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Shetland: Descriptive and Historical
Part II: Chapter 36


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 district.

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 smaller heritors.

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.

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