Off the Beaten Track
Outdoor Access Officer Kevin Serginson gives you his tips
Chris Dyer on creating a flock of sheep and working the land
Issue No 8 | Spring 2014
The Best Kept Secret in Britain Susan Mansfield experiences Shetland Wool Week
EDGE OF THE WORLD How two young travellers from Germany discovered Shetland
Contents Shetland Spring
Spring is a time of remarkably rapid change
Icons of the Northern Isles
Nature guide Brydon Thomason takes a look at the cream of Shetlandâ€™s wildlife
Heading for the Edge of the World
How two young travellers from Germany discovered Shetland
Off the Beaten Track
Outdoor Access Officer for Shetland Islands Council Kevin Serginson gives some tips on how to enjoy the best that the islands offer
Chris Dyer finds great satisfaction in creating a flock of sheep and working the land in Bressay
The Best Kept Secret in Britain
Susan Mansfield travelled to Shetland for Shetland Wool Week, the increasingly popular festival of knitting that attracts enthusiasts from all over the world
Tom van Deijnen on the joys of Wool Week
The Meaning of Light
Restoration and innovation continue on schedule as Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve nears completion
COPE: A Vision Realised
Alastair Hamilton on a successful social enterprise that sells everything from sandwiches to soap
A Study in Contrast
Paul Bloomer escaped from the Black Country in 1997 to live in Shetland
Back from Beyond
Alastair Hamilton tunes in to the story of a creative journey around Shetland
My Favourite Walks
Deborah Leggate reveals her favourite Shetland spots
Shetland Stars as a Film Location
Davie Gardner describes how Shetland has proved to be irresistible to many TV production companies and film makers
Editor’s Note Misa Hay
Editor: Misa Hay Design: Left, www.weareleft.com Cover image: Jan Tschorsnig Contributions and suggestions are more than welcome. Submissions can be made directly to the Editor by email to email@example.com
pring is a fantastic season in Shetland. The days are getting longer, the weather is gradually improving, nature is waking up, the lambing season is in full swing, gardens are ready for some TLC after their winter rest. After what seemed like an endless time of rain, wind and darkness it feels as if there’s hope in the air. So the best thing to do is to head outside and enjoy Shetland’s great outdoors. In this issue Kevin Serginson, Shetland’s Outdoor Access Officer, gives some handy advice on how to enjoy Shetland’s outdoors and how to do it responsibly. And a couple of back packers from Germany, Jan and Jannes, recount the story of their adventurous trip to Shetland. In fact I’m sure they will inspire you to find a back pack – perhaps even a sleeping bag and a tent – and a good pair of boots and head for the hills. That’s definitely my plan for this year – to explore Shetland on foot and even do some wild camping too. Another exciting thing is our new food and drink blog – A Taste of Shetland. On a regular basis we’ll be bringing you inspiration, information and recipes using the fantastic ingredients we have in Shetland. My other plan for 2014, apart from walking, is to start cultivating my sadly neglected vegetable garden again and get some delicious, fresh and vitamin-packed produce on our table. Gardening in Shetland is a challenge as you can imagine, but I’m determined to succeed. The key thing is finding vegetables or even fruit that is suitable for Shetland’s short and generally cold summer. So watch this space – I’ll keep you posted about my growing success (I hope). So enjoy longer the days, sunshine and Shetland’s great outdoors. I can’t wait to get out there!
Disclaimer: Although Promote Shetland has taken reasonable steps to confirm the information contained in the magazine at the time of publishing, it cannot guarantee that the information published is and remains accurate. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Promote Shetland. Events can be subject to change, we recommend you check details before travelling. /promoteshetland
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Shetland Spring Spring is a time of remarkably rapid change. Because the islands lie around 60° North, winter days are noticeably shorter than farther south while, in summer, there’s no real darkness. To bridge that gap, each spring day needs to be up 5½ minutes longer than the previous one.
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n March, a visitor staying for just a week sees the day lengthen by nearly 40 minutes, more than anywhere else in Britain. The weather changes quickly, too. In March or early April, a cold blast can bring a late snow shower yet, a day or two later, it may be surprisingly warm, in strong sunshine. Spring is a bridge in other ways, too. In March, with luck, dark skies may still allow you to see the aurora borealis, while by the end of May you can explore at midnight by the light of the “simmer dim”, as the sun is only a little below the horizon. If you’re a birdwatcher, spring is a great time to look out for migrants. Some species, such as bramblings, chiffchaffs, chaffinches or robins, pass through in numbers on their way north to breed in Scandinavia. However – especially if there’s a prolonged period of strong winds – you never know what may turn up. In past years there have been sightings of scores of rarities, such as Icterine Warbler, Golden Oriole, Thrush Nightingale or Red-backed Shrike and some even more unusual species, like Little Crake or Paddyfield Warbler. Around the beginning of May, the WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
Shetland Folk Festival offers four days of eclectic music. Over the years, performers have come from Britain or Ireland, North or South America or Africa, India or Mongolia, and of course from Shetland. Held annually since 1981, it’s an event that stretches right across the islands, with concerts in rural village halls as well as in large venues in Lerwick. The festival is woven into the community: visiting performers live in islanders’ homes and are welcomed by audiences spanning every age group. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, or in the darker evenings in March, there’s no shortage of things to do. The fascinating Shetland Museum and Archives can easily occupy a morning and our superb new arts centre, Mareel, has an appealing film and music programme. There are eight modern swimming pools around the islands, along with other indoor sports facilities. In most parts of Shetland, you’re never too far from a friendly café and by May, in village halls, you can sample the first of the excellent Sunday afternoon teas, provided by volunteers to raise funds for local causes. With so much to see and do, spring can be a great time for a break in Shetland.
Spring Facts Length of spring: about 90 days Temperature (average night minimum and day maximum: 4°C - 8°C, Mid-April) Rainfall monthly totals: 103mm (March) to 56mm (May)
Top 5 Spring Experiences 1 Beachcombing after the winter storms 2 Attending one of the last three festivals of the Up Helly Aa season 3 Seeing the first wild flowers emerge 4 Hearing wonderful music from around the world at the Shetland Folk Festival 5 Spotting birds on migration, or settling in for the summer breeding season
We Recommend On a fine day in March, a walk on the higher moorland, where you’ll enjoy great views and maybe see a mountain hare, still in its white winter coat.
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Icons of the Northern Isles
Otter It is perhaps no surprise that the otter was the firm favourite. Even as the status of this marvellous semi aquatic mammal changes so encouragingly for the better
throughout the UK, Shetland is still the best place to see them as our shores are home to the most dense population.
