Geographically speaking, the loch at Girlsta is interesting. It is the deepest in Shetland, at about 65ft deep in places. From an ecological perspective it is fascinating. It is the natural habitat of a sub-species of fish unique to Shetland. The Slender Char, found in the loch is a relative of the Arctic Char which was marooned here following the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. The Char, adapted and changed into a distinct sub-species now only found in the loch of Girlsta. Fascinating as both these facts are, for me, the most interesting thing about the loch is the folklore associated with it, and the story of Geirhildr, a young Viking princess.
Geirhildr was the daughter of the famous Viking explorer, Flóki Vilgerðarson, known as Hrafna Flóki (Raven Flóki). Flóki was born in the 9th century, at a time of exploration, discovery and expansion in the Viking world which was pushing West at this time, with Flóki a central character in this expansion. He is the man heralded with the discovery of Iceland. This discovery is documented in the Landnámabók, an Icelandic saga which describes the settlement (landnám) of Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries.
Flóki was preparing to leave Shetland, continuing their journey to the north-west. He went out into the hills in search of young ravens.
For anyone who has ever driven the road between Girlsta and Stromfirth, you will be well aware of the ravens which are still prevalent in the area. Passing through this area always makes me think of Hrafna Flóki, looting the nests for the young birds.
When Flóki returned he found that his daughter, Geirhildr, had fallen through ice in the loch and drowned. Local legend tells that her body was buried on the island in the centre of the loch, Geirhildarvatn (Geirhildr’s lake/water) and that the name Geirhildstaδir is a derivation of her name, Geirhildr and has led to the place-name, Girlsta which is still used today. This norse place-name is not unusual in Shetland, about 95% of the place-names come from the Old Norse language.
The island holm in the centre of Girlsta loch, where Geirhildr is said to be buried.
I’ve always wondered at the truth in this and frustratingly, have never had the opportunity to make it onto the small island holm to find out. However, this summer offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to the island on foot, rather than by boat.
The dry summer meant that the water level in the loch at Girlsta was much lower, allowing access onto the island.
This year, having enjoyed the driest summer on record since 1984 meant that the water levels in the lochs reached an all time low, including that in the loch of Girlsta. What was revealed by this drop in water level was the perfect causeway, linking the island holm to the shore.
A causeway revealed, leading to the island on the Girlsta loch.
How could I not pack a picnic and drag the bairns across for a look? Once we got onto the island, I was surprised to find that it was quite a lot bigger than it appears from the road. I’ve driven past it hundreds of times, and it has always appeared quite small, yet finding ourselves marooned there, knee-deep in heather, it’s scale became more apparent - this was a substantial island!
The size of the island soon became clear when we set foot on it!
Having had no grazing from sheep, it was difficult walking but we soon reached the north-west end of the holm and came to what i’m calling a ‘boat-shaped depression’. After carrying the bairns across the holm and lacking the motivation to scour the rest of the holm, it was unanimously decided that this had to be Geirhildr’s final resting place.
The 'boat-shaped depression' which I have declared to be Geirhildr's final resting place.
In this afternoon, I was able to answer a childhood question, and give my own children a window into Shetland’s history. Was this Geirhildr’s final resting place? Absolutely!
*Disclaimer - I am not an archaeologist and this conclusion is based entirely on speculation and imagination. I hope that you too, have the opportunity to pay homage to Geirhildr if the summer drought is to reveal the causeway again.
Lena, our Viking Princess.
Until next time! And remember, let your imagination rule, as ‘those who are curious always find interesting things to do’. ~ Walt Disney.
When guiding, I always begin by explaining that Shetland has only been part of Scotland for about 550 years so there's no haggis, kilts or bagpipes to be seen. For guests, particularly those from the 'New World' our inability to embrace Scottish culture and tradition after 'only' 550 years usually gets a laugh in itself!
Unfortunately, King Christian couldn't afford to pay the wedding dowry so instead he pawned the islands of Orkney and Shetland. The King planned on redeeming the islands at a later date but this never happened and Shetland and Orkney have remained part of Scotland since this date.
Perhaps the most obvious difference is the landscape, Shetland is characterised by a distinct lack of trees (this also marks it out as different to many parts of Scandinavia too, but let's not go there). This is one of the first things the discerning visitor will spot. Thin soils, a salt-laden environment, grazing animals and strong-winds all contribute to this tree-less landscape but what we lack in trees, we make up for in blanket peat bog!
