Which might have started on a dark and stormy night, but which equally might never have happened at all. When we were staying in Shetland earlier in the summer my father told as about a spot romantically called the compass wart. It’s basically a compass carved into a stone on a hilltop near his house, and something which I had a vague memory of hearing about before but was pretty sure I’d never seen. It came up during the course of a forced march (pleasant family walk) when we paused to admire the view, and in my case get some sort of breath back, on a particularly wild cliff top.
Local legend (according to dad) has it that a ship carrying china went down off of this spot, but the sailors managed to climb up the mast to safety then made their way to the top of a hill and carved the compass into the rock along with their initials. However despite enquires he has never been able to find the name of the ship or the date she went down. It seems there are, or should be, pretty thorough records of shipwrecks so the Scottish one thought that once he had the coordinates it shouldn’t be too hard to find a likely boat.
Plenty of research has followed with very little in the way of concrete evidence which is where the mystery comes in. The Scottish one has come to doubt that there was a shipwreck, or more specifically as we’ve found dozens of recorded wrecks in the immediate area, has come to doubt in the existence of this one wreck and its sailors activities. I’m still inclined to believe the story, mostly because it seems to be widely accepted as fact and I’m assuming there’s something behind that.
What we do know is that there is a compass – accurate according to some experimenting with the Scottish ones phone – surrounded by initials, we also know that generations of local youths have gone up there and carved their names in the rock too. The Shetland museum puts a tentative date of around 1850 on the carving (suggested by people now in their 80’s confirming that it was a known landmark throughout their grandparent’s lives) but is prepared to believe it may be much older.