A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Westray, an island at the NW extremity of the North Isles of Orkney. It lies 10½ miles NNE of Costa Head, the nearest point of Pomona; and 4 NNE of the nearest point of Rousay, from which it is separated by Westray Firth. Within 2 miles of its E and SE coasts lie Papa-Westray, Eday, Pharay, and Pharay Holm. Its length, from NW to SE, is 101/8 miles; and its breadth varies between ½ mile and 6¼ miles. The only safe harbour is that of Pierowall, on the E coast, nearly opposite the S end of Papa-Westray. The chief headlands are Noup Head on the NW, Aiker Ness on the N, Spo Ness on the E, Weather Ness on the SE, Rap Ness on the S, and Berst Ness on the SW. The coast is, in general, rocky; and, over part of the W, consists of magnificent precipices, frequented by vast flocks of sea-fowl. A ridge of hills extends along the W of the broader part of the island, and attains 343 feet at Couters Hill, 369 at Knucker Hill, 355 at Gallo Hill, 556 at Fitly Hill, and 256 at Skea Hill; but the rest of the surface is pretty level. The soil of the arable lands, which probably do not amount to one-fifth of the area, is variably pure sand, a mixture of sand and clay, a black mossy mould, a rich loamy black mould, and a mixture of black mould and sand. At the head of the Bay of Pierowall is a village of the same name with an inn. In a small cavern, called the ` Gentleman's Cave,' in the bluff rocky coast of Rap Ness, several Orkney Jacobites lay concealed for several months in 1746. They were eagerly but vainly searched for throughout Orkney by a party of royal troops; and, while in the cave, they depended for their daily food upon the precarious means of a single person's stealthy visits to their retreat. Their houses were destroyed by the baffled military; but afterwards, when the excitement occasioned by the rebellion passed away, these were replaced, at the expense of Government, by others of better structure. In several places along the shores are graves or tombs of a very ancient date; and in one place is a high monumental stone. Noltland Castle, noticed separately, is the chief antiquity; and Brough is the principal mansion. The island was anciently divided into the parishes of East Westray, West Westray, and North Westray or Ladykirk; but all these, together with the island of Papa-Westray, now form only one parish.

The parish is in the presbytery of North Isles and the synod of Orkney; the living is worth £233. The parish church, in the centre of Westray island, was built in 1845, and contains upwards of 800 sittings. Other places of worship are Rap Ness chapel of ease, Papa-Westray Free church, Westray Free church station, Westray U.P. church (1823; 440 sittings), and Westray Baptist chapel (1807; 450 sittings). Four public schools -East Side, Papa-Westray, Pierowall, and West Side with respective accommodation for 90, 80, 180, and 94 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 80, 44, 149, and 77, and grants of £70, 11s., £50, 2s., £101, 1s., and £57, 0s. 6d. Valuation of parish (1860) £2808, (1884) £5406. Pop. of Westray island (1831) 1702, (1861) 2151, (1871) 2090, (1881) 2200; of parish (1801) 1624, (1831) 2032, (1861) 2545, (1871) 2460, (1881) 2545.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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