This excerpt was taken from 'Manson's Guide to Shetland', 3rd edition, printed June 1933. Thanks to Jean Stephen of Ollaberry for allowing us to borrow her prized copy!
NORTHMAVINE has been described by Tudor as "the largest, wildest, and most beautiful parish in Shetland."
Largest and wildest it certainly is; "grandest" and "most majestic" are terms equally applicable to it; and if other parts dispute the claim to pre-eminent beauty, it can only be because their beauty is of a different kind. While Foola shows the highest cliff-faces in Shetland, rivalled in Britain only by the St. Kildan rocks, Northmavine, in the grandeur of its cliffs, and the fantastic variety of its rocks, constitutes the parish par excellence in Shetland for wild rock scenery.
Such a district may arouse expectations of a desolate appearance, but the red colour of many of the rocks and cliffs, contrasted with the green of the sward above them, beautifies the whole range of country, and the constant curving in and out of voes and gios with fissured cliffs, and the stacks, skerries, and rocks that stand up out of the sea all along the coast at all distances from it, prevent any feeling of monotony from entering the mind of the beholder.
Add to this the fact that large inland tracts of the parish are as much broken up by trout-lochs as any area of similar size in Aithsting or Waas, and that Northmavine contains the highest hill (really a mountain) in Shetland;—and some idea will be got of the attractions offered by the most northerly part of the Mainland.
The whole parish lies north of the picturesque little isthmus of Mavis Grind ("gate of the narrow isthmus") so narrow that it is possible to throw a stone from the shore of the North Sea on the east into the waters of the Atlantic on the west. This isthmus lies a mile or more from Brae along a road that winds around the base of high ice-scratched rocks. The little gio on the left hand opens out into St. Magnus Bay; on the right hand are the winding shores of the longest voe in Shetland—Sullom Voe.
The large peninsula now entered into is seventeen miles at its longest from north to south, and eleven miles at its broadest from east to west. It is itself much peninsulated on the west coast, where nearly all the rock scenery is to be found, but slopes gently down to the sea on the east, where the coast runs nearly straight north and south, broken here and there by smooth-curving voes and firths.
The main road, which extends to near the northern extremity of the parish, runs for half its length among hills and lochs until, under the shadow of Rønies Hill (the mountain referred to above), it seeks, and thereafter keeps near to the eastern seaboard. The country is up-hill and down-dale all the way, the hills being more numerous, and (except for Rønies Hill itself) shorter and more humped-up, than in most other, parts of Shetland.
The whole land is suggestive of giants and trolls, and makes driving a matter of interest and excitement. Just south of Rønies Hill, Northmavine is nearly cut in two by the long, narrow Rønies Voe on the west, and Quey-firth on the east, the main road passing between the two. South and west of Rønies Voe again, a wide peninsula spreads out fanwise, terminating on the extreme west in another smaller peninsula, Eshaness, and to the south in the Ness of Hillswick, on the neck of which is situated Hillswick and its hotel, reached after an eleven-mile drive from Mavis Grind. Here are, besides the hotel, several houses, shops, and an old church, the church of St. Magnus.