The small promontory at the north end of Tingwall Loch, called Tingaholm, was the site of Shetland’s local parliament until the late 16th century.
Although we have documents relating to meetings in Tingwall from 1307 onwards, the only reference to the thing meeting on the holm comes from a letter dated 1532. Officials are thought to have sat around a rough stone table on the holm, while delegates gathered on the slope below the church. During poor weather the thing probably met inside the church.
Tingaholm was once an islet entirely surrounded by water and accessed by a stone causeway. In the 1850s the water levels in the loch were lowered, and the holm evolved into its present form. By 1774 the stone seats had been ripped up in order to make space for grazing, but the remains of the causeway can still be seen today.
In the 1570s Earl Robert Stewart moved the thing to Scalloway, although the site was used once more in 1577 when over 700 Shetlanders came to make complaints against the local Foud, Lawrence Bruce, to royal commissioners from Edinburgh.
Shetland’s Local Things
A quick look at Shetland’s parish names will show you that an unusual number of them include the element ting. Each of these names suggests that there was once a local assembly held in the area.
Most of the names refer to townships, Aith, in Aithsting, Dale in Delting, Sand in Sandsting and Lunna in Lunnasting. Some of these places were the sites of parish churches, and may well have been home to influential figures in the Middle Ages.
Other ting names exist in early documents, but have gone out of use. Gnípnaþing occurs in documents dated c1510 and 1682. The name means the thing at the neaps (ON gnípa – a high steep hill) and oral tradition suggests it relates to the area around the township of Neap, in the north-east of the parish of Nesting. Nesting itself is also a thing name, meaning the thing at the ness. We do not know for certain which ness this refers to, but it may be the promontory where Neap lies.
Þvætaþing and Rauðarþing are both found a document dating to 1321. Þvætaþing may have been on the Westside, in the area where you find a number of place names which include the element twatt (ON þveit – a piece of grass among rocks or trees.) The place name scholar Jakob Jakobsen suggested that Rauðarþing referred to an area of Northmavine known as Rø. This name still occurs in North Roe, the northernmost area of this district. Recently it has been suggested that it may actually refer to the thing at Reafirth (old Ræðarfyrðe), the former name for Mid Yell.
There is a document about a thing having met at Gardie in Mid Yell on midsummer’s day in 1538. This meeting shows how important these local things were. On this occasion the lawman of Shetland was present, along with lawrightmen from Yell and Unst, a dozen assessors, and even a representative of the King.
It is not only our ting names which are connected to the law courts. The name herra refers to what seems to be an older administrative division. An old tradition recorded in Fetlar in the 1890s states that the island was once divided into three small districts, one of which was the present day Herra. Each district was said to have had its own thing. There are also Herras in Yell, Lunnasting and Tingwall.
As well as being the site of Shetland’s parliament, Tingwall was also the base of the Archdeacon of Shetland. The present church was built in 1788, but there is believed to have been a church on the site since the 12th century. The burial vault in the churchyard is thought to have belonged to this earlier church.
The Murder Stone
Standing right beside the road at the south end of the Loch of Tingwall, this standing stone is traditionally said to be where Earl Henry of Orkney and his followers killed his cousin Malise Sperra in 1389, probably in a struggle for power in Shetland.
The village of Scalloway is just over 3 km from Tingwall. Local amenities include shops, food and drink, accommodation, toilets.
Scalloway Castle was built by forced labour in 1599 for Earl Patrick Stewart. For the last few years of its existence the thing (which was moved from Tingwall in the early 1570s) was held in the castle’s great hall; the last recorded meeting was in 1608. The castle, now roofless, was occupied for less than 100 years and is now under the care of Historic Scotland and open to the public.
The adjacent Scalloway Museum includes a fascinating display on the wartime exploits of Norway’s ‘Shetland Bus’ heroes, who made the village their secret base in the Second World War.
Lerwick, Shetland’s capital, is only 11 km from Tingwall. Local amenities include, shops, accommodation, food and drink, post office, cash machine, supermarket and tourist information.
Shetland Museum and Archives
The gateway to Shetland's unique heritage and culture, Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick, combines over 3000 artefacts with voices and images from the archives to guide visitors through over 6000 years of history from Shetland's geological beginnings to recent times.
Voted one of the world’s best tourist locations by Lonely Planet, Shetland offers an amazing variety of wildlife, spectacular scenery and a rich and vibrant culture. With over 6,000 years of history, 138 sandy beaches and around 19 hours of daylight during the summer months, Shetland has something to please everybody.
In 2010 Shetland was awarded Global Geopark status in recognition of its incredible earth heritage. From ancient ocean floors to extinct volcanoes, almost every geological process known to man can be found here, making Shetland one of the most geologically diverse places in Europe.
Shetland boasts some internationally important monuments. Walk through over 4,000 years of history at Jarlshof, visit the best preserved Iron Age village in Northern Europe at Old Scatness and take a trip out to Mousa, the world’s most complete 2,000 year old broch. Shetland’s past is written in every hill, from prehistoric houses and tombs to Viking longhouses, it’s all here waiting to be discovered.
Shetland is a wildlife lover’s dream. Spot whales and otters on our coastline, seek out rare arctic plants or visit our spectacular seabird colonies and watch the puffins, just one of over one million birds which visit our shores every year. Shetland’s world famous miniature ponies can be seen all over the islands, grazing by the roadside or in the heathery hills - although they appear wild they are actually all owned and maintained by Shetland crofters.
Shetland’s culture is rich and diverse. We have a long history of association with Scandinavia, and you can still hear the legacy of the Norse heritage in the spoken dialect and see it in our place names. Our flag, a combination of the Scottish saltire and the Scandinavian cross, reflects our continued links with both Scotland and Scandinavia. The islands are famed for their rich musical heritage, and for the talented musicians which they produce. Shetland hosts a number of music festivals throughout the year, including the world renowned Shetland Folk Festival. There is also an annual film and book festival and of course Up Helly Aa, Shetland’s famous fire festival. The traditional industries - crofting and fishing - continue today. Although many of the traditional methods have been superseded by modern technology, you can still find them in use in some places. Another famous Shetland product is our knitwear. Today exports of Fair Isle knitwear and Shetland Fine Lace continue this fantastic local tradition.
Local Flights, Ferries and Busses - www.zettrans.org.uk
Shetland Museum & Archives
Tel: 00 44 1595 989898