“The winding voes and lakes of Clousetter, are wildly disordered by the irregular encroachments of the hills among which they run. Nature, from mere rocks and water, without the assistance of a single tree, has presented ceaseless varieties of interesting scenery.” ~ Samuel Hibbert (1818)
Clousta is an ‘old place’ – it has that sense, as if you’ve suddenly stumbled off the map. It’s a beautiful corner of Shetland’s West Mainland, inconspicuously tucked away somewhere between Eid (Aith) and West Burrafirth.
Clousta’s rural feel reminds me of my childhood days growing up in Waas (Walls), where days were marked by the moving of the sun across the sky and seasons were marked by nature; lambs, tadpoles and ploughing in spring; power cuts, UHT milk and whistling winds in winter. Summer brought those halcyon days spent outside with scraped knees and guttery hands and times when it felt as though the sun shone for the entire six weeks of school holidays.
I’m always drawn to the West Mainland, perhaps because I spent several years growing up here, and it brings back happy memories, but more likely because it’s stunningly beautiful and there are plenty of quiet corners that are less explored.
Locally we say that “west is best”, and this is because generally, the sun shines more on the West Mainland. As the east side and South Mainland are shrouded in mist and summer fog, the West Mainland will be basking under sunshine and blue skies.
I’ve written about the magic of the West Mainland before, and you can read about a moving experience I had at the Stanydale Temple to mark the spring equinox.
Stanydale Temple is not far from where we based ourselves for our weekend in Clousta. Graham and Ruth Willmore have recently added their home to Airbnb. This house is the only place that Graham – until recently – has ever lived, and the house feels very much loved and has been renovated to a high standard, showing love and respect for the building’s past.
As the name suggests, the house is an old Church of Scotland Manse or the place where the minister would have lived. Unsurprisingly, the building is right next door to the former church, or ‘kirk’ as they are known in Scotland.
This is a fantastic base for anyone who wants to walk and hike in the area. For those interested in trouting, Neolithic [stone age] archaeology and the general solitude of the hills, this area is ideal to act as your springboard to discovering the West Mainland.
In this blog, I’ll speak about what we did to fill our weekend and give some other suggestions for walks and things to see and do if you are staying for longer.
Clousta is a 20-mile drive from Lerwick and will take about half an hour. To get to The Old Manse:
We left Lerwick at tea time and arrived with the evening sun streaming in the lounge windows and the gentle sound of the skylark telling us that we were now out of the town and safely ensconced in the country.
The house is generously sized and instantly welcoming, with a bright sign to greet guests entering the front door. Inside, there are four good-sized bedrooms (two doubles, one twin and a single room), a large kitchen-diner, two reception rooms with a wood or peat burning stove, and a modern, clean bathroom with a bath and separate shower. A small utility room off the kitchen enjoys the most breathtaking views across the Clousta Loch towards Vementry. I could have done laundry here all day long!
After dinner, we had a walk to Noonsbrough, a few miles from the Old Manse, where, as the name suggests, we found the ruined remains of a 2,000-year-old Iron Age broch. There are about 120 broch sites in Shetland, and most stand in ruin. Travelling through the islands, you become better at spotting these in the landscape or through placenames, such as here at NoonsBROUGH.
Samuel Hibbert visited Noonsbrough during his 1818 tour of Shetland, and he described what he found: “Nunsburgh, a bold eminence, rises to the west of Clousetter, the fortalice which gives rise to its name, being almost wholly rased.”
Like most Iron Age brochs in Shetland, Noonsbrough stands in ruin, collapsed in on itself, with only a metre or so of the original wall still standing. Although, the inner and outer walls can be seen when viewed from the top. Surrounding the outer broch wall, a later boat ‘noost’ structure has been added to the broch, creating a sheltered space for hauling up boats in the winter to protect from the worst of the weather.
