Burra & Quarff Vol.10, p.194
and Aithsting V.7, p.580
Whiteness and Weesdale V.20, p.277
and North Yell V.13, p.278
V.20, p. 97
Mid and South V.2, p.565
on the County of Shetland
opportunity afforded by Google
Books to quote extracts from books on their
site has been taken here, so that the text below
is that of the actual accounts rather than a summary.
The NSA accounts can be accessed on Google Books
the volumes in which the OSA accounts appear are
given above under each parish and can be accessed
information about parishes can be found on the
of Britain site and on Scotland's
In dealing with the Shetlands (and Orkneys) it is useful
to remember just how large and how remote they are.
If superimposed further south on the map of Scotland
the Shetlands would stretch in length from Carlisle
to Edinburgh and in breadth from Biggar to Galashiels.
The Orkneys would stretch from Dumfries to Hamilton
in length and Glasgow to Edinburgh in breadth. It is
almost as far from Edinburgh to the far north of Scotland
as it is from there to the north of Shetland. In fact
Edinburgh is closer to London than to the north of Shetland.
other counties there is not the usual contrast between
the old and new statistical accounts where roads had
greatly improved. It is quite clear that there were
no made roads at all at the time of the OSA and that
little had improved when the NSA came to be written.
There would however have been a network of local tracks
at the time of the OSA particularly for gathering peat.
There must have been a substantial track from Quarff
(about 4 miles south of Lerwick) over to the west coast
two miles away as mentioned in the Bressay account.
Transport was primitive with manure carried on people's
backs and horses carrying peat in creels. There were
very few carts.
between islands was easy as people were quite happy
to ferry travellers over for free or a small fee. Although
there were no inns this was not a problem as people
were very hospitable.
was the market town and long journeys had to be undertaken
with cattle, fish, butter, oil etc which were then taken
to Leith or the continent. As the cattle had to be ferried
between islands this could be dangerous. Many items
like wines, spirits, tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, linen,
hooks, lines etc. were brought in from Leith and Hamburg.
The only post office was Lerwick and long delays in
receiving post can be assumed.
their remoteness, there was significant contact with
the continent with several hundred boats from Holland,
Denmark, Prussia etc. engaged in herring fishing.
the time of the NSA there had been little improvement.
There were more carts and a government "penny-post"
had been established in 1841 which put an end to the
need to forward the mail privately from the post-office
at Lerwick at considerable expense. The gathering of
peat was still very inconvenient in some parishes, although
coal was starting to become available. There
is mention of a steamer which it was hoped would be
a great advantage.
are some mentions of burying grounds in fairly remote
locations so there might have been "coffin roads"
to these places, although there is no mention of these
in the accounts.
regard to roads, the only mention is in Tingwall parish
in the vicinity of, and north of Laxfirth (4 miles N.
of Lerwick) though the parishes to the north, Nesting
and Delting, do not mention roads; the Minister for
Sandsting says that he made half a mile of road near
the glebe towards the kirk though the people declined
to use it because "it wears the rivelins ("a
laced shoe made out of the untanned hide of an animal,
with the hair outermost and moulded when still pliant
to the shape of the foot" - see DSL)
too fast, and because a road would imply a restriction
to a particular path; whereas the Shetlander's delight
is to range uncontrolled, and "to wander as free as
the wind on his mountains"".
Beauties of Scotland, Vol.5, Robert Forsyth, Edinburgh
Short reference to the lack of made roads on the Islands.
and Tales of the Shetland Islands, Eliza Edmonston,
Short reference about road building after potato famine
in Scotland, James Hall & William Thomson, 1807
Short reference to first made road leading west from
Lerwick for 6 miles. It is not clear if this is the
same as the one in Tingwall parish mentioned above.
This links to the 1859 Report of the Commissioners for
Inquiring into Matters relating to Public Roads in Scotland
and gives an overview of roads in Shetland at that time.
There were a total of 98 miles of road on the mainland
and 20 on Yell. With the exception of 14 or 15 miles
near Lerwick that had already been built, these were
built after 1847 from the funds of the Highland Relief
roads c.1870 - Shetlopedia - The Shetland Encyclopedia
of roads - Shetland Museum and Archives Photo Library.
