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Shetland: Descriptive and Historical
Part II: Chapter 13


The Journey—Magnificent View from Hill above Scalloway— The Castle—Earl Patrick Stewart—Gallow Hill—Garden of Westshore—Gibblesfcon Lodge—Blacksness—Harbour—Tingwall—The Ting—Church, Manse, &c.—Yeensgarth and Lax-firth Farms—Dale.

OUR next excursion shall be in an opposite direction, viz., to the village of Scalloway and valley of Tingwall. Whether we walk, ride, or drive, we proceed westwards from Lerwick, pass through the village of Sound, and skirting the head of the valley of Gulberwick and the Hollander’s Knowe, follow the road through dreary enough moors until we find ourselves on a height called the Scord of Scalloway. From this point one of the prettiest and most varied views in Shetland is obtained. At our feet lies the picturesque village of Scalloway, with its stately castle, bounded on one side by the sea, and on the other by green fields, which stretch into the fertile vale of Tingwall. On the left, Cliff Sound, a long stretch of water lying between the Cliff Hills of the Mainland and the islands of Trondra, Burra, and Havera, runs down towards Fitful Head, for a distance of ten miles. In front is the land-locked harbour, and outside of it the great open bay of Scalloway displays itself, studded over with sweet isles, clad with verdure, and dark rocks wreathed in foam; while far beyond all, the lofty Foula towers like a blue cloud against the western horizon.

Through Scalloway a pleasant walk may be obtained on a well-made road, which winds along the sea-shore. The chief object of interest is the Castle, built by Earl Patrick Stewart in 1600, which stands at the east end of the village. Some of its history has already been given; and for a description I caijnot do better than quote the words of Mr Gifford of Busta, the able historian of his native county, who says it “has been a very handsome tower house, with fine vaulted cellars and kitchen, with a well in it; a beautiful spacious entry, with a turret upon each corner, and large windows.” Considering the long time it has been unroofed, the building is in wonderfully good preservation. The walls are nearly entire, only a few rows of stones near the top having been removed for building purposes. Beyond one or two cracks, they are without a flaw. Were the Earl of Zetland to desire a residence in the county which enjoys the honour of giving him a title, his Lordship would probably find little difficulty in restoring the castle of his most unworthy predecessor. Memories of Earl Patrick Stewart still hang round the walls of his well-built dwelling. On one of the chimneys is an iron ring, by means of which he is said to have hung the victims of his vengeance; and a small chamber in the wall is pointed out as the place where Stewart successfully concealed himself from the officers charged with his apprehension, until he was betrayed by the smoke of his pipe. While Scalloway continued to be the capital of Zetland, courts of law were occasionally held in the Castle; and, as already mentioned, it was garrisoned by a party of Cromwell's soldiers in the time of the Commonwealth. Than the Castle we have sterner evidences of the ancient metropolitan character of Scalloway. Overhanging the western extremity of the village is the Gallow Hill, whose green summit was in olden times the place of execution for criminals from all parts of Shetland. Most of the victims appear to have been witches, who were invariably put to death by burning. The last executions on record are those of Barbara Tulloch and her daughter, Ellen King (so-called witches), who perished here in the flames in the beginning of last century. From this same mountain-top a magnificent view is obtained of the various isles, rocks, lulls, capes, voes, and bays which go to make up the peculiarly grand scenery of the west coast of Shetland.

Underneath the Gallow Hill is the garden of Westshore, which contains some fine trees (chiefly sycamores). Beyond it, and near the middle of the village, stands Gibbleston Lodge, surrounded by neat gardens. It was long the manor-house of Mr Scott of Scalloway, but on the sale of his estate it was purchased by the present proprietor, Lewis F. U. Garriock, Esq., of the well-known firm of Garriock & Co., Reawick, who also owns the pretty little estate of Berry, above Scalloway, and contiguous to Gibbleston. The village has three churches—Established, Congregational, and Wesleyan—and one school.

At Blacksness, immediately under the walls of the castle, are the well-built quays and stores, where Messrs Hay & Co. carry on an extensive fish-curing business. An apparatus for drying salt fish by steam, in winter, and another for curing “Finnan haddocks,” are objects of special interest. Blacksness affords accommodation for vessels of moderate draught of water loading and discharging at its quays. The harbour affords the best of anchorage. It can be entered either through the Bay of Scalloway, on the west, or through Cliff Sound, on the south. The entrances, being narrow, are somewhat difficult to “take.” It is the chief rendezvous for the Shetland smacks fishing at Faroe, and also for the Spanish vessels which come to convey salt fish to the Peninsula. To the herring and white fisheries, long carried on at Scalloway, has lately been added one for lobsters, which has met with fair success.

