Halligarth today

Most of this information is derived from J Laughton Johnston’s ‘Victorians 60 Degrees North’ (2007), which is fascinating but sometimes hard to follow.

Laurence Edmonston and his family moved into Halligarth in autumn 1832. It was he who planted the walled area of trees which now form the woodland by the house. His son Tom was encouraged to take an interest in natural history, and in 1834 at the age of nine was directed towards botany in particular. Young Tom quickly learned the local plants, helped by a list which his father Laurence had made.

In 1837, Tom discovered two small flowering plants on the slopes of Nikka Vord which he could not identify. A chance visit by one of the sons of the eminent botanist W J Hooker led to the identification of one of Tom’s finds as Arctic Sandwort, not previously known from Britain, and the publication of Tom’s catalogue of plants (compiled when he was just 11). Tom made other significant discoveries around Nikka Vord and on the Keen of Hamar, including Northern Rock-cress and most famously Shetland Mouse-ear (Edmonston’s Chickweed).

The woodland planted by Laurence remains, but the house is now in poor condition. There are plans for restoration headed by the National Trust for Scotland, but these will require significant investment. It would be a shame if we were to lose such an important part of Shetland’s natural history.

Halligarth as seen by Henry Saxby in the 19th century

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