Historical Attractions Of Unst
The vast majority of the buildings on Unst today have been built over the past 150 years. However, remains of earlier buildings and settlements can be found all over the island, wherever the ground was fertile enough to support a population.
This page provides a taste of some of the many historic remains to be found on the island of Unst. To put them in context you should first read about the history of Shetland as a whole: Shetland's History.
Unst Boat Haven
Also located in Haroldswick, the Boat Haven displays a wide variety of boats gathered from all over the islands and highlights the importance that the sea has always played in the lives of the islanders.
Unst Heritage Centre
Located at Haroldswick, the Unst Heritage Centre has some fascinating collections and informative displays and is an essential starting point for any exploration of the island.
The remains of the main medieval church for the central part of Unst.
Kirk of St Olaf, Lund
The Norse Period church, in ruinous condition, was built in the 12th century and is thought to have been the main church for the south part of Unst. The small window is said to be where lepers gathered to hear services. A stone with an incised fish (possibly Pictish?) has been incorporated into the lintel. The church was last used in 1785. The graveyard contains the graves of two Bremen (German) merchants who dies in 1573 and 1585 respectively, showing the importance of trade with that part of the world.
A Shetland “Haa”, The Old House of Lund was built by the Scotts of Greenwell in the early 18th century but the house was later abandoned and the roof removed in 1947. In the middle of the 18th century one of the owners, John Scott, resented the congregation of the nearby church tethering their ponies on his land while they attended service so he induced a local lad to allow himself to be tarred and feathered and to have a tail added. The lad then entered the church while the minister preached. Panic ensued and the minister, thinking that he had been visited by the Devil himself, never preached in the church again. Its door was removed and taken to Muness Castle in 1959. Lund House is also said to be haunted, the Devil having left a hoofmark on a flagstone!
Built by the infamous Laurence Bruce, half brother to the Earl of Orkney, in 1598, Muness is the most northerly castle in Britain. French raiders attacked and burned the castle in 1627 and it seems to have gone out of use as a home by the end of that century. In the early 18th century it was used to store goods salvaged from a shipwreck and by 1774 it had become the spectacular ruin that it remains today.
Overlooking the ferry terminal in the south west of the island, Belmont House, a small but perfect Georgian house, was built in 1775 for the Thomas Mouat. He had toured the Edinburgh area visiting other mansions before chosing the design for his own house. The Mouat family continued to live in the house into the 20th century. The house is currently being restored by the local Belmont Trust, which bought it for just £5.00, and will eventually be put to public use.
From 1490 Bremen merchants set up their booths next to fish curing stations. They would come over each year with fishing tackle (hooks, lines and nets) and food and drink like brandy, beer, meal, barley, salt, peas and fruit, and trade it for dried fish, animal hides (oxen, sheep, goats, seals and otters), knitted stockings and course woollen cloth, fish oil, butter, mutton and bird feathers. By about 1730, 10-12 ships were arriving annually in Shetland from Bremen and Hamburg and their crews would spend from May until the end of August drying and salting fish. Greenwell's Booth was built in 1700 for the Scott family as a warehouse for storing goods the goods to trade with these merchants.
Planted in the 1830s (the oldest plantation in Shetland) and surrounded by a wall to protect it from the elements, Halligarth Wood (sycamores) is about 2 acres in size and, until very recently, was the only wood on Unst. Often visited by exotic birds blown off course by the wind, the wood is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland.
Herring Station, Baltasound
The North Sea herring boom hit Unst from between around 1895 to 1914, Baltasound being one of the most important centres in Europe. At its peak in 1905, 750 boats landed around 700,000 crans of herring between June and August, all of it to be gutted and barrelled in about 50 curing stations by around 10,000 people. Curing stations and piers lined the voe and Balta Isle, and there were timber houses for the gutters as well as shops, churches, a hospital and even a prison, some of the foundations of which remain today.
Westing Water Mill
One of a number of Shetland horizontal water mills dotting the island - almost anywhere that you find croft land and a stream. Although called a “Norse mill”, many of these mills were used well in the 20th century for milling oats and bere (primitive barley) – corn cannot be grown so far north.
Muckle Flugga Lighthouse
A temporary lighthouse was erected during the Crimean War in 1854. Standing 50 feet high and situated on top of the Flugga rock some 200 feet above sea level, it was almost destroyed by heavy seas in a storm and so the permanent lighthouse was built by Thomas and David Stevenson, father and uncle of Robert Louis, and completed in 1858. It was fully automated in 1995 and can be visited by boat.
Hagdale Quarries and Horse Mill
Chromite, used in explosives and for metal plating, was quarried at the foot of the Keen of Hamar from the early 19th century, and later, serpentine was quarried to make bricks to line furnaces. A horse-powered mill for crushing chromite rock built in around 1850 and recently restored. Reached from the road by walking past the old chromite quarries at Hagdale, close to the Keen of Hamar.
Plantecrubs (pronounced plantecrus on Unst) consist of circular or square dry-stone dykes about 150 cm - 200 cm high and around 5 metres in diameter. They are generally found on poorer ground, sometimes alone, at other times in small clusters or in long lines along grassy slopes. Wherever they are found it tends to be on poorer soils. Plantecrubs were - and sometimes still are - seedbeds in which kale (a member of the cabbage family) and other plants could be grown, protected from the salt-laden winds and the sheep, cattle and ponies. Seed would be planted in the autumn to germinate and grow a little before winter, the poor soil ensuring that they did not grow too fast too soon. In the spring the seedlings would then be planted out so that could take full advantage of the short growing season.
Clibberswick Talc Quarry
Situated close to Saxa Vord and the only working talc quarry in Britain. Evidence of Viking quarrying for soapstone can be seen nearby.
Unst’s strategic location in the North Atlantic was always noted and in 1940 the Royal Navy built a submarine, shipping and aircraft tracking centre at Lamba Ness. Many of the buildings can still be seen and one can only imagine the feelings of the young naval ratings posted to this lonely outpost. Lamba Ness closed down at the end of the war in 1945. However, in 1956, during the Cold war, the RAF built a new radar station on top of the hill of Saxa Vord to plot Eastern Bloc planes entering British airspace. The living accommodation and other facilities used by the RAF personnel have now been transformed into the Saxa Vord resort.