Local naturalist guide and photographer Brydon Thomason takes a look at the cream of Shetland’s wildlife All images Brydon Thomason
hetland is justly renowned for ranking as one of the top 10 regions in the world to visit. As recently as 2011 it was listed as such by travel experts at Lonely Planet among destinations as exotic as Patagonia, the Marquesas Islands, Indonesia and Egypt. To quote: “this might just be the last untamed corner of the United Kingdom”. There are of course many attractions for visitors, and wildlife is most certainly one. Shetland’s geographic location, surrounding seas and unspoiled natural beauty are among the reasons for it hosting such a plethora of wildlife; and the list of species recorded is exciting and diverse. There are some particular species often referred to as “icons of the Northern Isles”. As with the star attraction species of the African plains, Shetland could also be said to have its “Big Five”. Okay, so the “five” may not include lion or leopard, but show a visitor to Shetland their first otter or killer whale and their excitement and elation
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levels will reach similar peaks! In a survey by the organisers of the Shetland Nature Festival, the Big Five wildlife attractions were ranked through a 2013 Facebook poll as: 1 otter, 2 puffin, 3 killer whale, 4 gannet and 5 storm petrel. Shetland’s list of the Big Five may of course vary from person to person and with such an exhilarating cast it is little wonder. Species such as red-throated diver and red-necked phalarope will be high on many a “wish list”, and if beauty or charisma are among the qualifications or credentials perhaps they will push out two from the list above. Then of course there are the endemic species such as the Shetland bumblebee and Edmondston’s chickweed. If you are visiting this year, what will your Big Five be?
Hardly a surprise for such an adorable and entertaining species for it to feature so high on the list. With such exquisite attire of black and white two-piece suit and contrastingly colourful bulbous bill, a puffin’s beauty is as endearing as its antics.
Find out more about where, when and how to see these and other iconic wildlife attractions at www.shetlandnature.net
With a pristine black and white plumage and a wingspan of 6ft, a beautiful yellow saturation to the head and an impressive dagger-shaped bill, the gannet quite rightly earns its place in the Big Five.
New creatures can
The UK’s smallest breeding seabird, not
exhilarate and enthral as
that much bigger than a sparrow, the storm
powerfully as the killer
petrel is probably one of the nation’s
whale. An encounter with
most elusive birds as it only returns to its
these “sea wolves” is an
breeding colonies under cover of night.
experience never to be
Its bat-like flight, along with its intriguing
call as it arrives at its nest site from far out at sea, is an experience regarded as a highlight for many visitors.
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Da Sneug - spectacular cliffs at Foula, one of Britainâ€™s most remote inhabited islands
HEADING FOR THE EDGE OF THE WORLD How two young travellers from Germany discovered Shetland
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We were on a trip through northern Britain, when we stood at the coast of Scotland, looked north and asked ourselves: what lies there, beyond the horizon, still to discover?
t was a sudden move. The gannet dived like an arrow downwards, crashed through the surface and left a long trail of bubbles behind while disappearing into the darkness of the Atlantic Ocean. A few moments later it emerged again, carrying a small fish as bait in its beak. We sat on the cliffs of Foulaâ€™s western shore, holding a warm cup of coffee in our hands while we watched the scene. The waves below our feet created a gentle murmur, mixed with the voices of thousands of seabirds. In the middle of this scenery we both felt small, really small, reduced to being spectators in this incredible performance provided by nature. Embedded among the elements, we both were left with the pure feeling of awe. All this happened on the morning of 3rd August 2012, the third day of our trip to Shetland. We, Jannes and Jan, are both students from Hamburg in Germany. Being friends for years now, we discovered at some point that both of us share the same idea of travelling: the wish to discover remote places all over Europe, just in front of our doorstep but somehow overlooked and forgotten by everyone else. We made the decision to visit Shetland in April 2012. We were on a trip through
northern Britain, when we stood at the coast of Scotland, looked north and asked ourselves: what lies there, beyond the horizon, still to discover? We knew barely anything about Shetland. Sure, we have seen Shetland ponies before, and we have met Shelties, the furry, fluffy sheepdogs. But all in all we had to admit that there was nothing we really knew about this place. This lack of information encouraged us more and more to book flights, since we would be able to bring back stories and pictures from a really unique place, hidden like a treasure. The plan was quite easy: taking the plane from Hamburg to Aberdeen, then switching over to the ferry to Lerwick, enjoying the slow and traditional way of travel. From this point, we had no further plans, at least no precise ones. We simply headed for two weeks full of curiosity and discovery! It was early in the morning when we caught first sight of Shetland. In the beginning it was only a thin, dark line on the horizon; it was hard to imagine that these were islands. But the closer we got, the more became visible: the green hills of Fair Isle, then the steep cliffs of Sumburgh Head, the sandy beaches of Mainland X
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All of the 12 nights we spent in Shetland, we slept in a tent. It was great, since there was always a spot of flat and soft grass to pitch it on
X and finally Bressay Lighthouse, guarding the entrance of Lerwick harbour. Gliding through the last yards of the calm sea, we stood at the railing and enjoyed the rising sun, inhaling every bit of this mighty moment. Our first shaky steps on solid ground again took us to a supermarket, where we supplied ourselves with food and water for the forthcoming journey. With our backpacks heavily loaded we left Lerwick in the direction of Walls, in the west of Mainland. We were aiming to get to Foula. Foula. What a name for an island. So deep, so mystical. It is also known as “the edge of the world” or “Britain’s most isolated island”. Everything we heard about this place was somehow extreme: such a tiny island, but possessing Shetland’s highest cliffs, Shetland’s second highest hills, only 30 islanders and thousands of seabirds. In the evening, when we arrived in Walls, a small village, the island was visible as a silhouette in the far distance, its hills covered in clouds. What a sight! The next day, we boarded the New Advance, the smallest of the inter-island ferries. Two other people, a young couple from the Netherlands, had decided to go to Foula too, a fact that left the crew quite surprised. They couldn’t remember having so many passengers at once, ever. Soon after we left the harbour the sea changed its face. You could see the Atlantic taking control, turning the colour of the sea from a light blue and green into a hard and cold grey. This island definitely sits in the middle of ocean, only surrounded by waves. Four seals observed us as we arrived at the harbour of Foula. Under their constant watch, the ship was tied to the pier and we climbed a ladder to get ashore. We packed up, said goodbye to the ferrymen and walked south, while the other two travellers went north. Heading for the Da Sneck ida Smaallie, a huge rock fault in the south west of the island, we wandered
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past the little airstrip and straight into “Da Daal”, the surprisingly deep valley between the two largest peaks of the island (which we actually couldn’t see, because of the low hanging clouds). The moment we entered the valley, suddenly thousands of large brown birds rose into the air, some of them flying right above our heads, waiting and, then, without any warning, attacking us. They dive-bombed us. We didn’t expect this. On our way to Walls, a teacher, who took us a bit of the way, told us that in Foula we might find one of the largest colonies of skuas. We wondered a little about these birds, but soon we forgot about them again. Now, using our backpacks as shields, we slowly moved on, under constant attack, regretting not having listened to the teacher carefully enough – we had been warned! It wasn’t too hard to discover the reason for their aggressive behaviour: all over the valley lay their chicks, well covered and without any movement in the wet grass, frightened only of us. As we realised that we were only disturbing intruders in their homes, we quickly moved on to the slopes of the valley, where we encountered far fewer assaults. We pitched our tent just at the end of the valley, right in front of the huge cliffs, embedded between the hills. Soon sheep came by, curiously checking out this odd, orange spot in the landscape with these two strange guys inside, enjoying their dinner. What a day! Tired but happy to finally have reached it, the edge of the world, we crawled into our sleeping bags, still listening to the constant cries of the birds. Two days later, we left Foula, heading on towards the north, looking for the next superlative Shetland provides for its visitors: Muckle Flugga, Britain’s northernmost point. We quickly hitchhiked to Toft where we jumped on the ferry to Yell, transversed the island WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
