In 1967 I first became aware that Papa was not the only island the Smith family owned, there were another three Islands; however Eva always said Jim had bought them and he was the sole owner. The lambing season would see Jim travel north through Shetland to his island Uyea, lying to the south of the island Unst, the most northerly part of Shetland and in fact the U.K. The island was now uninhabited however there is evidence of the first settlers dating back to the Bronze Age.
Jim told me he had bought Uyea in 1961 from Sir Basil Neven Spence, he was Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland until he lost his seat in 1950 to Jo Grimond. His family were prominent land owners in Shetland and also owned Busta House in Brae where Sir Basil set up home after leaving Uyea.
I was invited to join Jim for the lambing in 1968 but my boss at the wool store said he had work for me to do and J&S paid my wages. Much later on, in the late 1970s, Catherine, myself and our bairns spent a very enjoyable day on Uyea in early May. Jim picked us up at the nearest village of Uyeasound on the East side of Unst; we travelled a short distance across the sound before landing at the Uyea pier. Jim explained it was quite exposed here in Uyeasound with a strong tidal current; he of course, had a solution he adapted a motor bike to winch up the boat onto the pier.
I was most surprised to see a vehicle at the top of the pier, (which Jim had in fact built) and even more surprising was the road up to the farm house. Jim explained that the former owners were more or less self- sufficient on the isle they even had their own orchard. The land was very fertile and in past years carried a variety of farm animals, sheep, cattle, pigs, and poultry and of course, horses to pull the gigs. The actual farmhouse Jim used while staying for the lambing was dwarfed by the much larger “haa”; a laird’s house. Jim had taken the windows out, if my memory is correct, in order not to pay taxes. At one time Jim explained Sir Basil had servants and a teacher would come and stay to tutor his children. In fact, I was to meet up with an elderly lady, a former teacher who came to live in the north road close to my work and she would tell me stories of her time living and working on Uyea.
Jim told us a story about two servant girls who lived and worked on Uyea. Part of their chores was to row across to the smaller neighbouring island of Half Gruney to the north of the main island to milk the cows. Even though it was summer in Shetland, squalls could come on fast and with little warning and after milking the cows and journeying back to Uyea, they got into difficulty when one of the oars broke. Their small boat drifted eastwards in the gale and several days later, after surviving on the buckets of cow’s milk they approached land. They landed safely in south west Norway and eventually news arrived back to Uyea that the girls had not perished but were safe and well! They married local men in Norway and Jim met with some of their descendants who came to Uyea to see for themselves where they originated from.
As the years passed Jim felt the strain of travelling to Uyea and being away from Berry for a month. It was time to ease back and he was very happy when he sold Uyea to a local family from Uyeasound.
More special memories of my time working for the Smith family in another blog to follow.