Abandoned 100 years ago, the Shetland island of South Havera remains in the hearts of its families' descendants.

The little group of houses huddled together on an exposed rocky clifftop, with an alarmingly sheer drop just feet from the front doors to the crashing waves below, offered its humble and hardworking occupants a particularly tantalising view.

Through their tiny windows – assuming the mists had cleared and the rain was not pelting down - the fiercely resilient men, women and children of South Havera could see the mainland of Shetland, almost within touching distance.

For generations their loved ones had worked the island as best they could: farming, fishing, collecting rainwater to drink and gathering wood lost from passing ships to build furniture and burn from warmth.

Their flock of sheep provided wool to weave and knit, and mutton to sustain them through the long, dark winter months.

But by May 1923, the view across the narrow strip of grey water separating them from the possibilities of a different way of life, had become just too tempting.

As a wave of movement rolled across Scotland – from the Western Isles where families boarded steamships bound for Canada, to the depressed industrial central belt which saw thousands uproot in search of new lives - the last South Havera family was also packing its bags.

Less well known today for its abandoned state than St Kilda, South Havera was set to become just one of many small isles dotted around Scotland’s coast that would no longer provide a place for families to call ‘home’.

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Unlike St Kilda, with its World Heritage Site status and enduring romantic tale of islanders forced to evacuate in 1930 as the hardships of living in such a remote spot grew, South Havera’s loss of its families 100 years ago will pass largely unnoticed and without ceremony, marked quietly even by those closest to it.

“But I do love the place,” insists Adalene Fullarton, whose father was eight years old when his parents gathered up him and his brothers almost exactly 100 years ago for the short sail from South Havera to a new life on the nearby island of Burra.

They would be the last family to quit, leaving behind homes that had served generations to crumble away.

“It’s not just the family connection; there are people who don’t have that link who also love it,” she adds. “But it is definitely in my genes.

“When I go there, I feel I am walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.”

She is now in her early seventies, her husband is housebound and youthful days when they spent a week or two on South Havera for the lambing season are in the past.

But, like her father before her, the ties are as strong as ever: even well into his old age, she says, he never stopped hankering for his ‘Havera hame’.

“He didn’t talk a lot about leaving, but he never regarded himself as a Burra man. He was a Havera man. He was very, very attached to Havera.

“From our house in Burra you could see South Havera. It must have been a bitter-sweet view for him.”

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Just south of Burra, South Havera – one of a group of three islands including North and West Havera – was home to a small, thriving community for more than 150 years.

Sent there by the wealthy laird to supply regular catches of fish, life was certainly close-knit; the families lived, worked and socialised side by side, sharing farmland and a ‘co-operative’ lifestyle.

By the mid-1800s, around 50 lived on the island, all within the small settlement perched on the clifftop, so close to the rugged edge that mothers tethered young children using long ropes to prevent them tumbling into danger.

With no fresh water or peat on the island, the families faced challenging journeys in open boats to the mainland to dig for peat and relied heavily on whatever might be washed ashore from vessels broken by the treacherous waters or which spilled loads of wood as they were tossed on the waves.

Both sexes, says Adalene, were skilled sailors: often the women would man the small boats, taking a cow with them to visit a mainland farmer’s bull and to seek buyers for their fine knitting and lace, returning home with supplies of tea and sugar.

And although their land was fertile, that lack of a water source to power a watermill, meant grain also had to be piled onto the small boats and transported for milling. Testimony to the hardships that presented remains in the form of the relics of a windmill built by islanders in the hope it might solve their milling problems, only to find it was not as effective as they’d hoped.

Although fishing was at the heart of the community and the men expert fishers, the island’s lack of harbour and pier meant they had to haul their boats on to the beach, and ‘commute’ to Burra or Scalloway to reach larger vessels that could take advantage of plentiful cod and herring.

That, thinks Bobby Hunter, another descendant of a South Havera family, was one of many drawbacks of island life that brought about the beginning of the end.

“It was a very co-operative way of life which only worked if everyone worked together,” he says.

“They were successful fishermen and eventually they wanted bigger herring boats, which they would have to leave in Burra.

“Travelling between Burra and Scalloway, around four miles away, depended on the weather and sometimes the men would be away for a long time.”

The impact of the First World War which disrupted life and gave many a taste of a different way of life, and the raw challenge of living on remote island, all added up, he says.

“During the war, the men were away – some didn’t come back. The others realised they could live somewhere where life would be a bit easier,” says Bobby, whose mother, Lizzie, was a young girl when she and her parents left South Havera.

“There was a cascade of people leaving until there was just the one family left.

“They left, made their lives better. But my father always had a hankering for it, it was home to him.

“I feel a tie to it too, it’s a part of my history.”

Despite their tough way of life, the islanders become known for their resilience and hospitality. When the Norwegian barque Lovise was lost in raging seas in 1903, the captain gave his gold ring to one islander in thanks for their rescue and kindness.

Eventually, however, the remaining four families – two called Jamieson, and the other two named Williamson – became increasingly tempted by the potential of a more lucrative and less harsh way of life.

But having left the island to settle on Burra, the ties were never completely severed.

In a curious final twist, descendants of the families once sent to South Havera to ensure their laird’s table had plentiful fish, now share ownership of the island.

“The island was eventually sold to a man who thought he could just take it over,” says Adalene. “My great aunt was alive at the time and she remembered that the crofts were legally registered, and that meant they were protected.”

The issue ended up in court and eventually led to the remaining families raising enough funds between them to buy the island for themselves.

Having taken ownership in what would be a pioneering move in the early 1980s that would be repeated more recently by communities in rural areas snatching back land from wealthy owners, the island is now shared by the four families, who share the load of looking after around 100 sheep spending weeks staying in the one remaining intact property.

While that system works at the moment, the future is less certain.

“Families are smaller now, not many have six children who can take it on,” says Adalene.

“Everything is changing. How long it will continue as it is, you just don’t know.”