flying right above our heads, waiting and, then, without any warning, attacking us. They dive-bombed us
with the help of a young herdsman and â€“ faster than we thought â€“ reached Unst, the northernmost inhabited island of the UK. Our trip along the western coast of Unst lasted two days, leading us alongside the breathtaking coast with all its cliffs, arches and blowholes. We walked through beautiful areas of green grass covered with flowers, over sandy beaches; we stomped through moors and along lochs. We slept close to the ruins of an old farm, as well as directly on a large beach. We took a swim in the sea and we ran with the ubiquitous rabbits. We withstood rain and we bathed in the sun. All in all it was condensed wilderness and pureness of nature and adventure. And then we arrived at Hermaness, finding ourselves sitting in the biggest circus of the world. Tens of thousands of puffins, these beautiful coloured and incredibly cute small birds waddled, dangled and danced around us, just ignoring our existence. Every minute hundreds of them dropped off the cliff down to the sea while hundreds came back, more crashing than landing on the grass. Having incredible amounts of small fish lined up in their beaks, they crawled into their holes, making strange noises, soon crawling out again just to fly away to WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
catch more fish. Oh yes, such an eye-to-eye encounter with a puffin is something really special. The following days are left in our minds as a shadeless mixture of excitement and adventure. We hopped from one island to another, we visited Fetlar, Yell, Mainland, Northmavine and Muckle Roe. We slept next to seals and got woken up by curious ponies, we cooked seashells and steamed salmon. We sweated and we froze, we warmed at campfires and we cooled in lochs. We travelled as far as our feet could take us. With all our senses, we enjoyed the trip. We also had many encounters with Shetlanders. They took us a bit along the way with their cars when we put out our thumbs, hoping for someone to stop. We met a carpenter, a woman who rented caravans, a teacher, herdsmen, fishermen and so many more. But every time we met someone, it was a pleasure. By speaking to Shetlanders we learned a lot about what moved the people there. We learned about the oil, the wind and the gas, about the positive as well as the negative sides of being so far away from mainland Britain. And also about the habit of renting a bus, dressing as weirdly as possible and then driving from pub to pub (this, in fact, helped us a lot to understand why
Superman and Elvis Presley at the same time ordered some fish and chips in Brae). The Shetlanders, well, they seemed to be pretty lovely! All of the 12 nights we spent in Shetland, we slept in a tent. It was great, since there was always a spot of flat and soft grass to pitch it on. Somehow, every place we slept at seemed to compete with the ones before when it came to the best view, the best scenery. At no other place we have ever been before was it so easy to camp. But then it was time to leave. We hitchhiked back to Lerwick, promenaded a last time through the streets and bought some fudge. Such a great sweet to forget about the bitter wrench we felt. Then, finally, we had to board the ferry back home. The moment when it went past the Bressay lighthouse, the sun broke through the clouds for a last time. The gulls seemed to wave goodbye and flew back to the islands. We both left Shetland with the strong feeling that we just had discovered something really great and beautiful. We both knew someday we would be coming back, again jumping from island to island, discovering these green jewels in the middle of the sea. 60 NORTH | SPRING 2014
Beaten Track Outdoor Access Officer for Shetland Islands Council Kevin Serginson gives some tips on how to enjoy the best that the islands offer
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hetland is a brilliant place to visit and explore the outdoors by yourself or with your family. I want to introduce you to my work in the wild places of Shetland and give you some tips about how best to explore safely and responsibly. Since moving here four years ago and through my work as the Outdoors Access Officer for Shetland Islands Council, I’ve explored much of Shetland by foot, bike, kayak and yacht. With a love of being out and about, you could say it’s pretty much a dream job for me, but there’s still much I have yet to see – and I’ve not explored by horse … yet! One of my roles is developing the Core Paths Plan, which lists and gives protection 108 formal routes stretching 455km across Shetland. In addition to these I am responsible for managing and developing 57 access routes of 38km which give formal access to lochs, beaches and other points of interest.
Right: Taking in the view Below: Clift Sound
as you can probably guess my time in the outdoors isn’t just limited to the working day WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
Much of my time is spent out and about inspecting paths, organising improvement works and talking to land managers. It is also good to get involved with community groups and other interest groups who are looking to improve access for their specific interests. But as you can probably guess my time in the outdoors isn’t just limited to the working day. As I drive across Shetland I am never more than three miles from the sea and I find amazing viewpoints, beaches and other places of interest as I go.
However, when you visit, I would encourage you to park the car and go off the beaten track. If you do, a whole new experience of Shetland awaits you. Some of the great places I have explored with my family include walks to the Broch of Culswick, the Broch of Burraland, Burgi Block House, the Burn of Lunklet, Kergord Woods and various points along the Eshaness coast. But also less well known local places that are only a hop, skip and jump from the road such as the waterfalls at Catspund, John Boyne’s Burn, Burn of the Twa Roes, Njugals Water and Huxter Mills. Often we’ll have a picnic or cook on a simple stove and just have a nice family time outdoors. Promote Shetland have a comprehensive list of popular walks on their www.walkshetland.com website. The walks are graded to help you choose an appropriate one for you and your family. For my own grown up adventures with friends time is usually split between sailing with my friend on his yacht Märta and longer walks to more remote locations like Uyea, Da Lang Ayre and the Muckle Roe coast. I also enjoy kayaking around some of the coves and caves on calm days. And it’s a rare day when my trusty camera doesn’t join me on my ventures. X 60 NORTH | SPRING 2014
One of the beauties of Shetland is its often unspoilt character
X In Scotland, under the Land Reform Act 2003, you have what is commonly known as a right to roam. This isn’t strictly true as there are limitations to where you can go, but in effect most of the hills and coast are yours to explore and your rights and responsibilities are explained in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Some simple tips from the code are to avoid people’s houses, gardens, farmyards and work places; don’t walk through crops; use stiles and gates; keep dogs under close control; and generally respect the countryside, its wildlife and its people. When setting off on your own outdoor adventure, a lot of what you need to consider is common sense. A good pair of waterproof boots or supportive wellies will pay you dividends, as will robust waterproof clothing. Make sure you take adequate food and water for your activity and it’s always a good idea to let someone know roughly where you are going and when you intend to be back. I’ll often leave a note in my car, particularly when camping, so that no one living locally worries unnecessarily about my return. One of the beauties of Shetland is its often unspoilt character. With relatively low visitor numbers accessing the hills, paths are still often little more than sheep tracks as opposed to the constructed paths you may find elsewhere in the UK, so a basic level of navigational skill can be useful, though most popular paths are waymarked. With open access there is often no need to stick exactly to the path, so if a view takes your interest you can explore – just take care near cliffs as they can be unstable and grassy banks and rocks are often slippy.