In the evening, it was time to open a bottle of wine and relax. The Old Manse has a large tv with Freesat and Netflix available and ambient ceiling lights that you can set to any colour. It’s the perfect way to unwind – that and a bath – after a walk through the surrounding hills.
I woke up to the sound of a blackbird happily singing, and I felt rested. The sun was shining, and it was lovely to open the blinds and look out across the open countryside, still parched after the long winter but with traces of green starting to show through the muted yellow and brown of the post-winter landscape. Our visit coincided with the lambing season – a busy period for the many crofters who keep sheep on the islands. I could see the crofter on the other side of the valley out working his sheep in the early morning sun, a reassuring reminder that spring was coming around once more despite all the chaos in the world.
It was just myself and Lena for the day – Aaron was working, and Hansi was staying with friends at a local outdoor centre – so we had a day planned, just the girls, and had decided to spend it in the neighbouring village of Aith, known locally as Eid.
Eid is just a few miles from Clousta and is the largest village in the West Mainland. The village has a great community feel and is served well by several local amenities, including a shop, marina, leisure centre, school and public hall.
Including our trip to the Cake Fridge, playpark and swimming pool, Lena and I spent the morning at Michaelswood and the afternoon up the Burn of Lunklet.
The gardens at Michaelswood are one of the first places you come to as you reach the village, and certainly, the woodland area is one of the first things you will spot. In an almost treeless landscape, any collection of trees and shrubs stands out.
Michaelswood is a community garden established in memory of Michael Ferrie, a young musician from Aith who died in 1996. The gardens, established by his family, have continued to grow, develop and bed into the landscape over the years, providing a haven for both wildlife and visitors to the area.
The wooded area features a trail through the trees with lots of interesting spots along the route for children to discover and explore, including picnic areas, a bird hide, toys and a collection of show-stopping, life-size (ish) dinosaurs. There are also swings and a children’s play area complete with picnic benches for weary parents to sit and relax. Children love to explore the trail, discovering all the dinosaurs that punctuate the path with their incredible presence. For adults, motivational quotes framed on wooden posts line the route and are sure to put a smile on your face.
If you’re looking to warm up or have a picnic after exploring the woodland, a polycrub (reinforced polytunnel) houses picnic benches and soaks in the warmth from the sun. Visitors are free to use this space at their leisure and, in the summer, it’s a real suntrap!
Admission to Michaelswood is free, and there’s a donations box at the entrance for guests to leave a donation – small or large – to help them develop and grow the gardens.
(Please note that the nearest public toilets are at the Aith Marina, a short distance away).
The Burn of Lunklet
Shetland is not known for sprawling rivers that weave their way through open countryside. The hills are instead punctuated by small streams known as burns. The Burn of Lunklet is one of these and probably one of the more extensive burns found in the islands - this was our next stop after exploring Michaelswood.
You’ll find the car parking area for the Lunklet walk just a few miles east of Aith towards East Burrafirth. Be sure to stop for a picnic at the Original Cake Fridge along the way. A ‘brown tourist sign’ marks the start of the short walk up the burn.
The walk is short, taking about 10-15 minutes each way along a picturesque gravel path. Despite the trail, this route is not suitable for wheelchairs.
The impressive waterfall at Ramnahol is about a quarter of a mile upstream from where the walk begins and plunges into a deep pool before making its way downstream toward the sea. This is a beautiful, peaceful spot to have a picnic. One of the best things about this walk – and many in the surrounding area – is that you don’t have to walk very far through the hill to reach places that are out of view of all human habitation, meaning that you are alone with just the call of the birds and the gentle motion of water.
Other things to do in the area:
Aith is a fantastic place to spend time, and there’s plenty to do, including:
After our day trip to Aith, it was back to sunny Clousta, where we prepared tea before heading out into the hills once again. The kitchen is well stocked with pots, pans and kitchen accessories. The cupboards also contain basic store cupboard ingredients such as salt, pepper, stock cubes, sauces, tea and coffee.
You can read more about things to do in Aith here.
