PARISH OF WALLS.
Island of Vaila—Vaila
Sound—Churches, &c.—Peculiar Names of Places—Ancient Burghs and Tumuli,
&c. —Grating Yoe.
RETURNING to the point of
Wattsness, and skirting the somewhat low and rugged coast of Walls, we
soon reach Vaila Sound. This spacious and well-protected harbour may be
said to form the centre, around which all Walls, as it were, clusters.
The fine pastoral island of Vaila, which thoroughly protects it from the
ocean, is upwards of a mile in length, and of nearly the same breadth.
It is the seat of a good old-fashioned manor house, in which the former
lairds of Melby had their chief residence. Around the house the land is
very fertile and well cultivated. It was here a London Company, under
the direction of Messrs Wilcox and Anderson, carried on for several
years a very extensive cod-fishing. While it lasted, this enterprise
proved a great boon to the district by affording lucrative employment to
the people; but the Company, finding it was not profitable, withdrew
their establishment about 1842.
Nearly all round the
pretty shores of Vaila Sound are strewn little groups of cottages, each
more or less sheltered by some point of rising ground—for there is
nothing level in this quarter save the sea. The only manor house on the
Mainland side of the Sound is Burrastoe, the substantial residence of
John T. Henry, Esq., which occupies a picturesque situation on a point
near its western entrance. Along the same line of coast are the
residences of no less than four clergymen of different
denominations—Established, Free, Congregational, and Wesleyan. The manse
was formerly at Wattsness, a very inconvenient situation for a gentleman
whose chief duties lay four miles away; but the old house has been
abandoned, and the present elegant and commodious structure erected in
its stead. The Free Church minister has not only a comfortable little
manse, but, unlike most of his brethren, a good glebe also.
Vaila Sound is prolonged
inland, in the form of a bay, and round its head all the churches, save
one, the Parish School, and several houses and shops, are built. The
large Parish Church has recently undergone extensive repairs. The
Independents, three or four years ago, erected a handsome new chapel;
and the Wesleyans are about to follow their example. The Free Church
stands about a mile west from the other ecclesiastical buildings, and
its congregational school further on in the same direction. However
pretty may be the shores which line Vaila Sound and the other bays of
Walls, its hills, which are formed of quartz, are sufficiently rugged
and anything but inviting to those who have an eye for the beautiful.
The names of places in
this district differ much from those in other parts of Shetland. Many of
them end in twatt, as Qermatwatt While the name Brough is by no means
uncommon all over the country, as applied to places where ancient burghs
have stood, it occurs here as a mere termination, as Stourbrough. Not
only these names, but the ruins of “ Pictish Castles,” and many tumuli,
hitherto unexplored, prove that Walls was a place of no small importance
before the bold warriors of Scandinavia set foot on the shores of
Shetland. Thunderbolts—or battle-axe heads, as they are generally
supposed to be—are occasionally dug up in the neighbourhood of these old
buildings. I lately purchased a good specimen of this ancient stone
weapon. The good-wife of the house, who parted with it most reluctantly,
and only after a pretty good price had been offered, informed me it had
been dug up in the common, a short time before, where it had fallen from
the skies during a thunderstorm, and that her husband, who was from
home, would be very angry with her for selling the thunderbolt, as it
brought # good luck to the house.
The population of Walls
proper, in 1871, was 1309. The county road connecting the district with
Lerwick extends only to the head of Vaila Sound, and a very imperfectly
formed tract is continued from that point to the western part of the
By far the larger portion
of the parish belongs to Robert T. C. Scott, Esq. of Melby. The rest of
it is the property of John T. Henry, Esq. of Burrastoe, and several
Separated from Vaila
Sound by the promontory of Whitesness, is Grating Voe, a fine stretch of
water, four or five miles in length, and having two or three tributary
inlets. It separates Walls from Sandsting.