Burra & Quarff
The islands (of east and west Burra) are situated on the
W. side of the main land, and separated from it by a narrow
sound. They lie so near to one another, that there is
a communication between them by a bridge (25"
map). Almost all the inhabitants of Lerwick are supplied
with peats from the hills of Bressay, and almost the whole
people of Shetland with slates from its excellent quarries.The
people of Quarff are frequently employed in transporting
goods from the one side of the country to the other, which
brings them in considerable sums.
islands of East and West Burra) approach so near to each
other, as to be joined by a bridge composed of some loose
timbers resting on two rude piles of stones (the writer
says this has now improved).
An event of great importance to the minister and people
lately took place, in the erection of a Government church
in Quarff (in 1830). Before this erection, the charge
of these parishes was one of the most difficult kind,
the Bressa and Burra churches being about twelve miles
distant from each other; and it behoved the minister to
go in a very small boat to Quarff, then to walk two miles,
and lastly, to embark with his Quarff parishioners for
the kirk of Burra, situated at five miles distance. His
Sabbath days' journies thus occupied eight hours, before
his return home. The arrangement of places so distant
under one charge, rendered it impossible for one man to
go through the duties of a minuter in them, with any regularity
In Noss, a small burying-ground is used, lying round the
fragments of what appears to have been a Popish chapel.
There are three
burying-grounds in Bressay. The most ancient appears
to have been at Gunista, on the north part of it........The
ruins of a church appear also at Culbinsgarth, on the
northeast, where there is another burying-ground.....
Quarries.—Stone quarries for the purpose
of building may be here found almost in any place. Slate
and flag is shipped from the quarries in Bressay, for
the different parts of this country, and on some occasions
is carried to the southern coasts.
Fuel.—The fuel in general use is peat,
although coal may be obtained by trading vessels.
There are no bridges, nor so much as the form of a road,
through the island, the traveller goes on his way with
caution, through the hills and deep mosses; and, by turning
sometimes to the one hand, and sometimes to the other,
endeavours, in the best manner he can, to get clear of
the mires and ditches, and peat-banks, that fall in his
way. No such thing as statute-labour is exacted, which
appears a great defect in the police; for, though regular
roads could not perhaps be made yet, by very little attention
every year, a much more comfortable communication might
be opened between the different parts of the country.
few years ago, there were only two carts in the parish.
Now there are thirteen. No mention of roads.
.....few of (the fish caught) are sold in Zetland, either
fresh or dry salted , they are sent to Hamburgh or Leith,
or where the best markets can be found. For the use of
the inhabitants, the fishers take abundance of turbot,
skate, small cod, haddocks, whitings, herrings, mackarels,
flounders, &cc. particularly in the spring season. The
fish, butter, and oil, sent to the Hamburgh market, yield
a return to Zetland of wines, spirits, tea, coffee, sugar,
tobacco, linen, hooks, lines, etc.
of the principal means of improvement to this country
would be good roads, as, at present, no cart or carriage
whatever can be used for the transport of goods on the
soft surface of the country, particularly to the northward.
Two roads are especially needed, viz. from Lerwick to
Scalloway, the two principal towns of Zetland, the distance
is only 4
miles; and from Lerwick through Tingwall parish to the
parish of Delton, and thence to Yell sound, through
the very heart of the country, which is not above 12
miles ; but, in some places, the peat moss is so deep
as to be impassable on horseback.
parish includes Fair Isle with a population of 232.
Fuel.—No large tracks of moss are here. Had
that been the case, peats would not have needed to be
transported from a great distance to the southern extremity
of the parish, a distance of four or five miles, upon
small ponies, by which great expense is incurred.
and North Yell
At Mowick, the people of the east part of the island bring
down their peats from the hill of Lambhoga, to be transported
home by sea.
Our breed of cattle and ponies is small but hardy. A good
number of both is sold every year; fat cattle, from L.2
to L.3; ponies, from L.1, 10s. to L.5. The prices of both
have been considerably raised since the steamer commenced.
