I've been a little preoccupied these last few weeks as we've been caught up in the midst of wedding madness. We got married last week, in a small ceremony in our back garden, here in Lerwick. The sun came out for the occasion and we had the most special day, together with family, celebrating. Our 'garden wedding', in the middle of town made me think of my favourite postcard from Lerwick (below) which shows a young couple, caught in a moment of passion, kissing on the 'banks broo', with the open sea in the background. I always imagine that in their story, he is preparing to go back to sea, leaving her lovesick for months, with no more than a letter to remind her that he is thinking of her, and is safe. This is a story which is familiar to many people living in Shetland, both in the past and present day, although today we have the internet keeping people 'connected', and it is this 'touching scene at Lerwick' which gave me the inspiration for this latest blog post.
Despite our best efforts to slow down the hands of time and cherish every moment, the old clock keeps on ticking and time marches forward regardless. As our wedding guests left handwritten messages of congratulations on the toilet wall underneath the stairs, it got me thinking about the history of our house and the people who called it 'home'. Built in 1880 by a local merchant, in its time it has only had a handful of owners, most of whom were shopkeepers in Lerwick, and who have all left their mark in some way or another on various parts of the house and garden. I find these glimpses into the past fascinating, and I try to imagine the people who lived here before us. I think about whether they would like the changes we've made, the colours we've chosen and the lives we lead, and sometimes, I wonder if I am actually going insane?
One of the photos which came back from (the world's best) photographer, Alexa Fitzgibbon from our wedding day looked as though it could easily have been taken in 1890 not 2018. One of my favourites from the day, it was shot in black and white with nothing but the chimney pots in the background. It transported my mind back in time and I wonder whether the owners of the house in 150 years will think about the past like we do? Will they consider, or even care who lived here? What will their thoughts be when they uncover photos and secret messages on the fabric of the building as we've done during the renovation? Will they cherish them as we do or simply plaster over the past? Has this digital revolution removed all future mystery from the equation? In the digital age of the future, will there still be unanswered questions or will the magic and wonder be removed by the simple click of a mouse?
We added to the story of our house when we married recently in the garden.
The history of our house and the history of the town made me think of and all the relationships which have been formed by people coming to live and work here in Lerwick. From the gutter women who followed the herring shoals north, and made their homes all along the towns North Road, to the incoming oil workers of the 1970s who came here when North Sea oil was discovered and the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal was built. Shetland has long been a seafaring island and the diaspora is spread far and wide, reaching all corners of the globe, yet many still return in search of their ancestors and even today, people come to Shetland to plant new roots and call this island, their home. Perhaps the romantic pull is not from the past but rather from Shetland itself, from what the past can show us and what the future can offer us.
...and on that note, goodnight!
Therefore, I thought I would have to confess to how I ended up in the pub on a Friday afternoon. In this particular case, the story involves, 'The Guide, the Drunk and the Thule!'
I love Lerwick, but I could count on one hand the amount of times I've been to a pub in recent years, yet two Fridays in almost as many weeks I've found myself at the bar with a bottle of 'crisp and fruity' (I'll explain that one later). The last time I went to the pub with some researchers we found ourselves sitting in an empty bar with an 80s inspired barmaid and the greatest hits of Abba on a loop (we left when it became evident that Waterloo wasn't on that particular playlist and I'm not divulging which pub it was, I'll leave that to the imagination of the reader). But what is it about the Lerwick Walking Tour that always ends with myself, and fellow guide, Jim Gray propping up the bar, I wonder? Perhaps it's because we end the tour on the pier? Or maybe it's Mr Gray's influence? Or could it just the buzz of guiding? Whatever it is, I hope that frequenting the Thule doesn't become a common occurrence on a Friday afternoon. Thankfully I don't like 'crisp and fruity' all that much anyway.
