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Shetland: Descriptive and Historical
Part II: Chapter 27


THE large Voe of Urifirth runs into the land for about three miles. Protected from the violence of the Atlantic by the Ness of Hills wick, it is as safe a haven as could be desired. On, and near to the low isthmus which connects the peninsula just mentioned with the rest of the parish, Hillswick is built. For centuries it appears to have been the most important place in Northmavine, and this metropolitan character is still maintained. Here stand the Parish Church and manse, and the mercantile establishment where most of the business in the parish is transacted. An extensive beach of well-rounded boulders, extending from the warehouses around Hillswick House to the manse, is found very useful for completing the drying of the fish brought from the different stations previous to their exportation. Externally, the church presents a very neat appearance. The front is Gothic, with a handsome belfry. The windows are small in proportion to the size of the building, but this arrangement is considered suitable to the climate of Shetland. Internally, it is fitted up with an elegance that would do credit to any city church. St Magnus Church—for that is its name —was erected in 1870 at a cost of XI700. The heritors have behaved most generously in granting such a handsome building. In doing so they must, no doubt, have remembered that the present distinguished minister of Northmavine has, within the last few years, erected a church at Ollaberry, and another at North Roe, free of cost to the parish. Northmavine, whose population in 1871 amounted to 2572, is thus very adequately supplied with ordinances, both by the Establishment and Dissenters.

A good parish school, newly erected, stands at Uri-firth, at the head of the voe of that not very euphonious name. Hamna Voe, a branch running north-eastwards, is one of the safest harbours in Shetland. The headland, between those two arms of the sea, consists of red granite, which is said to take on a high polish, and to be peculiarly suitable for the construction of piers, and other works requiring great durability. Shetland possesses vast resources of this kind which have hitherto been utterly neglected. Their development would be an enterprise of great importance.

Hillswick appears to have been the abode of prehistoric man, for Mr Millen Coughtrey, a promising student of medicine, when on a natural history expedition in that district, in the autumn of 1870, came upon the remains of an ancient kitchen midden, and examined its contents. “ Among these were four long-handled bone-combs, seven other bone implements, including a broken needle, four rude awls, a scraper, and a punch, various pieces of broken pottery, the bones of domestic and other animals, some splintered, and others showing teeth-marks of animals and marks of cutting produced by man he also found the shells of the usual edible molluscs and a quantity of fire-split pebbles. He considered it to be the tail-end of an outlying kjokkenmodding of some broch, or of some solitary family contemporary with the broch-dwellers. The principal portion of the heap had evidently been washed away by the sea.”

There are many temptations to linger in this very interesting district, but time speeds on, and we must now, in the words of Claud Halcro, say—

“Farewell to Northmavine,
Grey Hillswick, farewell,—
To the calms of thy haven,
The storms on thy fell.”

On sailing southwards, through the huge bay of St Magnus, whose great arms stretch from Eshaness to Papa Stour, there is nothing in what remains of the Northmavine coast worthy of special notice, except that it is singularly stem and wild. Eagleshay, in the mouth of Magnussetter Voe, is rather a pretty little ide, with a deep cliff dividing it into two unequal parts. “This appearance has given birth to a monstrous tale. The two sons of a deceased udaller, in sharing their father’s money between them, made use of a cylindrical -wooden vessel, named a cog, which being unequally divided within, by means of a transverse piece of wood, formed, when turned on one end, double the measure that it was when resting on the opposite margin. The younger son was blind, and the elder, in dealing out the respective shares, clandestinely contrived to fill the greater measure for himself, and the smaller one for his brother. "You have now your share of the money," said the heir, whose eyes were perfect. ‘I doubt it,’ said the blind one, ‘and may the Lord divide Eagleshay to-morrow, as you have divided the money to-day/ The defrauded son had his wish. After a horrible night of thunder and lightning, the island was found in the morning split across by a deep rent into two parts, one of which was just twice the size of the other.”


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