"Rhubarb is a word which rolls on the tongue with relish. It sounds both rude and absurd, and the imagination has found all sorts of uses for it."
~ Mary Prior, Rhubarbaria
I am an absolute rhubarb fanatic, I just love the stuff, and this is the best time of year to indulge in it. The sweet, fresh shoots are just bursting with tang and spring flavour as we move towards June. This is always the first dish I cook with rhubarb every year and I make sure that I freeze a few for winter too.
Shetland is a great place for rhubarb - it grows prolifically here. You often find abundant patches of it growing among the ruins of old houses. I'm not sure why it grows so well, but it certainly thrives. It is neither a native plant to Shetland, nor one which has been around for a long time. It has only graced tables in Britain for about 200 years and originates from the East (somewhere). Originally used as a medicine, it became a popular food-source in the 19th century and would have certainly brought an exotic flavour to the traditional Shetland diet.
St Ninian's Isle beach in Shetland's South Mainland.
Whether it’s hidden coves, sweeping sands or stony strands, Shetland has it all and, among the many beaches that make up Shetland’s breathtaking coastline, there are five that have been included in the national Beach Awards, part of the Keep Scotland Beautiful charity.
These awards “are the benchmark for quality, celebrating clean, well managed and sustainable beaches.” Those selected “demonstrate excellent beach management and environmental best practice, and maintaining high standards.”
As 2020 is the Year of Coast and Waters I thought I would bring you a list of Shetland’s award-winning beaches. As many people are spending this time planning their next holiday, why not start with some top-rated beaches to get your next holiday off to a flying start.
‘Whiskers’, a favourite grey seal at Shetland Catch. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Wills.
With more and more of us looking to literature to get our daily break away from the news, I thought that in this blog, I would share a book review I wrote for The New Shetlander. The New Shetlander is a magazine founded in 1947 – the oldest literary and community journal in Scotland. It comes out every quarter, and the editors welcome contributions about Shetland and the world. If you would like to subscribe to the magazine, you can do so here.
The New Shetlander is Scotland's oldest literary and community journal.
The book that I reviewed is very fitting to an audience of would-be Shetland visitors. Recently published, it was written by Jonathan Wills who operated guided boat tours around Lerwick and Noss for over 20 years. He shares his knowledge and recollections from his time as a tour guide in this lavishly illustrated paperback.
Scalloway Castle, Shetland.
“Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed—no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters in your skull.” ~ George Orwell, 1984.
Following the annexation of Shetland to Scotland in 1469 (see this blog), wealthy Scottish landowners began to migrate north in search of new lands and riches. The period of the Stewart Earls is perhaps one of the most unpleasant periods in Shetland’s history, and it did little to endear native Shetlanders towards their new ruler, Scotland. The Stewart Earls – Patrick in particular – are quite possibly the most infamous figures – or villains – in Shetland’s history, and most probably the most hated. Tyrannical rulers, they brought pain and suffering to those they were supposed to serve.
Sometimes in the waves of change, we find our true direction.
“But Mr. Jeremy liked getting his feet wet; nobody ever scolded him, and he never caught a cold!” ~ Beatrix Potter.
Namaste all, that’s what we do now, right? We don’t shake hands, we keep outside two-metres of each other, and we watch the news with growing anxiety and concern. I’m hoping to keep this blog post upbeat, I’m going to tell you about frogs, but first, I need to outline the business side of things (and feel free to skip on past this to the bit about frogs!).
Sail on Swan with Shetland with Laurie in 2020 *NOTE: DUE TO COVID-19 THESE TOURS ARE POSTPONED TILL 2021*
Swan under full sail. Photo courtesy of The Swan Trust.
Shetland’s maritime past holds a big place within my heart. I come from generations of fishermen and, being a woman with no desire to go to the fishing, was probably a disappointment to my father who, although he never said it, would probably have loved to see one of his offspring join the generations who went before him at sea.
