Eshaness and a Tale of Two Watches

near Eshaness
Yesterday, I drove with my cousins up to the Northwest of Shetland to Eshaness. This is Shetland's volcanic area. The roads are winding and we often had to stop for sheep. There are lots of lambs right now and the daffodils are in bloom.

north of 60 degrees latitude!!!
It has been exceptional weather throughout my travels but 22 degrees C is amazing for Shetland in April! The mist rolls in and out depending on where you are but yesterday I visited the place where the Atlantic and the North Sea meet and it was clear. They actually have a sign to be careful of otters crossing the road but this might be a bit fanciful.
sheep at Eshaness
I feel completely at home in Shetland just as if I were one of the cousins who live here. At the beginning of the twentieth century, more men left Shetland than stayed because land was divided among family and the crofts  could not sustain the the large families of the time.  Most Shetland men joined the Merchant Navy or went to the whaling.
my grandfather's old watch

Last night, my mother's cousin came over to where I was having tea and brought me a mysterious package. It was a very old watch that had somehow made its way back here probably to my great-grandmother and had been kept by my grandfather's sister until she passed it to her daughter.
 My grandfather had written on the back of the warranty paper inside the watch. We can not figure out what a merchant seaman was doing in Philadelphia!!! Obviously, my grandfather got around. I'm taking the watch back home to my mother who does not have his ship papers so does not know exactly where her father was during his twenties.

Why did the Laird's watch return to Whalsay via Vancouver?
There is a second mystery or synchronicity. While I was in Whalsay, the island where my family originated (sort of because Vikings, Hanseatic traders et al visited the island), I visited the Heritage centre in Symbister.

The Heritage Centre is located in the former home of the Laird of Whalsay.  The Scottish lairds of the island kept the Whalsay people in a feudal state until the 1880's. The fishing catch and boats belonged to the laird and only a small amount could be kept back for the family. Until the 1880's, young men who left Whalsay to go to the whaling or the gold rush were banished from the island and could not return. Families who harboured outcasts would also be banished.

Although my great-grandmother had the same surname of Bruce as did the laird's family, we were definitely fish-gutters, stocking knitters and fishers. But!!! now to the second watch story. The last Laird of Whalsay almost bankrupted himself building Symbister House. The family had no children so the Laird's line ended and the house was later a school and then a museum.

 In that museum,there is a display of the Laird's belongings that were donated by family members no longer living on the island. When my eyes fell upon the watch, I was astonished!!! Not only had the watch been returned from Vancouver but it was in a box from a jewellery store to which I have a family connection.

My first husband was related to the Grassie family who started a jewellery store in Vancouver in 1886. In my first engagement ring, was a diamond from the family and my darling daughter is connected through her father's family with the blue box that had somehow travelled from British Columbia back to the tiny isle of Whalsay!

It is said that we are all connected and never has it seemed more true to me than during this hamefaring.
land near Eshaness


  1. How interesting about the watch and the Grassie connection....learning more of one's heritage is so fascinating. It looks like idyllic scenery!

  2. I walked today along a headland overlooking Bressay Strait that made me think of Victoria. It is wonderful to have so many relatives to teach me about our heritage!

  3. What a wonderful Tale of Two Watches!

  4. It seems like it could be a story starter. We can only imagine where those watches came from. The world is full of mysteries!


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