Lunna House from Gateway


A little of the history of Lunna House


Lunna House is a Grade B* (Grade II*) listed building, designated by the Scottish Office as a building of outstanding regional importance historically, architecturally, and archaeologically.  The house is built on the site of a medieval “Haa” (Manor House), which itself was built on the site of a Viking longhouse, and before the Longhouse there is evidence of iron-age habitation (there is a ruined Broch (tower) at the bottom of the hill, from which most of the stones for the house originated), hence people have lived at Lunna for more than 4,000 years.  The house is situated on the beautiful Lunna Peninsula, at a point where the land narrows to about 0.5 km wide with beaches overlooking East and West Lunna Voe, elevated on the hill above the beaches.


The house originates from 1663, and is a cross-shaped building, with additions, which has grown over the years as successive families have lived in it and extended it.  The last major alterations were made to it just over 100 years ago and it now comprises a substantial stone building with magnificent views over the surrounding land and seascape.


The house sits almost exactly on a North-South axis, with four wings (North, East, South and West), and is principally constructed of stone from the ruined broch that lies at the bottom of the hill below the house.


The East wing, which now contains the house kitchen and two upper floors was built in 1660 by Robert Hunter of Lunna.  Robert Hunter was the first Lord Chamberlain of Shetland.  Successive Hunters of Lunna were important advocates (lawyers) within the Scottish judiciary, and generations of the Hunter family, which eventually became the Bell-Hunter family, lived in the house from 1660 until 1893.


Lunna Kirk at the bottom of the hill from the house is the oldest working kirk in Shetland, is always open, and within it there are many plaques dedicated to generations of the Hunters of Lunna.


Between 1710 and 1750 Lunna House was extended when Thomas Hunter married another laird’s daughter, Griselle Bruce, and the North-South wings were added.  A stone plaque on the outside end of the South wing commemorates the marriage of Thomas and Griselle.  The additions to the house included two grand rooms in the South wing (what are now the dining room and the library, each of about 50 m2) and further smaller rooms in the North wing on three floors, with a grand staircase for visitors and a back stairs for servants.  Two of the bedrooms in the first floor of the North wing are now used for B&B guests.


Thus the house remained for another two hundred years until in 1893 it was sold by the Bell-Hunters to another wealthy laird’s family, the Bruce’s of Sumburgh, who used it as a summer residence as a holiday cottage!


The final wing of the house was added between 1893 and 1910.  The West wing provides, on two floors, a further large reception room (again of about 50 m2), now a sitting room, a bathroom and two family bedrooms (These comprise the current “Larsen suite”, used by B&B guests).  This was constructed of early cast concrete using small stones and sand from the beaches at east and west Lunna below the house.  The walls of the house were “harled” (coated with concrete and small stones) to provide additional weather proofing and to hide the join between the concrete and stone construction of the house at about this time.


When the west wing was added on various other modifications were made to the house, including the addition of a larger front entrance, widening of the South wing, the addition of late-Victorian, then Edwardian features, the installation of some Art Nouveau tiled fireplaces in the smaller rooms, changes to the windows and modifications to the stairwells etc, and the removal of upper rooms in the south wing to allow for the addition of an unusual high vaulted centre to the ceiling in the library.


After 1910 the house was used as a summer residence by the Bruce family until the Second World War, when in 1940 it was requisitioned by the newly-formed Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret section of the War Department, for use as a North Atlantic training base for spies and saboteurs and resistance workers.


Following the invasion of Norway in 1940, it also became the original headquarters of what came to be known as “The Shetland Bus” Norwegian Resistance Movement.  From here Leif Andreas “Shetlands” Larsen and his colleagues lived and worked in between raids and clandestine visits to the west coast of German-occupied Norway.  At that time around 30-40 agents stayed in the house and the outbuildings were used for the storage of ammunition, radios etc, which were smuggled from here by converted fishing boat into Western Norway.  Lunna House was also the first safe landing place for refugees who were aided in their escape from the Nazis by the Norwegian Resistance.  Legend also has it that King Haakon of Norway stayed in the house for a few days at some point during the Second World War.


After the “Shetland Bus” moved its ship operations to Scalloway, the house continued to be used as a training base for the SOE and was used as a base for testing one-man submarines and for planning and executing raids such as the attempt with one-man submarines to sink the German battleship Turpitz in Norwegian waters.  A plaque outside the front door of the house, unveiled by Lief Larsen’s daughter Astrid in 1990 commemorates the role of the house as a WWII Norwegian Resistance base.


Following the Second World War, the house was occupied for a short time and then sadly fell into disrepair and dereliction.  It was “rescued” in the early 1960s by an enterprising gardener and his wife, Frank and Ruby Lindsay, who worked tirelessly to restore it to some of its former glory, eventually opening it as a Guest House in the late 1960s.


The Lindsay’s then owned the house until 1997, when – following the death of her husband - Mrs Lindsay finally retired, aged 87 and sold the house to a solicitor and his wife, who used it as a private residence.  Now aged nearly 99, Ruby Lindsay is one of our most cherished neighbours, and lives further up the hill towards “Outrabister”.


In May 2001, Tony and Helen Erwood and their son Chris’, who were frequent holiday visitors to Shetland, purchased Lunna House and moved up from their then home in Hampshire to begin a major project of structural and internal restoration and repair, which they expect will continue for at least another ten years.  Tony’s parents were both members of the SOE during the war, hence the family understand the importance of the recent history of the house, as well as its longer local historical importance.


Lunna is therefore very important to Tony, Helen and Chris, to the local community, and to countless Norwegian families and former UK SOE families, as a home, as a place for special local occasions, and as a place of pilgrimage for families and friends of Norwegian resistance and SOE members who bravely worked to protect and defend Norway and the UK during WWII.


In the summer, when time allows, in addition to B&B guests and business visitors (Tony and Helen run their own signal processing and pharmaceutical regulatory consultancy), the family welcome many hundreds of occasional visitors to their private home.  Lunna House is well known in Norwegian recent history, but is virtually unknown to UK visitors, except that it has featured on BBC Children’s “Blue Peter”, in a story about Lief Larsen and “The Shetland Bus” .  In 2006 the family and neighbours were hosts to BBC  "Springwatch" programme for  two weeks during the  filming and broadcasting from Shetland (see Shetland Otters link), when we fed and watered the enthusiastic 25-person film crew.


Lunna Distant View


Lunna House and beside it Lunna Farm
as you approach them along the single track road from the village of Vidlin.
The SOE chose Lunna House as a base during WWII because of its remote location.


Wreath Laying at Lunna Kirk 2003


Commander Tordasen, Head of the Royal Norwegian Navy laying a wreath to
Norwegian sailors who died in the “Shetland Bus” operation, June 2003. 
(With the house in the background).

[The Norwegian Navy are regular and very welcome visitors to Lunna]



Leif Larsen During WWII

Lief Andreas “Shetlands” Larsen

Norwegian Resistance Leader

Taken at Lunna during the Second World War


Hitra Logo

Insignia of one of the submarine chasers of the “Shetland Bus
(presented to the Erwood family in 2003)




Children of the Resistance leaders


The children of the SOE / resistance leaders
Brian Mitchell, Astrid Larsen and Stephen Howarth)
Taken during a reception for the Royal Norwegian Navy and the Norwegian Resistance/SOE
on behalf of the Shetland Bus Friendship Society and the Erwood family, at Lunna in 2003
(Reproduced with the kind permission of the Royal Norwegian Navy)