Some of my Favourite Places & Connections With my Work Part 2


I have explained my connection with Vidlin and the very strong influence it had on me in my early years. The love of hills & folklore, and ultimately the direction I would choose to travel later in life. I spent many happy summer holidays in Vidlin with the Robertson family of Kirkabister from the age of 10. Looking back on my collection of images, they remind me of a time of freedom, enjoyment and of total childhood innocence.


With each passing summer I became more familiar with the people and the surroundings; my favourite event was to take part in the “caaing“ of the sheep for summer shearing. The Johnson brothers of Kirkabister would take me to all the various hill “caas”, the community would come together and help each other gather the sheep for shearing. I recall as many as a dozen crofters involved. The hills would echo the sound of bleating sheep, barking dogs, and the frustrated shouting of the crofters trying to control their dogs.

Bonnidale Sheep

The hills of above Kirkabister were the first area I was allowed to explore on my own, “as long as you do not cross the Lunning road”; I had to promise that would never happen! Set between the hills was one of my favourite places Starns Water; it is where I first became aware of the Rain Goose and a colony of angry Tirricks (Artic Terns). The Robertson family worked some of their peats here as well as a planticrub, a walled round stone built enclosure, where they grew their seedling kale plants.

Starns Water
Artic Tern & Sand Eel

A bit further to the north east was a very beautiful dale or valley called Flissnessdaal surrounded by steep hills which were punctuated by unusual rock formations. Looking down into the valley it resembled a bowl shape with one avenue out that was a burn that disappeared between the hills and down to the sea. One of my first visits here came about due to me hearing a strange knocking echoing sound; I ventured down the rocky slope and came across an individual who appeared to be chipping away pieces from a rocky surface. He explained to me he was a geologist and this valley and other such places in the district were examples of volcanic activity and were of great interest.

Oliver Stuck in Flissnessdaal

On the east side of the valley I encountered a steeper rocky slope. Eventually I reached the top and looked out over another valley wherein nestled, Lunning, containing several crofts. Looking further to the south east and across the road to the settlement were beautiful rocky hills and valleys and several lochs. However, to explore further I would have to cross the Lunning road and that was forbidden by the family. As there was no one insight I ventured across the road and down a rough track I knew from the locals as being the Burma Road. An unusual name for a road in the remote hills of Vidlin and almost 60 years later I finally partially discovered the story behind the name. I recently met with one of the original Robertson family from Kirkabister who could tell me the rough track built by the locals was called after the Burma Road linking Burma and south west China which had been rebuilt by the allies in and around 1944, to help recapture Burma from the Japanese. A local man who I knew very well from my young days in Burra and Vidlin had reputedly worked on the actual road in Burma while serving in the forces, a fitting title for the track they had built in order to bring home their peats, winter fuel.

Looking Down the Burma Road

My reward for crossing the Lunning road was to travel through some of the most scenic landscapes I had ever seen, culminating in reaching Bonnidale a remote croft looking over the sound and the island of Whalsay. Several days later I was brought to task by my hosts, “You have crossed the Lunning Road, and went to Bonnidale“? I admitted I had and asked, “Who saw me?“ “the postman” was the reply. This was in the days when the postman travelled by foot around the district, and it turned out the postman worked the croft. It was explained to me they were concerned about me approaching a loch called Longa Water, where a crofter had met her end pulled over the rocky slope and into the water by a ram she had on a tether around her wrist. As children we were often told stories of “ trows” magical little people, and living near the sea stories of a “ nyuggel” a sea horse in folklore that along with the “ trows” would spirit you away if you strayed in the wrong places.

Trowie Home
Catherine & Jo Bonnidale Hills

Vidlin was a great place for a “spree”, jollification, amongst the tight knit community, there was a very memorable instance of a crofter who courted with a lady who lived on a remote croft called “Sanik” over the hill from the settlement of Swining. It was very difficult to access locals used a difficult track through the hill called, if my memory is correct, the “clubb”. Lose your footing and you end up in the sea, the suitor would leave his motor bike at Swining and travel through the “clubb” by foot. A group of young men from the district took the crofters motorbike from his house on the middle of the night and transported the bike by boat to the croft house of “Sanik” and left it out before the door. There was great hilarity and speculation in the community as to how he had managed to ride his bike to such a remote area. Innocent fun; sadly times long gone nowadays an act like that would end with you in jail.

Sanik Ruins

2 thoughts on “Some of my Favourite Places & Connections With my Work Part 2

  1. So many beautiful old ruins there. I have long imagined transforming ruins like those in a cozy home and living out my days in a remote place like that, with my animals around me. I would have to come into a fortune, though!


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