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Shetland: Descriptive and Historical
Part II: Chapter 29


BUSTA AND BRAE TO OLNAFIRTH

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 lately.

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.


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