Fetlar History & Anecdotes

After much research we found various instances of Fetlar mentioned in old publications. This will be constantly updated, so check in every now and then. New entries will be added at the top of the page.

Andrew Bruce of Urie: Description of Fetlar – Echoes, Smallpox and Pictsh Castles 1774

Substance of a Paper put into my hands by Andre. Bruce. Esqr. of Urie, anent. Fetlar

“Of Lakes we have several, some of which are stored with fish, as Trouts and Eels. Springs in abundance, but none of them remarkable for any virtue. There are several natural caves in the rocks, and many chasms; mountains but few, and not remarkable. We have echoes which repeat noise three or four times over. Storms are frequent in the autumn and winter; whirlwinds are but rare. Earthquakes I have heard of none so sensible as to be observed, only in 1768 we had the visible signs of a submarine shock,[2] which threw ashore vast quantities of shell fish of different kinds, and of all sizes, with Conger Eels and other sorts of fish, but all dead. At the same time the sea for several miles round was of a dark muddy colour for several days after.”

“The predominant diseases here are much the same with what prevails thro’ the rest of Scotland, and the natural means of cure much the same. Am not certain of our having lost any ancient diseases, but we have received several new ones formerly unknown here, viz.: The Palsey, Gout, and Epilepsy. We generally have a return of the Small-pox once in twenty years, which has always proved very destructive here, often sweeping away above a sixth of our people of all ages at a time. In 1701 above 90 died, most of them married people; in 1720, 80 from 21 years and downwards. We had them likewise in 1740, [3] 1760[4] and 1770, which proved more mild than any of the former, probably from the practice of inoculation, which succeeds here
wonderfully. The present number of our people may be about 600, but upon the decrease, owing to losses at sea, fevers, and other disease. The principal commercial productions are dry Ling, Cod, Tusk, Butter, Fish-oil, & a few Hides and Calves’ Skins. Manufacturers none, except for the wear of the inhabitants.”

“We have several circles here, with a trench in the inside, and a stone or hillock in the centre. Some of them have the outmost circle set round with rude stones, others only formed of earth. Castles we have none, except some old circular buildings, which go by the name of Pictish castles, the history of which is lost. They are generally surrounded with entrenchments, and of different bulk, but Mr Low will furnish you with measurements.”
“The ordinary sports here are dancing, playing at football, and other diversions common to Scotland.”

[1] Mr Gordon, Minister of the Isle, says on this article, “We have Trout of a large size; some have been caught two foot and a half, of a white kind that never visit the ocean. Others there are that run into small burns from the first of August to the end of September, above 25lbs, weight, equally good and sometimes preferable to Salmon.”
[2] “Some years ago there was a marine eruption, or some such phaenomenon which we could not account for in any other way. There was a vast quantity of sea fish drove ashore, of various kinds, and many that had never made their appearance on this coast before; Conger Eels above 7 feet long, but all dead. The water in the bays was so black and muddy for eight days after, that when our fishermen were hauling Haddock or any small fish, they could never discern the fish till hauled out of the water.” – Mr Gordon.

[3] 120
[4] 90


"Mr Jerom Johnstone, a small udaller...made great improvement on his kailyard, converting it into a neat, small garden, where he cultivates currant bushes and other shrubs, flowers, turnips, onions, pease, carrots and tobacco. He claims the honour of being the first to introduce the turnip into Fetlar..."

The New Statisical Account of Scotland - J. Gordan, 1845

Arab/Mustang sires & the temper of Fetlar Ponies – 1883

“…Fetlar has always been celebrated for its ponies, probably owing to the generous food to be got in some of the limestone bottoms, and Sir Arthur Nicolson introduced Arab, or Barb blood, some forty years or so back. Some people say he turned a Mustang stallion, that, at one time, had been the favourite charger of Bolivar, of South American renown, loose; others that he imported a regular Arab sire. Wherever they get from, there is no doubt the Fetlar ponies are very fine animals though it is said their temper has not been improved by the new strain…”
Tudor, John R. The Orkneys and Shetland: Their Past and Present State. E. Stanford, 1883 P.556

The Mills & the Faeries

“…In Fetlar and Yell there are several ruins of water-mills in very remote situations, when mills could have been built much nearer; and there are various legends of their having been deserted on account of fairies disturbing them; of an old man being found dead in one; of an old woman being torn to pieces by spirits Wenyadapla in Gyodinali, in Fetlar,—a truly lonely spot. 

KARL BLIND, Gentleman’s Mag, 1882, p. 3,69,..”

NB According to Goudie, Gilbert. The Celtic and Scandinavian Antiquities of Shetland. W. Blackwood and sons, 1904 (p259) – night was the favourite grinding time, which may explain the sinister aspects of folklore pertaining to the Mills (our emphasis)

Billy Brown and the Press-gang – 1899

“…In the days of the press-gang there lived in Fetlar a man known as Billy Brown. He was of great physical
strength and very fleet of foot. Several attempts had been made to take him, but without success. One misty 
August night the cutter with the press-gang on board lay becalmed in the Wick o’ Grotin’. A picked crew was 
sent off with instructions to land in Moosie Gjo o’ Straand, and proceed to Billy’s house under cover of the 
fog to capture and bring him on board. These instructions were carried out with all possible caution, and the, 
press-gang reached Billy’s house at an hour when he and his family were supposed to be asleep. Billy, 
however, was on the alert, and as his would-be captors entered the butt door, he sprang out the ben 
chimney, gaining the yard behind the house at a single bound. But just as he crossed the stiggie (stile), he was 
seized by one of the press-gang who had been left outside on watch. Turning on the man, he seized him with
an over- mastering grip and. quickly tied his hands behind his back with a lamb’s tether he happened to have
in his pocket. The poor, crestfallen official pleaded to be tied more gently, but Billy’s only reply was : ” Ha, 
bridder ! he that shor bin’s, shor fin’s, an ‘lauchs whin he lowses.”…”

Ref. Spence, John. Shetland Folk-Lore. Johnson & Greig, 1899. p.217-8

Chapels and St.Hilary – Halliera Kirk – 1883

“…When Monteith[1] wrote, two hundred and fifty years ago, Fetlar had one church for sermons and ten or eleven chapels. W’hen in the island the writer could only hear of the sites of four. One near Kirkhouse, Strand: the second the Kirk or Tafts, near Funzie ; the third, Halliera Kirk, near Feal not far from the Free Manse; and the fourth the Kirk at Odsta. Halliera Kirk was in 1878 overgrown with weeds and a sheep cru or fold, erected on the site. Can this chapel have been dedicated to St. Hilary?…”
[1] Minerological Magazine, vol ii p.227
REF: Tudor, John R. The Orkneys and Shetland: Their Past and Present State. E. Stanford, 1883.


“…Crosbister.—Must have been”Krossbustadr,”a dwelling near a cross. Perhaps in ancient times in Fetlar a cross has been erected there…”

Edmondston, Thomas. An Etymological Glossary of the Shetland \& Orkney Dialect: With Some
Derivations of Names of Places in Shetland. Edinburgh, A. and C. Black, 1866.