Under Antiquities the writer mentions a Roman camp at
Snawburgh (now considered a broch).
There are three herring-curing stations in Fetlar, viz.
Urie, Strand, and Aithbanks, and two in North Yell, Cullivoe,
Market-Towns.—The nearest market-town is
Lerwick, the capital of Shetland, distant from thirty
to forty miles by sea, of a dangerous navigation; boats
are frequently lost in the passage.
of Communication.—There is no post-office in
Fetlar. Our letters often lie weeks on the way. In North
Yell, there is a country post-office, which has communication
with Lerwick twice a-week. We have no turnpike roads—no
roads of any kind—not even sheep tracks, but must guide
our way by meaths from hill to hill, and from toon to
toon. No public carriages, no railroads or bridges;
no canals, no harbours, but some open roadsteads,........
are two houses in Fetlar licensed to sell spirits, and
as many in North Yell.
There is a very considerable herring fishery on the coast,
carried on wholly by foreigners; 200 busses from Holland,
50 from Denmark, 40 from Prussia, 20 from Dunkirk, and
about the same number from the Austrian Netherlands, are
employed every summer in this fishery.
mention of roads.
Roads and Bridges.—The roads, bridges, &c.
are in the same state here as in every other part of Shetland
; that is to say, there are none.
mention of roads.
Another impediment (to improvement) is the want of good
enclosures and good roads...
this parish, there are three fairs or markets held every
year, at which cattle and horses are bought and sold.
In the month of May, there is a sale of milk cows, young
cattle, and horses; and again, in the month of November,
for fat cattle and horses. These sales are attended
by a great number of people, and by some from a very
is the fuel that is used by all in the parish, and the
cutting, curing, and flitting home, are, in some cases,
attended with considerable expense. In two or three
genteel families, Scotch or English coal is occasionally
The dung is carried on people's backs, though sometimes
horses are employed to carry it in creels. There are only
two carts in the parish. One of them has put out as much
in a day as nine people would have carried on their backs.
The only exports sent directly by sea are kelp, herrings,
butter, and a very small quantity of oil. Black cattle,
horses, and stockings, are generally sold to the Lerwick
merchants. No town or village. No inns; perhaps 30 or
40 gin and tea shops, to the great ruin of the morals,
health, and circumstances of the inhabitants. No road
in the parish ; and, in many places, it is not possible
to make them, the hills are so rugged, and the moss so
the parish is everywhere intersected by long voes, the
traveller has often occasion to cross ferries. There
are, however, no stated ferry boats; but the people
are very ready to assist and forward their neighbours,
often for nothing, and at best for a very small hire.
number of horses cannot be ascertained; (they exceed
800) , they are very small, but generally handsome,
and of high mettle; - are employed in the parish in
carrying peats and turf, and in riding to church. A
great number are sold annually to the farmers in Dunrossness,
to Orkneymen, and to the merchants in Lerwick, who send
them to Leith, London, Hull, Holland, &c. They fetch
from 12L. to 36L. Scotch, i.e. from 1L. to 3L. Sterling.
The parishes abound in moss, which, in many places,
is very deep, and which affords abundance of excellent
fuel for the people.....
There are five burying places in the parish, viz. at
Sand, West Skeld and Gruting in Sandsting, and at Twatt
and Aith in Aithsting.
considerable number of (Shetland ponies) are yearly
exported to Scotland and England. Formerly, Orkney men
were wont to come over and barter linen for ponies;
but none of them have been in the practice of doing
so for many years. Between Orkney and Shetland there
is less communication now, than there is between Shetland
and any other part of Great Britain.