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Clockwise from top: Coast at Littlure, Burrastow; A family kayak trip at Westerwick; Da Brigs, Vementry; Camping near Da Brigs Vementry; Virda near Banna Minn.
Sometimes people think that being outdoors just involves walking, but this wonderful free resource is available to all with unmotorised access to the land, sea and lochs permitted. So, bicycles and horses are included in these rights, as well as kayaks and other motorless watercraft. However, not all routes and ground are suitable for all activities; if you are on a mountain bike or a horse you may need to plan your outing carefully to avoid easily damaged ground and areas without gates. Also if you have a dog with you you’ll need to beware of disturbing sheep with lambs or cattle with calves and find a way to navigate around them. On lochs and the sea you can go fishing, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, swimming and snorkelling, even model boat sailing. On the land you can walk, run, ride, climb and camp; and then there’s photography, drawing and painting, wildlife watching, geology, collecting materials for crafts. You can even just have a lie down, enjoy the day or fly a kite. I’ve recently combined flying a kite with photography and sailing to do some aerial photography from Märta! WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
Walking is well covered with the range of SIC core paths and access routes along with www.walksheltand.com. Some community groups have also created their own local walks leaflets, so look out for them while you’re out and about. And linked to many of the walks is the Shetland Geopark where you can get a free app for your smartphone to discover fascinating facts about the ancient rocks of Shetland. And to get hands on experience of the rocks you can always go climbing. Climb Shetland is the climbing club for Shetland with nights on the indoor wall at Clickimin Leisure Centre and climbing guides available through them. Shetland Wheelers are a largely road cycling club for Shetland, but they do have a mountain biking offshoot and Cycle Shetland has a range of information with suggested road cycling routes in Shetland. If the water is your thing both Shetland Canoe Club and Shetland Windsurfing Club welcome beginners and have regular meets both at their venues and further afield. And if you’re looking to go fresh water fishing then check out Shetland WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
Anglers’ Association who even have loch boats to hire for a very modest fee. Of course many know Shetland for its wildlife from numerous programmes on television. There is a range of commercial tour operators who take groups and individuals out as well as non-commercial groups like Shetland Bird Club, the Shetland Field Studies Group and the RSPB Wildlife Explorers for children. So if you like the outdoors and getting away from the road get yourself a set of Explorer Ordnance Survey Maps or use some of the route maps in the links above and explore this wonderful free resource. Please follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, it’ll make for a better experience in the countryside for yourself and others and make my job easier too!
If you do come across an issue that you need to report you can contact me on 01595 744169 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Shetland provides the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in a landscape
Crofting Aspirations Chris Dyer finds great satisfaction in creating a flock of sheep and working the land in Bressay 16
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Completion of hay baling in August for winter feed and bedding.
iving in Shetland provides the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in a landscape. Natural heritage and elements of human history are immediately apparent; some are visible, others lie tantalisingly over the horizon while yet more can be evocative sounds of calling moorland birds or the smell of coastal flowers at the banks on a warm summer evening. It is one thing to appreciate the environment but another to have direct responsibility for an area, however small, and to work with it on a daily basis. Over the past year in Bressay, a friend and I have been fortunate enough to begin our crofting lives, replete with enjoyment, challenges and variable weather! The east side of Bressay is a world away from the magnetic pull of Lerwick. Fine coastal walks can be taken over hill and heather to the Great War guns at the Bard
and Aith, passing generations of historic settlements, while a familiar stomp in summer months takes you to the inflatable ferry across to the National Nature Reserve of Noss. The croft of Bruntland overlooks the Voe of Cullingsburgh, out towards an Iron Age broch, historic chapel site and early twentieth century Admiralty watchtower at the summit of Ander Hill. Just under 40 acres in size, itâ€™s a grand place to run two dozen Shetland sheep and concentrate on breeding interesting colours, good quality fleeces and, of course, something for the freezer. Having formally decided that we were going to acquire a few animals, there was a disconcertingly long list of â€œthings to doâ€? in advance of the first trailer and clatter of hooves arriving. A succession of Sunday mornings early last year were spent with cups of tea and notepads endeavouring to detail what we wanted and what was X
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Although tolerant of the human presence that surrounds them, the flock routinely needs to be brought together
X truly needed. Listening to advice from those with years of experience was, and continues to be, vital and influenced the guiding idea which has been to keep stocking levels low to ensure animal welfare while mitigating for the absence of a good sheepdog. A small flock is much more likely to get to know you and once the mental connection is made between you and the rattle of a bucket containing ewe nuts or barley blend, they will follow with enthusiasm. Fences are of paramount importance, as any stockman, farmer or crofter will tell you and represent the difference between resting easy at night and worrying about potential escapees! A summer job was the replacement of several stretches of fencing at the croft which were in danger of imminent collapse should “a coo sneeze” on them. Strainers were dug in and braced before the wire could be unrolled, tensioned and stapled to new fence posts. Note: the hard bedrock is nearly always where you try to dig and generally does not yield to a fencing mallet! A galvanised field gate was also purchased which would provide a point of access between two of the larger parks at the croft. This would enable us to bring the sheep within view, closer to the house, for tupping and lambing, while letting them out of sight, if not out of mind, at other times of year to get to the banks and graze ad infinitum. But what if there was snow? While not a conventional question for late July, this pre-emptive concern was the catalyst for haymaking to provide supplementary winter fodder and bedding for lambing
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A ewe surveys her hill domain.
pens. The smaller park was cut with a traditional scythe which brought a sweating brow and a feeling of nothing but respect for the pre-industrial age. Fortunately, for the larger park, the loan of a Massey Ferguson 35 complete with driver and finger bar mower, in return for several bottles of beer, achieved in 20 minutes what would otherwise doubtless have taken a day. The sweet smell of the grass on the first evening after being cut remains an abiding memory. After a couple of days of dry weather, the grass was manually raked into long rows which, the theory intimated, would be turned as and when the weather permitted until the greenish colour had faded and the hay could be baled. The practice was very different as frequent mist coupled with occasional heavy downpours conspired against agricultural ventures and necessitated a number of rueful “back to the drawing board” journeys with the hay rake into the parks to spread out the damp grass. X
Left to right: The flock at Bruntland looking east on a December morning. Loading sheep for transport to Bressay.