Descripton of Fetlar (formerly a Vicarage) – 1813

“…FETLAR, ISLAND, one of the SHETLAND ISLES formerly a Vicarage, to which is united the Parish of North
Yell,in the Island of Yell: the Stipend,in 1811, being 597 ling fish, 484- cans of oil, 222 lispunds and 11 merks 
of butter, and £10..7..1½ in money, including £8.. 6..8. for Communion elements, together with a manse, and 
glebe: Patron,Lord Dundas: The Church is in good repair. It is in the Presbytery of Shetland,and Synod of 
Orkney. The Resident Population of the Island of Fetlar, in 1801, was 910, and, in 1811,was 940. It is 4 miles 
in length,and 3½ miles in breadth, containing about 800 merklands, of half an acre each. The soil consists 
mostly of a rich black loam, and somes and, producing barley, oats,and kitchen vegetables: but the quantity 
of arable ground is small, incomparison of the land used for pasture. The seed time commences on the first
of March,and ends by the first of May: but as the crops are so very precarious in this climate,and are
frequently blasted by frosts and mildews,the inhabitants direct their attention more to the prosecution of the 
fisheries,than of agriculture. Fuel is abundant here,and at a very reasonable price. The East part of Fetlar is in 
the Latitude of 60* 41' 0?North,and in the Longitude of 56' 30? West from Greenwich…”
Carlisle, Nicholas. A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland: And of the Islands in the British Seas: Volume I. 
Vol. 1. G. and W. Nicol, 1813.

Walrus killed at Fetlar – 1815

“…A Walrus was killed at Fetlar, in 1815; a second was seen at the same place a few days after; a third was
seen at Balta Sound in 1828; a fourth is said to have been killed, some forty or fifty years back, on the sandy 
beach which connects the isle or peninsula of Uya with Northmaven; and from the description given him, the 
writer has every reason to believe a fifth was seen a few years back in Papa Sound…”

Tudor, John R. The Orkneys and Shetland: Their Past and Present State. E. Stanford, 1883. P.413

Eruption near Fetlar – 1768

“…In the year 1768[…]visible signs of a submarine shock[…]The late Mr Gordon,minister of the Island of
Fetlar,in allusion to the same event, stated, that, “some years ago,there was a marine eruption,or some such 
phenomenon,which we could not account for in any other way. There was a vast quantity of sea-fish driven 
ashore,and many that had never made their appearance on this coast before. Congereels above seven feet 
long, but all dead. The water in the bays was so black and muddy for eight days after,that when our 
fishermen were hawling haddock,or any small fish, they could never discern them until taken out of the 

Hibbert-Ware, Samuel. A Description of the Shetland Islands: Comprising an Account of Their
Scenery, Antiquities, and Superstitions. Manson, 1891. P.151

Fetlar And North Yell School

“…The parochial school is in North Yell, and affords instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic, book-keeping and navigation; the master has the minimum salary, and receives a few pounds in fees. In Fetlar is a school of much longer standing than the parochial school, supported by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge; the master teaches the same branches as those taught in the other school, and receives a salary of £15, and a small amount in fees. There is a small subscription library. The antiquities comprehend the remains of several chapels and forts, a Roman camp at Snawburgh, several fonts which have been dug up at Aithness, and a few urns containing ashes and bones…”

Extract from ‘The Topographical Dictionary of Scotland by Samuel Lewis, 1846

Description of Fetlar in “A Topographical 
Dictionary of Scotland Volume 1? – 1851

“…FETLAR and NORTH YELL, a parish, in the county of Shetland; containing 1745 inhabitants, of whom 761 are
in Fetlar, 36 miles (N. by E.) from Lerwick. This parish, which is situated nearly at the northern extremity of 
the Shetland Isles, consists of the island of Fetlar and the northern part of that of Yell. The former is bounded 
on the north by the channel separating it from the islands of Unst and Uyea, on the south by the wide 
channel which divides it from Whalsey island and the Mainland, on the east by the German Ocean, and on 
the west by Colgrave Sound, separating it from the island of Yell. North Yell is bounded on the west and north 
by the Northern Ocean, and on the east by the firth called Blue-Mull Sound, which divides it from the island 
of Unst. Fetlar measures about seven miles in length and four in breadth, comprising 786¾ merks of land
under cultivation (a merk being about three-quarters of an acre), and between 10,000 and 12,000 acres 
which, with the exception of 1200, are undivided common. North Yell is six miles long and five broad,and 
contains 634 merks of cultivated, and from 12,000 to 15,000 acres of uncultivated land. 
The situation is bleak, and the surface hilly; but there are no lofty elevations, the highest grounds not rising 
more than 300 feet above the level of the sea, and being, in each district, alternated with tolerably fertile 
valleys. Both the islands are singularly irregular in figure, and the coast is indented with fissures, creeks, and 
bays of various extent. Of the last the principal in Fetlar are those of Aith, Tresta, Strand, Mowick, Funzie, 
Gruting voe, and Urie bay, where a kind of pier has lately been erected; but none of these are considered 
safe harbours. North Yell, in this respect, has much the advantage: the bays of Basta voe and Cullivoe form 
excellent retreats and landing-places; besides which, it has the bays of Papal and Gloup Voe. Colgrave Sound, 
encompassing Fetlar from south-west to north-west, is a rapid and dangerous channel, about nine miles
across in the widest, and three miles in the narrowest, part. Blue-Mull Sound measures in the narrowest part 
about three-quarters of a mile across, and the sound between the islands of Fetlar and Unst is from four to 
five miles broad: in both these channels, but especially in that of Blue-Mull, the tide runs with great force, 
and the passage is often hazardous.
The rocks on the coast are frequently covered with sea-fowl; wild pigeons are numerous, and flocks of wild
swans often visit the islands. There are many small lakes, abounding with trout, the largest of which is a lake 
in Fetlar, near the manse, about three-quarters of a mile in length and a quarter in breadth. The inhabitants 
are employed in agriculture and fishing, the latter occupation engaging most of their attention; In Fetlar the 
soil is of various descriptions, sandy, clayey, marly, and all of it shallow, with very little peat : North Yell, 
except the patches cultivated along the shore, is one great peat-moss. Each district produces good oats and 
potatoes; barley is cultivated only to a very limited extent, and wheat is rarely to be seen, owing to the want 
of enclosures to protect these kinds of grain, and of sun duly to ripen them.

