|UK Grid Reference:||HU231465|
|Area (ha):||327 ha|
|Community Council:||Sandness & Walls|
Vaila contained 29 inhabitants in 1846 <ref> A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846), pp. 586-88. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=43487.</ref>, and is an island in Vaila Sound lying south of the Westland peninsula of the Shetland Mainland, in the mouth of the network of voes which collectively make up the harbours of Walls (Waas). It has an area of about 3 km².
Once home to a fishing station established by Arthur Anderson (the co-founder of P&O), notable buildings on the island include the Mucklaberry Castle tower and Vaila Hall, built in 1895. Vaila is home to an organic sheep farm and is also known for its mountain hares.
In 1576 the lands of Vaila were leased to a Scottish incomer Robert Cheyne from the Norwegian owner. Cheyne was granted leave by James VI of Scotland 'to build ane house and fortalice upoun the saidis landis of Valay for sauftie thairof fra the hiland men, perattis and otheris invasionis'. In time these holdings passed to James Mitchell of Girlsta.
Mitchell's daughter Grizell married John Scott in 1696, whose older brother George was then Steward Depute of Orkney and Shetland. The new Haa of Vaila was completed the same year. The new couple appear to have settled in Melby, however, as it is here their children are born. A further marriage between cousins among the Scotts and the Mitchells in the next generation solidified the estates of Foula, Vaila, Melby and Norby in the Scott family.
However tragedy struck the family in 1764 when the heir, also John Scott, fell from a cliff in Vaila - "da young laird 'at gude owir da banks", as he was remembered locally. The following year his father, also John, the old laird, died too. Around 1800, the estate base moved to Melby, Sandness with the building of Melby Hall, but tragedy dogged them as the next generation's heir was also lost at an early age, drowning off Cruden Bay when the trader "Doris" went down in 1813.
Through Arthur Anderson's friendship with one of the family, James Scott, Vaila became the base for an experiment in local industry, when the first free fishing station was established, encouraging the fishermen to manage their own affairs out of the grasp of Truck.
Vaila remained in Scott hands until the family's fall in fortunes in the 1880s and 90s, after which the island and some other parts of the estate were bought by the rich Anderton family. The Haa was considerably extended by them, and became Vaila Hall.
The only family who live on in Vaila now also own the Vaila Fine Art shop on Commercial Street, Lerwick. They have commissioned Nicholas Groves-Raines Architects to undertake a range of work on the island estate. This includes the big house, a farmhouse at Cloudin, and the lookout tower.
Sperm Whale Exhibit
On July 20th 2009 the reassembled skeleton of a 42 foot sperm whale, which has been christened "Bony Dick" and put on display in a converted byre at Cloudin by the present owners of Vaila, was officially opened to public viewing by Dr. Andrew Kitchener, the National Museum of Scotland’s principal curator of mammals and birds. Dr. Kitchener who had acted as advisor during the preservation and reassembling prosesses of the skeleton, was in Valia to view the completed work, and perform the ribbon cutting ceremony at the exhibit building, which has been named "The Whalehouse".
"Bony Dick" made his debut appearance on Vaila on February 7th 2000 during a westerly gale, when the decomposing carcass of a young male sperm whale (believed to be approx 20 years old and weighing approx 40 tonnes) was discovered washed ashore on the island. It was estimated he had died approx two weeks previously, of unknown causes, presumably somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Disposal of the carcass was deemed the responsibility of the local council, which, given the remote and isolated nature of Vaila posed quite a logistical and not inexpensive headache for them. An offer by the island's owners was therefor readily accepted, whereby if the council covered the cost of providing two salmon farm tenders to tow the carcass to a more accessible beach on the island, and two excavators to bring it ashore and bury remains, they would provide the labour.
There followed three full days of work for six members of staff on the isle, during which the putrid flesh of the animal was stripped from the skeleton and buried. Given that the animal had now been dead for around five weeks, the stench is believed, understandably to have been considerable.
Each of the 44 individual vertebrae and 88 discs, plus the skull were then simmered at 60 degrees C in a solution of household biological washing powder for 36 hours, using modified salmon storage bins for vats, to remove the oil. Followed by a treatment of bleach to neutralise the active ingredient in the powder.
Lack of time to devote to the project after the initial preserving work was completed delayed further progress for about 8 years, however during the first half of 2009 the painstaking task of reassembling all 132 vertebrae and discs in their correct positions was finally completed, and 'Bony Dick" was born. The completion of the work is believed to be a very significant achievement, the first known reassembly of a sperm whale skeleton in Scotland was by a team led by Dr. Kitchener only 12 years previously in 1997, a task he himself describes as a "steep learning curve". The remoteness and access issues of repeating the task on Vaila therefor makes the achievement of creating "Bony Dick" all the more remarkable.
The owners of Vaila welcome visitors to the isle, and to view the exhibit.
During their research Venables & Venables recorded the following species of birds breeding on Vaila in 1951.
Regular and common: Fulmar; Cormorant; Starling; Shag; Eider; Red-breasted Merganser; Oyster Catcher; Snipe; Greater Black-backed Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Herring Gull; Common Gull; Arctic Tern; Kittiwake; Razorbill; Common Guillemot; Black Guillemot; Rock Dove; Skylark; Hooded Crow; Wren; Wheatear; Rock Pipit; House Sparrow and Twite.
Suspected to be breeding, but unconfirmed: Puffin.
Known to have bred on Vaila previously but extinct by 1951: Peregrine, Red Grouse and Pheasant.
Pictures of Vaila Coast
The following images were all taken on a windy afternoon in 1987. The positions given are more or less a guess and have to be checked.
Vaila south west coast - View over Burrier Stacks and Wester Sound