That’s why when Swan, Shetland’s traditional sail-training vessel, asked me to collaborate with them and offer tours, I jumped at the chance.
Swan was built and launched in Shetland in 1900 and was one of the finest boats in the Scottish herring fleet. Fishing for many years in the waters around Shetland for the ‘silver darlings’ (herring) she eventually fell into a state of disrepair as more modern steam vessels took over the fishery, able to cover greater distances and transport their catch to markets more efficiently compared to the sail vessels, like Swan, who came before.
Da Hol's o' Scraada, Eshaness. This is a collapsed sea cave.
With more than 1,700 miles of coastline to explore it is no surprise that the shores around Shetland have amongst the most dramatic coastal scenery in Britain. With the second-highest sea cliffs in the UK, more caves than you can shake a stick at and natural arches to rival the Arc de Triomphe, it’s little wonder that Shetland is a bucket-list goal for those in search of a bit of adventure.
This blog post is a bit of an escape from the norm for me as I put the question to you – what would you like to hear about?
So, I’ve collected a few of your responses and will endeavour to answer as many as possible. I will include relevant links that you might find useful while planning your next Shetland adventure. Thank you for your suggestions!
Granny Tam's beach with the ruins of their house behind it, on the now-uninhabited island of Papa.
We are our ancestors; we are here because they lived. We are here because they nurtured our parents and generations of grandparents before us. Some of our relations we have the privilege of knowing. Some, like George Arthur Fullerton, we know because we hear about them, we’re shown grainy photographs and told that they left this world before we arrived.
For me, they are the solemn faces which look back at me from the gallery of black and white photos at Granny’s. They are names on an unfamiliar and distant branch of the family tree. Names I’ve heard woven into conversation for as long as I can remember, but have no real knowledge of. I know that we are connected. When we speak of our family, we speak with pride, even for those we never knew or met.
Up Helly Aa galley burning following the Viking procession. Photo: Jon Pulley.
Up Helly Aa is almost upon us and you can feel excitement levels in the town growing as people make ready for, what is to some, the social event of the year. Up Helly Aa, despite what is often believed, is not an ancient festival passed down from Norse times, but it is a festival with its roots in Shetland’s Victorian era. And like any proper Victorian soiree, theatrical pomp and ceremony were allowed unbridled power to shine.
Up Helly Aa’s roots can be found in the 19th-century tradition of ‘tar-barrelling’, a practice which saw the town’s young men rolling burning barrels of tar through the narrow streets of Lerwick. This was banned in 1874 as it was dangerous and caused damage to local properties and humiliated the law-enforcers who were often tricked by the rowdy youths and locked into an endless game of ‘cat-and-mouse’. It has been argued that following the Napoleonic Wars, the men returning had developed a taste for firearms and so began the tradition. In the past, Shetland followed the Julian calendar long after the rest of the world adopted the Gregorian calendar. Christmas was held on the 5th January, New Year on the 12th and Up Helly Aa (or Uphellia) was held 24 days after Aald Yule, on the 29th January. However, the act of tar-barrelling might occur on any of these occasions.
Scalloway Fire Festival galley burning 2017.
The differences between Shetland and the rest of Scotland can be quite striking. Many visitors arrive here expecting the full Scottish treatment – the haggis, the kilts and the bagpipes – and I find myself quickly explaining to them that much of the culture and tradition in Shetland stems from the close ties that we had with Scandinavia in the past and that actually, we have only been part of Scotland for some 550 years.
To understand this unusual relationship, we must travel back in time to about 850 AD and the arrival of the Vikings in Shetland. Their arrival and subsequent settlement has become known as the Norse period. This era of Scandinavian rule brought significant changes, much of which is still evident, and celebrated, here today. Today marks the first of the season’s Fire Festivals which kicks off in Scalloway and includes a Viking parade and burning of a replica Viking longship in the picturesque harbour. Throughout Shetland, there are ten Up Helly Aa/Fire Festival celebrations between January and March.
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.