The ground is generally turned with a spade, the number of ploughs being very small; and the state of
agriculture throughout the two districts indicates strongly the want of resources, and of much more attention 
and skill, to place it on a respectable footing. In North Yell many plots of common ground have recently been 
brought under cultivation, and a few in Fetlar. Sir Arthur Nicolson lately commenced an improvement farm. 
The sheep and cattle are mostly of the native breed, small but hardy, and they appear to thrive better than
any other kinds: a mixed breed of sheep, introduced some time since by Sir Arthur Nicolson, has not beenfound well suited to the climate, and a few cows of a larger growth, which have been tried, have in the same 
manner proved unequal to meet the severity of the district. The ponies bred are of the same size, vigorous 
spirit, and untiring strength, as those in the other isles of Shetland. In this parish the rocks comprise mica-
slate, quartz, chlorite-slate, gneiss, clay-slate, and serpentine. Chromate of iron, now supposed to be 
exhausted, used for a long time to be occasionally quarried in the island of Fetlar. 
With the common stone from the same locality, a mansion-house has been built by Sir Arthur Nicolson, and 
another by Mr. Smith; and quarries in the island of Yell have supplied a material for the erection of the 
houses of Gloup, Greenbank, and Midbrake, the dressings, however, being of freestone brought from 
Lerwick. Sir Arthur has also erected an observatory, on a mound in the immediate neighbourhood of his 
mansion. The annual value of real property in the parish is £806. The ling-fishery occupies much of the time 
of the inhabitants; in addition to which, tusk, cod, saith, and other kinds are taken nearly all the year round: 
the herring-fishery, formerly considerable, has in a great measure failed of late years. The fish caught in 
winter are salted, and preserved in vats till spring, when they are dried and exported to Leith; those taken in 
summer are preserved in the same manner, and sent, not only to the market of Leith, but also to Ireland and 
Spain: the produce of the herring-fishery, which is carried on in August and September, is forwarded, when 
cured, to Leith and to Ireland. The stations for the ling-fishery are, Funzie, on the eastern side of Fetlar, and 
Gloup, on the north side of Yell, towards the Northern Ocean. Urie, Strand, and Aith banks, in Fetlar; and 
Cullivoe and Bayanne, in North Yell, are or were stations for the curing of herrings. A large quantity of skate, 
halibut, haddock, sillock, piltock, and whiting, is also taken, furnishing the inhabitants with a considerable 
portion of their subsistence: there are oysters at Basta voe, and a good supply of several other kinds of shell-

The parish is entirely destitute of conveyances and roads; and the intercourse with Lerwick, the only market-
town of the Shetlands, is so uncertain and dangerous, that, although the post-office in North Yell 
communicates twice a week with that place in fair weather, letters are often delayed for a long time on their 
“[…]The antiquities comprehend the remains of several chapels and forts, a Roman camp at Snawburgh,
several fonts which have been dug up at Aithsness, and a few urns containing ashes and bones…”
Lewis, SAMUEL. A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 3 Vols: Volume 1 From Abbey to Jura (Second 
Edition). Vol. 1. Lewis and Co. London, 1851. Pages 440-441

‘Tings’ of Fetlar & Gallows – 1897

“…I have already mentioned the great “ting” or law-court for the whole islands, held in Tingwall. There were
also minor law-courts for the various districts. In connection with these lesser “tings” I heard an interesting 
statement from an old woman in Fetlar. She informed me, that she had been told by her grand parents, that 
the island of Fetlar had once been divided into three separate districts, each with its own ting or law-court…”
“…Each ting had its own”gallow-hill ” or place of execution for criminals sentenced to death. There is a
“Gallow-hill” at Scalloway connected with the great ting, and hills by the same name are found in Unst, Fetlar, 
Dunrossness and on the westside…”

Ref. Jakobsen, Jakob. The Dialect and Place Names of Shetland: Two Popular Lectures. T. & J. Manson, 

“…Although the principal gallow was at Lamb Hoga, there is another Gallow Knowe at Houbie…” [from Tobar an Dualchais website]

(NB Since we had long heard rumour of other ‘gallows’ sites on Fetlar the link below states there was a Gallow
Knowe at Houbie, if the old woman was right, in that Fetlar originally had three ‘tings’ then there would 
logically have been three gallows.)

Fetlar Gallows

“…Gordon Johnston and I went there a fortnight ago. Writing in the Shetland Folk Book in 1964, the great Fetlar folklorist Jeemsie Laurenson reported that ‘[t]he hole in the Gallow Hill where the gallows stood can still be seen’. We didn’t really expect to find it. We walked from the main road to the television mast, and looked around for the summit of the Gallow Hill. We saw it right away. There was a strange excrescence on top of it. I now know that you can see it from all directions: even from Vatster in Yell, if you look hard enough. What is it? No scholar has noticed it, as far as I can find out, although it is well-known by older people in the west of Fetlar. It is one of Shetland’s most extraordinary archaeological monuments. Right at the peak of the hill there is a square turf enclosure, still knee-high, and perfectly visible on each of its four sides. It is about 25 yards square. On the east side, nearest Tresta, there are signs of an opening, perhaps a gate. I have discussed it with Ian Tait, our expert on Shetland’s vernacular structures, and he agrees with me that it can’t be prehistoric, and that it certainly can’t have had any modern agricultural function, given where it is. Quite simply, it is a medieval enclosure for the gallows. As Billy Thomason, formerly of Velyie, said to me: ‘Yun’s whar dey hanged da fokk.’ And there, right in the middle it, was a big hole, faced with stone: the hole, as Jeemsie said, where the gallows stood…”

“…So what was the administrative background to this Fetlar situation? As I have hinted, it may have been different – very different – from the Scandinavian Shetland we thought we understood. In the late middle ages, and modern times, the judicial process in Shetland took place at parish and Shetland-wide level, in parochial bailie courts and sheriff courts. Here, however, I bring another, older administrative unit into my argument: the herra. Shetland’s herras are the same as the Old Norse word hérað, whose basic meaning is rural district.
No one has commented on the fact before, but although Shetland’s herras have been obsolete for hundreds of years, a remarkable number of them have survived in place names. There were herras in North Yell and Mid Yell, in Lunnasting and Tingwall. And there is a particularly good example in Fetlar. Right underneath the Gallow Hill we find the fertile townships of Tresta and the Fetlar glebe – Da Lower Herra – with the little places called Sooth Dale, Da Baelins and North Dale to the north, called the Upper Herra. So what were these districts? The Norwegian laws of the middle ages, especially the Gulathing and Frostathing laws, are full of references to them. They were rural districts whose inhabitants acted together, especially in judicial and administrative matters. Some of the references are to mundane matters like bridge-building in the herra; but a lot of them deal with the criminal law. ‘The men of the hérað,’ according to Gulathing Law, ‘shall pay the fines for those who live in thathérað‘. ‘If a man is robbed of his goods, and can see the tracks of men leading away,’ we read elsewhere in the same law-code, ‘let him call in his héraðsmen‘– his neighbours in the herra-district – ‘and report his loss’. And in section 156 there is a requirement that two witnesses are needed to testify that a suspect of murder ‘moved about through the hérað in such a way that he could have been present at the slaying…’ To deal with crimes the herra had its own law court or thing. According to Frostathing Law, ‘If a man is wounded in the hérað… a thing shall be called’. What I am suggesting is that the Herra in Fetlar was an ancient judicial district, with its law court and its own gallow hill. Of course, there is no contemporary evidence for any such arrangement. But the place name alone must lead us to some such conclusion. And there may also be a hint of it in an oral source, the utterance of a Fetlar woman hundreds of years after the event, staggering as that may seem. In the 1890s Jakob Jakobsen visited Fetlar, and ‘[d]uring my stay… ‘ he wrote, ‘an elderly woman living there told me that, according to an old tradition, the Isle… was formerly divided into three small districts, each with its own thing, the present “Herra” being one of them.’ I regard
that as an amazing piece of information. As I have said, Shetland’s herras had been obsolete for many
centuries; but here we have an old woman who knew nothing about Norwegian history, with a good grasp of the ancient institution and its functions…”

