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Shetland: Descriptive and Historical
Part II: Chapter 25


Wonderful Effects of the Sea—Grind of the Navir—Villians of Ure—Holes of Scraada—The Cannon.

THE ragged coast between the Voe of Roeness, and that of Hamna, is much indented by deep gios, but, otherwise, is devoid of interest. The fine rooks of Ossa Skerry, more than a mile off the shore, tend greatly to relieve the eye as it gazes over the vast expanse of ocean. They are tenanted by numerous gulls. The extensive tract of country between the two voes is so bleak and bare as to merit as little attention as its sea-shore. The safe little bay of Hamna Voe, which runs into the land for about a mile, forms a good fishing-station. Its shores had the honour of giving birth to John Williamson, the great innoculator of last century, whose wonderful success in averting the ravages of small-pox I have had occasion to refer to in another part of this little work. The bones of good old “Johnny Notions” lie in the churchyard of Braken, close by.

The great peninsula of Northmavine contains a good many tributary peninsulas, several of which we have had occasion to notice. We now come to the most interesting of all. Hamna Voe, entering the land from the north-east, goes far to meet Braewick, which enters from the south, and between them a peninsula is formed. On viewing the coast, no one of the least reflection can fail to "be struck by the evidences that are everywhere observable of the tremendous force of the ocean. While the cause of this wonderful phenomenon has ever been the same, its effects present the most singular variety. The chief reason for this variety has evidently been the greater or less cohesive force, inherent in the different rocks.

Let us see some of the effects of the sea. At one place the great Atlantic, after battering against the iron-bound coast for ages, with the force of its mighty artillery, has cut for itself a passage through a precipice of porphyry, termed the Grind of the Navir. The accompanying engraving conveys a better idea of this extraordinary place than any description that could be attempted. The pieces of rocks which the sea has cleared away in forming the Grind, are remarkable, not only for size, but for the distance to which they have been borne. They are cubical in shape, several tons in weight, and have been carried about one hundred and eighty feet from their beds, and piled into two or three immense heaps.

Inland from the Grind of the Navir, is a long stretch of level plain, crowned by beautiful, soft, velvety turf Dr Hibbert thus eloquently describes it:—“The verdure that embroiders this proud bank, on which numerous sheep continually feed, pleasingly harmonises, on a calm day, with the glassy surface of the wide Atlantic; nor is the pleasure less perfect when the smooth coating of so luxuriant a green turf is contrasted with the naked red crags that form the precipice below, whitened with the spray of the breakers which continually dash against them with angry roaring. The rich surface of pasture that thus gradually shelves from the elevated ridge of the coast bears the name of the Villians of Ure: and well might we apply to this favoured spot of Thule the compliment that has often been paid to some rich vale of England—‘ Fairies joy in its soil.’ ”

Nowhere could a more delightful promenade be found, and no sport in Shetland is more enjoyable than a scamper over this plain on pony-back. Such an excursion should not, however, be undertaken without a guide, or a good knowledge of the country, for, not many hundred yards from the Grind, we come suddenly upon two immense perforations in the earth. They look like two huge quarry holes, but their sides are precipitous, and well blackened by an atmosphere loaded with sea salts. A natural bridge, covered by green sward, separates them above, but its great archway unites the two Holes of Scraada1—for that is their name—beneath. But the stranger arrives at the crowning wonder of all when he discovers that the bottom of both the “Holes” is filled with sea-water. The sea enters through a cavernous tunnel, about 100 yards long. It is most interesting to stand on the bridge, which spans this mighty chasm, and see the surf beat on the beach of the inner “ Hole,” while, at that point, the bum from the Loch of Houland, not far off, throwing itself over the precipice sixty or eighty feet high, descends in an angry vat erf all, as if to oppose the entrance of brine into its subterranean abode. This view must be more astonishing still during a winter storm, for, when the wild waves are rushing in, impelled by the unimpeded fury of the western blasts, the vexed waters, forced through the lengthened cavern’s jaws, are said to spring upwards in a lofty column from the inland gulf. There is thus, at the same time and place, a continuous cataract of river water, and an ascending spire of a more intermittent nature from the briny deep.” A whale is said on one occasion to have made its way into this strange subterranean sea. Its fate is not recorded, but we shall presume it never returned to the ocean.

Not far from the mouth of the tunnel leading to the Holes of Scraada is an aperture in the cliff, called the Cannon. It apparently communicates with a wider chamber concealed in the rock. With a strong wind, a quantity of spray is blown into the chamber; the air is in the meantime condensed, but rebounding through its natural elasticity, it forces the water out again with a loud noise, and a copious discharge of fine foam, not unlike the report and smoke of a piece of ordnance.

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