Papa Stour History & Community Group


The 'Meal (pronouced male) Road pictured above was built as part of a 19th-century famine relief scheme.

Flour or ‘meal’ was given as payment for the construction of these roads, which were often not strictly necessary, to avoid the stigma of charity.

Though many stretches of road and track built in such schemes throughout the Highlands and Islands in the mid to late 19th Century, very few survive in good condition without resurfacing. The survival of the Papa Stour examples (HU16SE 47 and HU16SE 48 ) can probably be attributed to their narrow gauge (designed for small carts and pack ponies rather than larger waggons) which prevented their being easily made up into motor roads, and simply the scarcity of motor transport on the small island into recent years.

This stretch is one of the two best-preserved.

It runs for about 700m, from just south of the Loch That Ebbs & Flows to the crest of the low ridge W of Olligarth. Beyond this, to the E, it has been resurfaced but the line continues to join up with the network of tarred roads in public use. It is formed of rammed small stones, edged with larger blocks. It crosses the burn out of Gorda Water by a lintelled culvert. Just east of this, a short stretch of 20m is omitted from scheduling, because the structure has been effectively removed by recent activity. The width of the track is about 3m, but varies slightly. It is cut into the upper slope in places, and also occasionally embanked, and for short stretches is flanked by open ditches to carry off rainwater.

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 14 May 1996.

After the earls of Orkney lost Shetland in 1195

Papa Stour became the personal property of the kings of Norway and was held by Duke Hakon of Norway, later King Hakon V. It was during this time, at Easter 1299, that a dispute arose between the Duke’s bailiff and a local woman called Ragnhild Simunsdatter (‘ daughter of Simon’) over taxation and rents on the island. These events were recorded in what is now known as the ’1299 Document’, which is Shetland’s oldest surviving document. This dispute took place at the Biggins farm and, following excavations by Dr Barbara Crawford of St Andrew’s University, the remains of a mediaeval Norse wooden house called a ‘stofa’ was uncovered. In 2007 /8 the Papa Stour History Group together with craftsmen and students from Norway undertook a partial reconstruction of the stofa which can be visited at the Biggins.

Although Shetland was pledged to Scotland in 1469 the Lairds of Norway kept their estates in Papa Stour until well into the 17th century.

By the 18th century, two Shetland lairds owned Papa Stour, Thomas Gifford of Busta and Arthur Nicolson of Lerwick. They maintained a prosperous fishing industry known as the Haaf, carried out in the summer season using six man boats known as sixareens.

In the 19th century, the population of 360 inhabitants was stabilized by the opening of the Crabbaberry fishing station. Unfortunately, the advent of the steam drifter which centralised the fish curing industry in the Lerwick, and the lack of peat for household fuel, reduced the population dramatically.

By 1940 only 100 remained in the isle and these only through help supplied by Government war grants. After the war, with the men away at the whaling and the children having to go to the mainland for secondary education, the population continued to fall and by 1970 it had reached a critical stage. Only sixteen people still remained, when through an advertisement in the national press a number of young couples came and settled. The school was reopened and for the next twenty years, the population remained stable. But since 2000 numbers have dropped to less than 10 and the isle is in need of repopulation.

Text used with the kind permission of Jane Puckey from