This extract was posted from the blog link (you can click on below) – the original paper is written by historian Brian Smith who delivered a paper on the subject in Lerwick in 2006 called ‘Gibbets and gallows: Local rough justice in Shetland, 800-1700'
Read more HERE

The Fetlar Prophecy – ‘nothing but a shepherd and his dog’

“…Local tradition holds that in the 19th century a now-unidentified woman predicted a series of events that would precede the islands depopulation…” [Andre Grydehoj Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures Volume 2 Number 2 2008 p. 56-7]

Version 1
There will be a mansion on the Ripples
Soldiers on Vord Hill
A harbour in Papil Water
And nothing but a shepherd and his dog.

Note on the above
“…The prophecy has been fulfilled in the following ways: There will be a mansion on the Ripples = In 1901, Leagarth House was built on the piece of land known as the Ripples, near the village of Houbie. Soldiers on Vord Hill = During World War II, Vord Hill, Fetlar’s highest point, was the site of a military watchpost. A harbour in Papil Water = Waves are eroding the beach and thin stretch of turf separating the loch, Papil Water, from the sea…” [op.cit.]

Version 2
There will be a mansion on da Ripples
Soldiers on da Vord Hill (there was a watch stationed there in the War)
A harbour in da Dullins (a variant being, ships in the loch )
Nothing but the Shepherd and his dog

Finnigert Dyke & the Finns

“…According to Jakobsen, the troll-myths of Fetlar are concentrated about the Finnigert dyke. In the tale, the Finns are being associated with the folklore topos of supernatural beings that carry out great building works at night. There is another example of this same topos from the 11th century Historia Norwegiae, where it says that the Picts, who are also regarded as mythical beings, were supposed to have accomplished miraculous achievements by building towns, morning and evening, but at midday they lost every ounce of their strength…”

“The Finnfolk: Text of a Public Talk Dr Andrew Jennings Gave at the Shetland Museum 25th March 2010. Read it HERE

Finns and Folklore

Finn: The name is perpetuated in place names such as Finnie (Funzie) and Finniegert (Funziegert) Dyke 

The Finns have folklore attached to them on Shetland, one of ‘seal people’, possessing a skin or garment like
the covering of a seal enabling them to take to the water. It is mentioned that Finn-folk were able to 
transform at will into the shape of a bird or fish and accredited with extraordinary powers.  
(Source: Traditional Life in Shetland by James Nicholson)

4.0 Finns as Magicians in the Northern Isles
…There are several folktales from Fetlar about the Finns. In one of them, the farmer of Kolbenstaft had only a
low fellie dek (turf wall) to protect his crops. Horses and sheep kept getting over it, much to his annoyance. 
One night a Finn appeared to him in a dream and said that because the farmer’s folk had been kind to him, 
he would be kind to the farmer. In the morning the farmer awoke to find a stone wall enclosing his land. This 
is the Neolithic Finnigert which traverses Fetlar from North to South. The name Finnigert looks like it might 
originally have come from *Finna-garðr ‘Enclosure of the Finns’ 

(Jakobsen, J. The Placenames of 

Shetland 1936:175). 

However, even if the original place-name specific was the man’s name Finn, it is
unimportant from a folklore perspective. According to Jakobsen, the troll-myths of Fetlar are
concentrated about the Finnigert dyke. In the tale, the Finns are being associated with the folklore topos of supernatural beings that carry out great building works at night. There is another example of this same topos from the 11th century Historia Norwegiae, where it says that the Picts, who are also regarded as mythical beings, were supposed to have accomplished miraculous achievements by building towns, morning and evening, but at midday they lost every ounce of their strength…

Finns, Hadds, Finnigirt, Finnie and the Uncanny – 1899

“[…place-names in which the Finns appear to be commemorated, e.g., Finnigirt and Finnie, in the Island of Fetlar; and Finnister, in Nesting, etc. It is worthy of note that these places are associated in the public mind with trolls, or at least something uncanny. Of Finnigirt Dr. Jacobsen says: 

“There are a few legends told about places along this dyke stead, and the spot where it terminates on the south side of the island has been of old a noted place for trolls.” Regarding Finnister in Nesting, the name is applied to one of the numerous punds or enclosures found in the Shetland scattalds. The ground inside the old Finnister dyke had evidently been a toon, and had been occupied as a croft. It is traditionally said that the last family all died or mysteriously disappeared by some enchantment, and although the ground is the richest spot in the pasture, no animal was said to remain on it after sundown. In the parish of Delting there is a green hillock called “‘ Finnister Knowe,” probably a burial mound. Also at Brettabister, in the parish of Nesting, near a large Pictish ruin, there is a place called the “Finnie Knowe,” i.e., the Finns’ Knoll; and the same name is applied to a green hillock near the burn of Grunafirth. And further, there is, in a remote glen between the hill of Boofell and the Lang Kame two little hillocks called Finnister Hadds. The word hadd is applied particularly to the hole made by a burrowing animal. Even the earth dwelling of man might be termed a hadd or hiding-place. Hence the name would signify the Finns’ burrow or hiding-place. Earth houses have existed in the neighbourhood, remains of which may still be seen…]”