Economy. There is no market-town nearer than
Lerwick, which is distant about sixteen miles, with
two arms of the sea intervening. No post-office; and
when a letter is to be sent or received, a person must
be sent expressly for the purpose to Lerwick, the post-town,
to whom is paid from 1s. 6d. to 2s. Sterling, according
to the state of the weather.
is nothing resembling a road in the parish, unless a
piece which I made some years ago, through the glebe,
and carried on about half a mile towards the kirk. But
there is a decided disinclination to walk on the road,
because it wears the rivelins too fast, and because
a road would imply a restriction to a particular path;
whereas the Shetlander's delight is to range uncontrolled,
and "to wander as free as the wind on his mountains".
the people may obtain a more ready sale for their extra
stock of cow and horses, I have sometimes advertised
and superintended a sale at Whitsunday and Martinmas,
which is the only resemblance to a fair ever held. At
both these seasons, a number of persons, from the neighbouring
parishes, attend, especially from the parish of Tingwall.
Houses—There are two ale-bouses,—one in Sandsting,
and the other in Aithsting; but no bad effects are apparent
are the only fuel used in the parish; and they are abundant.
Whiteness and Weesdale
is no public-house in the whole parish where any person
of distinction can have either entertainment or lodging.
But the want is abundantly made up by the hospitality
of the inhabitants.
Roads.—Roads are now so good in some places,
that carts can drive on them. But they are yet in their
infancy; and the want of them is a great bar to all improvements.
There are excellent roads about Laxfirth and to the northward,
but the middle of the parish has been sadly neglected.
The soil being open, and carts and horses constantly traversing
them, the roads that are, are so broken up during winter,
that people cannot go to church with any comfort. These
observations refer to Tingwall only; for in Whiteness
and Weesdale, there can scarcely be said to be any made
Prices of Provisions.—There are no regular
markets for provisions in this island. .....The price
of cattle has risen considerably within these last 15
years. In consequence of the increased value of the hides
chiefly, of which considerable quantities are every year
exported from Shetland to Leith, the value of a cow or
ox has risen, in this space of time, from 15 s.or 20 s.
to 30 s. and 40 s. and sometimes even considerably more.
Flour, barley, biscuits, peas, sugar, wines, teas, spirituous
liquor, &c. are all imported, and chiefly from Leith.
are almost the only article of fuel used here. Some
small quantities of Scotch and English coals are used
by the more opulent inhabitants. But the expence of
the freight, and the exorbitant duty which has very
unreasonably been laid upon Scotch coals, exported beyond
the Red-Head of Angus, render this article of fuel by
much too dear for general use, through the Shetland
isles. Even peats cost no little labour and expence;
for although all the hills appear to have been originally
covered over, in a great measure, with peat earth; yet,
upon the whole east side of the island, except only
in the south east corner of Muness, this natural fund
of fuel has been, by degrees, entirely
exhausted. The hills of Vallafield and Saxaforth are,
at present, the principal resources. But many of the
inhabitants are at a very inconvenient distance from
these. Some find it more commodious to import their
peats from the neighbouring island of Yell. Others,
especially the gentry resident about Balta Sound, are
obliged to employ from 10 to 20 horses, for the space
of six weeks, every year, to carry home their annual
provision of peats.
Miscellaneous Observations.—No roads have
yet been made through this island, either by statute
labour or otherwise. Only a very few carts are used
in it, and no carriages for pleasure.There is no post-office
in this island. The only post-house, indeed, in Shetland,
is at Lerwick, which is 40 miles distant from this.
Antiquities.—Around the island, and so
situated, that the one can bo seen from the next in
order, is a continued line of ruinous buildings, called
Pict's houses, or castles, or burghs,—round towers,
open in the top, with massy walls, built of large stones.
Some of them stand in the midst of small lochs; some
on projecting headlands on the margin of the sea; and
others on level ground, and surrounded by two or three
ditches or moats. According to tradition, they were
used as watch-towers, for the purpose of communicating,
by means of smoke, intelligence of the approach of an
enemy; and this could be speedily done over all Zetland.
There are six burying-places in the parish, around the
ruins of so many old kirks, viz. at Norwick, Haroldswick,
Balliasta, Sandwick, Wick, and Uyea.
