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Community / ‘It’s been a fantastic 30 years’- owners of Vaila put island up for sale

A SHETLAND island has gone on the market for offers over £1.75 million.

Vaila has been owned by Richard Rowland and Dorota Rychlik for around three decades.

“We’ve had 30 fantastic years here, and we’re getting on in years now, so I think the time has come for someone else to take on the place,” Rowland told Shetland News.

“One just has to be realistic that nothing is forever.”

The westside island includes the grand B-listed Vaila Hall, which has stood proud since the late 1800s and is one of Shetland’s most eye-catching buildings.

The Edwardian mansion is a relic to a bygone era, featuring stained glass windows, a baronial hall and a stone fireplace.

It has been lovingly restored by the couple, who are largely based on the island.

There is also the Mucklaberry watch tower which stands overlooking the sea.

Rowland said the couple now intend to base themselves in Lerwick, and keep their Vaila Fine Art premises in the town too.

Their current regime tends to involves residing on Vaila Sunday to Thursday, and staying in Lerwick the rest of the time.

The isle was previously owned by Herbert Anderton, a Yorkshire mill owner who bought it in 1893. He expanded the Old Haa – built in 1696 – to make what is now known as Vaila Hall.

Prior to that Arthur Anderson, the founder of P&O, leased the island in 1837 and established the Shetland Fishing Company there.

As many as 30 people were listed as employed on the island in 1901.

Rowland and Rychlik’s first introduction to Vaila came through Historic Scotland’s buildings at risk register.

“It was a matter of chance really,” Rowland said.

“We were looking for a project to take on and restore, and had really thought more of the Western Isles or mainland Scotland, and hadn’t really thought about Shetland at all until we saw this.”

After taking the plunge they swapped life in London for Vaila, taking on crofting as well.

The couple are also well known for their hospitality, having hosted numerous parties on the isle.

Inside Vaila Hall.

They also got married on the island in 1994, bringing more than 150 guests there, while Rowland’s daughter had her own wedding there too.

“We’ve had innumerable parties,” he added. “We used to charter planes to bring guests up here.”

Rychlik meanwhile said she liked fishing in the water off Vaila.

It takes roughly ten minutes to travel by boat from Vaila to the Shetland mainland, and the island has a coastline spanning around 6.5 miles.

There are four bedrooms on the first floor of Vaila Hall, and the principal bedroom suite has a secret passage through to a tower bedroom.

There are two further bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor.

Rowland said all the furniture Anderton had in the 1890s had all been preserved when they bought the island – a “Victorian time warp”.

“It’s all still there really. We changed one or two things but not a lot,” he said, adding that the furnishings could be included in the sale – as well as the boat needed to travel back and forth to the mainland.

Also on Vaila is a three-bedroom farmhouse built in 1894 which has a byre known as the ‘whale house’, where the skeleton of a 42ft sperm whale lies after it was beached on the island in 2000.

There is also a two bedroom cottage which sits behind Vaila Hall.

Also included is a a contemporary shore based building which sits on mainland Shetland.

The island also currently carries 200 pure bred Shetland ewes, and the flock is available if any prospective new owner wants to take them on.

Luke French from estate agent Savills said: “The juxtaposition of the dramatic, elemental land and seascape with the exquisite craftsmanship of historic Vaila Hall makes for a quite extraordinary property.

“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.”

The listing for the island can be found online.

Meanwhile after 30 years on the island, Rowland conceded it will be “quite a wrench” to leave Vaila.

“Vaila is a microcosm of all that is best about Shetland,” he wrote in his book about the island. “Space, peace, natural beauty and wonderful light.”