SHAPINSHAY, an island and parish, in the county of Orkney, 3 miles (N. N. E.) from Kirkwall; containing 935 inhabitants. This island, which is bordered by the Frith of Stronsay, is said to have been visited by the Roman general Agricola, in his voyage round Britain; and a place still called Grucula, on the western coast, nearly opposite the Skerry of Vasa, where the tide is rapid and the sea shallow, is supposed to commemorate the loss of one of his ships, which, being driven by the violence of the waves, was stranded near the spot. In 1263, Haco, king of Norway, in his expedition against Alexander III. of Scotland, is said to have lain with the whole of his fleet for a considerable time in a harbour near Kirkwall, called Elidarwick, which is clearly identified with the harbour now designated Elwick, on the south-west coast of Shapinshay. The parish, which is of very irregular form, is about seven miles in length from south-west to north-east, and five miles in extreme breadth; and comprises about 6270 acres, of which not more than about 750 are arable, 2400 pasture, and the large remainder waste. The surface near the shore, and for a considerable distance inland, is low and comparatively level, but towards the centre rises gradually to a considerable elevation, terminating in a lofty hill commanding an extensive and richly diversified view over fifteen surrounding parishes, with the North Orkney isles and the various friths. The soil along the shore is rich and fertile, producing excellent crops of grain of different kinds, and the meadows and pastures are luxuriant; but the higher lands are sterile and unproductive, affording only scanty pasturage for sheep. The system of agriculture, with the exception of some farms in the hands of a proprietor, is in a very neglected state; and the general scenery is cheerless and dreary, from the want of wood and plantations. The substrata are chiefly sandstone and sandstone-flag, with clay and a little limestone.
   Cliffdale, the residence of Captain William Balfour, a handsome modern mansion near the village of Elwick, is the only seat throughout the island. The small village of Elwick, built on the shore of the harbour by the late Colonel Balfour, is inhabited chiefly by fishermen, who for part of the year are engaged in the cod and herring fisheries, in which about fifty boats are employed. Eleven of these are during the season used in the cod-fishery, and the quantity taken generally averages about two and a half tons per boat, at £10 per ton; the average quantity of herrings is sixty cranes for each boat, which are sold at ten shillings per crane. The making of nets, of which about one hundred, valued at sixteen shillings each, are annually produced, also affords employment to a considerable number of persons; and nearly 200 of the female population of the parish are engaged in the manufacture of straw-plat. The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of the North Isles and synod of Orkney; patron, the Earl of Zetland. The minister's stipend, including £8. 6. 8. for communion elements, is £158. 6. 8., of which half is paid from the exchequer; with a manse built in 1831, and a glebe valued at £21 per annum. The church is a neat and commodious structure erected in 1821. There is a place of worship for the United Associate Synod. The parochial school was established in 1804, and is well attended; the master has a salary of £25. 13. 3., with a small dwellinghouse, and the fees average about £10 per annum. A school is also supported by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, the master of which has a salary of £15. Opposite to the mouth of the harbour is the small island of Elhardholm, where are some vestiges of an ancient chapel of which nothing is recorded: leadore has been found there, but it has never been wrought. There is a tolerably large upright stone in the parish, supposed to have been a Druidical altar; and on the north side, near the sea, is a large mass of black stone, prostrate, called the Stone of Odin. In Shapinshay are also several of those remains called Picts' houses, along the coast; and near Cliffdale, a subterranean building has been discovered, consisting of upright pillars of loose stones about four feet in height, supporting a roof of broad flag-stones that covered an area in which was found an ancient ring of gold.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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