Lunna House lies on Lunna Ness, just north of Vidlin. The House itself as well as most of the other solid structures within the landscaped area is a Category B listed building; some other features like field walls and the south west gate are Category C listed. Despite that, being considered of national or international importance, the whole landscaped area complex including all built features is a Category A listed group with items.
Most of the house was built during the 17th and 18th century as seat of the Hunter family. The oldest part is from 1663, built by Robert Hunter (1) who was the first Lord Chamberlain of Shetland. It was built on the site of an auld haa, there is also evidences of an old viking longhouse on the site, and remains of an old broch at the bottom of the hill. (Many of the stones of the house orginate from that broch .)
Lunna House is an impressive building, laying high in the landscape, with a view in all directions. Its imposing gateway is a unique landscape feature in Shetland. There is also many other landcaping features made around the house
South west of the house are sets of droved ashlar gate piers leading to an approach, partly built up and lined by low drystone walls. This leads downhill on the main axis, and through the west gate with its twin ball finalled gate-piers and paired mounting blocks to either side of the gateway. This lies in an axis with Lunna House, Chapel Knowe, the Gothic Cottage and the tower on the hilltop. A similar stright road, built up by stones leads to the shore of East Lunna Voe. And another road led to the harbour in West Lunna Voe. (Remains of those roads can be seen on the picture upper left and the one taken in 2007).
South of the house is a sloping lawn bounded by a low stone wall. Below that is what was the south park on both sides of the main south west approach. North east of the house is a square park enclosed by drystone walls. South east of the house is a terraced, triangular, walled garden. It was built as an ornamental garden, to be viewed and enjoyed from the house. Inside it there is a sun dial from 1878.
On the flat grounds near the habour, there is a walled garden with a number of internal walls creating sheltered compartments for growing fruit and vegetables.
Lunna Harbour has a stone pier with a harbour house and a lime burning kiln dated from the early 19th century. There is also remains of an much older jetty with steps.
The pierhouse was used by the Shetland Bus operations as a workshop and a store for ammunition and explosives.
South west of the house, the early 18th century folly, "Hunter's Monument", can be seen on a hilltop. It is a kind of square watch tower, from where stone walls lead downhill to the beach at West Lunna Voe to the northwest, and to the Booth of Lunna, at East Lunna Voe to the southeast. History says that it was used by the Lairds to spy on their tenants when fishing offshore, (Haaf Fishing). And also to watch out for the Customs - smuggling was a common thing in those days. The Monument was higher before, a round tower constrution on top has been removed or fallen off.
See picture from Shetland Museum
The 'Booth' is a ruined fishing booth from the mid 18th century. It is one of the largest of Shetland's fishing boths. The most un-usual with it is its T-shape. It lies adjacent to to a partly man-made drying beach were fish was dried.
Between the West Lunna Voe and Lunna Kirk, the ruin of the "Gothic Cottage" can be seen. It is an early 19th century single-storey house with a north west gable with a gothic window and symmetric gothic details.
South east of the house is a road, cut into the hill and partly supported by retaining walls, leading to the "Croolar", a waterlogged basin. The basin area is by a bund and footpath. Excess water is drained by a small channel to the sea.
When Lunna House was built, it was T-shaped, two stories and attic with a three bay front, but it has been extended and changed up through the years, The first extension, the north-south wings, were added after Thomas Hunter, (1680 - 1718), had married Grisella Bruce. Incorporated into the external front is an armorial panel commemorating the marriage of Thomas Hunter and Grisella Bruce in 1707.
The house remained in the Hunter family until 1893, and memorials of the Hunters can be seen in the nearby Lunna Kirk, built by the fourth Hunter in 1753.
In 1893, the house was sold for £ 9740 by the Bell-Hunters to John Bruce (4) of the Bruce of Sumburgh family, who used it as a summer cottage !
Between 1893 and 1910, the last extension, the west wing, was added, and also other modifications both inside and outside. A larger front entrance, winding off the south wing was among these.
The new semi-octagonal entrance and the added enlarged bay to the left now projecting out of the east elevation of the early 18th century north-south wing was original designed as a counterpiece to the central bay projecting from the south and north elevation of the new west wing added at the same time; accordingly they did show the same crenellations which did exist well into the 1950s (now being replaced by a blend of a single concrete bar). To compare, please, go to the Shetland Museum Photogallery and enter 'Lunna House' into the search box to see a selection of older images.
The 20th century extensions were carried out with an up to date standard of building technology using a lot of concrete elements instead of the tradional field stone masonry used for the older parts of the building. Thus the whole 'look' of the building was spoiled and therefore it was decided that the whole building should be harled in the traditional Shetland way to produce the imagination of 'one complex' design we are now familiar with.
Until WW II, the Bruce's used is as a summer residence. In 1940 it was requisitioned by the newly formed Special Operations Executive (SOE) because of its remote location.
The house served as accommodation for the crews of The Shetland Bus, and as offices for David Armine Howarth who was the leader of the operations in Lunna. The boats were moored in West Lunna Voe, a harbour with a stone pier and a house that was used as a workshop.
After the Shetland Bus operation was moved to Scalloway, the house was in use as a training base and testing area for SOE. The one-man submarines used for the attempt to sink the Tirpitz was tested out there.
A memorial plaque dedicated to Leif Larsen and the Shetland Bus men was unveiled by Larsen's daughter Astrid in August 1991.
After the end of WW II, the house was occupied for a short time, but then fell into disrepair and dereliction.
In the early 1960s it was bought by Frank and Ruby Lindsay. They worked for years to bring the house back to some of its former glory, and in the late 1960s they opened Lunna House as a Guest House. The Lindsay's owned the house until 1997, when Mrs. Lindsay after her husband's death retired at an age of 87. She sold the house to a solicitor, who used it as a private residence. In May 2001, the house was purchased by Tony and Helen Erwood and their son Chris. They were from Hampshire, but had been frequent visitors to Shetland, and both Tony's parents had been members of SOE during the war, so the family understands the importance of the house's war history, as well as its longer local history.
They have started a major project of restoration and repair, which they believe will last for another ten years.
It is now a private house but visitors are welcome. Bed and Breakfast is available for most of the year but is limited to a maximum of 6 guests at a time. For information on accommodation click here. There is also a webcam at Lunna House, to view click here.
Below is graphs showing the area and the extensions of Lunna House
- The Lunna House Website
- Lunna on Undiscovered Scotland
- Lunna House on Historic Scotland linking to more information about location, size, inventory and history of the site.
- For more detailed information about individual objects and features of the site, register with Historic Scotland PASTMAP service and use the interactive map provided there.
ADDENDUM Robert Cowie has the following glimpse of Lunna in his Shetland History (1871): "Here stands Lunna House, the seat of Robert Bell, Esq. of Lunna, the sole proprietor of the parish. This quaint and old-fashioned, but most comfortable and commodious mansion, occupies a commanding position at the top of a steep ascent, immediately overhanging the low isthmus just mentioned (pages 139-140). Never was a more romantic site chosen. The rugged hill opposite, crowned by a neat little tower; the pretty blue voe on either side; the undulating banks in front, and the well trimmed gardens, lawns, and walks around, all render Lunna one of the most beautiful and picturesque spots that can be imagined. Its Norse name, which signifies sheltered place, is strictly true to nature. The fine old parish church, well supported by buttresses, and an even more ecclesiastical-looking private house, serve greatly to ornament the low ground between the bays."