Throughout a large portion of the year there is great scarcity of employment, and much poverty in consequence. The village is susceptible of many improvements, one of which would be the erection of a good inn. Such an establishment could not fail to attract tourists to this interesting and picturesque locality, and in other ways benefit the place.

Bidding adieu to the ancient metropolis of Thule, we turn northwards, and advance upwards through the valley of Tingwall, which extends from Scalloway to Laxfirth, a distance of nearly five miles. It runs northeast and south-west. It is very level, and in some places of considerable width. This district, nearly all of which is the property of George H. B. Hay, Esq. of Hayfield, is evidently indebted for its fertility to a vein of limestone which traverses it. Advancing up the valley, we have, on the left, a series of well-tilled little farms, and, on the right, first the Loch of Asta, and then that of Tingwall. These beautiful lakes, which are separated by a narrow neck of land, together form a chain of fresh water, upwards of two miles long. They contain abundance of trout, and are favourite resorts for the angler. The gentle slope of the hill overhanging the eastern shores affords excellent pasturage. About mid-way between Scalloway and the Manse of Tingwall, we pass a hoary-looking standing stone, which marks the grave of some ancient hero, or the site of a battle.

On a rising ground, at the head of the loch of the same name, and commanding a fine view, which extends down Cliff Sound, even as far as Fitful Head, stand the elegant new manse and the less pretentious kirk of Tingwall. Verjr near these buildings we observe a small islet in the loch, with stepping-stones leading to the shore. This is of great historical importance, for it was here the ancient udallers held their Ting or open-air parliament. Hence the name Tingwall, or the Valley of the Ting, which is the same as Thinga Valla, in Iceland, and Dingwall, in the north of Scotland. The Ting was a court of justice as well as a legislative assembly. When a criminal had been condemned to death, it was the custom to give him the chance of escaping from the island where the court met, to the church, two or three hundred yards off. If the spectators allowed him to pass, he was held to be innocent. On a site immediately behind the present newly-erected manse, until very recently, stood its predecessor, which for upwards of sixty years was the residence of the late worthy incumbent of the parish, the Rev. John Turnbull, who during that long period entertained at his hospitable board nearly every important visitor to the islands, from Sir Walter Scott to H.R.H. Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. A handsome monument to Mr Turnbull, erected by his ' parishioners and friends, occupies a prominent position in the burying-ground round the church. The churchyard also contains many old monuments, now well covered by lichens. Most of the inscriptions are almost effaced; but one, still quite legible, runs thus:—“Here lies an honest man, Thomas Boyne, sometime Foude of Tingwall.” Boyne lived upwards of two centuries ago ; and it is a fact well worth transmitting to posterity, if a Shetland judge was “honest ” in those days of almost universal corruption; but antiquaries prove beyond doubt that this Foude, instead of being virtuous beyond his contemporaries, excelled them all, save perhaps Patrick Stewart himself, in deeds of violence and lawless oppression. The present plain, but commodious church, was preceded by a more ornamental building with a spire. In the old Roman Catholic and Episcopal times, Tingwall formed an archdeaconry, its Church of St Magnus serving as the cathedral for the islands.

About half a mile to the north of these ecclesiastical buildings stands the extensive and highly cultivated arable farm of Veensgarth, with its handsome farmhouse and steading. The Valley of Tingwall, like everything else in Shetland, terminates in the sea. The voe of Laxfirth marks its northern extremity. At the head of this fine bay, and communicating with it by means of a short stream, is the Loch of Strand— small in size, but rich in sea-trout. The fertile lands of Laxfirth extend for a considerable distance along the Voe of the same name. They are now used as a sheep farm. The farmhouse is Scotshall, so named from Mr Walter Scott, Sheriff-Substitute of the county in the beginning of the present century, whose residence it was. Here also the late Mr James Hay, a merchant of Lerwick, of much note in his time, spent his latter days, devoting himself to the improvement of his property, a part of which he successfully reclaimed from the sea. The present proprietor of Laxfirth is Sir Peter Tait, London, a native of the county, who obtained the honour of knighthood from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in acknowledgment of his services as Mayor of Limerick.

Leaving the Valley of Tingwall, and having ascended the hill above Veensgarth, we have our choice in returning to Lerwick, either to follow the old road through the Valley of Dale, or take the highway of more modem construction, which winds round that ravine, describing a much longer, but less steep course. Whichever way we go a fine view is obtained, both of the Dale and the voe to which it gives name. Formerly tenanted by crofters, this glen now forms an important part of the extensive pasture attached to the farm of Veensgarth, just referred to. We now proceed south-eastwards, and reach Lerwick by the north road, passing through the peat ground, which well merits a title proposed for it—the Black Country.

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