Spence, John. Shetland Folk-Lore. Johnson & Greig, 1899. P. 18-20

Woe on Roe and Herculean strength on Fetlar – 1874

“…In travelling through Shetland, I have been frequently struck with the great difference in the physical character of the people which prevails in the different parishes and islands. On observing the inhabitants of the island of Fetlar, on the northeast, and comparing them with those of Muckle Roe, on the west coast, one would be inclined to declare them as belonging to totally diiferent nations. Thus, we find the men of Fetlar great, almost gigantic, in stature, athletic, broad shouldered, deep chested, powerful, and almost herculean in strength, noble looking, and, in fact, presenting all the physical qualities required to make up a ” perfect model of a man,” so that any one of them might be chosen, like “Jupiter Carlyle,” to sit for a statue of Olympian Jove.
The men of Muckle Roe are, on the other hand, little, dumpy, frequently bandy-legged, ill-proportioned., have ill-formed features, and are incapable of great or long-continued physical exertion, but handy at light work [1] What can have produced such a difference in the inhabitants of two islands belonging to the same group, and situated within twenty five miles of each other? Both are of Norse origin, as evinced by their blue eyes and yellow hair. In both communities there is e slight inter-mixture of Scotch blood, as shown by the names Gardner and Brown existing in the one island, and Black and Fraser in the 0ther. But here analogies end, and contrasts begin in the circumstances of the two peoples.
Fetlar is a comparatively flat low-lying island, very fertile, and may he said to be exposed on all sides to the ocean, lying at least four miles away from any other island; it is formed on the one side of gneiss and on the other of serpentine. Roe, on the other hand, is formed of granite, is extremely rugged and barren, is precipitous on the west, and only habitable along its eastern and southern shores, which border a fine, large, land-locked bay. At one point a. person can walk across to the neighbouring part of the mainland at low tide
The men of the first mentioned island have always been bold, hardy, deep sea fishers, earning their livelihood in open boats from forty to fifty miles from land ; and thence their hardihood, daring, and nautical skill, have been constantly taxed. ` At the same time they have been prosperous small farmers, enjoying the comforts of life, and living for a long time, at all events, under good moral influences. Thus, with these circumstances, the most healthy climate in the world, and no means of dissipation, they have enjoyed all the influences favourable to the development of their physical frames, bodily strength and energy, mental activity and moral purity.
But the people of Roe have chiefly subsisted by catching fish in the neighbouring land-locked bay, or acting as menials about the house of their powerful proprietor, who, for many generations, dwelt within a sling— throw of them. Near them, for probably two or three centuries, existed the chief trading booth, where they could readily obtain spirits from the Dutch. Church or school were unknown in the island till twenty years ago, when a humble specimen of the latter institution was set up, and there is no evidence to show that they were in former times exposed to influences calculated to elevate the character. Hence the people of Roe have been exposed to degrading physical and social influences, and if we allow anything for endemic influences, for the slight differences of climate in the two islands, or attach any weight to the doctrine of Boudin that ” man is (physically) the expression of the soil on which he lives,” or believe that food has an influence on the bodily character, we cannot have so much difficulty in understanding why the sons of brother Vikings, who ploughed the sea together a thousand years ago, presents such marked contrasts now…”
[1] I trust these remarks will not he taken in an offensive sense by the good people of Muckle Roe, as they are written in anything but that spirit. No doubt there are handsome men in Roe and ill·made men in Fetlar; but for the sake of contrast I have attempted to describe a typical native of each island. [Seems our author had his conscience prick him even in 1874!]

Cowie, Robert. Shetland. Descriptive and Historical: Being a Graduation Thesis on the Inhabitants of the Shetland Islands; and a Topographical Description of That Country. Menzies, J, 1874. P.47-48

Hjaltland – Shetland – ‘yet, land!” – 1871

“…I shall conclude this lecture with a few remarks on the name Shetland itself, or rather on the original form of the name, which was Hjaltland. There is a popular tradition telling us, that some of the Picts, when they had been conquered by the Scots, left Scotland and fled north. When they had passed Orkney and got sight of Shetland, they cried: “Yet land, yet land!”—and this was the way, Shetland got its name. There is a similar tradition about Fedeland in North Roe. Fedeland is said to have been the last place in Shetland, where the Picts lingered. When they were driven from there, their only place of refuge was the sea, and so they cried: “Fae de land, fae de land (from the land).” Fancy the Picts speaking modern Shetland English!
“Fedeland”simply means”fat land”: rich pasture. No sure explanation has as yet been offered of the name”Hjaltland.” It has been explained from the man’s name Hjalti, occurring in the old Norse literature—but there are no instances of countries being named after single men. Then it has been derived from O.N.hjalt, hilt, the hilt of a sword, but the shape of the country does not present any striking resemblance to a hilt. Yet the name might contain the word hjalt…”
“…I further insist on the necessity for great caution in either forming or accepting conclusions in regard to names, that are of uncertain etymology, for derivations which even a slight knowledge of the Old Northern language might have shown to be erroneous have occasionally been offered in regard to these names…”

Ref. Jakobsen, Jakob. The Dialect and Place Names of Shetland: Two Popular Lectures. T. & J. Manson, 1897.


Hoeg, a sepulchral mound. There are several in Shetland, S. ; isl. haug ; su. g. hoeg, id.

Edmondston, Thomas. An Etymological Glossary of the Shetland \& Orkney Dialect: With Some Derivations of Names of Places in Shetland. Edinburgh, A. and C. Black, 1866.

Isles of Cats (Shetland Islands)

Interesting anecdote about the Shetland Islands in general.
“…In early Irish literature, Shetland is referred to as Inse Catt—”the Isles of Cats”, which may have been the pre-Norse inhabitants’ name for the islands. The Cat tribe also occupied parts of the northern Scottish mainland and their name can be found in Caithness, and in the Gaelic name for Sutherland (Cataibh, meaning “among the Cats”)…”
“…in several specific names within that county and in the earliest recorded name for Shetland (Inse Catt, meaning “islands of the Cat people”)…”
“…Watson (2005) compares this usage with the early Irish Innse Orc (islands of the boars) for Orkney and concludes that these are tribal names based on animals…”


Most Northerly Arthurian Story?

Sir Arthur Nicholson (the Nicholson responsible for the clearances on Fetlar) was reputed to have had a son. This first Fetlar-based Sir Arthur is also reputed to have had a son (also called Arthur) who died young, and local tradition tells a strange tale of him. Apparently, Sir Arthur had a vision in which he saw the legendary King Arthur who asked what he most wished for. When he replied that he wished for a son, King Arthur promised him this on condition that the son be named Arthur, and that he build a `praying house’ dedicated to King Arthur. This is the legendary story behind the building of the tower at Brough. It must also be the most northerly Arthurian story in Britain.

Extract from ‘A Brief History of Brough Lodge and The Nicholson Family by Jane Coutts

The Burgalstou Murder – Fetlar fisherman finds his family murdered by pirates

“…Like everywhere else Fetlar has its tragic stories. Jeemsie Laurenson tells of the mystery of Burgalstou.

There were five crofts on the peat hill peninsula of Lamb Hoga. The men from these crofts had been fishing in a six-oared boat and landed their catch at the Urie fishing station. They came around and moored the boat at Moo Wick. As one man came to his home nearby at Burgalstou, he thought it strange that there was no smoke from the house, and his children had not run to meet him. The house door was open and the man found his wife and children dead. They had been killed and there was blood all over the place. He alerted the other crofters who were making for home by shouting and waving his jacket. They came and saw what had happened. There were no police, but the minister was the justice of the peace and an investigation was held. The found a dry wooden clog at the foot of Selli Geos below the house. The only conclusion they could reach was that pirates had come ashore and killed the people in the house. They recalled that they had seen a strange vessel between Fetlar and Skerries, but it was too late to do anything.
After that the place was supposed to be haunted. Horses cleared out when the sun went down and the croft fell into disuse. Stones were taken from the house to build a dyke on Lamb Hoga."

(Record number: 807, Tobar an Dualchais Website).
There was a (possible) Broch South of Burgalstou called the Broch of Burgastoon...

