“A little barrel-bellied broad-backed equuleus, of a brown or black colour, that is no larger than a donkey”
This is the description of a Shetland pony, written by Samuel Hibbert on his tour of Shetland in 1822 after encountering the native breed of pony, unique to Shetland.
The discovery of a leg bone in excavations at Jarlshof demonstrate that ponies date back as far as the Bronze Age, some 3-4,000 years ago; evolving into a breed which is unique to Shetland. This blog will explore the history of this fascinating breed and their use today.
Sunrise over Lerwick Harbour. Photo courtesy of Scott Goudie.
Picture the scene, a still morning, quiet and milky. Perhaps a few terns making themselves known in the harbour and the sound of pans clattering from cramped kitchens as the residents rise to start another day. This was Lerwick on the morning that the first Dutch East Indiamen would sail into our history books with a bang.
During the 17th century, The Netherlands was one of the most powerful trading nations in the world. With trading colonies in the Far East (Indonesia), the Dutch East India Company brought goods from the Netherlands to the settlers, which were bartered in exchange for precious commodities such as spices and silks. To prevent conflict of interest between various traders and private interests, there was from 1602 until 1799, the establishment of the United Netherlands Chartered East India Company (the VOC). The company held a monopoly on all Dutch trade and navigation east of the Cape of Good Hope and they furthered trading interests in the Indian Ocean, becoming one of the most powerful trading companies in the world.
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.
‘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!).
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