This leads onto the second difference, Scotland enjoys far more growing days than Shetland, resulting in far more large-scale farming throughout Scotland, rather than crofting, which still dominates much of the Shetland landscape. A crofter in Shetland can expect about 100 good growing days, compared to about 250 in Aberdeenshire - it's no wonder my tomatoes failed to ripen this year! Furthermore, the thin soils and harsh climate mean that it's harder to grow and establish crops. Limestone valleys such as Weisdale and Tingwall provide fertile soils, as does the South Mainland, sitting on its bed of old red sandstone, however 50% of the islands remain covered in acidic, blanket peat moor which proves challenging for growers.
My third observation relating to the landscape lies in the topography. In Scotland, visitors find great pleasure, and challenge, in munro bagging (conquering one of the 282 hills that exceed 3,000 ft (915m). In Shetland, there are none of these, but what is lacking in height is made up for in style. Shetland boasts no less than 19 marilyns, shorter than munros, these are hills in excess of 500ft (150m) which can be readily bagged by the enthusiastic hiker. More information about walking in Shetland can be accessed here.
Perhaps the greatest differences can be found in the cultures of Shetland and Scotland, although sharing many similarities in folklore, tradition and belief, there are also some striking differences. To save being too wordy, I've outlined a few of these in the table below. This is by no means an exhaustive list, it's simply a few that quickly came to mind and may be most obvious to a visitor.
Shetland and Scotland also boast different flags. In 1969 Shetland developed a unique flag to mark the 500 year anniversary of the islands becoming part of Scotland. The flag was designed to represent, and celebrate the Scandinavian and Scottish past and the 500 year relationship with each respective nation. The Shetland flag, for those who are familiar with it, carries the same colours as the Scottish saltire along with the design of the Nordic cross.
It's a curious thing, and something that I was always aware of growing up in Shetland. Certainly taking the boat south, to the mainland (Scotland) was a real novelty, and arriving in Aberdeen as a bairn certainly felt like you were landing in a foreign and unfamiliar land. None of these points offer anything groundbreaking, they are simply a collection of observances which I make to people who visit, in an attempt to demonstrate, and explain why Shetland and Scotland are, the same, but different.
See you all next time, thanks for reading.
Welcome back to everyone who has returned to my blog and thanks for all the encouraging words and messages. Also, just a 'hello' to any new followers, it’s so good to have you here.
We're now entering September, the time of year when the big jumpers are broken out, along with winter boots, and the hats and scarves which were hastily stuffed away in drawers and cupboards at the first whiff of Spring. At this time, Instagram is filled with beautiful, seasonal pictures of crisp, autumnal leaves and steaming mugs of tea. Autumn is a time of reflection (and at the risk of sounding like the minister again, I'll continue), the summer is winding down, the harvest is complete and the nights are drawing in as people begin to reflect on the year that's been and think forward to the year ahead (already filling in my 2019 diary and taking bookings I wonder where the year went, and I'm sure many of you feel the same).
Having recently launched the blog, I've done a lot of research into the kind of business I’d like to grow. It has also raised many questions about how others will perceive this and ultimately, me. This critique and soul-searching has been an invaluable (if painful) process. It has given me a clear purpose and has helped highlight the direction I'd like to take and the message I want to send out, and why.
Much of what has inspired me recently has come from the work of Kayte Ferris, a Creative Business Coach and Marketing Mentor over @simpleandseason. Her ethos of slow-living, sustainability and 'seeking simplicity' is incredibly refreshing. In a world filled with mass-marketing and quite frankly, bollocks, her approach is soulful, honest and real. This is what I aspire towards. I want Shetland with Laurie to be authentic, to be real, rather than batch-processed and impersonal.
Simplicity in nature.
In today’s fast paced society, we are bombarded with information, news, opinions, gossip and mindless nonsense. It’s a constant attack on the body’s emotional response system and it can leave us feeling jaded and frustrated with the world around us. Recently I've been trying to re-evaluate my own life and knock out what doesn't work or makes me unhappy and focus on the aspects which are true and bring joy. Everyone should do this, it should be mandatory, kinda like a Spring clean of the mind.
