Bigga, Shetland

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Norse namebygdey
Meaning of nameOld Norse for "island of the building"
Bigga is located in Shetland
Bigga shown within Shetland
OS grid referenceHU444792
Coordinates60°30′N 1°11′W / 60.50°N 1.19°W / 60.50; -1.19
Physical geography
Island groupShetland
Area78 ha (0.30 sq mi)
Area rank164= [1]
Highest elevation34 m (112 ft)
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Council areaShetland Islands

Bigga is an uninhabited island in the Yell Sound between the Mainland and Yell in Shetland, Scotland.

Sheep in south Yell, with Bigga behind

Geography and geology[edit]

Just over 1,000 metres (1,100 yd) long, Bigga is 78 hectares (0.30 sq mi) in size, and is 34 metres (112 ft) tall at its highest point. Bigga is a long thin island with a "head" and a "torso". The neck is formed by the bays of Wester Hevda Wick and Easter Hevda Wick, "hevda wick" being an anglicisation of the Norn/Old Norse for "seaweed bay".

Cattle and sheep were formerly farmed here.

The island belongs at the same time in common to the civil parishes of Delting and Yell.[6][7]

Bigga consists of Moine bedrock of coarsely-crystalline gneiss and quartzite.[3]


It is thought that the name comes from the Old Norse bygdey meaning "island of the building", which may refer to an old structure.

In the southern part of the island, there is an old well, chapel and burial ground. There is a small prehistoric cairn in the north of the island. In the north is the remains of Norrabister, the island's "settlement".

The Pribislaw, a 160-year-old German sailing vessel ran aground here in 1870. She had been one of many sailing boats that took German emigrants from Hamburg to Victoria, in Australia, around the middle of the 19th century. Moved to Lerwick, she was used as a store and workshop until the 1950s. In 2005 the remaining timbers were excavated and transported to Whittlesea, Australia.[8]

During World War II, two sailors from neighbouring Yell wanted to return to their native island to celebrate Yule (Christmas) during their shore leave. The weather was stormy and snowy and the usual ferry between the Mainland and Yell was not running, so they borrowed a friend's boat. Forced to land on Bigga, they sheltered in the bothy and danced, and played the fiddle in order to stay warm. They managed to reach Yell the next day.[3]


  1. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ 2001 UK Census per List of islands of Scotland
  3. ^ a b c Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey
  5. ^ Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) Orkneyinga Saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9
  6. ^ "Bigga Isle". British History online. Retrieved 2015-06-05.
  7. ^ Coloured parish map of 1901
  8. ^ "Pribislaw on her last voyage". The Shetland News. February 2005. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2008-01-05.

Coordinates: 60°29′42″N 1°11′27″W / 60.49500°N 1.19083°W / 60.49500; -1.19083