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Place name of the week - Holms

Published: 05 May 2020

There are over 125 holm (pronounced hom) place-names in Shetland, from Old Norse hólmr: an islet. These small grassy islands lie off another larger island or in a loch and are generally uninhabited apart from grazing sheep.

Most ta ke their name from the nearby township (Holm of Gloup, Lunna Holm, Holm of Beosetter); others describe size, colour, shape and appearance. Birds, animals and fish and people also feature – there are Gull, Shalder, Otter, Fish and Sillock Holms. Wether/Wedder Holms in Unst, Delting, Whalsay and Skerries are where the wether (male sheep) were grazed.

Some named people are Ketill, Charlie, Spencie and Taamie Sans – do you know who any of these were?

On some holms you can see evidence of former habitation – there was an early monastic settlement on Kirk Holm, Sandsting and an early chapel on Whalsay’s Inner Holm of Skaw. The ancient parliament met on Tingaholm, also called Lawting Holm, at the north end of Tingwall Loch until the 1570s. This was originally an islet joined to shore with a stone causeway.

Some names incorporate hulm as the first part of the place-name - Hulmashun and Hulmawater (lochs with small islets). Sometimes the “m” is dropped, giving Hulcudda (Westsandwick) and Hul Sound – the stretch of water between the shore and the holm.

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