The Old Mill Walk
After dinner, we decided to do one of the walks in the local area to an old watermill. This walk isn’t detailed anywhere online or in any walking books – the mill structure itself isn’t even on the OS map, but it’s a fab walk and easy to find from The Old Manse.
The mill is a traditional click mill of Scandinavian design and origin, typically found and used in Shetland from Norse times until the mid 20th century. These small mills were used for grinding grain and contained two horizontal millstones that were turned by the force of water passing through the paddle, or tirl, beneath the mill house, causing the stones to turn.
These small mills were common throughout Shetland and are often associated with lots of folklore, particularly the njuggle, a mythical creature from Shetland’s past. A njuggle is a mythical horse-like creature, similar to the Scottish kelpie, who lures unsuspecting people onto their winged-backs before careering off, carrying them to a watery grave. Njuggles are almost always associated with water – burns and lochs or damp areas such as meadows and marshes. Njuggles were the most dangerous to milling. They would get into the mill’s underhouse and stop the tirl (the paddle mechanism that drives the mill). The only way to get rid of the njuggle was to throw down a burning peat, where the njuggle would then disappear with a roar of thunder, a blinding flash and a blue flame.
For the walk:
Total distance: 1.2 miles (we took an hour to explore the area, spending a little time repairing some of the sluice channel walls).
When I was later talking about the area with a local from Clousta, she told me that the ‘pointed’ hill above the mill – marked on the OS map as Geurawall – has a trowie story associated with it. Trows are another mythical creature from our folklore, and the story goes that a fiddler was making his way between Aithness and Clousta to play at a wedding when he happened on a trowie wedding. He listened for what turned out to be a long time, meaning he missed his marriage celebration. All was not lost, and the bride and groom forgave him for his no-show because he learned some trowie tunes – those distinctive Shetland reels that are unlike anything else.
If you’re into fly fishing, this area is rich in trouts, and the numerous lochs are well stocked. The OS map displays a fish symbol on several of the lochs surrounding The Old Manse, including the Loch of Clousta, which is on the doorstep, and the Loch of Aithsness and Clings Water, all within stomping distance.
We woke to another dry day, with the stiff north wind still ensuring that our jackets were zipped up to our chins with hoods tightly pulled into our faces as we set off into the hills with a warming thermos and a picnic – and one somewhat reluctant five year old!
Today we were doing the Brigs walk from the Old Manse. This is a walk that I’ve done from Vementry and blogged about in the past, but I’d never walked in from Clousta. I also created a video tour for my patrons, and, as you’re good enough to be reading this blog, I’ll share the private link with you below, and you too can access that exclusive video, generally only available to my Patrons on Patreon.
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Da Brigs is an old stone causeway that crosses the sea halfway between Vementry and Clousta. You may be fooled into thinking that this is a long walk – indeed, driving from Clousta to Vementry would probably take longer than the walk. Driving between these two points takes 20 minutes over six miles.
This was the route that school children took to get to school in Clousta from Vementry and the postman also used it to deliver the mail on foot between Vementry and Clousta. Da Brigs is a stunning stone causeway and dry stone wall, with a wooden gate allowing access over the causeway. The stone walls ensure that sheep remain on the right side of the water.
For this walk, we did a circular from the Old Manse:
This walk took us two hours, and we covered 2.5 miles, stopping for a picnic along the way.
Other walks and places of interest in the area:
Kergord Woods and the Bonhoga Gallery & Cafe
We had such a fantastic time in Clousta, a corner of Shetland that’s so often overlooked and bypassed. From Clousta, a whole landscape of walks, folklore and history opens out and The Old Manse is the perfect place to base yourself to explore from.
The only thing that you’ll wish for here, is more time!
Hello from Laurie
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I hope that you find what you're looking for - whether you're planning that perfect holiday or maybe you're from Shetland and looking for some 'home' inspiration. Hopefully, there is something here for everyone.