The first thing that struck me was how varied the programme was and how many different things there were on offer. It really packed a punch, filled with events for even the most reticent of nature lovers, like myself. 'Our' Nature Festival began with a visit to the fish-beds at Shingly Geo, Dunrossness, and as we couldn't make the guided walk on Wednesday we decided to go it alone. Along the way we were treated to a spectacular show of seabirds and we passed the natural arch at the famous 'Red Pool' (the sea was washing into it on the day so it lacked the deep, blood-red appearance, but was spectacular nonetheless). Once we arrived at the geo it didn't take long before we found our first fossil. These siltstone beds are 390 million years old and were formed when several continents collided, leaving fish trapped in lakes, and once dead, they were fossilised in the silt deposits. It's fascinating to think that these fossils, which we were able to touch, have been around for that length of time and that they have travelled this far north, to our island archipelago from where they began life 390 million years ago, close to the equator. Is it any wonder Shetland enjoys Geopark status!?
Our walk to the fish beds at shingly Geo, Exnaboe
After the fossil beds we had an hour or so to kill so we went to Sumburgh Head in the hope of spotting some puffins. Having done a number of tours over the season and seen plenty, I was pretty confident that there would be some, and for the second time this summer, dragging the bairns along, we didn't see any. The comical little seabirds appeared to have all 'Gone Fishing'! Just our luck.
The bairns weren't really that bothered, being far more excited by the plastic Killer Whale which they were desperate to be photographed with so we went on up the hill to see Sally Huband's exhibition in the Stevenson Centre Cafe. 'Eggcases and other Beachcombed Treasures' displayed items, both natural and man-made which have been found on Shetland's beaches. It featured information about egg-cases (frequently found in Shetland) and the ways in which the Shark Trust are logging them for research purposes. It's very easy to get involved and you can find more information via www.sharktrust.org.
"The Great Eggcase Hunt aims to get as many people as possible hunting for eggcases that have either been washed ashore, or are found by divers and snorkelers underwater. In recent decades, several species of shark, skate and ray around the British coast have dramatically declined in numbers. The empty eggcases (or mermaid’s purses) are an easily accessible source of information on the whereabouts of potential nursery grounds and will provide the Trust with a better understanding of species abundance and distribution".
Rachel Laurenson was also on hand with information about the #2minutebeachclean and #plasticfree campaigns which have gained rapid momentum via social media sites such as Instagram over recent months and now involve a growing number of participants both locally and nationally who are assisting in cleaning up our beaches and shorelines.
Rockpooling event at Sandsayre, Sandwick
Feeling like social butterflies, we then moved on to try our hand at Rockpooling at Sandsayre where, when the tide goes out the most fantastic rock pools are left behind which extend far out from the shore, marooning any unsuspecting sea-life in its path. A nightmare for navigation but a treasure-trove for the 'would be hunter-gatherer'; and armed with a few nets and buckets we began our quest, and the pools certainly didn't let us down. Finding shore crabs, edible crabs, hermit crabs, red seaweeds, brittlestars, sea urchins, whelks, limpets and anemones, the bairns went home tired and happy after their successful day at the Nature Festival.
Flowers and Pollinators at the Crofthouse Museum, Boddam
At the end of the week we attended the Flowers and Pollinators day at the Crofthouse Museum, Boddam. I was working at the event, with my museum hat on and it proved very popular. My bairns made it down in the afternoon with granny which was an added bonus. The highlight (for me) was the moth traps which had been set the previous evening using a UV light to attract these nocturnal flyers. There were an incredible 590 moths captured, with 26 different types represented, including Silver Y's, Golden Y's and Yellow Underwings (I can't name any more, I have to admit my 'moth ignorance' now). I was however shocked at the large variety we did have here in Shetland and the great distances they can travel, I was also impressed by Paul Harvey from the Amenity Trust's Biological Records Dept. who could just reel them off, effortlessly and he could tell me that there are over 60 species found here in Shetland - It was an education! After the excitement of the moths we settled down to the various crafts and bug-hunts - Lena creating an interesting three-eyed specimen painted on a beach-stone and Hansi producing a lino-print of a fern (or Dinosaur grass as it's called in our house), I even tried my hand at lino-printing some Wild Angelica (it's the taking part that counts).
