This was my most liked photo of 2018. An abandoned house in Burra.
This is not the blog post I had planned out in my mind. I had great intentions. I was going to make time, sit and write a meaningful and reflective post about my first year in business; what I’ve learnt and how I mean to progress in 2019. Unfortunately, it’s 5.30 (it's now 10.50) on Hogmanay, there’s a Nerf gun war happening in the living room, Aaron’s trying to make a beef wellington with a running commentary, Lena has been cooped up inside for too long and is bouncing off the walls (literally) and I’ve already poured a glass of wine. Never mind. It actually sums up this whirlwind of a year to a tee. We've never quite stopped and everything has been done at a hundred miles an hour so why change now, at the close of play on Hogmanay?
For me, 2018 has been a fantastic year, super busy and fulfilling, I’ve grabbed chances, been brave and taken risks. As a result, I’ve made several massive decisions and I’m ending the year on a high, feeling happy, positive and proud.
This is a break down of my year — the highlights and important lessons learnt. It's also a chance to share my most popular photos from Instagram (again). An aide-memoire, for my own reference, but also, I hope, for anyone who like me, is at a crossroads and seeking inspiration.
I spent a lot of 2018 talking to people, gathering advice and evidence before I finally took the plunge and made the positive changes I needed to feel fulfilled in my working life again. None of these decisions were taken lightly and hopefully anyone in this position, feeling adrift will find this blog post useful. I certainly found the words of others a great help to me over the year, as I wrangled with my conscience and weighed up various options: A salary, pension, job-security, sick and holiday pay, versus: self-employment, no sick-pay, holiday pay or pension top-ups. Oh, and the lack of security that self-employment can bring. Yet the prospect of freedom and defining my own boundaries eventually proved to be too great a pull. I hope this post helps others make their own brave decisions and take the plunge - I promise, the water's great, you just need to dip in a toe to find out.
First third (January to April):
It was a studious start to the year, a real shock to the post-festive system. The first weekend of the new year was spent (dosed with the cold) attending a (bleary-eyed) guiding workshop. The pace never abated from then on in as I completed the final part of the green badge guide training and worked at the Shetland Museum & Archives. Much of my time during this period was spent chained to the computer, studying, or out in the wind and rain, practising my spiel. The training culminated in three days of exams (orals, coach commentary and walking tour) at the end of April before a nervous wait to find out if I had passed – I did (obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog post). We then had a two week break in Portugal with the bairns before the tourist season kicked off and I got my first proper taste of guiding. I should also apologise to Aaron here — last Christmas he bought me thermals (my long Jane's) and I sulked. They proved invaluable as I spent hours freezing my ass of at Jarlshof in the worst that Shetland's weather has to offer in these winter months.
During this time, I was quietly taking stock of what I wanted my life to look like (both at work and home). It had been a turbulent year with the threat of redundancy looming. Ironically, this was the best thing which could have happened to me. I began the guide training ‘in case’ I was made redundant and when I wasn’t (made redundant) I began to seriously question my purpose in that role (as collections assistant to the museum curators). I had been in the same job for 11 years. Six of them were fantastic, and in that time I learnt a lot, both about our islands (which I love), and about myself. Unfortunately, there was no career progression on the horizon and I got itchy feet. The museum, in those early days, provided a positive start to my working life, a fantastic building, well worth a visit. Whilst there I grew, starting as a fresh-faced graduate I was keen and enthusiastic. Over time I learnt that the world of work is not always a happy one and that people are not always as they seem. That has been perhaps the most painful lesson, and one that I’m sure we all, as adults, have to experience. That said, my time there has given me a wealth of knowledge and an appreciation of our heritage and past which has paved the way for the business I’ve started and my new role. I have also met some wonderful people and made some true friends and it will always be a place I hold dear.
As the first third of the year came to a close, I was already planning my next move. 2018 was set to be the busiest season Shetland had seen (to date) for cruise liner visits, and the days I was at the museum felt wasted – I was chasing the buzz of something more. I needed to feel like what I was doing mattered. My website and blog were underway and I hoped they would be an outlet, a way to share our islands with others, something my job at that time lacked.
Second third (May to August):
This was a busy, fun time, filled with sunshine, laughter and new experiences but also a few down days, spent in the office (wishing I was on the pier, or anywhere else). I remember one of my tutors, explaining to me that when she started guiding, she hated having to go back to ‘work’ after the buzz of showing visitors the sites, and I felt that strongly. Going to the office the next day was like dragging my body though porridge after wearing fairy wings for a day. I would spend a day enthusing a bus load of people about Shetland and the next would be spent in stony silence in a claustrophobic office — it was definitely time for a shake-up.
I launched my website, Shetland with Laurie in June - an amazing feeling — for about five minutes, till I realised it’s not quite that simple. Google wants to know that your website is performing, that your content is on point and that what you’re saying matters before they will rank your site anything above page 3,456 in their search engine — and that has been another massive learning experience of the year. Google rules the world and my website is still not ranking as high as I’d like, despite posting daily, promoting and pushing the blog. However, it’s extremely rewarding to see the natural growth and this is reflected in the weekly and monthly stats. When I published my blog post about Geirhildr’s loch it received an incredible 61 shares which I’m extremely proud of and never imagined when I hit ‘publish’. When strangers stop you in the street to tell you that they enjoyed your blog, the sense of achievement is incomprehensible and it’s a real motivator to carry on. So, despite Google’s unfathomable algorithm I am truly grateful to everyone who has supported this launch and my online baby – the blog.
