as the entrance to Hudson’s Bay. We had to pass through the Scaw Boost, where, though there was but little wind, we were terribly tossed about by a very heavy sea which continued during the whole of the day. Not far from the entrance to the Burra Fiord we came in sight of a lighthouse most romantically situated upon a sharp and lofty ridge of rocks called Flugga, with which we narrowly escaped making too close an acquaintance. We had not succeeded in getting a sufficient offing before the wind failed us, and the tide, and long heavy swell, were drifting us towards the rock, so that we had to make vigorous use of our sweeps to get clear of it. For some time we were very anxious about the safety of the cutter, and it was only the most strenuous exertions that at last enabled us to creep away from its dangerous vicinity. A long, glassy, rolling swell from the north-west tossed us about all night; and, when morning broke, we found ourselves just off the entrance to Balta Sound. About ten o’clock, however, the wished-for breeze sprung up. We had sailed along the whole eastern coast of the Shetlands from Sumburgh Head to Flugga; and now our course lay southwards for Kirkwall, the ancient capital of the Orkney Islands. Favoured by a fine northerly breeze, we made a speedy run during the day, all sail set, and everything drawing. This time we passed outside the Island of Fetlar, where may still be seen, occupying a low site near the shore, an ancient work, which some have supposed to be the remains of a Roman encampment constructed by the soldiers of Theodosius. To the east of Fetlar lie the dangerous rocks known to sailors as the Out Skerries, on the largest of which a lighthouse has been recently erected. Two centuries ago a richly-laden vessel, the Carmelcm of Amsterdam, freighted with three millions of guilders, struck on the Skerries and went to pieces, only four of her crew being saved from the wreck.

The sky all day was cloudless, and the atmosphere singularly clear, so that we saw the islands, as we glided swiftly past their shores, to the best advantage. At one period we had Noss Head, Sumburgh Head, Fitful Head, and Fair Isle all in A7ie\v at the same moment, though the distance between the first and last of these high lands is upwards of forty-five miles. Towards sunset the bold cliffs of Shetland had faded away to blue specks in the distance, and we watched them gradually dwindle and disappear, seeming to sink in the ocean, as the favouring breeze bore us rapidly farther and farther away.

Note.—For an account of tlie Mussel and Oyster Fisheries in the Shetland Islands, tlie latter of which have been as much exhausted as those in the Orkney Islands, as described in Chapter I. pages 11-14, see the statement in my Report of 1887, which forms Appendix B.


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