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Shetland: Descriptive and Historical
Part II: Chapter 39


Bixter Voe—Some Parochial Statistics of Sandsting—Weisdale Voe — Islands in it — Sound—“Church of Our Lady” — Free Church—Estate of Kergord.

THE long and rocky promontory of Foraness, with its tributary holm, intervenes between the bay of Sand and the great Voe of Sandsound or Bixter. Shortly above its commencement, the fine circular hill of Sandsound—tilled and inhabited to its very summit— advances, as it were, into the sea, and renders the passage very narrow. Beyond this construction the bay expands to a width of nearly two miles, again becoming narrow. Several places of interest line the shores of Bixter Voe, such as Innersand, and Semblister, with its large Parish Kirk on the left bank, and Sandsound, Tresta, and Bixter on the right. The bottom of this large sea-loch yields numerous shell-fish to the dredge, especially the yeog (Mytilus Modiolus), so valuable as bait to the fishermen.

Sandsting and Aithsting contained, in 1861, a population of 2670 ; and, in 1871, one of 2805. The chief heritors of this wide ministry are Mr Grierson of Quen-dale, Mr Leask of Sand, Mr Umphray of Reawick, Mr Greig of Sandsound, the Busta trustees, and Mr Johnston of Tresta. Except an Assembly School in the extreme west of the parish, there is actually no regular place for the instruction of youth in this large district. The Parish School, as already mentioned, is at Twatt, Aithsting. Places of worship, however, are not so few and far between, for, besides the Parish Church, Sandsting alone can boast of no less than two Independent and the same number of Wesleyan Chapels. The Independents have a clergyman resident near Reawick. The Wesleyan places of worship are under the superintendence of their minister at Walls.

The next arm of the sea to that of Bixter, and separated from it, as usual, by a high hill and a ness, is the beautiful Voe of Weisdale. Its comparatively wide entrance is well closed in by three fine grazing isles, having a rich soil and highly expressive names. Hoy signifies the high island, Flotta the flat, and Grana the green one. Some distance in past the isles the voe becomes very narrow, and continues so till its termination. The hills on either side, particularly on the west, are. high and steep, but the soil is remarkably fertile, owing to the presence of limestone. On the west side of the voe, at its narrowest part, stand the ruins of what was at one time the beautiful residence of the family of Ross of Sound. No more favourable situation could be found in Shetland, and every effort has evidently been made to improve it, by laying out the gardens and approaches to the house tastefully. The style, which is similar to that of Busta and Sand, has been carried out with excellent taste, and at some expense. Years have, however, wrought many changes here. The fields are as green as ever, and the hardy sycamores—perhaps the best in Shetland—flourish as well as formerly, even without the shelter of high walls, but the manor house of Sound, once so neat and well-appointed, is now in ruins, and presents the very picture of desolation. The small promontory, which shelters the nice little harbour of Sound from the rather heavy seas which sometimes set in to the outer and wider part of the voe, is occupied as a churchyard. In this enclosure the foundations are still to be seen of the “Church of Our Lady,” an ancient edifice which was long venerated as a place of extraordinary sanctity. Pilgrims resorted to it from all parts of Shetland, said prayers, lighted candles, and deposited offerings in order to obtain any object they most fondly desired. In this manner sailors sought good weather, fishermen good success at the haaf, and farmers good harvests. But objects of even greater interest were prayed for at the sacred shrine of “Our Lady” Brand tells us—“It was much frequented by women, who, when they desired to marry went to this church, making their vows and saying their prayers there, so assuring themselves that God would cause men come in suit of them.” Pilgrimages continued to be made to this old chapel even so recently as 1841, when the New Statistical Account of Scotland was written; and at that time a worthy elder, who lived close by, was in the habit of regularly gathering the coins deposited in the ruins, and placing them in the poor’s box.

The highway leading to Sandsting and Walls runs along the flat eastern shores of Weisdale Yoe, and on reaching its head, gradually ascends the steep Scord Hill, which overhangs that inlet, on the west. To cut short this long road, foot passengers cross it with a ferry-boat at Sound, thus saving at least two miles of a journey. A handsome Free Church, with ornamental Gothic front and belfry, stands on a prominent knoll, exactly at the head of the voe. Immediately behind it is the manse. This church, built in 1864, and soon afterwards provided with an ordained minister, must have been eminently useful, for previous to its erection, there was no place of worship in Weisdale, and the people, apparently regarding the church of the neighbouring parish of Whiteness as too far away, attended it but seldom. All parties seemed to recognise the need of such a Christian agency in Weisdale. The Earl of Zetland subscribed to the building of the church the munificent sum of .£150 —about a third of the whole amount. Mr Black of Kergord, the largest proprietor in the parish, and a staunch Episcopalian, also gave it every encouragement. Unfortunately, there is no school in this extensive district, the salary, for many years granted by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, having recently been withdrawn.

A fine fertile valley, with a beautiful burn running through it, stretches from the head of Weisdale Voe, for three or four miles into the country. It is almost the sole property of D. D. Black, Esq. of Kergord, who has a well-built residence in it. Since he purchased the estate, about fifteen years ago, this gentleman has devoted much attention to its improvement. He first carried out a system of consolidating several of the old Shetland crofts into one farm. These small farms, after being provided with good houses and steadings, were let to experienced agriculturists from the mainland of Scotland. This system, not working well, was soon abandoned; and lately the whole, or nearly the whole of the upper valley of Weisdale, with a large extent of hill pasture adjoining, has been converted into a sheep farm. One of Mr Black’s improvements has been the erection of a large com-mill, which must be a great boon to the district. The changes just referred to have, of course, greatly diminished the population.


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