The house at Jackville

Back in the spring, we walked halfway out along Stromness, one of Shetland’s many long, thin peninsulas, where we picked up tiny green sea urchins and discovered a plantiecrub full of honeysuckle.

Right at the end of this sliver of land is an old house called Jackville, which was built in 1848. There is no road to it, you can only reach it by foot (or horse or quad bike, I suppose) or boat. We obviously spotted it on our walk, and thought what an amazing place to live it would be. It is not lived in – but it is far from empty.

Yesterday, we decided to walk all the way out to it. It is an amazing spot. Just across the water, barely a stone’s throw away are all the trappings of civilisation that Shetland has to offer – roads, shops, neighbours – and all the added extras that those things bring: traffic, pollution, waste, noise… Yet here, on the very tip of this rocky, boggy scrap of land is quiet, solitude, peace and a feeling of being very far from that so-called civilisation.

I love this description from “Two long and narrow promontories project into the bay of Scalloway. Of these the southern, called Ustaness, is of by far the greatest importance, being fertile, populous, and well cultivated. Stromness, the northern, is somewhat narrower than the other, and can boast of only a few crofts. At its point stands the neat house of Jackville, than which no better out-of-the-world residence could be found, even in the Ultima Thule.”

How evocative is that? Indeed, I’ve done a (very little) bit of research and can really only find info about the place around the 1800s. I know that one family was cleared from Jackville (though this would have been pre the house) and probably went to Australia. Apparently it was originally two houses, though now there’s an old wooden conservatory/porch affair replacing the two front doors, with intriguing skulls of various sizes on display inside.

We peered through the grimy windows to view Marie-Celeste-like scenes. The place is still sparsely furnished; in one tiny, snug of a room there’s even a decorated piano. There’s a huge table in the kitchen – with an old-fashioned phone on it, so it was obviously relatively recently occupied. The plaster is peeling off the walls, though, and the whole thing is in a sad state of repair. What a place to live, indeed…

Sea urchins everywhere

Sea urchins everywhere

The house may be unoccupied, but the area is certainly not deserted. As well as the ubiquitous sheep, the place is obviously well-frequented by otters, judging by the enormous number of sea urchins scattered just above the rocky shore. It’s a collector’s paradise, with pink, purple and orange ones, and quite a few almost entire.

We picnicked out of the wind under the wall of the wildly overgrown garden, before leaving this idyllic spot and making our way back along the heathery ridge to so-called civilisation, leaving a dream of solitude and peace behind, and intrigued to know more about who might have lived here in more recent times.


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