The Rampant Thief(s) in Yell & Fetlar – 1794

“We have no fine wool in this island; but on the other part of the minister’s charge,there would be sheep in
great abundance, did not theft prevail there,and in a great many places of the country to such a degree that 
it beggars description! Neither will this be wondered at, if it is taken into consideration that there has not 
been one capital punishment inflicted in the lord ship of Shetland (which contains at least 24,000 persons) for 
a century bypast, for any crime whatever. The punishments inflicted for the crime of theft in particular, are so 
extremely mild, that they rather excite to the commission of the crime than deter from it. 
Our farms are divided into such small parcels, that the people who cultivate these small spots are a good 
many of them poor, and with the greatest difficulty live upon their small farms the half of the year.

(8.) From the Rev. Mr Gordon’s Account of North yell and Fetlar. Vol. xiii. p. 285, 290. [1794.]

“The writer, after forty years study of the constitution of this country, must frankly own he can see no way of
preventing the impending ruin of the poor land in general, and of every honest man in particular, unless the 
gentlemen of the country, una voce, enlarge the farms in the first place, and then let them to none but such 
as are of approved morals. Next, that they put the laws of their country in execution against some few of the 
many culprits that have infested this country for a number of years past.”

Quoted in Neill, Patrick. A Tour through Some of the Islands of Orkney and Shetland. A. Constable and 
John Murray, 1806. P. 155 & 

Professions, Offices, Trades in the Island of Fetlar 
– 1861

Served under the Sub-Office at Linkshouse.
Anderson, David, tailor, Snaburgh.
…….Thomas, merchants, Sherva.
Brown, Edward, shepherd. North Dale.
…….Jerome, merchant. North Dale.
Donaldson, Thomas, mason, Croshister.
Garthson, Jacob, rancelman, Littlaland.
Garson, Barbara C., merchant, Feal
Gardner, Laurence, mason, South Dale.
Henderson, Arthur, fish-curer, Finzie.
Hunter, James, joiner-, Baligarth.
Henderson, Thomas, merchant, Aith.
Hart, Laurence, weaver, Thofton.
Hunter, James, sen., mason, Newerhouse.
Inkster, Peter, society teacher and session clerk, Still.
Jamieson, John, merchant, Hubie.
Johnston, Andrew, shepherd, Tresta.
Jamieson, John, shepherd, Gruton.
…….Jerome, rancelman, Hubie.
Murray, Thomas, rancehnan, Aith.
Millar, Thomas, shoemaker, Odsta.
Nicolson, Sir Arthur, of Nicolson, baronet, Burgh Lodge.
Peterson, Peter, tailor. Hammer.
Petrie, Garth, fish-curer, Aithsness.
Smith, Gilbert, merchant, &c., Smithfield.
Scotlay, Charles, church officer and inspector of poor, Tresta.
Thomson, Charles C., joiner, Velzie.
Tait, Thomas, boat-carpenter, Scarpigarth.
Webster, Rev. David. A.M., parish minister, Manse.
Williamson, John, weaver, Funzie.
Places in the Delivery of the Island of Fetlar.
Aith. Aithness. Aithsbank. Averland. Burgh Lodge.
Bealands. Bella. Bealagarth. Bydon. Booth of Urie.
Cunningsgarth. Cubinsthoft. Coubal. Crosebister.
Clodon. Dale (North). Dale (South). Everland. Frackasetter.
Fancy-knows. Feal. Funzie. Foreland. Frogafield. Grutton.
Gardie.Hammers Ness. Hammer. Houby. Houll. Hellersness.
Kirkhouse. Leegarth. Littlaland. Longhouse. Lambhoga.
Manse of Fetlar. Mongersdale. Newerhouse. Odsetter.
Odsta. Quarrie. Riillapund. Rusetter. Sand. Snaburgh.
Springfield. Setter. Sevankathoft. Slrnrra. Scarpogarth.
Still, or School- house. Smithfield. Seord. Strand. Tugrafield.
Thofts of Newer- house. Tisstoby. Trista. Thofton. Thofts.
Useasetter. Urie. Urasetter. Velzie. Wallsgarth.
Number of Merchants and Tradesmen, &c., in the Island of
Merchants, 6 Fish-curers, 2 Boat-Carpenter, 1 Masons, 3 Joiners, 2 Weavers, 2 Tailors, 2 Shepherds, 3
Shoemaker, 1…. Total 22

Source Duncan, WR. Zetland Directory and Guide, With Road Map: Second Edition. Oliver and Boyd, 1861.  p.79 also worth checking: Old=Lore Miscellany Vol III, page 103- Fetlar Folk in 1716.

Some Fetlar Chapel Sites and the Scattald 

“…It seems likely that two or three of the Fetlar chapel sites are situated in boundary locations. The sites at
Northdale (Dale scattald) and Russetter (Russetter scattald) would be located within 50 m or so of the 
scattald divisions. Meanwhile, the enclosure at Halliara kirk actually abutts the scattald boundary to the east, 
between the scattalds of Hubie and Aith, and is mentioned as a boundary mark in the Court of Session paper.
This site is located on top of a massive rock outcrop, high above the farm of Feal which lies down-slope to the
west. The remaining six sites, however, do not appear to have any obvious relationship to the scattald 
boundaries. Chapel sites have not been reported from two of the Fetlar scattalds (Aith and Gruting)…”

Lowe, Christopher. “Early Ecclesiastical Sites in the Northern Isles and Isle of Man: An Archaeological Field 
Survey: Volume 1 Text,” 1988.

The 18th Century Scatalds – the ‘parishes’ of 

…in the eighteenth century it was noted that the lands were divided into parishes, and these in
turn into scattalds, each with 1,2 or more often 12-20 towns or Hamlets, the lands of which have a
right, pro indiviso, to pasture, Peats, etc. in one and the same common speech “The Scattald”.
Several records of scattalds survive, so that it is possible to work out the boundaries in some
instances…Gifford’s MS Rental of Shetland, 1716-17, mentions thirteen scattalds in Fetlar.
[Note mk=merklands, of half an acre each]
Funzie totalled 81.5 marks of land and was divided into two rooms: 1. Funzie, 71.5 mk (7 tenants)
2. Litlaland, 14 mk (1 tenant)
Aith 81.5 mk (13 tenants) Town and Velzie, 28 mk (2 tenants) Grutton, 81 mk (6 tenants)
unnamed scattald (1 resident)
Tresta, 81 mk.
Rusater, 54 mk divided into 3 rooms: 1. Russeter, 18 mk (1 tenant) 2. Culbinstoft, 18 mk (2 tenants)
3. Crossbister, 18 mk (4 tenants)
Oddsta, 136 mk, divided into eight rooms:
1. Urie, 60 mk (6 tenants) 2. Udsta, 24 mk 3. Oddsetter, 12 mk (2 tenants) 4. Frackaseter, 6 mk (1
5. Hamar, 17 mk (4 tenants) 6. Snabrough, 8 mk (1 tenant) 7. Uraseter, 6 mk (1 tenant) 8.
Fogravell, 6 mk (1 tenant)
Dale, 65 mk, divided into six rooms:
1. Southdale, 18 mk (2 tenants) 2. Northdale, 18 nk (2 tenants) 3. Uckaseter, 8 mk (1 tenant) 4.
Sand and Brough, 13 mk
(2 tenants) 5. Forland or Fourland, 3 mk (1 tenant) 6. Clodan or Clothan, 7 mk (1 tenant)
Houbie, 89 mk, divided into five rooms:
1. Gord, 23 mk 2. Setter, 8 mk (1 tenant) 3. Goodmanshuss, 23 mk (2 tenants) 4. Baela, 13 mk (2
5. Feal, 20 mk (2 tenants)
Strand, 81 mk, divided into five rooms:
1. Kirkhouse, 21 mk 2. Bigtoun, 14 mk (1 tenant) 3. Langhouse, 8.25 mk (1 tenant) 4. Toft, 24 mk (3
5. Everland, 13.5 mk (3 tenants)
Baelagord, 2.5 mk
Heliness, 3 mk

