Manson's Guide to Shetland - Page 4 - Hamna Voe to Rønies Voe, The Return of the Diana

Hamna Voe to Rønies Voe

Manson's Guide to ShetlandWhichever plan is adopted for Eshaness, before returning home one may, perhaps, visit Hamnavoe, a haven reached by walking a mile and a half over the hill from the Grind o' da Navir, and lying less than half a mile by a branch road from the main road back to Hillswick. A well-known station for the old-time haaf fishing, Hamnavoe is also of interest as being the native place and abode of an 18th century pioneer inoculator, John Williamson by name, or "Johnnie Notions," as the people called him for his inventiveness. During the year in which smallpox was raging throughout the county this man, without the aid of education or any training in medicine, discovered and developed a method of inoculation with which he successfully treated thousands of people in the Islands, without the loss of a single patient.

The next expedition, probably on another day, may well be a preliminary examination of Rønies Voe, on which the chief centre is Heylor (originally "Helljer"), on the middle of the southern shore, lying three and a half miles by road from Hillswick, and one and a half from Øra-firth. It would be an easy matter, of course, if a motor has been employed for the Eshaness trip, to take it up to Rønies Voe and have a look round before returning to Hillswick. But Heylor can also be reached on foot from Hamnavoe—directly for more than three miles over hills, walking as if to the nearest part of Rønies Hill, or by means of an eight-mile tramp, following sea-cliffs all the way, first north to the point called the Faither, just outside the entrance to Rønies Voe, and then right round and in along the lower shore of Rønies Voe, which curves round Rønies Hill for five and a quarter miles, like a great bent arm whose elbow is pushing south towards Øra-firth.Manson's Guide to Shetland

The stretch of cliffs from Hamnavoe to the Faither (about four miles) is fine, though not so remarkable, of course, as along the coast of Eshaness; but some examples of petrified lava can be seen at a long curve of cliffs called Ockran Head (with caves just north of it). Ockran Head also looks right across to the rocks called the Ossa, (less than one and a half miles off) consisting of the Muckle Ossa, with a natural arch at its south end; the Little Ossa; and the diminutive Fladda, in that order from north to south. Once well round the Faither, a splendid view is obtained all the way along the shore of Rønies Voe, which runs first south for about a mile, then south-east for three miles till, roughly north of Øra-firth, it bends to E.N.E. Heylor lies about four miles from the Faither.

Rønies Voe is never more than three-quarters of a mile broad, narrowing to about 300 yards just east of Heylor, and not widening very much after that; on both sides its high rocky banks are every now and then a ruddy red colour, being most perpendicular on the Heylor side, and curving grandly up on the opposite side, at the base of Rønies Hill; and with the enormous red mass of that mountain (1475 feet) towering above one all the way, a walk down this voe is a vivid experience, especially on a breezy evening with a fiery setting sun.

About three-quarters of a mile east of Heylor, near a place called Asta, is a knoll, called Dutchman's or Hollanders' Knowe, being the grave of a number of Dutch sailors killed in action in Rønies Voe in the reign of Charles II. They were part of the crew of a Dutch frigate which chose Rønies Voe to winter in during one of the wars between England and Holland; but an express being sent to the British Government, two frigates were despatched which found their prey in Rønies Voe, and after a severe contest effected a capture.

The Return of the Diana

Manson's Guide to ShetlandRønies Voe is well known to seafarers ; it was an anchorage for naval ships during the War; it is a favourite shelter for trawlers, and in consequence was the base of the rescue efforts made by trawlers at the time of the wreck of the Ben Doran on the Vee Skerries in 1930. (See Description of Papa Stoor). But the most famous incident connected with it occurred in April 1867, when the battered Hull whaler Diana entered the Voe with eight corpses on her deck, five of them remains of Shetlanders. Scurvy and exhaustion were the causes of death, brought on by lack of fresh food and terrible privations. The Diana, the first Hull whaler to be fitted with steam engines, had been absent from home for fourteen months, during six of which she had been held fast by the Arctic ice, with only two months' provisions on board, and had been for a time abandoned by the crew. Of the ship's company of fifty-one, twenty-six were Shetlanders, nineteen of them being harpooners, and seven half-deck boys.

The deaths totalled thirteen, including the captain himself. When the ship arrived in Rønies Voe only two men were able to go aloft, but help and relief of every kind came at once from the people of Rønies Voe, and later from Lerwick and other districts. At Lerwick, on the ship's arrival, the funeral took place of all the victims except the captain, whose remains were followed to the grave by a concourse of 15,000 people at Hull, where the arrival of the ship and survivors caused tremendous excitement, and where relics of the vessel are to be seen in the Museum to-day. A marble monument was erected over the captain's grave at Hull, and the Diana Fountain was erected above Victoria Pier in Lerwick in 1890 by Alderman Smith; Mayor of West Ham, brother of Dr Charles Edward Smith, the heroic surgeon of the Diana, who had died in 1879.


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