In order to avoid becoming totally caught up in the guff of everyday life I decided to make changes so that I could appreciate what was around me, to see clearly, to view the world through the eyes of a child again (or try to) and yes, I still spend 90% of my free time scrolling through Instagram but it’s creative, right? For me it’s about taking a moment to stop, and appreciate the now. It’s the bird call in summer, the seasonal changes in spring and autumn, the mackerel skies and most importantly, it's watching your children grow. It's about enjoying all of those things without work pressures playing on the mind and the mundane 9-5 invading your private thoughts, those things don't matter in the grand scheme of things. They shouldn't dictate our lives or govern how we live.
Taking a moment to enjoy the moment!
So we did, we had picnics, and they didn't have to take all day or involve much planning. A perfectly good picnic can be enjoyed in most places, even in your own back garden. All that matters is that you've made the time for the adventure, you don't have to trek for miles to find something amazing, it can be on your doorstep all along. And for parents, who face the nightly witching hour (that dreaded hour before bed) this is the perfect time to set off on an adventure because if they fall asleep on the way home then you've saved yourself another job! Other than a few boxsets and the odd '24 hours in A&E' (yup, sucker for a medical documentary), watched in the last hour before bed, we don't watch much tv, meaning that I get a good three hours extra time to work in the evening, when the house is (usually) quiet. This helps get a lot more work done. Oh, and I gave up Facebook in January which is something I haven't for one moment regretted (sorry Zuckerberg), in some ways that was the most positive change I made.
All these things have been really useful in making time management more manageable and in helping ensure that the work-life balance feels more, 'balanced'. The most important thing I've learnt in 'seeking simplicity' is that no matter how daunting, you have to be true to yourself, always and just take a moment to stop, and let your senses guide you.
Finding beauty in nature.
A still evening at Aith skimming stones in the water.
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, the second (belated) part of this blog, I will outline a few of the things we found on our travels through the 'Garden of Shetland' and what we discovered along the way, and if you missed the first Blog entry you can look back and catch up!
Walk 2 - Aith beach and the Viking Boat burial coastal walk (to shake down the dinner)
Views from Aith beach.
From the beach we headed west along the impressive coastline, through golden fields which shone against the low, setting August sun. The bairns ran free, bare legs jumping from knowe to knowe with hair shining in the sun and echoing the colours of the landscape. It all felt very 'earth-motherish' until they started fighting and shergin' through over-tiredness.
Lena enjoying the sunshine and the freedom.
We then followed the coast, in search of the Viking boat burial. Reputed to be the final resting place of a Viking man who had washed ashore during a storm, the crew were all washed away and this one remaining man asked that upon his death, he be buried with his boat and treasure. When he died, his wishes were honoured and he was given a Viking boat burial. Time Team excavated the site (often referred to as the Giant's Grave) in 2002 and they discovered a great number of iron nails but no skeletal remains were uncovered.
Walk 3 - Airstrip to Haltadans stone circle (this took a moment as we stopped for a picnic but the walk itself was short and could be achieved there and back within an hour).
For this walk we headed inland, leaving the coast behind us, into the hills and the land of the mythical trows and njuggels. We parked at the now disused airstrip, built in 1972 the gravel runway is now only used for emergencies and training purposes.
Haltadans, believed to date to the Bronze Age, is a circle of thirty-eight stones with two positioned upright in the centre of the ring. This was our mission, to find it, and making our way north from the airstrip beyond Skutes water, across the boggy moorland we saw a number of Skootie Alans (Arctic Skuas) with their distinctive pointed tail feathers. I wondered if the loch took its name from these birds or was it some other obscure etymological explanation? Haltadans, or the Fairy Ring, wasn't that easy to find, with heather covering many of the stones it was difficult to pick them out in the blanket moor landscape. The OS map was handy to have on hand and thankfully Skootie Alans are much less aggressive than their larger cousin, the Bonxie (Great Skua) which made our passage easier. Despite this, we found the circle (eventually) and after some head-scratching, agreed that this was the spot of the famous 'fairy ring'.
Haltadans stone circle dating to the Bronze Age, often referred to as the Fairy Ring.
