Sitting in London on a warm summer’s day, it’s easy to fantasise about enjoying a slower pace of life somewhere else. Somewhere remote, perhaps, with private beaches and acres of space.
The Shetland Island of Vaila, Scotland, might be your answer. With its rugged cliffs, caves and pebble beaches, the entire island — complete with 17th century mansion — is currently on sale for £1.75 million.
Located at one of the UK’s most northerly points, Vaila is accessible by a 10-minute boat journey from mainland Shetland.
“I can think of fewer nicer places in the world,” former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman once said of the island. He has a point. At 757 acres, Vaila has 6.5 miles of coastline, 142 acres of grazing land (there are 200 Shetland ewes for company) and 518 acres of wild heathland to the south of the island.
Whipped by the Norwegian and North seas, Vaila has a rugged landscape: green, rocky and weather-beaten, surrounded by inky blue water.
Its clear, sheltered waters attract orcas, dolphins, otters and birds. And you might want to think about taking up fishing: there are cod, mackerel, halibut, crabs and lobsters to be caught from Vaila’s shores.
The crown jewel, however, is Vaila Hall – a dramatic 17th century mansion, with impressive stone steps, turrets and battlements.
At 7,480 square feet, with six bedrooms and four reception rooms, the “extraordinary property” was originally a laird’s estate. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, it was used as a grand summer residence, hosting lavish parties for the island’s residents and employees (30 in 1901).
It is still well-equipped to entertain, with its capacious Great Hall, furnished with original 19th century pieces and centred around an enormous arched stone fireplace. There’s also the morning room, with its own grand, carved wooden fireplace, and the conservatory, which has views over the sea.
Other highlights include full-height stained glass windows, a minstrels’ gallery and a library, with fitted bookcases and original cornicing.
The master bedroom is set in a tower, boasting panoramic views over the sea through four windows.
The study, meanwhile, is a more unusual work from home location, with a concealed entrance through the kitchen, and a bell tower.
If 757 acres and a mansion weren’t enough to sell it, the island also comes with an 18th century watchtower, a two-bedroom caretaker’s cottage and a three-bedroom farmhouse. (In the byre belonging to the farmhouse there is the 42ft skeleton of a whale, which beached on the island in 2000).
“At the meeting point of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, this is a wild and beautiful part of the world. The juxtaposition of the dramatic, elemental land and seascape with the exquisite craftsmanship of historic Vaila Hall makes for a quite extraordinary property,” says Luke French, Director of Savills’ Edinburgh office.
“A rare prize indeed for the next owner but also one which benefits from practical forethought by the sellers, with the shore base building providing ease of access and the farming enterprise, farmhouse and cottage creating a variety of opportunities.”
Vaila has been inhabited for thousands of years, and was once home to Norwegian Viking chiefs. One of its previous occupants was Arthur Anderson, the founder of P&O shipping company, who also established the Shetland Fishery Company from the island in a move that broke the power of the lairds, who had previously controlled the industry.
Since 1993, Vaila has been home to Richard Rowland and Dorota Rychlik, a couple who moved to the island from London, opting for a change of lifestyle.
With 757 acres and multiple properties to look after, they are now looking to downsize elsewhere in the Shetland Islands.
Scotland has over 900 offshore islands – several of which have been bought and sold in recent years. Linga, for example, was listed at £250,000 and sold in 2021, and Ulva, an island with six inhabitants in the Hebrides, was marketed at £4.25 million and sold in 2018.
30 years ago, Vaila granted Rowland and Rychlik a radical new way of living – now, that opportunity is open once again.
Vaila is listed with Savills for offers over £1,750,000.