A village called Shoreside was built on Shapinsay's Elwick Bay by Thomas Balfour in the 1780s. He had purchased the estate covering much of the south west of Shapinsay, and the village was intended to rehouse people he wanted to clear from the area to make room for Cliffdale House, which he built there in 1782.
By 1841 there were 28 houses in Shoreside, with 116 residents whose occupations included fishermen, shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths, wrights, millers and a merchant. But change was on its way. In 1846 the estate, now including the whole of Shapinsay, passed to David Balfour. In 1847 he started to build Balfour Castle around the core formed by Cliffdale House.
He also wrought great change in Shoreside, demolishing the southern part of the village to improve the view from Balfour Castle and turning the rest into a fairly formalised estate village. And at about the same time he changed the name from Shoreside to Balfour Village.
Many of David Balfour's improvements to the village had a very positive effect. The Gas House, a circular structure at the north end of the village, is a relic of the gas works he set up to serve the castle and the village. This continued to operate until the 1920s. Meanwhile he also built the three storey water mill to the north of Balfour and changed the water management in the area to ensure the continuing supply to the water wheel.
Having cleared the houses intruding into the view from his castle, he set about further improvements in the harbour area. These include a truly grand gatehouse that would look more at home defending a castle of the 1200s than one of the 1800s. This has indirectly proved of great service to the inhabitants of Shapinsay: today The Gatehouse is the island's only pub and comes complete with its own football team.
In the centre of the village is the Smithy, which is home to the Shapinsay Heritage Centre as well as to a cafe and craft shop. The main village shop lies at the north end of Balfour, near the rear entrance to Balfour Castle. Nearby is Shapinsay's only petrol pump.
Shapinsay received mains electricity in 1970 via a submarine cable from the Mainland. And in 1990 access to the island was transformed with the building of a new pier at Balfour and the opening of a frequent roll-on roll-off ferry connection to Kirkwall.
The harbour is home to mock defensive walls built by David Balfour to complement the massive castle gatehouse, and it is also the site of the, now no longer used, public toilets designed to be flushed by the tide. But perhaps the oddest building in Balfour lies at its very southern end. On the point that marks the tip of Elwick Bay is the striking structure of Dishan Tower, more often called the douche.
This was originally built in the 1600s as a dovecot, but with the completion of Balfour Castle in 1848 it was converted into a salt water shower. Visitors staying at Balfour Castle can rest assured it's no longer used for that purpose.
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