Now to get to the 'ugly'. I was taking a group of French visitors on a tour around Lerwick. This is a tour that I really enjoy. I love the old streets and this day was particularly busy and the town was buzzing. The Bergen to Lerwick race was in, the sun was shining, and there was a real holiday feel about the street — even the Thule was busy. I gathered the group on the pier and quickly realised that a number of them couldn't speak English and the ship had failed to send a translator. No problem, beautiful day, beautiful sights and they all had cameras. Sorted. Or so I thought...
As we made our way across to the Shetland Museum it became increasingly evident that this gentleman was going to interrupt, and talk over me at every opportunity, and as we progressed along the street, the number of complaints from the others grew. I couldn't help but be mildly impressed by his lungs - I didn't think it was possible to smoke so many cigarettes on the short journey across Commercial Street! Outside the museum, explaining the significance of the Shetland flag, he flapped me out the way. Correcting me, he explained to the group that what they were actually looking at was the 'flag Écosse'. That was the final straw for me. For anyone unsure of the difference, the Shetland flag, like the Scottish saltire is blue and white but it carries the Nordic cross, rather than the St Andrews cross. Funnily enough the door of the Thule shows the Shetland flag - they have it painted on the door!
But, back to the story at hand. Along with Mr Chablis, I also had the Woman Who Couldn't Walk, on the walking tour. Not my day. Anyway, a quick phone call back to the pier and before long, a young Spanish lass appeared from the ship. With our escort in tow, he behaved and the woman with mobility issues was dragged along on the tour without further incident and by the time we got back to the pier, the guests were happy again and I was in need of a drink! We entered the Thule and asked which wines they had and it was at this point that we were introduced to the 'crisp and fruity', which prompted my next question. "What other wines do you have"? "Just this one" the young barman said. And that is how I came to be drinking in the Thule Bar on a Friday afternoon.
No matter what happens in life, It's important to look for that silver lining — it's usually in there somewhere! So, in celebration of this, and for anyone who is interested, please get in touch, and you never know... you may end up in the Thule with a 'crisp and fruity' too.
Going into Mousa at night is a completely different experience to going in on a day trip. Landing in the summer dusk at 11pm was slightly eery and the island had a more mysterious feel. On the short walk to the Broch we saw the latest addition to the island, a wooden bench which sits on the 60 North latitude line. Rodney, from the Mousa Boat built it using driftwood which washed ashore on the island during last winter's gales. Driftwood has always been important to Shetlanders, as we live in an almost treeless landscape, and I believe it's engrained into every one of us to squirrel away every last piece! A walk along the shoreline proves this as there are numerous piles of wood of varying sizes and quality 'laid up above the tideline' to be collected at a later date for some project or another and despite best intentions this 'later date' often never comes! That said, it's still an unwritten rule here in Shetland that wood laid up above the tideline must be left for the gatherer to collect, even if it has been there so long that it has started growing a fine coat of moss, or that it has been there for all of living memory and has begun the long process of rotting back into the ground, the wood is sacred and should be left well alone! However, rules of the shoreline over, back to the bench! Mousa lies on the 60 North line, meaning that it is on the same latitude as St Petersburg, Helsinki, Oslo, parts of Alaska and Labrador Bay, and given the choice of any of those 'exotic' destinations, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather have been on that particular Wednesday evening. Approaching the 2, 000 year old Broch was very atmospheric, it was shrouded in mist, giving a real air of mystery and intrigue.
Mousa is home to 11, 000 breeding pairs, with 3-400 breeding pairs making their home within the walls of the Broch. Prone to predators they return to the breeding grounds at dusk to avoid capture from the Great Skua (Bonxie) and Black Backed Gulls. Mousa is the perfect place for these vulnerable little birds as there are no ground predators on the island. Yes, Mousa has no rabbits, hedgehogs, rats or even mice! So, as midnight approached the birds began to flock back to land, their flight was quite erratic as they circled the Broch seeking out their own nest site and I even witnessed a mid-air collision!
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I hope that you find what you're looking for, whether you are planning that perfect holiday or maybe you're from Shetland and looking for some inspiration. Hopefully, there is something here for everyone.