This unassuming stone circle has a number of folklore stories associated with it. One suggestion is that the circle represents a fiddler and his wife (the central stones) and the surrounding stones are trows (trolls) who, whilst dancing, were startled and turned to stone with the rising sun. Trows, popular in Shetland folklore were said to be a cheerful and mischievous race who had a great love of fiddle music. The name Haltadans, according to etymologist Jakob Jakobsen referred to the fact that in Shetland folklore and tradition, trows and fairies were often said to limp when they danced and the expression "to had (hold) a haltadans" or "to rush about noisily" was still an expression used in Fetlar and Yell, noted, by Jakobsen when he published his place-names book (1936). Further evidence of this fiddling idea can be found on the OS map of the area which notes the Fiddler's Crus cairn just a short distance NW of the circle.
Quite possibly the perfect picnic spot? A plantiecrub in the hills.
A few other points of interest:
There are many more fantastic walks to take on Fetlar, and certainly plenty for the walker without young children. The coastline offers an ever-changing panorama and more information can be found in Peter Guy's, 'Walking the Coastline of Shetland: The Island of Fetlar (No. 3)'.
Houses and Haa's
One thing that struck me immediately was that there are many grand historic houses in Fetlar. Once supporting a large population, the fertile island boasted some of Shetland's grandest homes, and some remarkable characters too! In Part One of this blog I looked at Smithfield Haa and the round-house at Gruting, and below a few more are outlined, although this is not an exhaustive list.
Brough Lodge, home of Sir Arthur Nicolson.
Brough Lodge is a very unusual house, and unlike anything else built in Shetland. It was built in 1820 by landowner Sir Arthur Nicolson of Lochend (who we heard about in Part One). This striking building was designed and built in a Georgian Gothic style, in stark contrast to the Haa of Smithfield for example (Part One) which was built at a similar time (1815). Brough Lodge had everything a grand house of that time 'should'. It boasted, among others, a drawing room, library, butler's pantry and a counting room (where the landlord dealt with the rents from the island), and it also had an astronomical observatory (obviously). The house was last inhabited in the 1970s. Sir Arthur was an eccentric man, who also built the round house 'his folly' at Gruting (again, discussed in Part One).
Leagarth House, built in 1901 by Sir William Watson Cheyne. Photo: © Fetlar Interpretive Centre
The young William Watson Cheyne, at Edinburgh University, an enthusiastic student to Lord Lister's became his House Surgeon, helping to develop an antiseptic solution to keep bacteria out of wounds. This really was pioneering work at the time and research which we are still grateful for today. The Fetlar Interpretive Centre has excellent displays on Sir William Watson Cheyne and opening hours are available on their website here.
Tresta is a place to note for its beauty and is situated in the heart of the island. The area is dominated by the spectacular beach with Papil water behind. When we went initially, the beach was narrow and rocky, but arriving in the early evening, a few hours later the beautiful sandy shores were revealed, offering a large expanse of beach with the spectacular cliffs of Lamb Hoga to the west. Nearby is the Kirk which was built in 1790 and has memorials to both the Nicolson's and Cheynes as well as several graves from the Second World War.
The Fetlar flit-boat at Ugasta.
One of the saddest sights for me, was the old Fetlar flit-boat at the Ugasta pier, just a stone's throw away from Brough Lodge. It lay in its noost above the high-water mark, still tied to the winch, as it was when it was hauled up for the last time.
The old Fetlar flit-boat at Ugasta pier.
Flit-boats were common in Shetland before the extensive road system was introduced, and sixerns (six-oared) like this were a common sight around Shetland shores, ferrying people, passengers and mail throughout the islands.
I found it quite poignant to see the knot, still holding the boat in place to the winch, secured against weather and tide, and I wondered whether the hands tying her up that last time knew that this would be her final resting place?
And on that note of reflection (it is a Sunday after all), I think I've said enough. Fetlar was a real treat and there is so much more to see, do and discover. I hope that this has given you a taste of the island and a reason to visit.
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!
I've been a little preoccupied these last few weeks as we've been caught up in the midst of wedding madness. We got married last week, in a small ceremony in our back garden, here in Lerwick. The sun came out for the occasion and we had the most special day, together with family, celebrating. Our 'garden wedding', in the middle of town made me think of my favourite postcard from Lerwick (below) which shows a young couple, caught in a moment of passion, kissing on the 'banks broo', with the open sea in the background. I always imagine that in their story, he is preparing to go back to sea, leaving her lovesick for months, with no more than a letter to remind her that he is thinking of her, and is safe. This is a story which is familiar to many people living in Shetland, both in the past and present day, although today we have the internet keeping people 'connected', and it is this 'touching scene at Lerwick' which gave me the inspiration for this latest blog post.
