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Shetland: Descriptive and Historical
Part II: Chapter 26


Eshaness—Cross Kirk—Stenness—Dore Holm—Tangwick—Drongs—Hillswick Ness—Heads of Grocken.

AS we proceed northwards, along the green braes of Eshaness, it is pleasant to behold its rich pasture, and fine flocks and herds. The churchyard of Braken was once surrounded by a considerable population, but the arable ground in that quarter has long since been converted into a sheep-walk. The burying-ground, still in use, besides several interesting monuments, contains the foundation of a once famous edifice, termed the Cross Kirk. Long after the abolition of Popery, Cross Kirk held a high repute for sanctity, and hither many pilgrims repaired. Some of its virtues were believed to extend even to the shell snails which sheltered in its mouldering walls. The poor creatures were collected, dried, powdered, and prescribed as a remedy for jaundice. It was customary to walk at Candlemas to the Chapel, in the dead of night, with lighted candles,— this being the ceremony used in memory of Christ, the Spiritual Light. The tapers thus solemnised would, no doubt, be converted to the popular use which their well-known virtues throughout all Christendom have from time immemorial suggested; they would be lighted up whenever thunder was heard, or the malevolence of demons was apprehended.” At length arose Mr Hercules Sinclair, minister of Northmavine, who, in the heat of his Protestant zeal, caused the old kirk to be razed to its foundations.

Stenness is well adapted for the large fishing-station of which it is the seat. It is as near the western fishing-ground as any point* of land can be. The isle of the same name, acting as a breakwater, completely protects the convenient little harbour from the violence of the Atlantic, while its ample beach of small boulders affords great facilities both for hauling up the boats, and drying the fish. The long rows of boats on each side of the little wick, testifies to the large number of boats’ crews which prosecute the Stenness haaf-fishing.

The isle of Stenness wears a most desolate aspect, and displays abundant evidence of the awful havoc wrought by the ocean, when it dashes with unmitigated fury against an unprotected coast. Nearly every winter, immense blocks of rock are forced, by this tremendous hydraulic pressure, from their native beds, and carried away to a distance, sometimes up an acclivity. Dr Hibbert found, that in the winter of 1802, a tabular-shaped mass, eight feet two inches by seven feet, and five feet one inch thick, was dislodged from its bed, and removed to a distance of from eighty to ninety feet The learned doctor gives measurements of other large blocks that have been removed; and goes on to remark—“Such is the devastation that has taken place amidst the wreck of nature. Close to the Isle of Stenness is the Skerry of Esha-ness, formidably rising from the sea, and showing on its westerly side a steep precipice, against which all the force of the Atlantic seems to have been expended ; it affords a refuge for myriads of kittiwakes, whose shrill cries, mingling with the dashing of the waters, wildly accord with the terrific scene that is presented on every side.”

On leaving the little harbour of Stenness, by its rather intricate south entrance, the lofty Holm of Tangwick comes in view, its sable hues forming a marked contrast to the gay colours of other rocks along the coast. Through it the sea has cut a magnificent archway, seventy feet wide, and high enough to allow a vessel with all sail to pass. From its gigantic portal, this huge rock gets the name of the “Dore Holm.”

At the commencement of the low ness of the same name stands the quaint old-fashioned manor-house of Tangwick, for several generations the residence of the Cheyne family. The good old mansion is kept in good repair, and as nearly in its original state as possible. The Cheynes of Tangwick came originally from Aberdeenshire, and are descended from a minister who held the parish of Nesting at the Reformation. They resided in Shetland ever since, until the late Mr Henry Cheyne settled in Edinburgh, where he attained to eminence in his profession of Writer to the Signet. The present representative of the family is his son, Sheriff Cheyne of Dundee.

We have seen many notable instances of hard rocks upheaved from their beds, and dispersed in many pieces, by the force of the ocean, but we now come to something that has stood for ages proof against its repeated and violent assaults. The Drongs must ever excite the wonder and admiration of all lovers of the grand and beautiful in nature who have the privilege of seeing them. “This immense rock,” writes the late minister of Northmavine, “rises almost quite perpendicular to the height of an hundred feet from the water, and at a distance has the appearance of a vessel under sail Near to this are two very high pillars, of the same kind of rock with the Drongs, and With the stupendous crags upon the shore; and it is not improbable that these have all been at one time united together, but have separated, not by volcanic eruptions, but by the billows of the ocean, which nothing almost can resist, during the winter storms.” It is interesting to behold these magnificent pinnacles, not only from different points of view, but with different kinds of weather. In summer they seem to smile upon the glassy sea beneath, and the blue sky above, while the rays of an unclouded sun intensify the red colours they present. In winter the Drongs lend terror to the frowning sky overhead, and the tumultuous waves beneath, as they send column after column of white spray upwards, as if to destroy the towering pillars which so proudly overtop them. The large promontory, called the Ness of Hillswick, faces the Drongs on the south. The cliffs—for it is precipitous all round—are of the same bright red colour as the Drongs, but over their sides a curious bluish lichen, of various shades, has grown. These brilliant and variegated colours, and the many grotesque stacks, and caves, and crags they adorn, render a sail round Hillswick Ness peculiarly pleasing. On the opposite side of the little bay of Sand wick, and north from the Ness, the bright red heads of Grocken heave their bold peaks aloft.


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