Papa Stour

Papa Stour - 'the great island of the priests' - was an early base for Christian missionaries in the Shetland Islands. Separated from the Mainland of Shetland by the Sound of Papa, this fertile island lies at the southern edge of St. Magnus Bay. Papa Stour's stacks and inlets support large colonies of nesting seabirds. Its coastline features numerous caves and arches carved by the sea into the volcanic lavas and ashes which represent the underlying geology of the island. Kirstan's (Christie's) Hole is reckoned to be one of the finest sea caves in Britain. The Hole of Bordie is a remarkable natural tunnel which cuts through the northwest of the island, beyond the island's highest point - Virda Field - which rises to 87m (285 feet). With an area of 828 ha (2046 acres) Papa Stour has probably been occupied since 3000 BC. The island was later settled by early Christian missionaries and Norsemen including, in the 13th Century, Duke Haakon who later became King of Norway. Chambered cairns, burnt mounds and the remains of homesteads provide a wealth of archaeological evidence of early settlement. The remains of Haakon's royal farmhouse was excavated in the 1980s and Haakon's bailiff, Lord Thorvald Thoresson, who lived here was accused of corruption in a document written on Papa Stour in 1299, which is now the oldest surviving manuscript from Shetland. There are also fine examples of Norse watermills around Dutch Loch. Looking onto Housa Voe, Papa Stour's oldest settlement is known as Biggings. Reached by a vehicle ferry from West Burrafirth, the island's declining population, falling from a total of 351 in 1871 to 55 (1961) and 24 (1971), was revitalised in the 1970s with an influx of settlers but stood at only 33 (1981) and the same number in 1991, and fell once again to only 23 (2001) and 15 (2011). Brought about through feuding within the population, this latest decline resulted in the closure of the school and the post office in 2005. The island is accessible by ferry from West Burrafirth on the Shetland Mainland and has an airstrip.

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