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when brought under the yoke of a single holding, each unsure of the other akin to the girls and boys at a school disco
X A window of potentially dry, if not overly warm, weather in early August was a cause célèbre for all Shetland haymakers. What mattered was the constant, gentle wind which, with repeated turning, permitted the hay to be stacked and then baled manually by compressing in large fish boxes through which twine was fed to create a small, handheld bale. A timeconsuming and slightly Heath Robinson approach but one which, in the absence of machinery, provided the means to an end which was gleefully consumed by the flock during the short-lived snow cover of last December. The Bruntland flock arrived in three journeys from two sources in September and was preceded by copious reading of the rules and regulations concerning tagging, medical records and movement documents. A friend at Cuckron, Stromfirth, had 16 while another in Bressay had a further eight which, in lieu of payment, could be taken in return for clipping giving a total of 24 Shetland sheep, some white but the majority displaying forms of colouring. These two flocks, one from the Mainland and the other the island, continued to keep their distance from each other when brought under the yoke of a single holding, each unsure of the other akin to the girls and boys at a school disco. It has only been with the onset of winter, and the allure of extra feeding, that a merger has taken place and a single grazing identity formed. Although tolerant of the human presence that surrounds them, the flock
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Clipping the flock by hand.
routinely needs to be brought together. The overgrown turf floor of an old outbuilding at the croft was stripped out, drainage installed and a recycled flagstone floor laid to accommodate the flock which may be caa-ed together for a variety of purposes such as trimming feet, dosing for fluke and worm and administering a copper and cobalt supplementary mineral drench. There seems a grudging acceptance of the need to be periodically gathered, for the greater good, similar to a trip to the doctor. Significantly, a flock cannot remain static, it must grow and with this maxim in mind, a ram was sought and purchased. “Nero”, or “Stinky Jim” as he has been christened by the bairns of the family with which we share him, is a three-year-old black Shetland tup with a muckle pair of horns and the strength to pull me along on my knees when trying to catch him prior to loading into the trailer. He took an instant liking to the flock with which he spent six weeks from early December. By the New Year, he seemed more interested in grazing
Hay making in the back garden!
Left: The newly acquired ram. Below: Feeding the flock.
than spending time with his admiring harem, a sure sign that things had come to their logical conclusion. This serenity was only broken once when a ewe from the hill that borders the croft came to the fence seeking an introduction with the ram who made clear his disdain for the fence that kept them apart. Fortunately the fence held firm and he was caa-ed into a park away from temptation. We are expecting lambs from early May which is essentially no more than a few weeks away. The principal jobs in the interim will comprise feeding and routine animal care but the hardiness of the Shetland sheep makes this a lighter task when compared to the bigger-framed, more demanding first-cross Cheviot, Texel and Suffolk breeds. The intention is to retain ewe lambs for future breeding stock and possibly seek to replace some of the older ewes in the flock come Hairst and the marts. However, even by this time, our agricultural year will be covering ground previously encountered in terms of WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
clipping and haymaking. Our crofting aspirations have not been without challenges and disappointment. Starting from scratch has necessitated capital investments and every day of rain on saturated ground and winter gales pose questions of where best the animals should be moved through the short hours of daylight. However, with so many folk to ask for advice and guidance, we have never felt that we were completely on our own and the satisfaction of keeping sheep and managing the land is both a responsibility and a privilege. Our first lambing is sure to be an experience to remember! Walking the banks in early October last year, having recently acquired our animals and watching them graze, a basking shark surfaced in the Voe of Cullingsburgh and silently explored the bay against the silhouette of the Ander Hill watchtower. Nature and history, past and present were intertwined wherever the eye was cast, as they always are in the peaceful, open spaces of Shetland. 60 NORTH | SPRING 2014
The Best Kept Secret in Britain Last October Promote Shetland invited Scotsman journalist Susan Mansfield to Shetland Wool Week, the increasingly popular festival of knitting that attracts enthusiasts from all over the world. This is what she wrote for her newspaper.
Di Gilpin giving a talk about her successful knitwear business
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t the launch of Shetland Wool Week, the fiddles are out and the wine is flowing, but beneath the hubbub of conversation in the main hall of Shetland Museum, it is just possible to hear the soft click of knitting needles. Wool enthusiasts have travelled here from all over the UK and from Europe, Australia and the United States – it’s going to take more than a few speeches to stop them knitting. Knitting has been part of Shetland’s life and heritage for so long that it took the islanders some time to realise that people would travel here just to learn about it. “This is the Taj Mahal of knitting,” says Myrna Stahman, a retired attorney from Boise, Idaho, who is an expert lace knitter. “Shetland has these skills and heritage, and they’re only just starting to promote it to the rest of the world.” The growth of Shetland Wool Week over the last four years, and the publication of a new illustrated coffee table book, Shetland Textiles: 800BC to the Present, shows that the islands are coming to understand the importance of their knitting heritage. It comes at a time when wool and knitwear are being once again embraced by the fashion industry. This winter, novelty knits and “funky Fair Isle” is everywhere, from the catwalk to the high street, but can Shetland capitalise on this success? October in Lerwick brings cold, clear days. Normally, by this point in the year, the town is battening down its hatches for the winter, but this week there is barely a hotel room to be had. The town is swarming with knitters going to talks, workshops and open studios, eyeing up jumpers in shop
windows, weighing the timbre of a ball of wool in their hands. Everywhere – in cafes, hotels, lecture theatres and museums – people are knitting. In the shop at Jamieson & Smith, Shetland’s largest wool broker, trade is brisk. Customers are raising their voices to be heard above the excited chatter of 10 young knitters from the primary school in Whalsay. Knitting was taught in schools in Shetland until a few years ago, when it was dropped during local authority cutbacks.
This is the Taj Mahal of knitting Whalsay classroom assistant Amanda Pottinger decided to offer lunchtime classes in Fair Isle, and now some of her young knitters can do a complex yoke pattern on their own. “Knitting is part of Shetland’s heritage,” she says. “If you don’t keep the skills going it will be lost. If we can get the basics into them at this age, hopefully they’ll keep the skills for the rest of their lives.” “It puts a smile on your face,” says Jamieson & Smith managing director Oliver Henry, who invites me into the warehouse “for a yarn”. In this draughty former police station, Henry – in overalls and a gansey – hand-grades and sorts fleeces from 80 per cent of Shetland’s wool cut, some 240,000 tons per year. Fleece from native Shetland sheep is separated from non-native breeds and sorted into five categories, from coarse to super-fine. “This is the finest wool in the world,” says Henry, handing me a glove knitted in Shetland super-fine. It seems to warm in my hand. “It has got a superb soft handle, and that is what sets real Shetland wool apart.” After 47 years working in the wool industry in Shetland, he has a passion to see the product thrive. X
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Clockwise from top A stunningly intricate Shetland lace shawl; Whalsay school kids; Knitting Fair isle during one of the SWW workshops; A brilliant knitter from a young age; Felicity Ford preparing for her talk
X Parent company Bradford-based Curtis Wool Direct made the decision to market the wool from native Shetland sheep separately and have developed the Real Shetland Company, creating new products such as matresses, blankets and carpets to provide uses for the coarser grades. Henry is pleased that, while the world wool price has fallen in the past year, the price for wool from native-breed Shetland sheep has risen. Jamieson & Smith has been a major driver in Wool Week, which launched in 2010. “It’s a massive shot in the arm for Shetland wool. What we’ve done is something that hasn’t been done before in Shetland, we’ve brought the wool community together in strength. Wool Week is a meeting of kindred spirits from all over the world, and they’ve all got this love for the wool.” There is an iconic photograph from Shetland’s past of a crofter woman, a “kishie” of peat on her back and her knitting in her hands. Traditionally, Shetland knitters always worked two projects, a rougher garment knitted while working on the croft, and an “indoor” project demanding more concentration, such as Fair Isle or lace knitting. Shetland fine lace knitting – made with wool so fine that a garment might weigh just two ounces and take a year to make – was particularly sought after in the department stores of London in the 19th century. Queen Victoria was a fan and, more recently, a christening robe was sent to little Prince George.
