My first visit to Walls was in my very early childhood on a day trip to the district with the Hamnavoe Sunday School on a summer outing. I do not remember a lot about the day except for a visit to the Bayview tea room no doubt the food would have been to my liking hence my memory. It wasn’t until 1968 that I became more aware of Walls and the surrounding area when I met the love of my life Catherine Manson, a born and bred Walls wife. I didn’t have to travel very far to meet her as she stayed practically next door to the wool store in Lerwick. I in fact proposed to Catherine at the brae of Trulligarth Walls with the picturesque view of the island of Foula in the background very romantic and a place we often return to.
Throughout our early married life we spent many a happy day visiting with her grand-mother who lived in the village of Walls approximately 25 miles from Lerwick in the west of the mainland. Her grand- mother would take us visiting out of the way places incredible places such as the Moorapunds a small enclosed sea loch where we would take our young family swimming.
Her grand-mother would reminisce of life on the family croft in her young days at Riskness, Walls tales of the peat hill, gathering in hill sheep and crofting in general where the community would help one another in these demanding tasks
There were also stories of local folk lore and notable events from the past. One such story she told us that captured my attention was the presence of party Russian seamen some supposedly armed, that landed at a place called Footabrough, their reason was to track down one of their shipmates who had jumped ship and made his escape swimming ashore seeking asylum. He made landfall at the beach then set off in the dark and headed uphill towards Walls where on he eventually came across the lights of a croft house, the startled crofter took him in and hid him, when the pursuers arrived at his door he denied all knowledge of the stranger. This story was reported in all the major newspapers and was unofficially titled the first invasion of the U.K. by a foreign country. The story had a happy ending as the fugitive was granted British citizenship; this story was confirmed to me by a brother of the crofter who came to work with me at the wool store in the 1970s.
What was so appealing to me besides the people were the views and rugged beauty of its costal walks which we enjoyed immensely. The village was protected to some degree by the westerly gales by islands of Linga and the larger island of Vaila, a short distance offshore. Vaila had quite a history Neolithic and Bronze age remains have been found on the island it also was home to a laird and in the early 1800s was home to a fishery business owned by Arthur Anderson of the P&O shipping company. In the late 1800s the very impressive Vaila Hall was built by a Yorkshire mill owner, who obviously wanted an exclusive home away from the hustle and bustle of the industrial world of that era.
A very prominent tower stands guard over the Western approach to the bay and the village of Walls. I was told it was a vantage point for the laird’s man to keep a watch on the coming and going of the crofter fishermen who fished the far ‘Haaf’ fishing grounds and were in service to the boat owners the laird.
Its rugged rocky cliffs exposed to the westerly gales sweeping in from the Atlantic Ocean with the exception of the island of Foula which lay 22 miles offshore the next landfall was North America had seen over the centuries many shipwrecks. On a hilltop called the Scord, directly opposite the island of Vaila is a poignant reminder of unfortunate sea farers whose ship had foundered local folklore says they marked their names on a rock while keeping lookout for a ship coming to rescue them.
Close by again by the shore is another impressive building is Burrastow House we had the privilege of spending a week – end in the house then a guest house, a gift from our family to mark a special wedding anniversary. Our room had a four poster bed and views overlooking the wester mouth and the island of Vaila. I have always imagined living in a stately home and I also have a very imaginative mind, I clearly recall saying to Catherine I felt a sense of belonging to the place as if I had been here before. I received the usual reply which is usually “honestly you cannot half make up stories”. Many years later in a talk by a local historian into the Henry family origins I was to discover that our family linage in fact travelled back to the Henry’s of Bayhall and of Burrastow considerable land owners in the area and also merchants especially in fishing and fish curing. The Henry family were decedents of Thomas Henry a highly educated minister who arrived in Walls in 1616 to take over the local parish, a direct descendent of his William Henry became the first teacher in the island of Foula where he eventually settled. There was another Henry family resident on the island from much earlier times with supposedly a strong Danish connection. The Burrastow Henrys’ had predominately black hair and the other Henry family with fair hair; they were known as the White Henrys and my ancestors the black Henrys’. My great- grandfather James Henry who was Hay and Company’s factor and supervisor was head hunted from his family the Henry’s of Burrastow to oversee their business in the Isles! At the conclusion of the talk I turned to Catherine and said “see I told you I had a special connection to Walls!
At present following a lengthy period of lockdown we are very fortunate to visit with Catherine’s aunt who lives at Bardister House in Walls who keeps us in touch with life in the village and surrounding area past and present.