A busy summer and one that left me happily exhausted in the best possible way. I worked hard, played hard and got married (I'll change my name eventually). We went on adventures, camped, enjoyed barbecues and the bairns enjoyed the best summer holiday weather on record since the 1980s. It certainly was the summer of sun.
Final third (September to December):
As September approached, I thought (and hoped) that things would quieten down a little after the summer and that I’d enjoy some down-time to write, finish the (unfinished) website, tour plan and maybe clean the house? This didn’t happen, the tours continued through to mid-November, the enquiries came in thick and fast, the house was (and is) still dusty. I felt (and feel) as snowed under as I did in the summer.
Then in November, an opportunity to make the break came. I applied to become editor of Shetland Life magazine. I was offered the job and handed in my notice at the museum – closing the door on the past decade of work.
January 2019 is my first edition of Shetland Life and today (the 31st) I signed it off to go to print — a great feeling after all the work and planning which has gone into this, my first issue and the first of the new year. The next few months I plan to do lots of writing and organising so that in the summer I can meet and greet more visitors and hopefully enjoy another summer of sun. Another busy few months ahead.
And as we all reflect on the year which has been, these are a few of the important lessons I’ve taken away from 2018:
I am extremely grateful to many people who have made 2018 a good one. As this is the last day of 2018 I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me, joined me on tour, booked for next year (and 2020), liked, shared and followed Shetland with Laurie – your support means the world. As always, I love to hear from you – send me a message and let me know what you want to find out learn more about. I have very much been guided by my followers this year, and those who have joined me on tours.
And as for resolutions? Stop publishing blog posts after a glass of wine (or three).
Happy New Year, and lang may your lum reek!
A winter sunrise in December.
As we approach the end of the year it’s a good time to reflect back and take stock. For me the year has been fast paced, busy - a period of discovery and growth and much in my life has changed immeasurably, for the better. I’ve started a business, got married, made friends, changed career and left behind what made me unhappy. Today (21st December) is the winter solstice, also known as midwinter, or traditionally, in the days of the Julian calendar, Yule. An astrological event, occurring twice a year – once in the northern hemisphere and once in the south – it is when the earth’s pole (in our case, the north pole) is tilted at its furthest reach from the sun giving the fewest daylight hours in any 24 hour period in the year.
What better place to spend the solstice?
Historically it was a significant milestone, marked with feast and fire, the return of the sun and the lengthening of the days celebrated. Meteorologically it's also significant, some say that the solstice marks the beginning of winter, although most meteorologists would concede that this in fact occurs on the 1st of December. Yet, anyone living this far north will know that the coldest days and the hardest frosts are still to come and that these will generally occur some time after the solstice. So perhaps not time to lay-aff the thermals yet.
Under the old Julian calendar the winter solstice occurred on the 25th December – present day Christmas but with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, this changed meaning that today, the solstice occurs on the 21st.
The word solstice comes from the Latin, ‘sun stands still’, and today I took heed and also took a moment to stand still, listen and appreciate the wonder and magic of this - the shortest day of the year. It is a time which has been marked, celebrated and revered for millennia and today, I too stopped to take stock and what better place to do that than the ancient and sacred temple at Stanydale in Shetland’s west mainland.
Stanydale temple on the winter solstice.
Now I’m not some mad pagan hippy (yet) but standing among those ancient stones, at sundown - stones laid down by our ancestors, which have seen the trample of many generations of feet – was nothing other than magical. Every sense in my body was on red-alert, willing, in an Outlander-esque manner for something to come through those stones and strike into the 21st century - giving me an insight into a forgotten world. The one of our ancestors. A world of hard work and farming; short, stooped backs, bent to the ground, waiting on light and growth.
But there were more grounded reasons to visit on this day. Archaeologists Simon Clarke and Esther Renwick have noted that the temple may hold significance in regard to equinoxes (in March and September), and the movement of the sun through the sky, noting that from a pair of standing stones nearby, “the temple (when complete and roofed) would have been skylined against the setting sun, which would have been directly behind it at the equinox.” The temples curved facade “may have been the focus for activity taking place outside the doorway… most of the features along the route suggest the focus was the sunset at the equinox, sunrise at the equinox would also illuminate the back wall of the interior (as seen at the winter solstice in the case of Maeshowe in Orkney).” So it made sense really.
A largely empty landscape at Stanydale in all the beautiful shades of Shetland winter.
There is little archaeological evidence to indicate much farming and domestic life here and yet the pull remains present. A deep-seated desire to understand the past, our ancestors and where we come from is within us all. And as I stood in the temple against a darkening winter sky I too wondered about Stanydale's sense of place in our history. Was there a spiritual significance to its location? Or was it a sacred place of worship? Did our pagan ancestors dance around bonfires on these special calendar occasions as folklore would lead us to believe or did it have a much more practical, utilitarian purpose?
These are questions we will never answer and perhaps that is its greatest power. The catalyst which leads people to places like this and prompts us to ask such questions - safe in the knowledge that these age-old questions will remain unanswered for eternity. And in a time of technology, and information at the click of a mouse, this is a novel and comforting reality.
Some local friends made along the way. These ponies were such placid, friendly guys.
And at this time, I would like to extend my thanks and gratitude to all my readers – all over the world. I have been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement this blog has received over recent months and for all the kind comments. I wish each and every one of you a very happy Christmas and every good fortune for 2019, wherever you may be, and whatever it may bring.
Note: I highlighted my trip to Stanydale on my Instagram stories and for those not on the app, please feel free to get in touch and I will be happy to email a short video taken at sundown.
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.