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The Tragic Secret of a Sanik Noost

Here at Sanik (Sandwick) on Burra there are two noosts, lying side-by-side. Noosts were the garages of their day that housed boats. These boats varied in size, and were used for various fishing and transport purposes. Generally each Shetland family had use of a four-oared rowing / sailing boat. These types of Shetland boat were called fourareens; think of them as the Multi Purpose Vehicle of their day, and the sea was the road upon which everyone in Shetland, until recent times, travelled.

The noosts at Sanik have not been archaeologically surveyed, and these important maritime structures are slowly being eroded. It won't be many years before any evidence that the noosts existed will have been erased from the landscape. This is a pity, as these noosts can reveal historical narratives that tell us about the local communities, and the individual families, who over generations regularly used these maritime buildings to store their boats.

Although eroding, these noosts are able to give us an idea of the size of boats that they housed, this in turn can tell us whether these boats were used for commercial or subsistence purposes. Under certain circumstances these structures can also be archaeologically investigated. Such investigation can provide us with an indication about the age of the noost, how it was constructed, and whether it had been altered and when. This archaeological evidence when combined with archive, and local oral history sources provides us with a more detailed and complete picture of a now forgotten way of Shetland life.

The two noosts, the one in the foreground is very badly eroded.

These noosts at Sanik currently act as a reminder that boats were regularly launched from this beach. The tangible evidence of these noosts is further reinforced by a story told to me a couple of years ago by Laurina Herculson, of Houlls, Burra, about a tragedy that took place here at Sanik on this date 157 years ago.

View of out over Sanik Bay and beyond, just visible, is the island of Oxna.

On the 19th of December in 1862 John Pottinger, of Grunnasound, Burra, was trying to save

his boat from the waves that lashed the beach during a vicious storm. Whilst John tried to save his boat he was caught by a wave which swept him out to sea, his body was never found, and his boat was smashed to pieces on the rocks. John was 34 years old and he left a young wife Margaret (maiden name Slater) and a 5 month old baby girl called Grace Ellizer.

It is very likely that one of these two noosts housed John's boat. To me these two eroding maritime structural remains serve as a memorial to John, his family, and all the families of Burra, and the wider Shetland community, who used boats as we use cars today; for whom travel by sea, either sailing or rowing, was the norm.

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