What we want to produce is the malt whisky version of wool rather than the blended version
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But knitting in Shetland also has a chequered history. Knitters were rarely paid fairly for their work, especially under the exploitative “truck” (barter) system adopted by local landowners. While the knitwear business boomed in the first half of the twentieth century, it went into rapid decline the 1960s, as man-made fibres flooded the market and production moved overseas. Now, most people agree that, if Shetland knitwear has a future, it is at the higher end of the market, capitalising on its quality, provenance and uniqueness. Shetland Organics has all of this in spades. A Community-Interest Company formed by local farmers raising organically certified native-breed sheep, they sell a range of organically produced yarns. For Wool Week, they are showcasing their products through the work of several designers. Garments on display in their pop-up shop include a dramatic charcoal evening gown of knitted lace by young designer Helen Whitham. Prices are at the high end, but tags on each garment name the crofts which produced the yarn. “What we want to produce is the malt whisky version of wool rather than the blended version,” says farmer Ronnie Eunson. “I see words like ‘Shetland’ and ‘Fair Isle’ being abused all over the high streets of the UK. If there are only 30,000 Shetland sheep, that’s a hell of a production of garments from very few animals. It’s about trying to reclaim the name in world terms so folk actually believe when they see ‘Shetland Wool’ on a label on a garment that it might actually have seen Shetland at some point in its past.” One visitor who needs no more convincing is knitwear designer Di Gilpin, whose St Andrews-based company has produced knitted garments for catwalk shows by Meadham Kirchhoff and Canadian designer Paul Hardy, as well as Topshop’s Unique Hand-made Collection for last winter. Although she has knitted with Shetland yarn, this is her first visit to the islands. “I feel like I’ve found a new continent,” she enthuses. “I’ve got to get out there and explore. I think what’s really important for me is the fineness of the yarn and the connection between landscape and the maker and the wool. In this world at the moment that’s what people want, they want meaning, they want something which gives them a connection of purpose and place. WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
“There are some beautiful things being made here, and there is the skill, unquestionably, so let’s see Balenciaga come here for Shetland lace evening dresses. In the past Shetland has had such a great reputation, the work has been shown all over the world, it would be fantastic to see some of these really talented makers having their work on the catwalk and reinterpreted into high fashion.” This will be music to the ears of the students on the BA Contemporary Textiles course at Shetland College. While their building on the outskirts of Lerwick is in mid-refurbishment disarray, the classrooms are havens of quiet industry. The walls are lined with students’ designs, while the knitting machines in the small in-house fabrication unit buzz busily, producing garments for local small businesses. An incredible 70 per cent of students here go on to start their own businesses. Angela Hunt, senior lecturer in creative industries, says: “Years ago, starting a business here would have been a huge problem, but internet selling has opened up possibilities for people to live in a beautiful place and run their own business. I’m from Lancashire and I’ve been astonished by how much is going on up here. I’ve felt more in touch with textiles and fashion and the business side of creative business than I have in the big urban centres.” Tradition can put up barriers – there was WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
resistance when the college began knitting Fair Isle designs on a 12-gauge machine – but many students are interested in combining traditional and contemporary influences. Hunt says that innovation is nothing new. “Fair Isle knitting was always very dynamic, there are fantastic examples from 1919 with beautiful bright colours in them. A lot of knitters were designers in the past but didn’t get credit for that.” Kathy Coull, a final-year mature student, agrees. She raises her own sheep in Fair Isle, as well as teaching knitting courses, running a guest house and chairing the Shetland Tourist Association. She says “textile tourism” is a growth area. “There is a lot more happening in Shetland than people might imagine. It’s got a historic cache, but there is a lot of contemporary development happening that the wider world just doesn’t get to know about. We can’t exactly reclaim the words ‘Fair Isle’ because they’re in common usage, but for those that are really interested, those words will lead them back to the authentic patterns and hopefully the place as well.” Young designer Joanna Hunter, the owner and designer of local knitwear company Ninian, is one of those who is bringing Fair Isle into the twenty-first century. “I was brought up around knitwear, but I hated what I was forced to wear as a child. I wanted to contemporise Shetland knitwear, make it fashionable and wearable to local teenagers.” Hunter launched her own business 14 years ago, as soon as she left college, and was soon supplying department stores in Japan and selling Shetland-made accessories at Covent Garden. As her business grew, she was faced with a choice: expand by moving production overseas, or stay small and artisan. “I decided to keep it simple. I didn’t want production to be done in Peru or China, as soon as you outsource production you see the quality change. I want to keep it here and if that means keeping it a smaller scale, that’s okay.” The Unst ferry ploughs through calm waters heading for the most northerly of the Shetland Isles. It takes two ferries and a drive across the island of Yell to reach Unst, but today a convoy of expert knitters is making the journey. Unst is the birthplace of lace-knitting, and today local knitters will lead workshops in this specialist craft. X 60 NORTH | SPRING 2014
X In a back room at Unst Heritage Centre, Eve and Maggie from Surrey, Sue from Detroit and Bridget from the neighbouring island of Fetlar are about to a do a workshop (“for very experienced knitters”) on designing a lace scarf. Over the course of the day, under the guidance of tutor Hazel Laurenson, they hope to begin work on their own, using Jamieson & Smith’s finest heritage yarn, a gossamer-like one-ply. Talk is of “double yarn overs” and the difficulty of “turning a corner”. At the other end of the centre, another group have gathered to learn the secret of one of Unst’s traditional patterns, the cockleshell. Pauline Kettlewood, a Brit who runs a knitting shop in the Hague, is in the class. Her three friends, members of her knitting group in the Netherlands, drink tea and admit, laughing, that they’re not “hardcore” enough for cockleshell, though they will all take a Fair Isle workshop later in the week. They describe coming to Shetland as “a pilgrimage”. “I’ve always want to come to Shetland,” says Kettlewood. “Wool Week felt like the perfect opportunity. For me it’s about learning traditional ways of doing things. I’ve done a lot of lace knitting but I couldn’t figure out cockleshell on my own.” Kettlewood and her friends are characteristic of the recent resurgence of interest in knitting, from stitch-and-bitch groups to websites such as Ravelry. “I try to bring a bit of a young element to knitting. I think at the moment in a state of economic instability, people go back to their roots. It’s like meditation, like yoga for the mind – focus on the stitch and the mind forgets all the stresses of the day. It’s also a social thing. I teach a lot of people to knit, and the first thing I teach them is they have to be able to knit and talk. Though the more technical it gets, the less talking there is... I think it might be a bit quiet today!” In the Heritage Centre office, I find Helen Whitham, the young designer behind the charcoal evening gown in the Shetland Organics shop, helping to create an electronic archive of Unst’s historic lace collection. She says her work is inspired by the heritage, culture and craftsmanship of Shetland. “I like to take bits of tradition and make them contemporary. I hope it will take the culture of lace knitting forward, it’s so important, but it needs to change and adapt.” Whitham graduated in textile design from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in 2012 and hopes to launch her own business, but she faces a problem common to many young designers: how
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to simplify hand-crafted designs to make them commercially viable. “I think there is a market for hand-crafted products, it’s about finding the right part of the market. I hope that I can make it work, even if it means having two collections, a more commercial one to sell locally and one to export to London like people did in the past.” South of Lerwick, in the village of Hoswick, I find two very different approaches to this problem. Behind a shopfront which looks unchanged since in the 1970s, Laurence Odie is proudly conducting tours of his knitwear factory. When the previous factory on the site, Laurence J Smith, closed down in 2004, Odie, a former employee, took over the building and reopened with a staff of five. He now employs 16 people and uses around 40 outworkers to make knitwear which is exported to Europe, Japan and the United States under a variety of brands including J.Press and Eribé.