(Source: The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland by Alexander Fenton &
Old=Lore Miscellany Volume 3 page 103)

Broch or Burg

Brogh, Burg.—An ancient circular building, called also a “Pecht’s House,” and a”Pecht’s Castle.” As an appellative it is now pronounced Broch (gutt.); but in com- pounded names of places it is sometimes spelt and pro- nounced “Burg”—as in Bm-galand, Coningsburg; and sometimes the”g” is dropped altogether—as in Burraness, Burravoe. The shores of Shetland are studded with the remains of these Pictish erections; but whether they were beacons, dwelling-houses, or fortifications, antiquarians have not been able to determine. It is probable, from their situation and structure, as well as from the occasional notices respecting them which are scattered through the writings of the Scandinavian historians, and from the names which they have impressed on adjoining localities, that they answered all these purposes. The best description which has been given of these interesting monuments of antiquity is contained in Hibbert’s “Shetland.” Dr Jamieson gives as the etymon Anglo-Sax. beorg, munimentum, agger, arx, a rampart, a place of defence and succour; burg, a
castle; and refers to Maes.-Goth. bairg, a mountain, as the origin of the Saxon word. This etymon, however, can only be regarded as a cognate term, for assuredly the ancient Pictish inhabitants of Shetland did not receive their language from the Saxons. Su.-Goth. borg ;Belg. burg ; Chald. burg-adh ; Gr. -purgos, a tower; Goth. borg; Tent. burg; Sax. burgg; Isl. eorg; Armoric, burg; Irish, burg ; Welsh, burg ; Fr. bourg ; Ital. borg-a, a fortress, a castle, a walled town. The root appears to be Goth, berga, to defend. 

Edmondston, Thomas. An Etymological Glossary of the Shetland \& Orkney Dialect: With Some Derivations of Names of Places in Shetland. Edinburgh, A. and C. Black, 1866.

Sighting of ‘Finnmen’ in Orkney – 1682

“…In “A Description of the Isles of Orkney,” written by the Rev. James Wallace, A.M., Minister of Kirkwall, about the year 1688, one reads as follows:

Sometime about this Country [Orkney] are seen these Men which are called Finnmen; In the year 1682 one was seen sometime sailing, sometime Rowing up and down in his little Boat at the south end of the Isle of Eda, most of the people of the Isle flocked to see him, and when they adventured to put out a Boat with men to see if they could apprehend him, he presently fled away most swiftly : And in the Year 1684, another was seen from Westra, and for a while after they got few or no
Fishes, for they have this Remark here, that these Finnmen drive away the fishes from the place to which they come…”
“…Again, in Brand’s ” Brief Description of Orkney, Zetland, etc.” (1701), it is stated :
There are frequently Fin-men seen here upon the Coasts, as one about a year ago on Stronsa, and another within these few Months on Westra, a gentleman with many others in the Isle looking on him nigh to the shore, but when any endeavour to apprehend them they flee away most swiftly ; Which is very strange, that one man sitting in his little Boat, should come some hundred of Leagues, from their own Coasts, as they reckon Finland to be from Orkney ; It may be
thought wonderfull how they live all that time, and are able to keep the Sea so long. His Boat is made of Seal-skins, or some kind of leather, he also hath a Coat of Leather upon him, and he sitteth in the middle of his Boat, with a little Oar in his hand, Fishing with his Lines : And when in a storm he seeth the high surge of a wave approaching, he hath a way of sinking his Boat, till the wave pass over, lest thereby he should be overturned. The Fishers here observe that these Finmen or Finland-men, by their coming drive away the Fishes from the Coasts. One of their Boats is kept as a Rarity in the Physicians Hall at Edinburgh…”

Quoted in MacRitchie, David. The Testimony of Tradition. K. Paul. Trench, Trübner, 1890. P.5

The ‘Yules’ of Shetland & the Trows – 1888

“…Shetlanders do not speak of Christmas so much as of Yule. Nay, more, if you were asking a native why Yule is kept as a holiday, the chances are that his reply would contain no reference whatever to the Nativity. He would simply say, it ” had aye been kept by the auld folk”—meaning his forefathers. Be that as it may. Yule is in Shetland the great holiday of the year, or at least was so when I was a boy..But Yule was not the 25th of December by the modern calendar, but the 6th of January; for in the “melancholy isles of furthest Thule,” time was always reckoned according to the ” old style….”
“…Chief of all the heathen festivals which have become identified with those of Christian churches is that of Yule—the “merry feast”of Scandinavia. It would seem that Yule was not one festival, but a series of them, and that period is still named by the Shetlanders ” the Yules.” The Yules began with Tul-ya’s e’en, which was seven days before Yule-day. On that night the Trows received permission to leave their homes in the heart of the earth and dwell, if it so pleased them, above ground. There seemed to have been no doubt that those creatures preferred disporting themselves among the dwellings of men to residing in their own subterranean abodes, for they availed themselves of every permission given, and created no little disturbance among the mortals whom they visited. One of the most important of all Yuletide observances was the ” saining ” required to guard life or property from the Trows. If the proper observances were omitted, the “grey-folk” were sure to take advantage of the opportunity…”

REF: Rev.Edmonston, BIot & his sister Saxby, Jessie M.E.; The Home of the Naturalist, Pub.James Nisbet & Co. 1888 p.122 & 136

The Njogel – The Water Horse

“…THE NJOGEL. – A being or spirit formerly believed in was the water- horse, generally known in Shetland as the njogel, njuggel, njogli, or water-njogel, and also sometimes called nikker, sjopeltin, or sjupilti. The last term is confined chiefly to North Shetland. This being is described as similar in size and shape to a horse or pony of the Shetland type, well proportioned, and of great strength and fleetness. Generally he was fat and sleek, and of handsome appearance; but occasionally he appeared as a very thin, worn-out, old horse. His color was gray, usually rather dark gray, but sometimes lighter or darker, and approximating to white or black. He differed from ordinary horses in that his hair grew and lay in the opposite direction to the hair of other horses; his fetlocks grew upwards instead of downwards; his mane was stiff and erect; his hoofs were
also reversed and pointed backwards; and his tail was shaped like the rim of a wheel…”

Teit, James Alexander. “Water-Beings in Shetlandic Folk-Lore, as Remembered by Shetlanders in British Columbia.” Journal of American Folklore, 1918, 180–201. Page 183

