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Ollaberry, looking towards Runnadale and Yell Sound
Ollaberry mostly lies around the shore of Yell Sound, looking out to sea. Historically it must just have been a couple of very small hamlets, defined by the names Lower Ollaberry and Upper Ollaberry. The upper was a few crofts on the edge of what used to be scattald, leading to other long abandoned crofts like Norwick and Corrabreck. These were cleared in the 19th century.
Lower Ollaberry, where all the Ollaberry business was once prosecuted - with a shop, a pier, a haa hoose, a transport business, and further back, weaving, a slaughterhouse, and most likely some fish drying - is above the old pier. Only the post office now remains as a business at Lower Ollaberry, with the current Ollaberry shop and a busy garage two miles up the road.
The rest of Ollaberry proper is up the hill and, at right angles, up the valley. Up the hill there are long established crofts, and out over it as well, until the Ollaberry loop road rejoins itself on the way north. Up the valley, and opposite the fine community hall, is a strip of crofts which came to pass around the mid 19th century; witness the names you find there. Delhi, Lucknow, Perth, Cawnpore - all of which names would have come into common parlance around the time of the Indian mutiny, in the late 1850s (Mutiny for the British, the first great act of national rebellion, were you on the other side).
Ollaberry Primary School © Fiona Cope
Colourful stepping stones, Ollaberry School garden © Fiona Cope
All this is interspersed by fine new houses, evidence of recent prosperity, from fish and oil. We also pass a thriving primary school, which likewise attests to the successful and youthful nature of the Ollaberry community.
Heogland © Fiona Cope
Burn of Heogland © David Jamieson
These valley settlements connect more ancient Ollaberry with the historic hamlet of Heogland, a small group of houses opposite the shop - a very ancient settlement indeed. Accounts connect it with Viking times.
The shop itself is a successful and very friendly community co-operative, a matter of some pride to the residents of Ollaberry, most of whom invested in setting it up when a private shop closed and no replacement seemed to be on the horizon. It is on an industrial estate established by Shetland Islands Council, and nearby is the garage, where all manner of motor and machinery work gets done.
Gluss and Gluss Ayre, looking towards Sullom Voe Oil Terminal © David Jamieson
Beyond that, we get out of Ollaberry proper, but continue with the Ollaberry postal district. Forking left instead of going to the shop, we find ourselves heading for other crofting townships, Gluss, Bardister, and Nisseter. Gluss, was always very agricultural, and has the finest and longest riggs (fields) in the district. With the current decline in agriculture, this is not much of an advantage just now, but, maybe some day again?
From the same starting point, opposite the shop, but just carrying on to Eelawater, and then turning right, after couple of miles, we look down on the crofts of Voe and Swinister, (Sweyn’s Setter) nestling by the head of Ronas Voe, and right under Ronas Hill, the highest hill in the islands.
Carry on north, and you pass more crofts, Oxensetter (Yokn’s Setter), Barnafield, and Collafirth. The setters, by the way, would have been Viking farms, and so we can get an idea of the age of settlement there, too.
Further still, and look out to your left, and you will see a small road winding up a steep hill. This is the road up Collafirth hill, created by the Ministry of Defence, which spent 20 or 30 years up there watching out for the Russians. On a clear day, a drive up there can be rewarded by magnificent views, and the best stepping off point for a walk to the top of Ronas hill, the very top of Shetland, all through the scattald held by the crofters of Collafirth and Ollaberry.
The postal district ends at Roer Burn, where the road turns sharply around Roers Brig. There we find a splendid pier built in the 1980s by Shetland Islands Council. And north of that, North Roe and Lochend!
Photos © Fiona Cope unless stated otherwise