The factory – much bigger than it looks on the outside – is a cacophony of sounds: the drone of washing machines, the buzz of knitting machines, the helicopter-like sound of the linking machines. Going from strength to strength? I say. Odie grins: “Maybe from weakness to strength!” A couple of doors down, Niela Nell Kalra had converted her garage into a contemporary knitwear studio. A former lawyer, originally from Canada, she came to Shetland to study Contemporary Textiles at Shetland College and has been making and selling garments on her own label, Nielanell, since 2008. She now supplies several shops and aims to expand. She says: “If you want to live this dream, you have to work hard and you have to accept that you need to sell what you make. When I started I thought selling was a dirty word. But now I realise that selling is a confirmation of your work, you feel very honoured, humbled.” She believes that the discerning buyer WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
Glorious Insight into Shetland Textiles I teach a lot of people to knit, and the first thing I teach them is they have to be able to knit and talk will seek out quality and provenance even if it means a higher price, the fashion equivalent of slow food. “For knitwear to survive, you need both traditional and contemporary, each needs to feed off the other. The difficulty is taking your designs down to a level that is makable and profitable and attractive to the buyer, yet keeping the integrity in your making, because at the end of the day that’s what sells. It has to be the highest quality, and it has to be genuine.” She says Shetland is a great place to start a new business. “This is not the so-called backwater that some might think it is, it is a very forward-thinking contemporary society. I think one of the main benefits of Wool Week is that it shows people in Shetland that it has such an important place in the rest of the world. And it’s showing off Shetland – because Shetland is the best kept secret in Britain.”
Clockwise from top Samples by Felicity Ford and Tom van Deijnen; Di Gilpin speaking about her passion for Scottish wool and hand knitting; Shetland Textiles book launch; Di Gilpin’s yarn
The opening of Wool Week 2013 last October was the occasion of a double launch: of the event itself and a fabulous new book about Shetland wool and the remarkable array of things that have been and are being made with it. As the title, Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present, suggests, the book covers an enormous span of history. It also delves in great detail into a wide range of subjects, from Fair Isle knitting to tweed and lace, from taatit rugs to truck and textiles in Shetland today. Edited by Sarah Laurenson, the book is a visual feast, with hundreds of colour photographs of garments, knitters, historical artefacts, machinery and, of course, the exquisite Shetland landscape. Through words and images, it tells the story of how a tiny archipelago in the North Sea became and continues to be world-renowned for its textiles. Fully referenced, Shetland Textiles counts among its authors experts such as Lynn Abrams, Roslyn Chapman, Carol Christiansen, Martin Ciszuk, Sarah Dearlove and Brian Smith. But it also draws on interviews with practitioners past and present, including Hazel Tindall, former holder of the world’s fastest knitter title, and relates many fascinating stories about Shetland wool. The book was the brainchild of Sarah and the general manager of Shetland Amenity Trust, Jimmy Moncrieff, who shared the view that a lavishly illustrated and informative volume about Shetland textiles which combined the social and cultural history of the isles with beautiful pictures would be hugely welcome. The idea was to introduce the subject to new readers, open up areas of further research to those who already knew something about it and inspire textile designers. The book also gives exposure to parts of the collection of Shetland Museum and Archives, run by Shetland Amenity Trust, which are not on permanent display. In sum, it contains everything you ever wanted to know about Shetland and its most famous export – and more. Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present, Shetland Heritage Publications, Lerwick, 2013, priced £35 (hardback) or £25 (paperback). www.shetlandheritageshop.com
© Scotsman Publications
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Clockwise from top Felicity Ford preparing for one of her workshops; Tom van Deijnen speaking about mending old garments; A winning fleece; Tom & Felicity
Brilliant! Tom van Deijnen on the joys of Wool Week
n October 2013 I attended Shetland Wool Week. I was invited to run two darning workshops, and to present the works-in-progress of the Aleatoric Fair Isle project I’m working on with Dr Felicity Ford. I have met so many amazing people, seen impossible feats of spinning and knitting, and enjoyed the landscape and walking around Lerwick. The Shetland Wool Week programme was well put together. Each day there were many workshops, tours, and demonstrations to choose from. I believe there was something for everybody. Anybody with an interest in wool, textiles, and traditions old and new, probably didn’t have a single dull moment. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to go to many of the interesting workshops that were part of Shetland Wool Week, but that didn’t deter us from having a look around anyway whenever we found some time. We went to Jamieson & Smith, the Woolbrokers, in Lerwick, where I met Oliver Henry, who explained a lot about how they go about their business. It was with much interest I listened to the history of the company and learn a bit more about Shetland sheep and their fleeces. I was chuffed to bits when he selected a good fleece for me to take home! I also enjoyed the Jamieson’s of Shetland mill in Sandness; although we hadn’t signed up for a tour, we were cordially invited to have a look round the mill. There were so many nooks and crannies
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to explore, containing odd pieces of equipment and even some vintage cars; and I found a great stash of tweed fabrics woven at Jamieson’s. I bought a length of herringbone tweed, which I hope to turn into a pair of trousers. Rather special was the Flock Book Ram Auction. Perhaps obviously so to farmers, this is an important day for the sheep farmers on Shetland, but for an outsider like me it was an interesting experience. The ram judging and selling took place in an atmosphere heavy with the importance of the occasion, but at the same time in the tea area people were catching up and chatting away. That’s also where all the fleeces from the fleece competition were on display. Jane Cooper from Woolsack and I were admiring all the fleeces, and obviously loved the Champion fleece. We were dreaming about what we would spin with it, and cooing over its softness and loveliness and crimpiness. We never thought that the fleece would be up for grabs, but after asking around we found the farmer (with apologies to her, but I have forgotten her name, I met so many people in such a short period) and we managed to negotiate a price. Her concern about who we were, and making sure we would use the fleece for hand spinning, showed to me how proud she was of her sheep and and the fleeces they produce. In between engagements and preparations for the workshops Felicity and I ran during Shetland Wool Week, I managed to have a look at the collections of the Shetland Museums and Archives, and
Everywhere I went, I met people that are so knowledgeable about sheep, wool, and crafts, and willing to share this with me and other visitors
