We recently spent a few nights in Fetlar, endearingly known as 'the Garden of Shetland'. In anticipation of the schools going back, and trying to make the most of the time we had left of the holidays we booked the Aithbank Camping Böd, former home of storyteller Jeemsie Laurenson. The weather was glorious and Fetlar shone, like a glistening jewel in the North Sea, giving us the best it had to offer.
In this blog I will attempt to give you a 'blow-by-blow' account of our travels through the 'Garden of Shetland', and what we discovered along the way, and you're in luck as this one's a two-parter!
Getting to Fetlar is relatively easy, although booking ferries is recommended. We made the short journey across Yell Sound, from Toft before heading north through Yell to catch the ferry from Gutcher to Hammersness, briefly touching base at Belmont (Unst) en route. I sat out on deck (mainly to avoid the boredom induced WW3 which was brewing in the car) and watched the seabirds as they dived and the tysties (black guillemots) bobbing around on the glistening sea as a distant yacht, made steady progress around Urie Ness, catching the wind coming off the hill. It was all very peaceful and the experience of being in this area on the open water reminded me of when I was young and went to the fishing with dad. I remember towing (for scallops) in a spot called (I think) the 'trink', not far from Fetlar, on the East coast and listening to the traffic report on Radio 2. I remember thinking at the time, just how far removed we were from the 'rat race' and the stresses and strains of the ever congested M25, and in that moment 'civilisation' seemed to me, a faraway world, yet to dad, a fisherman, this was his 'everyday', this was his '9-5'. Isn't it funny how a moment can transport you back in time and shake out old memories?
Upon arrival in the 'Garden of Shetland' we made our way to the camping Böd for lunch. Böd's, located throughout Shetland, were traditionally buildings used to house fishermen and their gear during the fishing season. Today they form a network of basic accommodation, operated by Shetland Amenity Trust for those who want a simple, no-frills holiday on a budget. The Böd, despite being sparsely furnished was clean and sited in a beautiful location, overlooking the Aith beach and across the bay to Lambhoga.
Aithbank, Camping Böd and former home of Storyteller, Jeemsie Laurenson.
Walk 1 - Everland to Gruting circular (3 hours inc. picnic & short legs)
The sandy beach at Honga Ness.
From the beach there are views across to the house at Smithfield, a grand home, now roofless. It was formerly the home of the Smith family until they emigrated to Australia in the 1860s and the house became uninhabited. The roof was later removed and it is now a cat C listed building which is designated as 'at risk', the house, built in 1815 is described as:
'unusually grand for this type of building in Shetland, and its formal relationship with the booth (nearby, by the shore) serves as a reminder of the importance of the sea in trade and communication during the 19th century'.
From here we made our way to arguably the most unusual building on the island, the round-house at Gruting. Not a neolithic or iron age round-house but the 'bolt hole' of an 19th century eccentric!
The round-house at Gruting, built by Sir Arthur Nicolson of Brough Lodge.
The round-house has a very curious story attached to it, which I'll share, and any brave campers or 'would be ghost-hunters' can go there, stay, and report back with their findings. Does that sound like a good deal?
The house was built after the fertile valley at Gruting was cleared during the 1840s. Fetlar was badly hit by the clearances which affected much of the Highlands and Islands throughout the 19th century when landowners decided that large-scale sheep farming was more profitable than tenant farmers who were in turn forcibly removed from their homes in favour of sheep.
Landowner, Sir Arthur Nicolson who stayed in the sprawling estate at Brough Lodge in the north-west of the isle decided to build a summer house in the now quiet valley, secluded from his family home at Brough. He designed his summer house in a French fashion, the lower part being made of stone and the upper floor constructed of wood. Once complete Sir Arthur, on his horse Jolly made their way to the newly constructed bolt-hole to spend the night, in solitude, away from the family demands at home. The evening went well until Sir Arthur went to bed where he was then kept awake, and afraid by an incessant banging and knocking which echoed through the darkness outside. Nobody was there and eventually the noise became too much for him to bear and he abandoned his bed and with Jolly, galloped back to Brough Lodge, much the wearier of his 'staycation' in the summer house.
An explanation, provided by the minister, said that the noise could be the spirits of the crofters whom he had evicted from the surrounding area coming back to haunt him. That was the only time anyone tried to stay in the round-house, and as I said, if you are brave enough, then please do, and report back your findings!
Lucky Minnie's Oo (Bog Cotton) at Gruting, Fetlar.
To be continued in Part Two so stay tuned for more forays in Fetlar...
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!
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.