Manson's Guide to Shetland - Page 3 - Eshaness


Manson's Guide to ShetlandThe best stretch of rock-scenery south of Rønies Voe, and a perfect museum of strange and curious rock-formations, is the western seaboard of Eshaness (O.N. esja = easily-split rock), about two miles in length from north to south, lying seven and a half miles west by road from Hillswick. Thanks to branch roads, it is possible to motor to within a fair distance of either extremity of the west cliffs of Eshaness, and working along them, to meet the car at the other end. In this case we will begin at the south end, first remarking that any who prefer to walk all the way along the south cliffs and banks will be well rewarded with fine views and curious sights.

As the south end of the west cliffs is approached, the road sends off a branch north-west to the lighthouse and also turns south to its own termination. Just inside the curve of road to the lighthouse is the interesting old Eshaness kirk-yard, where the traces can be seen of the ancient Roman Catholic Cross Kirk, which continued after the Reformation to be a place of superstitious pilgrimage, till razed to the ground in the 17th century by the zealous Protestant, Hercules Sinclair, minister of Northmavine. Among the decipherable inscriptions on the tombstones is the following tit-bit concerning one Donald Robertson: "He was a peaceable quiet man, and, to all appearance, a sincere Christian; his death was much regretted, which was caused by the stupidity of . . . . . . who sold him nitre instead of Epsom salts, by which he was killed in the space of 3 hours after taking a dose of it."

Leaving the churchyard, we may rejoin the road and walk to its termination at the rock-strewn Stenness. Here in former times there existed a very important haaf-fishing station, as the remains of fishing-booths still show. These and some houses look across to the wild-looking Isle of Stenness, lying just inside the smaller Skerry of Eshaness, the home of myriads of kittiwakes. It may not be out of place at this point to pause and quote Hibbert's remarkable demonstration, from measurements made by himself on the Isle of Stennis, of the terrific force of the sea on the rocks of the western coast. He says, "I measured the recent bed from which a block had been carried away the preceding winter (A.D. 1818), and found it to be 17½ feet by 7 feet, and the depth 2 feet 8 inches. The removed mass had been borne to a distance of 30 feet, when it was shivered into thirteen or more lesser fragments, some of which were carried still farther, from 30 to 120 feet. A block 9 feet 2 inches by 6½ feet, and 4 feet thick, was hurried up the aclivity to a distance of 150 feet." He also states that "In the winter of 1802, a tabular-shaped mass 8 feet 2 inches by 7 feet, and 5 feet 1 inch thick, was dislodged from its bed, and removed to a distance of from 80 to 90 feet."Manson's Guide to Shetland

Having viewed this "wreck of nature," as Hibbert calls it, the coast can be followed till one comes above the off-lying rocks called the Bruddans, a splendid place at which to watch a stormy sea breaking. A loud report may now, perhaps, be heard, and a sound as of escaping steam. The cause of this is found round the bend of the coast, where in the cliff-face are two great holes, one above the other, now covered, now uncovered by the sea, though the lower one is seldom completely exposed. The sea penetrates the lower hole and apparently communicates with the upper one, whence, by the force of compressed air, it is shot out in the form of spray and with a loud "boom." Something similar happens with the lower hole when the sea falls right below it.

Passing beyond the Cannon, as these holes are called, the visitor can now look up along the west coast-line of Eshaness, and observe how wild and broken the cliffs are, though not remarkable for their height. In the same line of vision, but lying five miles off the land, is a great arch-backed rock, the Ossa, really three rocks appearing as one. A few hundred yards in front and 200 feet above the sea stands the lighthouse (which can be visited), only erected in 1929, with a fine cliff near it, and flanked by two striking features of this coast. One of these, on the near side of the lighthouse, is the Kirn (Churn) o' Slettans, a deep narrow funnel, with the sea churning at the foot of it. In stormy weather the sea shoots up the funnel and right over the top of the lighthouse.

The other feature referred to, just beyond the lighthouse, is Calder's Gio, a deep forbidding place with enormous boulders. Just beyond Calder's Gio there is a subterranean passage. Further along, after passing two small pools, the massive, square-headed Moo Stack is seen at close quarters lying just off the cliff-face, and east from it, a little inland, are the Loch and Broch of Hoollan. From this loch flows a burn seaward into the next wonder of Eshaness—the Holes of Scraada (the Holes of old "Scratch," i.e., the Devil), whose name denotes a formation no longer seen: when a natural bridge fell down over forty years ago—just after a boy had walked over—one "hole" was formed out of the two original old ones. This long opening, 132 yards from end to end, and narrow all the way, descends vertically to a kind of beach to which the sea flows, through a tunnel 110 yards long, through the cliff and underneath the ground.Manson's Guide to Shetland

From this vicinity the visitor will notice a marked change in the nature of the turf. It now stretches for over a mile northwards and about half a mile inland, as a beautiful level green sward contrasting vividly with the ruddy, rugged cliffs, the turf springy and delightful to walk over. This stretch is called the Villyins o' Øre, the word villyins denoting a plain, and cognate with the English valley. Here in former times men used to play football; Hibbert rather amusingly describes it as the Sunday evening promenade of the Northmavine people. As to its origin, this has been ascribed by the late Professor Heddle, the noted geologist, to the action of the sea in pounding the alkali-rocks to pieces, and scattering a fine dust over the turf. It could certainly be due to some such cause, as it is a clearly-defined area lying just east of the most broken part of the cliffs, and beyond it the ground quickly resumes the sombre brown, typical of so much land in Shetland.

Just after passing the Holes of Scraada, a part of the cliffs is reached which is notable for caves, natural arches and a subterranean passage, and, standing in the sea, is the Maiden Stack. Thence it is nearly half-a-mile to the last and most remarkable spectacle in Eshaness, the Grind o' da Navir, or "gate of the borer". This, as the name denotes, is a wide breach smashed through the cliff-wall at a weak spot by the terrific force of the Atlantic (the borer), though the vertical side-walls of the breach have been so smoothly carved by the sea that the term "grind," i.e., "gateway" is no misnomer. This gateway is 12 or 14 yards wide, its lowest accessible "step" about 30 or 40 feet above the sea, and both its sides about 45 feet in height. Immediately behind is a basin filled with water, about 30 yards in diameter, and rising from the edge of the basin, in two or three large piles, are the great cubical blocks of rock which the sea has torn out of the cliff, and forced back in some cases to a distance of 180 feet, scooping out the basin on the way.

It is delightful, after examining these impressive tokens of Nature's force, to clamber down through the gateway and sit on a ledge looking out to sea between the high rock-walls; and this famous place is so prime a favourite with visitors that many of them prefer to begin their tour of Eshaness from this end, in order that, with none of their zest or energy consumed, they may run down from the springy slope above and enjoy the Grind o' da Navir to the full. This is an excellent plan, though in good pic-nicing weather a rest for lunch on the way from Stennes, and possibly also a rest at the Lighthouse, should enable most people to arrive quite fresh at the Grind, where the round of the sights of Eshaness will close.


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