Parochial Economy. The only market-town
in Zetland is Lerwick, at least forty miles distant
from this parish by sea. Cattle are driven by land to
be sold there, at very considerable expense, and with
great toil, through bleak swampy mossy hills, without
any trace of a road or bridge, and they have also to
be transported in boats, over two sounds or arms of
the sea, where the tide runs with extreme rapidity,
and renders the passage uncertain and dangerous. When
the inhabitants are disposed to sell any other part
of their produce at Lerwick, they carry it thither in
their own boats, and bring back with them such necessaries
as their families stand in need of, and they can afford
to purchase. Until about the year 1820, this was the
only mode of communication betwixt Unst and Lerwick,
where the general post-office is established, and all
letters and newspapers coming from the southward had
to remain there, to wait any opportunity that might
occur, unless when it was found expedient to dispatch
an express, at a considerable expense. To remedy this
inconvenience experienced by all, some gentlemen residing
in Lerwick, in the year 1820, entered into an agreement
to engage a man to travel as post betwixt Lerwick and
this place, and to call at several intermediate stations,
and to carry all such letters and papers as might be
committed to his charge. People residing in the country
parishes have some agent, or friend in Lerwick, who
receives their letters from the general post-office,
and puts them into the hands of the person who is appointed
to make up the mail for the landward districts, where
there are receiving-houses conveniently situated. This
plan has been found to answer extremely well. The post
travels twice a-week, and greatly adds to the comfort
of this remote parish and other parts of the country
(there is now a Government penny post, established in
place of this private arrangement—1841).
Etc.—There is no house in this parish which
can be properly called an inn; but the kindness and
hospitality of the people are such, that a stranger
can never be at a loss, and there are two houses in
the neighbourhood of Uyea Sound, kept by shop-keepers,
where wayfaring men will find very comfortable lodgings.
from the hills of Valleyfield and Saxa Vord, are the
only article of fuel used by the tenantry, and are procured
by many at no small labour and expense, especially on
the east side of the island, where peat moss is completely
exhausted. Besides the labour of cutting and drying
them, the people are obliged to employ from eight to
ten horses, for the space of five or six weeks, every
summer, to carry them home, and these must be attended
by a person to put on the loads, and one or two boys
to drive the horses. Most of the gentry use a considerable
quantity of English coal.
Imports and Exports.—Household-stores,
for those of better stations, are imported from Leith
and Hamburgh : and salt, deals, boats, fishing lines,
hooks and meal, are imported for the use of the seamen.
The exports are the same as in other parts of the country,
such as ling, cod, tusk, oil, herrings herrings, butter,
beef and hides: all of which, except the ling, are sent
to Leith. Formerly Dutch and Hamburgh merchants traded
to this country, and carried off the products, bringing
such necessaries as the people needed. In the spring,
fowls and eggs advance a little in value, as many are
carried to Lerwick, where they fetch a higher price from
the Greenlandmen who put in there.
are the fuel used by the inhabitants. They are easily
procured, and are excellent of their kind, except in
the island of Papa, where they are sandy.
mention of roads.
Mid and South
No mention of roads
....it is hoped that the now regularly established communication
weekly, by steam, between Shetland and the coast of Scotland,
will tend to open up a ready market for the various kinds
of stock, excite attention to the selecting and improving
the native Shetland breeds, whether of black-cattle, sheep,
or horses, and in the end greatly improve the circumstances
both of landlord and tenant.
Observations on the County of Shetland (NSA, page 162)
are little used,—the absence of regular roads, the facility
of water carriage, and the inconsiderable quantity of
produce requiring transport, render their want the less
felt. Ponies with pack saddles are the chief substitute.
The subject of road-making has deservedly attracted
attention. In a country so indented by the sea, the
employment of small steam-boats, using peats for fuel,
might, for some time to come, be suggested as a substitute.
mail-steamer running all the year through would also
be a signal boon, as bringing Shetland completely within
the vortex of the British market, and no satisfactory
reason has yet been given why this advantage, often
solicited, has been withheld. The Isles of Man and of
the channel enjoy many peculiar and important privileges;
distant colonies are pampered; and it might not be unreasonable
to expect some fostering patronage and commercial indulgence
to be extended to the long neglected Shetland Islands.