BUSTA AND BRAE TO
OPPOSITE Busta, and
higher up the Voe, is Brae. On the narrow neck of land, already referred
to as separating the Voes of Sulem and Busta, the Dutchmen, in the olden
times, were in the habit of erecting their trading-booths, from which
they supplied the surrounding districts with goods, such as groceries,
liquors, fishing materials, and articles of clothing— receiving fish,
oil, butter, wool, and other country produce in return. This was no
doubt the origin of the truck system, about which we have heard so much
Brae still maintains its
commercial character, for, not many yards from the site of the old
booths, stand the shop, merchant’s house, and stores, where a
considerable business is carried on. Lower down the Voe, and nearly
opposite Busta, the Free Church and manse and an Assembly School and
schoolhouse stand in close proximity to each other. The church is a
one-storied building, without any architectural pretensions. It is
neatly fitted up, and seems well adapted to the climate. The manse is
externally a very pretty building, and its internal arrangements such as
to render it a very comfortable house in a damp and stormy country like
Shetland. It has been for many years the residence of the Rev. James
Bain, a gentleman widely known and greatly esteemed, for his high
character as a scholar and a Christian minister.
This district is not
without remnants of remote antiquity. About a quarter of a mile north
from Busta is a standing stone, as erect as on the day it was placed
there; and about the same distance south from Brae, the foundations of a
burgh are still to be observed, occupying a prominent position on the
seashore. It is curious to notice the various sites of these ancient
strongholds. Most of them stand on small and generally artificial
islands, in the middle of lakes; others on the edge of high precipices;
while others, like that just referred to, are destitute of such natural
advantages, and' occupy positions on a low-lying coast.
Advancing southwards, we
pass Wethersta, a pretty populous and well-cultivated district. In
former times it was a place of some importance, and was the seat of a
large manor-house, where Earl Patrick Stewart appears occasionally to
have resided. The ruins of this building are still to be traced.
Doubling the Ness of
Wethersta, we reach the voe of Olnafirth, which arm of the sea is
indebted for its not very euphonious name to the circumstance that, in
the old Norse times, herrings were caught in its waters —a description
true to the present day. It branches off from that of Busta, nearly
opposite the middle of Muckle Boe, and has its entrance partially closed
on the south by the small island of Linga. This name, which occura in
almost every district of Shetland, is said to mean the heather island.
Olnafirth Voe is at first pretty wide, and takes an easterly direction.
The gneiss hills on either side are steep and clad with heather; and two
or three cottages on its left bank are the only habitations to be seen.
When this arm of the sea has run more than half its course into the
land, it suddenly becomes constricted, and takes a circuitous sweep to
the south-east, again expanding as it goes. An excellent inland harbour
is thus formed. The district round about is called Olnafirth. The land
on the east side of the Voe, lying as it does over a bed of limestone,
is particularly green and fertile. It was once the abode of many
thriving cottars, but some years ago they were removed to make room for
meaner creatures; and now Olnafirth Park is one of the best sheep-walks
in Shetland. It contains no human habitation sav6 the shepherd^ cottage.
Its shores, however, are graced by a large and handsome Parish Church,
recently erected, and by the walls of its predecessor, now unroofed.
Along the head of the Voe
a busier scene presents itself. A shop, with extensive stores,
warehouses, and artificial beaches for drying fish, adjoining, and a
pier with small boats and vessels around it, mark the seat of a large
country business. On the rising ground immediately over the business
premises, stands the large and handsome dwelling-house of the merchant,
and near to it the smaller but equally neat residence of his partner.
Nor is it merely in
commercial matters that the district has recently made progress. It was
long felt to be a hardship for the parish minister, who lives about
seven miles off, to supply the church of Olnafirth as well as that of
Scatsta, in the north part of the parish. The evil was obviated, a few
years ago, by the appointment of a resident missionary from the Home
Mission, whose villa-like dwelling occupies a prominent site at the head
of the Voe, on its eastern side. The presence of this gentleman must be
a great boon to the district, for there is no other clergyman of any
denomination within six miles.
Olnafirth was for many
years destitute of a school, but this pressing want has also lately been
supplied by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. A neat
school and teacher’s house has been erected near the head of the Yoe, on
its eastern side. At the head of this large inlet, and towards its
western side, is a fine sequestered glen, which runs far into the
country. A large bum, with a deep channel, and steep, undulating banks,
presenting a very pretty appearance, runs through this glen.
In very severe winters,
the Voe of Olnafirth is sometimes frozen—a rare phenomenon in the mild
climate of Shetland.
Olnafirth gives title to
the Presbytery which has its seat there. It comprises all the northern
and western parishes of Shetland. The Presbytery of Olnafirth has,
within the last few years, come prominently before the Church. Under the
able leadership of the Rev. James R Sutherland, of Northmavine, this
court felt itself obliged to deal vigorously with a minister who was
suspected of immorality, and another who refused to reside in his
parish. Many an animated debate took place, and great interest was
excited in their proceedings. Both tjie clergymen have been removed—the
one by deposition, the other by death; and since then the Presbytery of
Olnafirth has come less prominently before the public. While Olnafirth
is its ecclesiastical designation, in the mercantile world this same
district is known as Voe.
The parish of Delting, in
1861, contained a population of 1975, but in 1871 it had decreased to
1859. It has probably not increased since. Next to the Busta trustees,
the largest proprietor is Major Cameron of Qarth. Mr Bell of Lunna, Mrs
Spence of Windhouse, and the representatives of the late Mr Hoseason of
Mossbank, hold smaller properties in the parish.
The .county road winds
along the eastern shores of Olnafirth Voe, and passes through the Park
of the same name. Immediately after leaving the Park, by its southern
gate, it receives the branch road leading from Mossbank, and, about half
a-mile further on, that from Lunna. From this last-mentioned point, it
runs southwards through the Lang Kame, a great solitary ^alley,
throughout whose seven miles of length not a human habitation is to be
seen. At its extreme south end, however, a humble specimen of an inn has
lately been erected, on the shores of a pretty lake called Sandwater.
This is a very convenient half-way house for such travellers as can put
up with its extremely primitive arrangements. To the lover of solitude,
a ride through the Lang Kame is very enjoyable. Sounds there are none,
save those of nature: the mountain air is pure and bracing, the road is
almost perfectly level, and, from the bottom of the valley, which is
filled with deep banks of peat-moss, or with a chain of lakes, the
heath-clad hills rise gently upwards on each side.