Manson's Guide to Shetland - Page 5 - Lochs and Voes, The West Banks or "seeing the seals"

Lochs and Voes

Manson's Guide to ShetlandAs a change from the rock-scenery which one has been exploring, the visitor may pay a visit to the south-west part of Northmavine, where there are lochs innumerable among hilly but not very high land, and really lovely voes "where the seas come to quiet rest under the hill." This area lies west of the main road north from Mavis Grind, and between Hamar Voe, an easterly off-shoot of Øra-firth, and Mangaster Voe, the head of which is seen from the road soon after Mavis Grind has been negotiated.

Needless to say the lochs here are an angler's paradise, but for details in this connection we refer the reader to the Angling Notes appended; the scenic effect is the chief concern here. Any point along the east of this area can of course be reached by motor, and a branch road from the main one runs north-west to near the head of Gunnjister Voe, which lies between Mangaster Voe and Hamar Voe though nearer the latter. It must also be remembered that service cars with their cheap seats pass down these roads and that one of them goes up to Gunnjister. It is therefore possible in a whole-day trip to motor to any selected point, and walk back among the lochs, visiting the voes or one or two of them, on the way, and either walk to Hillswick or meet a boat by appointment at Gunnjister or Hamar Voe and thence cut across to Hillswick.

Manson's Guide to ShetlandA much more enjoyable way, however, in very fine weather, is to engage a boat or in the case of visitors to the hotel when a party is made up, the motor-boat, and sail to one of the voes, and then walk back by the lochs and voes. Neither boat nor motor-boat is likely, however, to attempt Mangaster Voe, which is six miles at its mouth from Hillswick by sea. (It is the same distance at its head, as the crow flies, from Øra-firth). Whatever means of approach is chosen, the tramping is glorious among the lochs and over the hills which average about 300 feet in height but the chief beauty-spots are in the voes, all three of which are winding, secluded, and verdant, with fine openings into the great expanse of St. Magnus Bay. Off Gunnjister Voe lie two islands, the Isle of Gunnjister and the larger Isle of Nibon, and at the mouth of Mangaster Voe lies the isle of Egilsay, which has the appearance of being rent in two.


The West Banks or "seeing the seals"

The visitor may already have proved for himself by a trip to the Drongs or the Dore Holm, that the ideal way to see cliff or rock-scenery is by boat; but he is yet to make the
finest boat-trip in all Northmavine—around the West Banks i.e., from Heylor along the south shore of Rønies Voe then after leaving that Voe, skirting the great cliffs north-west of Rønies Hill for nearly five miles; on the return journey, if time permits, following along the north shore up to the head of Rønies Voe, before heading home for Heylor. This round trip of eighteen or nineteen miles, occupying about four hours, is accomplished by motor-boat from Heylor. The trip is commonly called "seeing the seals," as these fine creatures have their haunts in the West Banks, and are seen in great numbers on the way; but the rock and cliff scenery is really the great feature of the expedition. In Eshaness the interest centres almost entirely in the strange fissures and formations in the comparatively low cliffs; but the West Banks, besides being the background for a series of strangely-shaped stacks and rocks in the sea, themselves include long stretches of high, sloping, but magnificent red cliffs.

Starting from Heylor, pushing along below cliffs of no great height, but of strange formation and wonderful colouring the first of the stacks is reached, the Quida Stack, an extraordinary trunk of rock standing straight up out of the sea, and at the foot, just above the surface of the water, narrowed in as if it had been badly squeezed, and would soon topple over The Red Stack of Sumra, the next and a more ordinary example lies just where the coast turns north towards the Faither, and is a point of departure for the motor-boat, which now strikes across to the other side of the Voe towards the point of Whal Horn, and then makes for the Roodrins, two huge rocks close together, with another rock beyond, the Kleiver, seen through the natural gateway thus formed. By now Rønies Voe has been left behind and one looks out upon the open sea. The boat heads steadily for the Kleiver, and passes to it through the gateway of the Roodrins, and this forms one of the most enjoyable phases of the trip. The Kleiver is a large, rough pyramid of rock, with several rents in it, one of them going right to the top. A small rock, the Hog, lies just inside it, and another, the Stab, several hundred yards beyond.

Manson's Guide to ShetlandOnce past the Kleiver, the visitor will have leisure to view the high sloping red cliffs which lie to the east, curving inland, from opposite the Roodrins, for nearly two miles, round and out again to a low headland with an arch or Giant's Leg at the point—Toorls Head, on which the vivid green grass contrasts beautifully with the red rock. These cliffs are the Stonga Banks, and along the whole length of their base there is a beautiful ayre or beach, the Lang Ayre, on which the sea breaks continually. They not only form a long curve, but also arch as they rise gradually to a height of 700 feet from their two extremities, Toorls Head, which is almost 200 feet in height, and Ketligill Head, about 300 feet. Just beyond Toorls Head lies the biggest of the sea-rocks on this coast—Grøna Stack, a big mass with green grass on top, as its name indicates, but consisting mostly of bare rock, which owing to deep fissures, rises in massive buttress-like protuberances, both in the central mass and in the easterly "wing," the whole presenting a kind of cathedral-like appearance. The Little Grøna Stacks lie in front of it, and it contains a number of arches.

Looking east again another stretch of cliffs is seen, nearly as long as the Stonga Banks, rising from Toorls Head to their northern extremity, and at their highest, over 500 feet. These are the Valla Kames. Off them lie a number of small rocks, the Munga Skerries, and beyond them the land runs into a deeply-indented wick, nearly a mile in breadth (from north to south) its shore consisting of cliffs about 300 feet in height. This is Lang Clodie Wick, in the southern corner of which is a waterfall, said to be the finest in Shetland, its source being in the Lang Clodie Loch. Here also was one of the last haunts of the sea-eagle This wick is protected on the north by a fine headland, Hevdadale Head, which, as its name implies (O.N. hofuth, a head) is shaped like a head, and may by the fanciful be compared to a lion couchant. About 300 feet at its highest, it also, like Toorls Head, looks beautiful with the red rock rising up to the green grass.

At Hevdadale Head the motor-boat turns, and the visitor may now have leisure to watch more closely the seals which are seen in great numbers all along the coast—some basking on the rocks, whence if alarmed they will plunge into the sea; others just showing their heads, as they watch the boat with great curiosity; others again playing with each other and turning somersaults in the water; while occasionally, if it is a still day, their roaring, resembling that of a cow, may be heard from within some cave. The greatest number said to have been seen in this vicinity at one time was no less than 300. Sea-birds also of many kinds will make their presence known, on the cliffs, in the air, and in the sea, as they dive for fish; and not least of the sights all the way along will be the numerous "old men of the sea"—half-submerged rocks, their heads draped with tangled locks of seaweed, and the sea washing up and down over them constantly.

Back in Rønies Voe, the boat will hug the northern shore, passing close under the red, bulging rock-masses that fall down from Rønies Hill on the west, and at one point are 600 feet in height. Then the "elbow" in Rønies Voe is passed, where the mountain slopes right down to the water's edge, and around this corner is Fjael, where a burn comes rapidly down to the sea, a beautiful spot, with a sadness cast over it by the sight of derelict crofts. From here to the derelict Norwegian whaling-station at the head of the Voe, the steep land is strikingly green. At Fjael are deep and inexhaustible mussel-beds, to which in time past men came for bait all the way from Whalsay, landing at Queyfirth and coming overland with shovels and pails for the mussels. At the other side of the head of the Voe is another derelict Norwegian whaling-station, and from there it is nearly three miles beneath sloping banks to Heylor.


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