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Place Names of the Week - Craigsaets

Published: 17 December 2020

Craigsaets, also called craigstanes or craigs, are rocks along the foreshore used for line fishing and associated with the term ‘gyaain ta da craigs.’ From an early period, line fishing with a wand (rod) for piltocks, codlin or sillocks was a common practice, but today it is more for pleasure than a necessity.

Peerie boy with piltock wand at Levenwick
1940s (Shetland Museum and Archives, 00654)


The word is Scots in origin, but another term bergset or berset from Old Norse (ON) bergsæti shows that these rocks have been identifiable through their names throughout history. Recorded names include Krabbabergsodi and Tokkabergsodi (Unst), Bergsodi and Bergsodians (Northmavine) and Bergset(s) in Yell and Whalsay.  Other names take the form Berrick – Runna Berrick, Djuba Berrick, Girsendi Berrick and Dee Berrick are all in Papa Stour. Names like Sotaberg (Unst), Sjeberg (Fetlar) and Shawberrick (Mousa) come from ON setberg or Faerose seiðiberg, also meaning angling rock.

Frank Barnard’s print from "Picturesque Life in Shetland"
published 1890 (Shetland Museum and Archives, 00574)


Several named craigsaets refer to people, such as Lowrie Sinclair, Andrew, Twatty and Robert. A map and list record nine craigseats on South Havra, last inhabited in 1923, but the precise location of Trowie Craig, Holladolla, Scult and Taviecudda was forgotten at time of recording. Fair Isle craigsaets include Da Hens Box, Sinkyar, Skoethin and Heelataing, whilst in Papa Stour you find the Runnick o Rasmie, Dumpers, Barnie’s Heelick, Lowrie Yell’s Hol and Robin Hood.

Good craigsaets at either side of the waterfall at
Geelsaheelir, Westsandwick


Unst names include Red Stane, Riffars, Stool o da Taings, Keila Skerry, Ebb Saets, Fugradaal, Heilier Nort Saet, Fluetaing, Salt Water Wells and Hamar o Snarravoe; whilst in Cunningsburgh you find Da Craigstane, The Baggey, Orkney’s Geo, Mare, Helya and Pilaberg.

Hugh Johnson pocking sillocks at Black Skerry, Muckle Roe
(Shetland Museum and Archives, 00419)


John Stewart recorded many craigsaets, but often they are just in a list and not plotted on a map.  Interesting examples from Yell include: Johnnie Bruce Stone, The Eenians, Rudda, Olaf’s Stone, Point a Cleatna, Da Flaugie, and Da Aggie Geos (Cullivoe); Stules, Pallants, Skercens, Quarrel, Kurdiscair, Da Birn and Dauniel’s Hol (East Yell); Saet Nanshage, Stoutie Craigstane, Paetna Shaga and Da Auld Hoose (Burravoe); Burgataing, Sinclair Hols, Tivvacuddi, Flocuddas, Trumbie, Bress Pin, Sobulls and Da Slang (Westandwick); and Red Steen, Heedrig, Feetle, Poita, Hamar, Yellow Heelick and Bessit (Da Herra).

Soepots at Helliness, Cunningburgh


Ebb pick used to chip limpets from the rocks for bait
(Shetland Museum and Archives, 00980)



Sometimes fishing from craigsaets was by using poak nets as pictured. A net was held open by an iron ring and suspended from a long pole, which was lowered into the water. Other craigsaets are identifiable by soepots - the small cup-shaped hollows in the rocks used for crushing limpets used for bait. I am keen to hear from folk who still go to the craigs or can help pinpoint any craigsaets, particularly those listed by John Stewart and the pictured rock at Levenwick.  Please email placenames@shetlandamenity.org with any information.

Eileen Brooke-Freeman, Shetland Place Names Expert


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