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Community / Unst men relive encounters with the White Wife

Community council plans to erect life size statue of the ghost

AN EMINENT ghost who is said to appear to single men driving alone on a remote stretch on a Shetland island is set to receive the celebrity treatment with a life size statue.

A first model of what the roadside statue of the White Wife might look like. Photo: Unst Community Council.

The White Wife of Watlee is very much part of Unst folklore and has even had a local ale named after her.

Now the island’s community council has lodged plans to erect a 1.68 metre tall statue in the shape of a hooded figure along the stretch of road near the Brig of Watlee.

The idea was first hatched by local artist Eric Burgess-Ray, who has produced a clay model of what the ghostly statue would look like.

Depending on how the planning application progresses, he said he was keen to have the stature in place sooner rather than later to catch this year’s tourist season. “People like a good ghost story,” he said.

Local community council chairman Gordon Thomson said the statue would add another “quirky” attraction to the “island above all others”.

Notable Unst fiddler Steven Spence is one who claims to have had a real life encounter with the White Wife.

Spence was driving home in his van from Baltasound to Uyeasound around 9pm on a dark January night about 20 years ago when he was visited by the spectral apparition.

He was driving down the Watlee Brae, just before the Watlee Burn, when he noticed from the corner of his eye what he thought was moonlight inside the van.

Unst fiddler Steven Spence said he will never forget her smile.

“I thought at the time, ‘there’s no moon tonight’. When I looked around the White Wife was sitting in the seat next to me. She was transparent, grey and she smiled. I’ll never forget that smile.

“At the time it gee’d me a braa gluff, yes!” He had to look forward for a bend in the road, but when he looked back a few seconds later, she was gone.

Spence said that after that encounter he was a bit apprehensive about driving past the Watlee Loch, but this faded and now he will speak to her. “’Come du and have a yarn,’ I’ll say. But she never appears. Maybe she didna like me,” he said.

About five years prior to that, Unst man Alan Hunter had a similar experience when an old grey woman appeared in the car beside him, and he later learned that an elderly female relative had died in Uyeasound at the exact same time.

The apparition stayed with Hunter for a mile south of the Watlee burn, but he was not entirely surprised as he had seen things before. He drove back the road later on the same night, but the “ghost” did not reappear.

There is apparently a tradition in the family of supernatural sensitivity. His father and others had seen things when driving past the Watlee burn – ghost cars feature in the lore – and Hunter’s grandmother could “see things”.

Apparently the Watlee Burn/Loch spooky tradition goes back a long time and is related to a woman who lost her life there, or some other heinous deed that is now forgotten.

When Hunter shared his experience locally Spence was one of those who gave him a good ribbing. But when he got a phone call from him five years later saying “du’ll never guess what,” Hunter knew what Spence was about to say.

“It’s just one of those things you cannot believe unless it happens to you,” said Hunter.

Spence said that he has not lost his scepticism, despite the strange visitation. “There has to be a rational explanation. I just cannot think what it is.”

Spence wrote a tune for the launch of Valhalla Brewery’s White Wife ale, so although it was not directly about the White Wife, it was inspired by the same thing.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021