The Tangi – Another form of Water Horse

“…TANGI. – Another kind of water-horse or water-spirit is called “Tangi.” In Shetland folk-lore, “Tangi ” and the njogel are generally considered as different. The latter is more of a fresh-water being, while the former is usually connected with the sea. There are some, however, who declare that the two are one, and that “Tangi” is merely another name for “the njogel.” Although the characteristics of the two are on the whole much alike, they differ in some important points, and it is clear that in the minds of some people they are quite distinct…He seems to have had a preference for wild and lonely parts of the coast. Crews of boats approaching the land at night, and others fishing offshore under high slopes and cliffs, have frequently seen Tangi moving rapidly up and down, or along these steeps, in the shape of a small fire or blue light. As in the case of the njogel, flames darted out from his feet when he travelled rapidly; and at times he seemed to be
wholly enveloped in a kind of vivid halo, which could be seen at a considerable distance on a dark night…”

Teit, James Alexander. “Water-Beings in Shetlandic Folk-Lore, as Remembered by Shetlanders in British Columbia.” Journal of American Folklore, 1918, 180–201. Page 186-18

The Picts and the Papar – Historia Norwegiae

“…These islands [the Orkneys but probably included Shetland] were first inhabited by the Picts and the Papar. The Picts, who were only a little bigger than pygmies, worked great marvels in city-building each evening and morning, but at noontide they were utterly bereft of their strength and hid for fear in little subterranean dwellings. At that time moreover the islands were not called the Orkneys but Pictland, and this is why still to this day the sea dividing the islands from Scotland is called the Pictland Firth by the local people…”

“…We do not know at all where these people came from. On the other hand, the Papar got their name from the albs they wore, like clerics, for all clergy are called papæ in the German tongue. There is moreover an island still today called Papey after them. It is seen, however, from the character and script of the books they left behind them that they were Africans who practised Judaism. When Haraldr hárfagri ruled in Norway some vikings of the kin of a very mighty prince, Rognvaldr, crossed the Sólund Sea with a large fleet, drove the Papar from their long-established homes, destroyed them utterly and subdued the islands under their own rule…”


NB The reference to the Papar as being “Africans who practised Judaism” is somewhat astounding and I use this as a basis for part of the story in my novel: The AdderStane (A Fetlar novel) learn more about it HERE

The Ranselman – 1904

“…The word ransel, commonly used in Shetland as to search, examine, indicates in itself the character of the Ranselman, which was simply that of an authorised ” searcher ” into scandals and misdemeanours in his district.
According to Gifford (1733)—The Rancelman has the power of a constable to command the inhabitants to keep the peace and to call for assistance, and to enter any house within the parish at all hours of the day or night, and search the house for stolen goods, which they call ranciling and if they find anything that the owner of the house cannot give a good account how they came by it, then they seize him directly and carry him to the bailiff, who takes precognition of the cause ; and if it infers the crime of theft, then the thief, with the fangs or things stolen found in his custody, is sent to the prison, and the Stuart Depute acquainted thereof, who appoints a day for trying the thief according to law ; and in case the bailiff finds that the representation of the Rancelman will not amount to any proof of the crime of theft, he dismisseth the suspected thief upon his good behaviour, with certification.
“…I have learned that Sheriff Mackenzie, late Substitute at Lerwick, had an application made to him within the last few years for the appointment of Ranselmen in the island of Fetlar. He did not accede to the application, as the practice had fallen into desuetude. I am also informed by Mr Bruce of Sumburgh that there was some talk of appointing fresh Ranselmen about 1862 or 1863, but it was then thought that the system was getting out of date, and there were doubts of its legality. In consequence of complaints of petty thefts in the Fair Isle, of which Mr Bruce is proprietor, he swore in two Ranselmen in that isle so late as in 1869. This had the desired effect at the time, and in a few years their office became a sinecure, and their employment was discontinued…”

Ref: Goudie, Gilbert. The Celtic and Scandinavian Antiquities of Shetland. W. Blackwood and sons, 1904.p.241-246

The Viking Age and Norse Period In Shetland

“…The Viking Age is usually dated from c. A.D. 800 until c. A.D. 1050, although the start may be pushed back into the eighth century, and the close is also debated. In the Northern Isles, the Viking period is followed by the Norse period, variously defined as A.D. 1050– 1500 and A.D. 1050–1300 (the period A.D. 1300–1500 is then the Medieval period). Our sources for the Northern Isles include place names, documents, medieval Icelandic sagas, especially Orkneyinga saga (OS), and the archaeological evidence. Icelandic sagas written in the late twelfth-early thirteenth centuries mention the Northern Isles—OS is actually set there—but these sagas were written by Icelanders long after the original Norse settlement. The Historia Norvegiae, possibly written in Orkney c. A.D. 1200 but surviving in a late fifteenth-century manuscript, is the source for the longstanding belief that the Vikings ravaged and plundered the islands and that the initial Viking settlement was extremely violent, something for which there is no archaeological evidence but which the overwhelmingly Norse place names seem to support…”

Ref. Crabtree, Pam J. Medieval Archaeology: An Encyclopedia. Psychology Press, 2001. P.341-342

The Whorls and the ‘Adder Stones’ – 1881

[p. 6.] “[…] In some districts, where it has fully and completely died out, a point of much interest presents itself. In certain parts of the Mainland of Shetland, for instance, quite within hail of Fetlar, there remains no knowledge either of the existence or use of such things as the spindle and whorl among the people; yet, a century back and less, they were common objects there. So is it also with some parts of the outer Hebrides, where the sudden disappearance of the spindle and whorl, and the complete oblivion into which all about them has fallen, made a deep impression on my mind. It did so, because it happens that in these same districts whorls are still to be frequently
seen. Being of stone, they do not rot away like spindles, and they are often turned up in diggings about deserted townships. By those who so find them they are treated with a superstitious respect and care, being regarded as charms, and known under the name of Adder Stones.

[Ibid., p. 1.] “[…] In the summer of 1864 I had occasion to visit Fetlar, one of the Shetland group of islands. As I walked from the landing-place to the nearest township, I overtook a little boy; and, while I was asking him some questions about the people and places, I observed that he was giving shape with his pocket-knife to a piece of stone. At first I thought his occupation was the analogue of the purposeless whittle of the Yankee. But on looking more attentively at the results and progress of his cutting, I saw that he had some definite object in view, and I asked him what he intended to make out of the stone. “A whorl for my mother,” was the ready reply. With equal readiness he gave me the half manufactured whorl, which I regarded as an important find. It is made of coarse steatite or soapstone, which is called Kleber-stone in Shetland, and which is soft and easily cut. [..]”

[Ibid., p. 156. “[…] But is this conclusion necessarily correct? Does the growth of a superstition round such objects always prove their great antiquity? In the case of the whorl, for instance, have we not found that less than a single century was needed to transform it into an adder-bead and an amulet? […]”

From Mitchell, Arthur. The Past in the Present: What Is Civilisation? Harper and Brothers, 1881.