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  • Writer's pictureStephen Jennings

Site in Focus - Burwick

Walking through Burwick is very much a stroll through Shetland's history. This hidden community, now reduced to two crofts, was once a tad more bustling with a handful of families ringing the shoreline and pressing deeper into the valley around the lochs. It seems they were there for se​​veral millenia.

When you first approach and stay along the shoreline you'll encounter some early 20th century history with a small tin-covered shack which was the Shetland terminus of the Atlantic Cable. Just beyond are two buildings and the remains of a pier, all that's left of a busy herring fishing station. More remarkable still, on a peerie island just off the point is the believed location of a broch, since well robbed out.

If you continue past the point and stay along the shoreline you'll walk through a landscape rich in multiperiod use likely from as far back as the Bronze Age, if not more. You'll also encounter a "pauper's" crofthouse - a most peculiar structure - and prehistoric field systems. A sharp eye will note two things: sea level rise has eroded the likely locations of roundhouses and, if you're really sharp, up on a hill the probable location of an existing roundhouse underneath a krub.

If you were to forgo the shoreline and move up the valley instead you'll note several horizontal mills along the burns that connect the first two lochs to the sea. There are more ruined crofts including one with a stunning location but from here it's a steep drop in time. Sitting on the Hill of Burwick is a "temple" site (so named due to its resemblance to Stanydale) which is believed to date to the Neolithic. It is one of the great unvisited and unheralded sites with which we're acquainted. Nearby is an odd roughly 80m x 60m enclosure of some age and several strange mounds. Finally, if you were to carry on to Jamie Cheyne's Loch you'll encounter yet another Neolithic structure, this time a homestead, while further down in the valley you may just spy a standing stone.

Burwick is little explored in compare to most other areas and a part of this is due to the relative remoteness and, in the valley at least, some rather cumbersome walking conditions with thick heather and boggy terrain the norm. Yet if one were to search for another multiperiod location with such a variety to offer it would be quite difficult and when you consider what is likely still hidden in this isolated place it is ideally suited for the curious.

We do suggest a perusal of the two links we provided and a good pack lunch before setting out on your own because once in this lonely place you may not want to leave anytime soon.

Links for further information:

Canmore (note some of the NGRs are inaccurate)

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