Farmers & Crofters Stories Part 4

As mentioned in one of my first blogs my childhood summer holidays in Vidlin played a major part in my life; the influence it, and the way of life, had on the path I would choose to travel was phenomenal.. It could have been the impressionable age I was at, just before my teenage years, but I took a great interest in listening to the local story tellers. In one of my many trips travelling with the Johnson brothers of Kirkabister around the district, we were to visit Lunna Farm where they were going to help with the shearing. I had just started hand shearing and found the much larger Cheviot cross bred sheep too heavy for me to handle. The farmer said I could have a look around the farm in particular Lunna House, a very distinctive imposing building which stood on the shoulder of a small hill overlooking a small church which I knew as the Lunna Kirk. To the East was the entrance to Vidlin Voe a fairly long inlet, and to the West another very sheltered Voe (Bay). Down on the seashore to the West was a very well built stone jetty and what looked like an old fishing bothy and the ruins of what looked like a small broch, I was to find out later it was a lime drying kiln.

Cheviot Cross Sheep
Lime Kiln & Jetty

I returned to the sheep shearing where the shearers were starting a lunch break, and I told them where I had been and what I had seen. I had quite a few questions and one elderly crofter who came from Outrabister Lunnaness, further along the coast to the north said he would show me around. We started at Lunna House and to my surprise he opened the back door and took me in, he explained a brief history of the Haa House. It had been a Laird’s House from around the 1700s and it was supposedly been built on the site of a Viking settlement. The building was most famous for its use in the Second World War as a base for the Shetland Bus operations. The inside of the house appeared to have changed little since the last Norwegian residents. On the walls were deer antlers, grand- father clocks, the beds were as they had been left, it was if it was frozen in time and just waiting for the occupants to return. I was full of questions, which were answered by someone who had actually witnessed the activity; the coming and goings of the wartime operations concerning the movements of men and materials between Shetland and Nazi – occupied Norway from 1940. The sheltered harbour at Lunna was ideal for the servicing of the small fishing vessels which were instrumental in providing help to the resistance in Norway. Outside and passing through what appeared to have been a walled garden we followed a grown over pathway which led to a flat grassy area. My guide began lifting a fairly large rusty object from a bed of nettles, I gave him a hand to set it up and lo and behold it was in the shape of a man. There was a stay welded to the back which propped up the figure which he called the “ Iron Man “, it was easy to see its former purpose by the amount of bullet holes in the structure, it had been used by the resistance fighters for their target practise. I returned to Vidlin much later in life and despite a thorough search and questioning the locals the Iron man had vanished.

Lunna House
Lunna Kirk & Haa House

 We went down the hill directly below Lunna House and he pointed out the original gateway to the house. The old driveway was still partially visible leading up the hill. A nearby hill opposite the house was the remains of a watch tower where the laird could observe his workers in the fields and also returning from fishing trips. The fish were dried out on the beach and the laird’s factor would have paid a close watch on the valuable catch.

Watch Tower

The small church, the Lunna Kirk, close to the gateway was well known to me. In my summer holidays I would attend services every second Sunday with my hosts the Robertson family from Kirkabister. It like the Haa House captured you with its simplistic beauty, the inside changed little since it was first built, and I believe it is still in use.

Lunna Kirk
Lunna Kirk From the Sea

After the shearing we were treated to a first class meal in the farm house where there were a few drams and the stories began. One infamous story teller a crofter from the neighbouring district of Lunnaness appeared to have centre stage fuelled no doubt by the liquid refreshments. He was a master at the telling of his stories, and in no time had the dinner party in raptures. The story that had a major impression on me was about a Shetland Ram that he was keeping in a lambing shed attached to his croft house. The crofter was coming on in years and he had a home help a local woman who would come and clean and prepare his meals. I remember with a very straight face and sombre voice he told us the lady found him slumped in his resting chair in the porch of his house. She was quite concerned with his appearance what had befallen him? Was he unwell? His reply, “the night before he had taken the basin if food into the Ram, all he could recollect was on opening the door into the darkness was an almighty blow and pain in his chest caused by the ram hitting me, I managed to close the door and just managed to enter the house and the resting chair”. He continued, “Can you go and see if I managed to feed the Ram”. She returned a short time later in a state of alarm shouting “can you come and see; I went with her and found the ram lying dead on the floor the result of the blow to my chest”! The group at the table roared and laughed, and when I drive past his croft in Lunnaness I always smile remembering that special day and listening to one of the master storytellers.

Lunnaness Sheep
Shetland Ram with Round Horns

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