It was on my holidays in Vidlin I became more aware of the tiny group of Islands lying just off the coast to the called Skerries; a local lady I came to know in Vidlin came from the Skerries. I learned more about these remote islands; they were much smaller than my island home, Burra. The way of life was exactly the same crofting and fishing, its location surrounded by rich fishing grounds. However, it was the stories of sunken treasure that captured my attention and my imagination ran riot. Imagine, a Spanish galleon wrecked on the Skerries!
It was in the late 1970s that a man who had originated from the Skerries came to work in the wool store; I began to hear more details of what went on he told me he had been the lighthouse boatman and was responsible for ferrying the keepers back and forth to the light from the main isle of Skerries and had actually bought Grunay Isle. The actual lighthouse was situated on the nearby Bound Skerry a small rocky island. The next landfall from here to the East was Norway, 200 miles away.
It was May 1993 when Catherine and I were very fortunate to visit the Out Skerries as members of the Shetland Folk Dance group where we joined in with the inhabitants of the islands in dancing the night away to traditional Shetland music. The evening ended at sunrise the following morning.
IMAGE SKERRIES HOUSES
After a few hours’ sleep we were taken by a local fisherman across the short stretch of water to Grunay Isle where he gave us a guided tour of the island approximately 55 acres in total. Not far from the small jetty we came across the semi- detached Lighthouse Keepers houses built of brick and with a flat roof, the distinctive white painted harled surface were now showing severe signs of neglect. The inside, especially the kitchen area, still showed signs of the previous occupants with canned foodstuffs adorning the shelves and cupboards.
The land surrounding the buildings was fairly flat, the absence of sheep meant the grass was very overgrown. Our guide told us one of the past lighthouse keepers had created a small golf course and as if to substantiate this produced a golf green flag from the building. Taking into account the remoteness of the surroundings a round of golf would certainly have eased the boredom.
It was only when we began exploring the island and listening to our guide that one could appreciate the rich culture and heritage we were fortunate enough to be amongst. On the north shore of Grunay was a huge ruined structure the locals called a broch dating long before the arrival of the Viking settlers from across the North Sea. We appeared to journey through time when down on the seashore in the ebb tide came across a cannon which our guide explained could have come from one of the numerous shipwrecks on these rugged and rocky Islands which was the end of many a seafarer throughout the centuries.
While exploring the rocky foreshore we came across wreckage not from a ship but an aircraft, our guide explained it was the remains of an allied bomber returning from a mission in Norway. It crashed landed on Grunay Isle in 1942, with the loss of its three man crew.
Out Skerries Lighthouse was a vital part of wartime activity, it would have been the first landfall seen by the Norwegian boats, The Shetland Bus, carrying escapees from German occupied Norway to nearby Vidlin on the Shetland mainland. The significance and importance of this beacon of light meant that Grunay Isle and the lighthouse were often attacked by German planes. Sadly the only local casualty of the war was a resident of Grunay Isle when a German fighter dropped a bomb on the lighthouse buildings. We left Grunay with our own thoughts of our visit I will always remember a small unspoilt island with a tremendous story to tell.
If Grunay was not enough to occupy my thoughts our guide suggested we travel to a small rocky outcrop in the south of the main isle called the Steig. He said we were to take care as it was quite tricky to reach the summit in order to achieve this we would have to rock climb.
Along with two friends, Catherine and I did make the trip and eventually rested on a raised mound the locals called the Viking’s Grave, reputedly the burial site of a Norse explorer. We overlooked the entrance to the narrow harbour and saw the local ferry just offshore, we were to find out later they had been observing a pod of Orca chasing seals. At the same time we saw a small boat just off Mio Ness, we discovered it contained divers visiting the site of a wrecked ship that foundered in the 1600s. In the distance the distinct shape of the island of Noss East of Lerwick and leaving the shore a tall ship under sail heading for Norway. What better way to end a truly memorable trip of a lifetime.