Over one hundred years have passed since the First World War was declared. Much of the coverage is often focused on the courage and bravery of the men who fought for King and country. The following is the first in a three-piece research piece which is based on a piece I wrote a few years ago for the Wool Week Journal. It highlights the knitting that Shetland women did to aid the war effort. This first essay will consider the personal requests for knitwear from the front-line to women in Shetland.
Women, unable to join up for fully-fledged military service were crucial, nonetheless, to the war effort. Stepping into men's shoes on the Home Front, women worked hard to maintain 'business as usual' on home shores.
Asta Golf Course, Tingwall, Shetland. Photo: Asta Golf Course.
This is a blog that I’ve had in mind for some time, and with a few people still arriving in Shetland for what-would-have-been Wool Week, I thought I would share it for any woolly-husbands who are in Shetland and looking for something to fill their days.
My earliest memories of golf are of a small plastic set that we had as children. We used to putt balls on a little green behind our house, in a particularly green patch of grass where the neighbouring crofter kept his store of agricultural lime. Growing tired of it quite quickly, we usually ended up abandoning the clubs and searching the hills for rabbits, frogs and hedgehogs instead, so it’s safe to say that my experience at golf was nil until I went to play on the greens at Asta.
Created by Grace Barnes, written and performed by local artists, Lerwick Lockdown is a unique portrait of an island community in Scotland during the unprecedented coronavirus national emergency.
I was delighted to be asked to be part of this production capturing a moment-in-time during lockdown.
Skidbladner longship in Haroldswick, Unst.
Shetland – and Orkney – were once part of the wider Viking world and many of the Norse influences can still be observed in Shetland today, mostly in the place-names they left behind with strong Norse connotations. Norn, a form of Old Norse, was spoken in Shetland until about 300 years ago. Today, many of the dialect words still in use have their roots in the Old Norse language that was spoken here at one time.
The Vikings are thought to have arrived in Shetland from western Norway between 800 and 850 AD and subsequently settled, giving rise to what is known as the Norse Period. Both Shetland and Orkney became Viking, and later Norse, strongholds until 1469 when the rule was passed over to Scotland, bringing a close to over 600 years of Norse rule.
A ruined house at Tingon, Northmavine.
The Highland clearances are known the world over for the cruelty and inhumane treatment shown to 19th-century tenant farmers who were thrown from their homes and land at the hands of their landlords – known locally as lairds. Blighting much of the Highlands and Islands during the 19th century, Shetland was no stranger to heartache at the hands of ruthless landlords and the men who did their bidding for them.
Shetland was certainly not immune to this period of cruel injustice. Although perhaps less affected than some parts of the Scottish Mainland, for the communities and families who were evicted from their homes, the pain was no less devastating. Communities across Shetland were ripped apart at the hands of landowners who cleared the tenant farmers, replacing them with Blackface and Cheviot sheep.
The clearances were a particularly dark period in Shetland’s history. One of cruel injustice, persecution and fear. Locally, we hear stories of houses being burnt to the ground, of babies being carried out in kishies [straw baskets] in the dark of a winter night and the destitute and homeless walking for miles, carrying their few possessions with them as they went.
For those who want to dive a little deeper into the wild, Tingon, Northmavine is a great place to get-away-from-it-all.
Tingon is a peninsula on Shetland’s rugged north-west coast. To the west is the North Atlantic, flanked by sheer cliffs that create an imposing barrier to any boats, and to the west, the skyline is dominated by Ronas Hill, Shetland’s highest point.
Walk: 4 miles (6.5 km)
Terrain: Fair, walking boots/hiking trainers would be best to wear
Time: 3 hours (we spent three hours exploring the area, this allows lots of time to enjoy the sites at a leisurely pace)
“A little barrel-bellied broad-backed equuleus, of a brown or black colour, that is no larger than a donkey”
This is the description of a Shetland pony, written by Samuel Hibbert on his tour of Shetland in 1822 after encountering the native breed of pony, unique to Shetland.
The discovery of a leg bone in excavations at Jarlshof demonstrate that ponies date back as far as the Bronze Age, some 3-4,000 years ago; evolving into a breed which is unique to Shetland. This blog will explore the history of this fascinating breed and their use today.
Sunrise over Lerwick Harbour. Photo courtesy of Scott Goudie.
Picture the scene, a still morning, quiet and milky. Perhaps a few terns making themselves known in the harbour and the sound of pans clattering from cramped kitchens as the residents rise to start another day. This was Lerwick on the morning that the first Dutch East Indiamen would sail into our history books with a bang.
During the 17th century, The Netherlands was one of the most powerful trading nations in the world. With trading colonies in the Far East (Indonesia), the Dutch East India Company brought goods from the Netherlands to the settlers, which were bartered in exchange for precious commodities such as spices and silks. To prevent conflict of interest between various traders and private interests, there was from 1602 until 1799, the establishment of the United Netherlands Chartered East India Company (the VOC). The company held a monopoly on all Dutch trade and navigation east of the Cape of Good Hope and they furthered trading interests in the Indian Ocean, becoming one of the most powerful trading companies in the world.
Wildflowers at the Crofthouse Museum.
There's a lot to smile about at the moment; we've just had the simmer dim (midsummer) where we enjoy 19 hours of daylight, but, more than that, the wildflowers have been putting on a tremendous show of colour this year.
Shetland is an excellent place to see wildflowers, much of the reason for this lies in the rocks beneath our feet and the unique geology that makes up the islands. Geologically complicated, Shetland's geological landscape varies hugely from place to place, with each area hosting a unique environment for the plants that grow. Sites such as the Keen of Hamar and Ronas Hill boast plants so rare, or endemic, in the case of the Keen of Hamar, that they can only be found in a few places across the globe.
I remember it like it was yesterday. We bairns were sitting up the hill, bottle of cream soda in hand, watching the adults work. I don’t think I’d ever been so far away from ‘adult supervision’ before and I felt nervous. Would they hear us if something went wrong? Would they remember to take us home? And with those thoughts beginning to take root in my mind, we skipped back down the hill to join our parents’.
In truth, we were little more than 10 metres away, but like everything when you’re little – distance, time, space – it seemed much greater. Those were the days when the summer holidays went on for an age, and mornings at the peat hill felt like an eternity. Those were happy days of childhood where, as the adults worked, we splashed around in lochs, chased imaginary fairies and searched out frogs amongst the Sphagnum moss.
A little about Laurie
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.
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Shetland with Laurie
Copyright ©Alexa Fitzgibbon
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Shetland tourist info: shetland.org