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By Alastair HamiltonMarch 30th 2017
Alastair Hamilton

Those who live on the west side of Shetland’s mainland are apt to proclaim that ‘west is best’, particularly on one of those days when a sea mist has enveloped the east coast but the west basks in warm sunshine. But the west in general has a lot going for it and Walls and Sandness, the westernmost district, is understandably popular as a place to settle. The area is home to more than 900 people.

The village of Walls is 25 miles from Lerwick. It clusters around a bay, sheltered by the island of Vaila, and it’s the port for the ferry to the island of Foula. There’s a marina and the local regatta club is the hub for local sailing enthusiasts.

Walls has a good range of local facilities. There’s a primary school with the delightful name of Happyhansel, after which students move on first to Aith Junior Secondary School, in the neighbouring parish of Aithsting, and then, for Secondary 5 and 6, to the Anderson High School in Lerwick. A community-run swimming pool is available for private hire and there’s a larger one, combined with a modern leisure centre, in Aith.

Like all Shetland communities, Walls has an active hall that often hosts local concerts and other events, including the occasional Sunday teas that are so much a part of the Shetland summer. There are two churches, one Methodist and one Church of Scotland. The village has a shop and the bakery here sells its artisan bread not only locally but in other parts of Shetland.

Some people from Walls commute by bus or car to Lerwick, or perhaps Brae or Sullom Voe, but most of the employment in the district is in public services such as the school and care home, in fishing or aquaculture, or in agriculture. Walls stages one of the three biggest annual agricultural shows in Shetland.

The smaller, quite scattered community at Sandness, on the north-western corner of the west mainland, is reached by a winding road over moorland studded with lochs. Locals enjoy spectacular views over St Magnus Bay and towards the small inhabited island of Papa Stour, which is served by a ferry from West Burrafirth.

There is a local hall here and a primary school. The main centre of activity and local employment is the spinning mill, and no more so than during Shetland Wool Week – you can read a blog about a visit here. However, there are also a couple of local craft businesses that feature in the Shetland Craft Trail, namely Morwenna Garrick Textile Design and Journeyman Leather.

Papa Stour is a beautiful island, noted for its wonderful coastline that features caves and natural arches. Its population these days is fewer than 20, less than half the number present in the 1970s after the local postmaster launched a successful national appeal for new residents. People here have generally lived by crofting and fishing.

Locals enjoy spectacular views over St Magnus Bay

very friendly and welcoming

Walls and Sandness as a whole is blessed with some beautiful coastal scenery and keen walkers in particular won’t be short of places to explore. You can findan example of one walking route here. There are other natural magnets, such as the angling either in lochs or at sea; archaeologists will find plenty to interest them, too.

House prices in this area are, in general, slightly lower than in Lerwick; properties may occasionally be available to rent. Many homes enjoy really beautiful settings with stunning sea views.

Why might you be tempted by a move to Walls and Sandness? Well, the area is known for being very friendly and welcoming for newcomers, many of whom have come here to live. It’s an attractive environment and the facilities available are good for an area of this size, with more on offer not far away in Aith (the leisure centre), Weisdale (the Bonhoga Gallery) or Lerwick.

There is undoubtedly scope to base a business here, as others have successfully done, or you might choose to live here but enjoy one of the most scenic commutes, on good roads, anywhere in Britain.

...west is best...