All in all the bairns had a ball at the events we attended together and I even managed to attend three of the four lectures, sans-children. The first was a look at 'Shetland Beneath the Waves' by Richard Shucksmith which gave an insight into a landscape which few have the privilege of seeing (and as I don't actually have the balls to dive then it was nice to see it from the comfort of Shetland Museum's auditorium)! The second event was a lecture by Jon Dunn called 'Orchid Summer' which followed his journey from the Scilly Isles to Shetland to see all the UKs native orchids in their natural environment - it was fascinating and his passion was contagious! One thing I couldn't get over was how much some of these orchids look like people, unlike our 'curly dodies' (see photo below) and I kept seeing faces in the photos on the slides (and no, I wasn't tripping)! If Orchids don't do it for you then his book certainly should. It is so beautifully illustrated, bound and presented that it not only needs to be read, but it needs to be curated too!
Finally, for my last foray at the Shetland Nature Festival I attended a lecture by Martin Heubeck who has been monitoring the changing seabird populations in Shetland for 40 years. His talk focused on the findings and trends associated with seabird numbers and the monitoring methods used here in Shetland and at the end he was presented with a gift as he is retiring from the Shetland seabird scene - a bittersweet but fitting ending to a fantastic week!
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!
We've just had the summer solstice here in Shetland. That time of the year when the long days of summer merge together in a haze of soft sunshine and warm breezes which are punctuated with the sweet smell of squill and thrift, a time when the laverock's (skylark) song never ceases and the sun only dips below the horizon momentarily. Or not. This past week has seen the worst weather of the summer so far. Today, Saturday, I stayed indoors most of the day with the fire on, watching from the window as my neighbours braved the wind and rain to have their annual midsummer BBQ (hats off to them, they did it)! The wind has decimated the garden and the few trees which do endure the elements here have been stripped bare of their new, spring leaves.
That said, the bad weather has meant that we've been confined to barracks and this has given me the opportunity to a). finish my website and b). write this blog post. I had planned to launch the website at the end of the season, with perfect content and no typos. However, I decided that if I aimed for a 'complete and finished' product, then I would never finish it, or be brave enough to publish it and it would simply stagnate somewhere in cyber-space. It should be fluid, right? So, that's why I decided to publish it, warts and all! And, wow! What a lot of feedback I've had, I can't thank everyone enough for all the kind comments and suggestions, thanks to every last one of you.
I was feeling very nervous about hitting the 'publish' button and putting myself out 'there' for scrutiny and judgement, so we watched a film about Winston Churchill to take my mind off it. During the film, Churchill's wife offered him up some sound advice and it felt very fitting as to how I was feeling about taking my own plunge into the unknown. She told him, "You are strong because you are imperfect, and you are wise because you have doubts". What better advice could you ask for? And how true it is. In fact, the whole film was full of inspiration, or maybe that was the wine? Whatever it was, it took my mind off my own misgivings.
So here's to the future!
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that matters"
Today has been another very busy day Guiding! I feel as though I've hit the ground running and it's extremely invigorating! My first season as a fully fledged Guide has started with a bang. On Saturday I welcomed two lovely groups from the Celebrity Eclipse who were making a short visit to Shetland before heading south to Dublin. After appearing at Victoria Pier at 8.15am for duty it was a case of load the bus and go! We went to Jarlshof, taking in the scenery of Shetland's spectacular South Mainland. We were lucky enough to catch a group of seals on Rerwick beach and the guests were in good spirits as Shetland presented itself in all her early summer glory. It was a fantastic day, blue skies and a sun that never abated. Unfortunately for me, the crew seat on the bus meant that I was in full sun and my left cheek went a lovely 'brighter shade of red'! After a jaunt round Jarlshof and 5, 000 years of human history it was back to the town to pick up the next lot of passengers from the pier. Without even time for a pee we were on our merry way again. I returned at 5.15 feeling happy, tired and extremely satisfied that everyone on the tours had enjoyed Shetland at its best.
Today was a similar format but this time, the route was West and the ship was the Norwegian Jade. Our tour involved a stop at Shetland Jewellery and the Scalloway Museum and Castle. The day started with very, VERY, thick fog and between the three lanes and the Halfway House, we could see nothing! Thankfully, I had enough fillers up my sleeve to occupy everyone till the fog lifted. As is the case so often in the summer, Scalloway was basking in lovely, bright sunshine as the east coast lay shrouded in mist. Thankfully my guests were very pragmatic and just glad that they had picked the west route rather than the south on this particular occasion!
A fantastic day - Guiding really is FUN!
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.