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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 an 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 (Yell) to Hammersness (Fetlar), briefly touching base at Belmont (Unst) en route.
I sat out on the deck (mainly to avoid the boredom induced World War Three which was brewing in the car) and I watched the seabirds as they dived, 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. Listening to the traffic report on Radio 2, I remember thinking at the time, just how far removed we were from the busy traffic-induced rat race and the stresses and strains of the ever congested M25 and, at that moment, civilisation seemed to me, a very faraway world, yet to dad, a fisherman, this was his every day, this was his 9-5. Isn't it funny how a moment can transport you back in time and shake out old memories?
(If you’re interested, I recorded a podcast episode about life at the fishing with dad that you can listen to here.)
Arriving in Fetlar, 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.
Words of advice for those visiting Aithbank
Aithbank offers excellent value, it is clean(ish), tidy and reasonably well equipped. I would say however that in general the Böds in Shetland, operated by the Amenity Trust, have been rather neglected in recent years and, despite being very good value, they offer very little comfort and lack many basic necessities. The lack of maintenance and investment back into the buidlings have meant that many are damp, ill-equipped and uncomfortable.
Here are some tips to ensure maximum comfort when visiting:
For more information and for booking, please visit www.camping-bods.com.
If you are looking for a little more comfort during your stay in Fetlar, read about our stay at The Lodge, a beautifully renovated and comfortable cottage by the sea.
Walk 1 - Everland to Gruting circular (3 hours inc. picnic & short legs)
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 category 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 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.
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.
Nestled in the heart of the valley, and said to be built from the stone of the cleared houses from the area, sits Arthur’s impressive roundhouse – not Neolithic, or Iron Age but, rather, a bolt-hole for this 19th-century eccentric landowner who owned the imposing mansion at Brough Lodge, a few miles away from the folly.
Sir Arthur Nicolson 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 from stone and the upper floor constructed of wood. Once complete Sir Arthur, on his horse Jolly, made his way to the newly constructed summerhouse to spend the night, in perfect 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 left afraid by an incessant banging and knocking which echoed through the darkness outside. Nobody was there and eventually, the noise became too much to bear and he abandoned his bed, galloping back to Brough Lodge, much the wearier of his staycation in the summerhouse.
An explanation, provided by the minister at the time, said that the noise could be the spirits of the crofters whom he had evicted from the surrounding area in the 1840s who had, in fact, not departed the valley but had come back to haunt him for his misdeeds against them.
(I wrote more about Shetland’s haunted places here.)
Enjoyed part one? You can read part two here.
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.