Eshaness, Shetland: Ronnie Johnson 1948 – 2010

At the end of the road by the Eshaness lighthouse on the north-west coast of Shetland are cliffs that take the full force of Atlantic waves.  This is a spectacular coast with geos, stacks and blowholes and rocky skerries out at sea and a walk here is an amazing experience.  In summer these cliffs are the nesting sites of thousands of seabirds and you might see great skuas [known locally as bonxies] swooping over these colonies.  Nearby are the crown of rock stacks called The Drongs and the awesome Dore Holm, or drinking horse, rock arch.  You can stay at the lighthouse and get a sense of what it is like to live with no neighbours in sight.  It must be quite an experience to be here on a stormy night; even on the fine day that we visited I got a sense of how dangerous these waters are.

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The spectacular coastline at Eshaness, Shetland

This handsome weathered bench remembering Ronnie Johnson is next to the car park by the lighthouse at Eshaness.  The bench has a view that is difficult to beat over the rugged coastal scenery and tells visitors that Ronnie Johnson was a fisherman at Eshaness.  I sat and thought about Ronnie Johnson fishing out on those seas.

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In Memory of Ronnie Johnson 1948 – 2010 Fisherman of Eshaness

Shetland still has a fishing industry, although it is much smaller than it was.  At the nearby sheltered bay of Stenness there are the ruins of the 19th century haaf [deep-sea] fishing station that was run by the Cheyne family.  This sheltered beach was once the site of one of Shetland’s largest fishing stations with around 70 boats.  The wide pebbly beach would have been used for splitting, salting and laying out the fish to dry.  The boat used by haaf fishermen was the sixern, a clinker-built open boat with six oars that could cope with the rough conditions.

To find out more about fishing in this part of Shetland we visited the nearby Tangwick Haa Museum, that tells the story of the Northmavine.  The Haa is the house of the laird or landowner and the Haa at Tangwick was built in the late 17th century for the Cheyne family and would have been a fine house in its day.