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Shetland: Descriptive and Historical
Part II: Chapter 37


Culswick—Skeld—Reawick—Selie Voe—Kirkholm—Sand— The Mitchells of Westshore.

THERE is nothing worthy of note along the exposed and rocky coast between the mouth of Grating Voe and Skelda Ness, save the ruins of a large burgh, which stands on the edge of a bold cliff at Culswick. In the picturesque hamlet of that name are to be found about the best Shetland tenants’ houses in the county. These were recently erected by the late Miss Irvine, in whose family the property has continued for several generations. The bold promontory of Skelda Ness, which juts out for some distance into the sea, and is a very prominent landmark all along the west coast of Shetland, from Walls southwards, is much indented by deep gios. Along its eastern side, the narrow Voe of Skeld runs for a mile into the land. *At the head of this arm of the sea is the busy dockyard of Messrs Garriock Co., Reawick.

Separated from Skeld by a moderately high hill, and surrounding a small open bay which looks eastwards, are the fertile lands of Reawick, the seat of Andrew Umphray, Esq. of Reawick, the representative of a family which has held estates in Shetland at least since the time of the Spanish Armada. His commodious mansion stands at the top of a rising ground which commands an extensive view of the southern coast of Sandsting. On the southern shore of the inlet of Reawick stand the extensive premises where one of the largest businesses in Shetland is carried on, and on the northern, the neat little residence of the Messrs Garriock. A large portion of the lands of Reawick is farmed under the personal direction of the proprietor, whose extensive efforts for their improvement have been attended with remarkable success.

Northwards from the bay of Reawick, and somewhat to the east, an inlet termed Selie Voe—-derived from a Norse word signifying a herring—runs into tie land for upwards of a mile. The hill on its western side is very steep, but the land on the opposite bank is flat and fertile. At the head of this voe stands the residence of the worthy minister of the parish, surrounded by his ample glebe. Off the ness which guards Selie Voe on the east, and separated from it by “ a piece of sea-way,” full of rocks, both sunken and above water, is a craggy islet, narrow in proportion to its length, and rising to a considerable height above the sea. In most parts it is precipitous, but in one or two places easy of access. In several places along the smooth, grassy surface of Kirkholm—for that is the name of this isle—are a few gentle undulations. These are associated with an event of no less historical importance than the destruction of the Spanish Armada. One of its proud galleons sunk on the Haddock-Sand, a portion of the sea opposite Reawick. Escaping in their boats, the crew took possession of Kirkholm, erected huts, sank a well, and partially fortified the islet. Finding the natives more friendly than they had anticipated, the Spaniards selected an eligible site at Sand, where, to commemorate their preservation, they erected a church, and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary. An aroh of the church still stands in the old kirkyard of Sand—a favourite place of sepulture with the good people of Sandsting.

Between the Kirkholm and the equally rocky point of Foraness, which directly faces it on the west, the Bay of Sand opens its wide mouth towards the south. Never was place better named. The bottom of the bay is of sand, and all along its head is a beautiful flat seashore of the same material, pearly in its whiteness.

From this fine beach rich green fields rise gently upwards. On the west side of the bay stands the large manor-house of Sand, built in 1752, by Sir Andrew Mitchell, of Westshore, Bart. The large garden, which flanks the house on either side, and the extensive courtyard in front of it, were evidently well laid out at one time, but since the proprietor ceased to occupy the place they have been neglected, and the grounds devoted to simply agricultural purposes.

The Mitchell family held extensive estates in several parishes of Shetland for several generations before the baronetcy was conferred on its head. This elevation is said to have come directly from royalty. A member of the family held the important office of a physician in the household of King George II., and found favour in the eyes of that monarch. His Majesty offered him a baronetcy, but Dr Mitchell, having neither an estate to support nor a family to continue the title, resigned it in favour of his brother, the laird, who possessed both these advantages; and Mr Mitchell of Girlsta became Sir John Mitchell, Baronet. Before their elevation, the Mitchells took their title from Girlsta, but at that time they substituted the name of Westshore. This baronetcy only continued for two generations. Sir John was succeeded by his son, Sir Andrew, who, having a large family of daughters, but no sons, left his honours to his brother, the second Sir John. On his death, the title became extinct, and tie estates were sold about the year 1790, for the benefit of Sir Andrew’s eight daughters, or their descendants. The prices realised were wonderfully small compared with the value of land at the present day. Most of Sir Andrew Mitchell’s daughters married, and through them most of the leading families of Shetland became connected with each other. On the sale of the Westshore estate, Sand came into the possession of the Scotts of Scalloway, in whose family it continued until that fine property, in its turn, came into the market, when it was purchased in 1855 by Joseph Leask, Esq., a highly successful merchant of Lerwick.

Sand is particularly well situated for the capture of whales; and so frequently had a shoal been stranded there, for a long period previous to the last sale of the estate, that the handsome returns they brought to the landlord had come to be reckoned part of his yearly rental. A proportionately high price was accordingly paid for the property, and all his friends anticipated that Mr Leask, who had been largely and successfully engaged in the Greenland whale-fishing would be at least equally fortunate at home. But these hopes have not been realised; and from whatever cause, not a whale has entered the bay of Sand since 1855,


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