Tingwall lies two miles north of Scalloway along a low-lying fertile valley. This is the ancient heart of Shetland, and it was at Law Ting Holm, an islet at the northern end of the Loch of Tingwall that the Norse held their annual Ting or parliament.
Today you find little obvious sign of the meeting place at Tingwall, but immediately to the north of the loch is Tingwall Kirk. Known as the Mother Church of Shetland, what you see today is a harled rectangular box, built between 1788 and 1790 with a belfry at its east end.
The interior is largely original and has a gallery which extends around three sides of the church, supported on narrow columns. The fourth, south, side of the church is home to the enormously tall pulpit and its flanking windows.
This is certainly a very nice church, especially internally. But why is it the "Mother Church" of Shetland? A clue lies in the graveyard, where a mound of grass turns out to have a stone front and to be home to a burial vault. This is all that remains of St Magnus Church, built in the late 1100s.
St Magnus was one of three churches gifted by three Norse sisters to Shetland. All had round towers, and St Magnus Church was said to be the grandest of them. From 1215 St Magnus was the base of the Archdeacon of Tingwall, the senior church official in Shetland.
St Magnus was sadly demolished in 1788, at around the same time as the other two churches gifted by the three Norse sisters. As one Shetland commentator put it: "...as a principle of barbarous economy to supply stones at a cheap rate for the plain Presbyterian churches which now occupy their places". And you have to admit that, although the interior of the replacement kirk is very attractive, Tingwall would be better known and more visited if the original St Magnus Church had been allowed to stand.