The uninhabited island of Grunay is home to the remains of the former shore station housing the Out Skerries lighthouse keepers and their families.
Grunay forms part of the group of Out Skerries.
A temporary light was built on Grunay in 1854. However, Trinity House insisted that the permanent light should be built on the outlying rock, Bound Skerry.
A row of cottages was built on Grunay for the families of the Principal and two Assistant Keepers, with two being on duty at the lighthouse at any one time.
The keepers would have been able to communicate with their families, and they could even row across to the main island during their time off.
Later another cottage was added for the attending Boatman. Up to a dozen of his family would have lived there. It was a tiny cottage, and hard to imagine how so many people could have lived together in such close quarters.
In 1941 the lighthouse cottages on Grunay were machine-gunned by German aircraft. The following January, a German plane overflew Grunay three times, sweeping in low and waving from the cockpit. On the third run, he released a bomb that skidded along the ground into the Boatman’s cottage. Mary Anderson, the Boatman’s mother, was so severely injured that she later died in hospital. She was the Skerries’ only War casualty.
Propaganda radio announcer Lord Haw Haw claimed that a wireless station had been destroyed. The lighthouse cottages on Grunay were subsequently evacuated. The lighthouse families were moved to Bruray and Housay, taking accommodation where they could. Once the threat had lessened, they moved back to Grunay until the shore station was relocated in 1950.
In February 1942 a damaged Canadian Blenheim bomber crashed on Grunay. On first hearing the approaching plane, the islanders feared it was another German attacker. The Earl of Zetland, the island’s supply vessel, was anchored in the North East Mouth. The air crew were all lost. A stone memorial commemorates the tragedy. Around it are parts of the wreckage that locals had found and added to the memorial.
Willie Spence, the famous captain of the Earl of Zetland once joked that the lighthouse cottages on Grunay were a hotel.
In 1950, the off-duty keeper and the lighthouse families moved to a new shore station at Breiwick Road, Lerwick. This comprised a single villa divided into four flats, one for each lighthouse family.
Following the automation of the lighthouse in 1972, the house was abandoned. The island was put up for sale in 2015.
Climbing up the grassy hill is the row of cottages, the former garden still enclosed by a high wall. The cottages are currently derelict. From the shore station, the view is impressive, looking directly across to Out Skerries Lighthouse.