By Reg Reynolds
The two 6-inch QF Mk I guns are mounted back to back on concrete platforms on a headland of Vementry, a tiny island located in the mid-west of Shetland, a short distance from the mainland. The guns were removed from HMS Gibraltar during World War I and positioned in order to protect the entrance to the naval anchorage at Busta Voe. An observation post complete with underground bunker overlooks the gun emplacements. At the time HMS Gibraltar, an Edgar-class cruiser launched in 1892, was obsolete and demoted to service as a depot ship for the 10th Cruiser Squadron, which was responsible for patrolling northern waters. HMS Gibraltar served mainly on foreign stations and during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) was based at Cape Town. The Vementry guns were never fired in anger, abandoned at the end of World War I and left to rust, but are still reasonably sturdy more than one hundred years later. HMS Gibraltar was sold and scrapped in 1923.
A short distance south of the island on the mainland is a small sheep farm, also named Vementry. There is no ferry service to the island but there is a dock and sheep and the farmer will take visitors across on the days when he travels over to work with his flock, except in May, which is lambing season. There is a lovely old main house as well as a traditional Shetland cottage both of which are available for holiday rental. On the website vementry.co.uk the owner gives a description of what to expect:
“The main house at Vementry was built in the early 1900s and is exceptionally pretty; it is reputed to be designed by the famous Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer and comes with some of Shetland’s best views…The cottage isn’t quite so pretty. It is a traditional, single story Shetland cottage with two bedrooms, one bathroom and an eat-in kitchen. But what it lacks in immediate glamour it gains in its cosiness (we believe in heating) and its own stunning views.”
HMS Gibraltar served mainly on foreign stations and was based at Cape Town.
The website also points out what there is to do and how tranquil and removed from the hubbub of urban life the farm is:
“What will you do while you are with us? You can fish for hard fighting wild brown trout on our isolated lochs…We’ll also arrange for you to have a license to fish the rest of Shetland should you so wish. Ask us nicely and we’ll also tell you where we last had a big catch of sea trout. You can bird watch for hours on end and we can also arrange for you to go and visit our seals (two large harems have made our beaches their home).”
What won’t you do when you are with us? Anything to do with telecommunications. There is no phone, no TV and no broadband. We hope that’s the way you like it. If you must communicate with the rest of the wold there is broadband in Aith and if you walk to the top of one our hills more often than not you will get a phone signal.”
There is plenty to do on other nearby islands and on the mainland, particularly for those looking for healthy outdoor experiences such as sailing, kayaking, hiking, and cycling. Less strenuous pursuits include bird watching, charters to seabird and seal colonies and tours of diverse archaeological and geological sites.
There is no phone, no TV and no broadband.
Busta Voe has a marina, the Busta House Hotel and a well-stocked general store. Busta Voe was the host site for sailing at the NatWest Island Games of 2005. Gibraltarians who took part in those games will be familiar with the natural delights of the region and will also be aware of the variety of accommodation, self-catering cottages and quality hotels. As for dining, the area is famous for its shellfish, particularly mussels, and there is always traditional Scottish fare such as Aberdeen Angus beef, Stornaway black pudding, Shetland salmon and of course haggis, whisky, ales, scones and shortbread.
There is a modern leisure centre in Aith, which has a main hall, squash court, swimming pool and fitness and health facilities. Aith Lifeboat Station, established 1933, is the most northerly in Britain. Every year in early June the Aith Lifeboat Gala is held to raise money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution
The island of Muckle Roe opposite Vementry is accessible from the mainland near Busta Voe via a bridge built in 1905. There are 130 people, mainly crofters, living on the island, which is slightly larger than Gibraltar and composed of red granite and moorland.
Vementry is 50 miles from Sumburgh airport and four miles from Aith. Frequent flights to Sumburgh Airport (LSI) are operated by Loganair. Flights are available daily from Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Glasgow, and from Manchester from May to October only.