Despite our best efforts to slow down the hands of time and cherish every moment, the old clock keeps on ticking and time marches forward regardless. As our wedding guests left handwritten messages of congratulations on the toilet wall underneath the stairs, it got me thinking about the history of our house and the people who called it 'home'. Built in 1880 by a local merchant, in its time it has only had a handful of owners, most of whom were shopkeepers in Lerwick, and who have all left their mark in some way or another on various parts of the house and garden. I find these glimpses into the past fascinating, and I try to imagine the people who lived here before us. I think about whether they would like the changes we've made, the colours we've chosen and the lives we lead, and sometimes, I wonder if I am actually going insane?
One of the photos which came back from (the world's best) photographer, Alexa Fitzgibbon from our wedding day looked as though it could easily have been taken in 1890 not 2018. One of my favourites from the day, it was shot in black and white with nothing but the chimney pots in the background. It transported my mind back in time and I wonder whether the owners of the house in 150 years will think about the past like we do? Will they consider, or even care who lived here? What will their thoughts be when they uncover photos and secret messages on the fabric of the building as we've done during the renovation? Will they cherish them as we do or simply plaster over the past? Has this digital revolution removed all future mystery from the equation? In the digital age of the future, will there still be unanswered questions or will the magic and wonder be removed by the simple click of a mouse?
We added to the story of our house when we married recently in the garden.
The history of our house and the history of the town made me think of and all the relationships which have been formed by people coming to live and work here in Lerwick. From the gutter women who followed the herring shoals north, and made their homes all along the towns North Road, to the incoming oil workers of the 1970s who came here when North Sea oil was discovered and the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal was built. Shetland has long been a seafaring island and the diaspora is spread far and wide, reaching all corners of the globe, yet many still return in search of their ancestors and even today, people come to Shetland to plant new roots and call this island, their home. Perhaps the romantic pull is not from the past but rather from Shetland itself, from what the past can show us and what the future can offer us.
...and on that note, goodnight!
Therefore, I thought I would have to confess to how I ended up in the pub on a Friday afternoon. In this particular case, the story involves, 'The Guide, the Drunk and the Thule!'
I love Lerwick, but I could count on one hand the amount of times I've been to a pub in recent years, yet two Fridays in almost as many weeks I've found myself at the bar with a bottle of 'crisp and fruity' (I'll explain that one later). The last time I went to the pub with some researchers we found ourselves sitting in an empty bar with an 80s inspired barmaid and the greatest hits of Abba on a loop (we left when it became evident that Waterloo wasn't on that particular playlist and I'm not divulging which pub it was, I'll leave that to the imagination of the reader). But what is it about the Lerwick Walking Tour that always ends with myself, and fellow guide, Jim Gray propping up the bar, I wonder? Perhaps it's because we end the tour on the pier? Or maybe it's Mr Gray's influence? Or could it just the buzz of guiding? Whatever it is, I hope that frequenting the Thule doesn't become a common occurrence on a Friday afternoon. Thankfully I don't like 'crisp and fruity' all that much anyway.
Now to get to the 'ugly'. I was taking a group of French visitors on a tour around Lerwick. This is a tour that I really enjoy. I love the old streets and this day was particularly busy and the town was buzzing. The Bergen to Lerwick race was in, the sun was shining, and there was a real holiday feel about the street — even the Thule was busy. I gathered the group on the pier and quickly realised that a number of them couldn't speak English and the ship had failed to send a translator. No problem, beautiful day, beautiful sights and they all had cameras. Sorted. Or so I thought...
As we made our way across to the Shetland Museum it became increasingly evident that this gentleman was going to interrupt, and talk over me at every opportunity, and as we progressed along the street, the number of complaints from the others grew. I couldn't help but be mildly impressed by his lungs - I didn't think it was possible to smoke so many cigarettes on the short journey across Commercial Street! Outside the museum, explaining the significance of the Shetland flag, he flapped me out the way. Correcting me, he explained to the group that what they were actually looking at was the 'flag Écosse'. That was the final straw for me. For anyone unsure of the difference, the Shetland flag, like the Scottish saltire is blue and white but it carries the Nordic cross, rather than the St Andrews cross. Funnily enough the door of the Thule shows the Shetland flag - they have it painted on the door!
