Descriptive and Historical Part II: Chapter 33
PAPA STOURTHE VE SKERRIES.
SEPARATED from Sandness
by Papa Sound, upwards of a mile in breadth, is the island of Papa Stour.
The passage of this strait, always difficult, is sometimes dangerous,
owing to the fiercely conflicting tides by which it is agitated. The
island derives its name from stour, a Norse word signifying great, and
the Latin papa, a priest. It thus signifies the great island of the
priests, in contradistinction to Papa Little, and the still smaller
island of Papa, in the Bay of Scalloway. There is every reason to
believe that the papae who gave their names to these three islands were
the ancient Culdee missionaries, who probably dwelt there.
Papa Stour is upwards of
two miles in length, and nearly of the same breadth. The coast is much
indented by voes, which form very good harbours. This island is one of
the most fertile in the Shetland group. Its inhabitants (amounting in
1871 to 351), are almost entirely confined to the rich belt of
cultivated land, which runs along the east side. Unfortunately, the
island is almost totally unprovided with peat-moss. As a substitute,
turf from the interior of the island has been dug to such an extent, and
for such a long period, that now the soil is almost entirely removed,
and, what was at one time beautiful green pasture, is now a barren
desert of sand and gravel Such peats as the people do enjoy are brought
from the somewhat distant islands of Muckle Roe and Papa Little.
As already mentioned,
lepers from the western parts of the Mainland were sent to Papa, where
they were accommodated in huts, at a distance from the houses of the
Papa forms an excellent
fishing-station. In addition to its own natives, several boat-crews
resort thither in summer, to prosecute this important industry. The
people of this island are primitive in their habits and very
superstitious, many of them still believing in dreadful supernatural
beings, who infest the commons in large numbers after . nightfall. Many
Norse customs and pastimes lingered here after they had been forgotten
in all other parts of Shetland, save Foula. Until within the last twenty
years the Sword Dance continued to be performed during the winter
The precipitous west
coast of Papa affords highly interesting rock scenery. Fearful gios,
towering stacks, and magnificent cavesdiffering in many respects from
all we have hitherto noticedpresent themselves in great variety.
When seals were more
abundant than they now are, they frequently took refuge in the caves of
Papa. Some are, however, still to be found, particularly in Christie's
Hole, a long, tunnel-like cavern, whose roof is pierced by an aperture,
which, opening into the greensward far above, admits light into its deep
recesses. At the inner end of this remarkable cavern is a sea-beach. It
is to this subterranean retreat that the seals resort for safety, and
the sportsmen for their destruction. Having obstructed the caves mouth
by a strong net with wide meshes, the boats crew make a loud noise;
whereupon the creatures, leaving the dark recesses' around the beach,
and making for the open sea, are hopelessly entangled on their way, and
then readily secured by the jubilant boatmen.
Looking westwards from
one of the fine headlands of Papa, we behold a vast expanse of ocean.
Save the solitary Ve Skerries, nothing intervenes betweeh our standpoint
and the great western continent With such a scene before us, we readily
fall into the mood of the Teutonic poet who sings
Thou boundless, shining,
With ecstasy I gaze on thee,
And as I gaze, thy billowy roll
Wakes the deep feelings of the soul.
Papa Stour is divided
between two proprietorsLady Nicolson, and the trustees of the late
Arthur Gifford, Esq., of Busta. A nice little Parish Churchlately put
in good repairstands near the chief centre of the population, on the
east side of the island. The churchyard surrounding it is enclosed by a
good wall (unlike some of the country burying-grounds), and contains one
or two interesting old monuments. The Wesleyans also have a small chapel
in Papa. The island is regularly visited by the Free Church and Wesleyan
minister at Walls, and by the unordained missionary of the Established
Church, whose sphere of labour is Sandness and Papa, but who also
resides at Walls. It has now a regular school, the salary being granted
by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge.
The Ve Skerries are a
detached group of naked rocks, very little above the level of the sea,
situated in the ocean, seven miles north-west from Papa. Their name
signifies danger, and like all those derived from the Norse, is most
appropriate. They are still the resort of seals. Various superstitions
hang round these rocks and their amphibious denizens. The seals were
believed by the fishermen to be mermen and merwomen. The belief was that
lofty mansions of coral and pearl, filled with a pure and serene
atmosphere, existed beneath the sea. Their inhabitants, who were
creatures of the most singular beauty, had a penchant for occasionally
visiting the supra-marine world. In order, therefore, to accomplish the
upward voyage, the mermaids assumed the covering of the seal. Was it
their example which induced the supra-marine ladies of the present day
to assume these beautiful but expensive jackets of sealskin?
The Ve Skerries have
frequently been Spoken of as a site for a lighthouse. The situation of
the keepers would certainly not be enviable; but there is no doubt a
lighthouse is very much required on the west side of Shetland.
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