A fire pit made using stones from historic buildings at Fethaland. Photo: David Murray
This blog is a little reminder, and hopefully a helpful guide to accessing the outdoors safely and responsibly in Shetland. I first published this in the Shetland Times, our weekly newspaper, to raise awareness amongst locals. The message remains important to everyone visiting Shetland, particularly those who hope to access some of our many beauty spots.
People are being urged to get-to-know the Scottish Outdoor Access Code before heading into the countryside after what has been described as “a crazy summer” by one westside crofter.
Shetland’s top beauty spots have seen more traffic than Piccadilly Circus this summer as locals, lifted from lockdown, took the opportunity to visit places such as Westerwick, Fethaland, Muckle Roe’s scenic area and Uyea.
The Burn of Valayre, Delting, Shetland.
It strikes me that despite having children, I’ve never really written about things to see and do with them, so in this blog, I’ll share a short walk to do with kids. Many of the trails that I write about are long and involve carrying tired legs for a part, or all, of the way – great if you want to build muscle, not so great if you want to relax and soak in the scenery.
Here in Shetland, we are just heading into the second week of the October holidays, where more and more, as parents, we begin to run out of ideas for things to do to occupy our little monkeys. Hopefully this blog will give you a new idea and inspire you to pack a picnic and head out for a few much-needed hours outside.
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)
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.
Jarlshof, the Earl's House (see The Pirate below). Photo: Sophie Whitehead
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been enjoying getting through my reading list recently; and what better way to enjoy a place, without visiting, than through the pages of a well-written book.
In this blog, I have selected my top 10 Shetland fiction reads which I hope you too will enjoy and savour until you can visit. So draa in a chair and start reading ...
"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.
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