District of the Month: Aithsting and Sandsting
by Alastair Hamilton -
Each month we look at a different part of Shetland to see what it may have to offer for those thinking of moving to Shetland. This month, we travel west, to the district of Aithsting and Sandsting.
These are two of the ancient ‘tings’ that formed the basis of local administration during the Norse period, and the word ‘ting’ is the same as that found in the name of the Manx parliament (Tynwald) and the town of Dingwall in Scotland.
Aithsting and Sandsting stretches from the island of Vementry in the north to the rugged headland of Skelda Ness in the south, a distance of about twelve miles, and it’s roughly six miles from east to west. For the most part, it’s relatively low-lying and much of the interior is heather moorland, dotted with sapphire-blue lochs and a wealth of wild flowers. There’s better agricultural land around the northern village of Aith and some crops are grown, but sheep-rearing is the main activity. The planting of trees has been a noticeable trend in the last two or three decades, with attractive plantations, with public access, created at Michaelswood in Aith and Da Gairdins o’ Sand. There’s a veritable botanic garden, Lea Gardens, at Tresta.
Crofting and some inshore fishing are traditional sources of employment but more recent innovations include fish farming, mussel farming, fish processing and the production of delicious pickles and chutneys. Many people travel to work elsewhere in Shetland. From most parts of the district, Lerwick is 25-30 minutes away and it’s also possible to commute northwards to Sullom Voe in about the same time. There’s a regular bus service to the town.
The main settlements are at Aith, Bixter, Skeld and Reawick. Aith has an excellent leisure centre with a swimming pool and the school has nursery, primary and junior secondary departments. Skeld has a primary school. There are shops at Aith and Bixter and a doctor’s surgery at Bixter. Bixter also has a motor repair garage and a veterinary surgery.
Why might Aithsting and Sandsting appeal? Well, it’s a very attractive landscape, with particularly rewarding coastal walks to the north and south. The fishing in the lochs is excellent and if you’d like to keep a boat for some sailing or sea-angling, there are marinas at Aith and Skeld. The public facilities – schools, leisure centre and health centre – are all modern and well-equipped. This is also, reputedly, a part of Shetland that gets a little more sunshine than some other areas, as the hills of Weisdale to the east help to break up mist or cloud. For anything that you can’t find locally, Lerwick is within easy reach, so you have ready access to more shops, supermarkets, more extensive leisure facilities and cinemas and theatre. Indeed, Aithsting and Sandsting is well-placed for travel to most parts of Shetland.
All in all, there’s much to be said for the district as a place to live or visit.
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