But, back to the story at hand. Along with Mr Chablis, I also had the Woman Who Couldn't Walk, on the walking tour. Not my day. Anyway, a quick phone call back to the pier and before long, a young Spanish lass appeared from the ship. With our escort in tow, he behaved and the woman with mobility issues was dragged along on the tour without further incident and by the time we got back to the pier, the guests were happy again and I was in need of a drink! We entered the Thule and asked which wines they had and it was at this point that we were introduced to the 'crisp and fruity', which prompted my next question. "What other wines do you have"? "Just this one" the young barman said. And that is how I came to be drinking in the Thule Bar on a Friday afternoon.
No matter what happens in life, It's important to look for that silver lining — it's usually in there somewhere! So, in celebration of this, and for anyone who is interested, please get in touch, and you never know... you may end up in the Thule with a 'crisp and fruity' too.
Going into Mousa at night is a completely different experience to going in on a day trip. Landing in the summer dusk at 11pm was slightly eery and the island had a more mysterious feel. On the short walk to the Broch we saw the latest addition to the island, a wooden bench which sits on the 60 North latitude line. Rodney, from the Mousa Boat built it using driftwood which washed ashore on the island during last winter's gales. Driftwood has always been important to Shetlanders, as we live in an almost treeless landscape, and I believe it's engrained into every one of us to squirrel away every last piece! A walk along the shoreline proves this as there are numerous piles of wood of varying sizes and quality 'laid up above the tideline' to be collected at a later date for some project or another and despite best intentions this 'later date' often never comes! That said, it's still an unwritten rule here in Shetland that wood laid up above the tideline must be left for the gatherer to collect, even if it has been there so long that it has started growing a fine coat of moss, or that it has been there for all of living memory and has begun the long process of rotting back into the ground, the wood is sacred and should be left well alone! However, rules of the shoreline over, back to the bench! Mousa lies on the 60 North line, meaning that it is on the same latitude as St Petersburg, Helsinki, Oslo, parts of Alaska and Labrador Bay, and given the choice of any of those 'exotic' destinations, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather have been on that particular Wednesday evening. Approaching the 2, 000 year old Broch was very atmospheric, it was shrouded in mist, giving a real air of mystery and intrigue.
Mousa is home to 11, 000 breeding pairs, with 3-400 breeding pairs making their home within the walls of the Broch. Prone to predators they return to the breeding grounds at dusk to avoid capture from the Great Skua (Bonxie) and Black Backed Gulls. Mousa is the perfect place for these vulnerable little birds as there are no ground predators on the island. Yes, Mousa has no rabbits, hedgehogs, rats or even mice! So, as midnight approached the birds began to flock back to land, their flight was quite erratic as they circled the Broch seeking out their own nest site and I even witnessed a mid-air collision!
We've just had the summer solstice here in Shetland. That time of the year when the long days of summer merge together in a haze of soft sunshine and warm breezes which are punctuated with the sweet smell of squill and thrift, a time when the laverock's (skylark) song never ceases and the sun only dips below the horizon momentarily. Or not. This past week has seen the worst weather of the summer so far. Today, Saturday, I stayed indoors most of the day with the fire on, watching from the window as my neighbours braved the wind and rain to have their annual midsummer BBQ (hats off to them, they did it)! The wind has decimated the garden and the few trees which do endure the elements here have been stripped bare of their new, spring leaves.
That said, the bad weather has meant that we've been confined to barracks and this has given me the opportunity to a). finish my website and b). write this blog post. I had planned to launch the website at the end of the season, with perfect content and no typos. However, I decided that if I aimed for a 'complete and finished' product, then I would never finish it, or be brave enough to publish it and it would simply stagnate somewhere in cyber-space. It should be fluid, right? So, that's why I decided to publish it, warts and all! And, wow! What a lot of feedback I've had, I can't thank everyone enough for all the kind comments and suggestions, thanks to every last one of you.
I was feeling very nervous about hitting the 'publish' button and putting myself out 'there' for scrutiny and judgement, so we watched a film about Winston Churchill to take my mind off it. During the film, Churchill's wife offered him up some sound advice and it felt very fitting as to how I was feeling about taking my own plunge into the unknown. She told him, "You are strong because you are imperfect, and you are wise because you have doubts". What better advice could you ask for? And how true it is. In fact, the whole film was full of inspiration, or maybe that was the wine? Whatever it was, it took my mind off my own misgivings.
So here's to the future!
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that matters"
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.