The Foula Reel

A flock of Northern Gannets, 2006, Alamy

Bird Day

Jan 5

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"Oot bewast da Horn o Papa, Rowwin Foula Doon
Ower a hidden piece o water, Rowwin Foula Doon
Roond da boat da tide-lumps makkin
Sunlicht trowe da cloods is brakkin
We maan geng whaar fish is takkin, Rowwin Foola Doon"

Out west of the Horn of Papa Rowing Foula Down
Over a hidden piece of water Rowing Foula Down
Round the boat the tide-lumps are growing
Sunlight through the clouds is breaking
We must go where the fish are taking bait, Rowing Foula Down

~ Da Sang o’ Da Papa Men”(The Song of the Papa Men), Traditional

The island of Foula, part of the Shetland archipelago of islands, is one of the United Kingdom’s most remote permanently inhabited islands and named from the Old Norse Fugla-ey, meaning "Bird island." Seabirds and moorland birds, including 'Bonxies' – the Shetland dialect name for the Great Skua – as well as Puffins, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Arctic terns, red-throated divers, Fulmars, amongst others, inhabit the sandstone cliffs and open moorland. Foula remained on the Julian calendar when the rest of the Kingdom of Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, keeping 1800 as a leap year, but not observing leap year in 1900. As a result, Foula is now one day ahead of the Julian calendar and 12 days behind the Gregorian, observing Christmas Day on the 6th of January and New Year's Day on the 13th! The traditional fishing grounds for fishermen from the isle of Papa Stour (lying roughly a mile off the west coast of Shetland) lay way off into the Atlantic. The fishermen would row west to the point where the cliffs of Foula would disappear into the horizon . This was "Rowing Foula down." 🦅 🦆 🐦

The Foula Reel

93 miles north of the Scottish mainland are the Shetland Isles, one of the best birdwatching areas in Great Britain. The archipelago of over 100 islands supports a huge range of seabird colonies, including several arctic species breeding at the southern limit of their range and both common and scarce migrants during the spring and autumn.


One of the most popular times to visit is during the summer months when many of the true British seabirds are breeding along the extensive network of cliffs and offshore stacks. 


The island of Foula lies  20 miles west of the Shetland Mainland and covers five square miles with five distinctive peaks, including one of the highest sheer sea cliffs in Britain – Da Kame, which is home, along with the neighbouring cliffs, to puffins, razorbills, shags, fulmars and guillemots.


Like much of the rest of Shetland, there's evidence of settlement in Foula dating back to the Iron and Bronze Ages. Around 800 AD, Norsemen conquered Foula and took up residence in the fertile Hametoon, leaving  croft names like Norderhus, Krugali, and Guttren, and many other Norse placenames.


Foula along with all of Orkney and Shetland was Norse until the 15th century when they were ceded to Scotland. But this island was effectively bypassed, and its residents continued to speak the old Norn language until the last native speaker died in 1926.


In midsummer, Foula's wildflowers bloom, carpeting portions with Sea Pinks, blue Spring Squill and yellow Tormentil carpet along the shoreline while Marsh Marigolds and wild orchids blossom gold and purple in ditches and marshes, with white tufted Bog Cotton, Sphagnum Moss, Sundew and Crowberry found dotting the landscape.


For more on Shetland Isle birdwatching, click the nesting Kittywakes!


And to see the dance performed by in 2019 accompanied by the Still Reeling Ceilidh and Barn Dance Band scroll down.



The Foula Reel
The Foula Reel

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