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Shetland: Descriptive and Historical
Part II: Chapter 30


Travelling along the land-locked Voes of Shetland.

EMERGING from Olnafirth Voe, we pass the mouth of Gonfirth Voe, and steer southward towards that of Aith, the last of the congeries of inlets entering from Swarback’s Mine. The mouth of this fine loch, as it would be termed in the Highlands, is pretty well closed in by Papa Little, an oval-shaped island, once the abode of two or three families of men, but now the habitation of many families of sheep. Aith signifies the vicinity of a fertile soil; and, like all Scandinavian names of places, it is well applied. The land on the western side of the Voe is comparatively flat and very fertile ; and terminates in a pretty beach. On the eastern side it is overhung by the steep hill of Scallafield, 916 feet above the level of the sea, the highest peak of a ridge which extends from Weisdale to Olnafirth. On the same side a tributary inlet termed East Burrafirth runs for more than a mile into the land. Its name is also expressive, for, on a holm, in its midst, stand the ruins of what was once a burgh.

To the lover of aquatic sports nothing could be more delightful than a sail through the land-locked voes, say from Busta or Brae to Aith. If wind favours how swiftly the skiff glides over the smooth waters, and the ten miles voyage is soon accomplished. As the point of view changes, the hills, and promontories, and isles on either side ever present themselves in varying perspective, and disclose some new features of stem beauty. But the steersman must look well to his duties, for a sudden squall may come down from the hills at any moment, and place his bark in danger. This inland travelling by water is one of the most pleasant features of Shetland life, and the journeys must be not unlike those performed on the rivers and lakes of North America. Suppose the good old days were back again, when all the landholders of Zetland lived amongst their people, and the laird of Westsandwick, leaving his goodly mansion, on the shores of Lady Voe, West Yell, resolved to visit his brother proprietor at Bigton, in Dunrossness. Entering his gallant bark he soon winds his way through the islands and tideways of Yell Sound, and sails up the river-lake Voe of Sulem for ten miles. Landing at North Brae, the stalwart crew haul their boat across the level isthmus, and again launch her in the Yoe of Busta. A ten miles journey is now performed in the manner above described. Leaving his bark at Aith, and sending her home again, in charge of the crew—and the old lairds never travelled by sea without good crews—the worthy gentleman, accompanied probably by one attendant, makes the best of his way on foot, or on pony-back, across this wider and more rugged isthmus, to Bixter, on the shores of the voe of that name. Here a new boat is obtained, and the aquatic journey resumed. Descending the fine Voe of Bixter, and emerging from its mouth, the little craft shapes her course through the Bay of Scalloway, availing herself when possible of the shelter of its islands. Sailing up the harbour of Scalloway, and down that fine stretch of land-encompassed water termed Cliff Sound, she doubles the head of Ireland, and reaches Bigton just as the last rays of the setting sun disappear behind St Ninian’s Isle. A sixty miles’ journey has thus been accomplished, through landlocked voes and bays and sounds, interrupted by only two short portages. A. trip which shews the traveller such an extent of country, and such a variety of scenery, with so little fatigue, is very pleasant, but rather expensive.

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