Just recently I received an invitation from the Shetland Flock book Society to attend their annual open day, a day and night event visiting Islesburgh Farm owned by the Doull family and Tingon Farm owned by Robert & Gladys Ramsay culminating with a dinner in Sullom Hall. Both farms were located in the north of Shetland, I had previously enjoyed a visit to Islesburgh farm earlier in the summer and knew what to expect regarding the excellent hospitality and livestock on show, I am pleased to say it was every bit as successful as my first visit, even more so with the amount of young crofters and farmers attending the event which bodes well for agriculture in Shetland.
I had been to Tingon twice before the first time over 20 years ago and recently celebrating my 70th birthday with a day out exploring this rugged remote headland with stunning views of Ronas hill and the surrounding cliffs. On our previous visits we travelled the 3 plus mile by car and then by foot, on this present day journey, thanks to the skill of our driver by coach, the road is in good condition although quite narrow. We were welcomed by our hosts the Ramsay family and once again we were treated to bountiful food and refreshments. I met up with some old friends of the same age which heartened me somewhat amongst all the younger participants.
Once again on display were the Ramsay family sheep an impressive looking mixture of Rams, ewes and all in the various natural colours a fine looking flock of hardy animals well suited to the surrounding area which could be extremely harsh in the long winter months. It was not just the sheep that took my interest there was a display of Shetland Flock book images some of which was so long ago I found it difficult to identify myself. However In a quiet corner of this huge shed I discovered a picnic table and on it the answers to all my questions on Tingon in the form of a historical research document compiled by the Ramsay family. It told the story of the former occupants of the area and I suppose similar to many areas affected by the clearances quite brutal, sad and harrowing accounts. I suppose the fact I had travelled through their former land and visited their now derelict houses I could feel a sense of connection to the plight of these unfortunate souls, perhaps heightened by knowing that some of my ancestors had also been uprooted from their homes to be replaced by the laird’s sheep.
IMAGE TINGON SHEEP
I was very fortunate that the Ramsay family gave me a copy of their research and gave me permission to use some of it in my blogs and for that I am very grateful. I will use parts of their findings and my photos to tell a small part of the story of life in Tingon all those years ago. In the research Samuel Hibbert a well-known English geologist and incidentally the son of a yarn merchant visited Shetland in 1817/ 1818 and writes of Tingon “it is a place devoid of smallest degree of interest “. It was very obvious he could not have explored Tingon as we did on our visit going by the remains we saw of derelict crofts, dykes, water mills and fishing lodges, it had to been a thriving crofting and fishing community supporting 15 crofting families, the census in 1899 there was a population of 99. There has also been a chapel or church and burial ground which was looks as if it has been deliberately destroyed in the distant past; it is marked on a recent map as a pile of stones. There was an abundance of wildlife the moors was alive with, several species of birds, as we reached the cliff top we were met with the warning cry of the peerie hawk (Merlin), and the distinctive sound of red throated divers on the Tingon lochs.
Along the shore at a place called the Hellya Lodges you will find the remains of fishing lodges, the only place around the rugged Tingon coast line where you could land a boat and it had to be fine weather. We came across the ruins of small buildings down near the sea which possibly be former lodges. The bulk of the crofters would also be fishermen no doubt working for a laird or fish a merchant who could afford to build sixareens (six oars) wooden boats. These boats would most likely have been kept at Steness a sheltered beach a few miles away. The lodges would be used to store fishing equipment and a place for the crew to rest up when waiting on the sea tide to be favourable for their fishing, the fishing grounds of this part of Shetland were teeming with all species of fish.
It was the stories of the crofters being cleared from their homes and lands which made sombre reading with eviction notices demanding people were to leave with only a few days to pack up all their belongings. This was sadly a very common occurrence in the 1800s crofters being displaced by unscrupulous lairds more interested in making money from sheep than the tenant crofter. However this was not the case in Tingon it was people within their own community that served eviction notices on their neighbours 14 crofting families. Two brothers who had been born in Tingon returned from the gold fields of Australia in 1865 with plenty of money and were in a position to offer a high rent to the Tangwick Estate for the whole of Tingon a sum double the total rent paid by each individual croft at that time. The offer of the rent would have been made to the factor of the estate and the owners who resided in Edinburgh it would appear were unaware of the evictions which were carried out by the brothers, the last crofters were cleared by 1866. After the evictions the brothers built the house Newton which is very well built and most likely built by professional stonemasons, the house was and still is roofed with Welsh slate.
On our return journey from Tingon somewhat later than planned and in the pitch black night I became aware of a bright flash of light every few seconds, further along the coast to the south west and realised this was the Eshaness Lighthouse with its warning beacon making sea voyagers aware of the rugged rocky coastline. The joyous sound of my fellow passengers singing in the bus was somewhat different to the dire circumstances of perhaps some of their crofting predecessors so cruelly and unjustly forced from their homes all those years ago.
I enjoyed my trip immensely and am very grateful to the Shetland Flock book Society the Doull and Ramsay families for their hospitality on the day and special thanks to the Ramsay family for the use of their research in my blog thank you for the opportunity to tell a small part of our crofting past.