the Shetland Textile Museum. The Shetland Museum and Archives has a rather large and interesting collection of objects and ephemera, so on this occasion I decided to concentrate on the textiles on display. Although I had read about, and seen pictures of the lace knitting from Unst, I was awestruck when I saw the shawls and the skeins of yarn on display. I can’t wait until I return to the Shetland Isles, and visit the Unst Heritage Centre. I also felt touched by the story of the “Prisoner of War” jumper. As somebody who likes to do a lot of darning and mending, and thinking about the stories that a darned item can tell, the darns and mends on this jumper were extraordinary. On a lighter note, until my visit to the Shetland Museum I never even knew about the Shetland Tweed that was woven on the Shetland Isles. They WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
have a gorgeous sample book on display, containing lots of beautiful swatches. The Shetland Textile Museum is a completely different affair, and has its own charm. It is much smaller in scale, but their collection is also very enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition between their historical collection and the Design Room, showcasing the work from contemporary designers and artisan makers. There were also talks at the Shetland Museum as part of Shetland Wool Week. I especially enjoyed the “double act” by Di Gilpin and Felicity Ford. Di talked about her knitwear design company, which ranges from her own knitwear designs, to knitting patterns, to yarn, and collaborations with other companies. Di is a great supporter of British produced yarns, and all her garments are made in the UK. She finds a lot of inspiration in the surroundings of Fife, where her company is based. Felicity’s talk linked the seemingly unrelated subjects of sound and knitting. She had interviewed Shetland knitters, found Shetland oral history records at the Tobar an Dualchais museum, and also made various recordings over the summer. These all came together in an occasionally moving presentation, which showed how the deep-rooted links with wool even reflect in the soundscape of the Shetland Isles and gave us a glimpse of the sounds the crofters of yore would’ve heard in their everyday life. Felicity and I also gave a presentation and workshop. Earlier in 2013 we devised the Aleatoric Fair Isle project to learn more
about knitting Fair Isle. “Aleatoric” literally means “according to the dice rolls” and it has proven to be somewhat controversial in some quarters that we roll the dice to determine what patterns and colours to use for our swatches for this project, but by seeing how this sometimes does work, and oftentimes doesn’t. Leaving pattern and colour to chance (although we did make some complicated rules to make sure it didn’t turn into an absolute mess) meant that we were often confronted with designs that didn’t work. Both of us would soon start to think about what could be changed to improve them, and this process made us understand better how a Fair Isle pattern can be constructed. We had a lot of fun teaching our Aleatoric ways to a group of sometimes puzzled knitters, but in the end everybody had at least half a swatch finished and an enjoyable evening. I also ran two darning classes. A drop-in session took place at the Shetland Museum and Archives, who were involved in organizing Shetland Wool Week, and who invited me to come over in the first place: so a massive thanks to them for making this visit possible. During the drop-in session I explained that darning is important to me as a good darn means I can prolong the life of my garments. I showed some of my darning techniques, examples, and we all exchanged stories about darning. Secondly, I ran a darning master class at Jamieson & Smith. More thanks due here, as they kindly provided Felicity and me with the yarns for our workshops. This was a more technical class where I taught an enthusiastic group of needlecrafters three different techniques, and some had even brought their own garments to repair. Everywhere I went, I met people that are so knowledgeable about sheep, wool, and crafts, and willing to share this with me and other visitors, that I would love to return and learn more. One special moment for me was meeting Elizabeth Johnston, aka Shetland Handspun, who taught me some lace-spinning techniques. It’ll take me lots of practice before I can spin the gossamer-thin lace-weight yarns, but she set me on the right path. The Champion fleece and the fleece from Oliver Henry will be put to good use! Shetland Wool Week has proven to be a great success and I’d love to return soon to the Shetland Isles. One word suffices, as Oliver Henry said: BRILLIANT. 60 NORTH | SPRING 2014
The Meaning of Light
Restoration and innovation continue on schedule as Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve nears completion
ight is an essential component to all life at Sumburgh Head, whether it relates to flora, fauna or the marine environment. The lighthouse also plays a fundamentally important role of silent sentinel, protecting and guarding the shores surrounding Sumburgh Head for the last 192 years. Situated at the most southern tip of mainland Shetland, and home to one of the most accessible seabird colonies in Britain, the lighthouse redevelopment has transformed the 1822 Stevenson-designed and oldest Shetland lighthouse buildings to their former prestige. Work has included extensive restoration to the existing buildings, a newly built education centre and some unique visitor attractions that will inform, entertain and inspire.
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Above: The interior of the Education Centre provides amazing panoramic views. Below right: Get up close and personal with the Puffins at Sumburgh Head
Construction contractors Corramore are nearing the end of the major external building work and at the time of writing the project is on target to be completed by April 2014, with an official opening planned for June. Site manager Nigel McCluskey said: “It has been a really interesting build project that has a personality of its own, with great history that we are proud to be associated with. We have liaised closely with the extended team to provide the highest standards through not just restoration, but improvements using modern technology and energy sources, although the integrity of the Stevenson building has been kept.”
Exploring and Restoring Our Heritage
We are delivering something exciting and unique to Shetland, that will stimulate the senses using modern technology and interpretation display
There are many areas of rich natural heritage at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse which have undergone extensive restoration to help tell the lighthouse’s story. Beginning in the lower car park, the Muckle Roe Light, itself a former minor lighthouse built in 1897, has been erected as a welcoming beacon and information kiosk (Article cover image). The car park has been extended to accommodate three dedicated bus spaces and extra car parking. Visitors will leave their cars behind and wander up the hill along the path above the cliff tops stopping at view points along the way to enjoy dramatic coastal views. Project manager John Mackenzie noted: “We are delivering something exciting and unique to Shetland that will stimulate the senses using modern technology and interpretation display, with several of the buildings being specially fitted out to tell Sumburgh Head’s story.”
A gift shop has been incorporated into the new plans where visitors can purchase specially commissioned lighthouse and natural heritage themed souvenirs. In addition RSPB memberships and products will be available for purchase. Visitors will be able to purchase tickets to some of the paid attractions, including the Marine Life Centre, Engine Room, Smithy (Blacksmith), and to climb the 52 steps inside the Lighthouse Tower itself. The Marine Life Centre installation is now complete. Informative and interactive displays explore Shetland’s rich and productive marine environment including the essential role of plankton; the food chain which includes some of the large predators such as Minke and Orca whales, and the extensive seabird colonies at Sumburgh Head. The building uses new sensor technology that has not been used anywhere else in Europe, providing a unique and stimulating environment. The building will also provide a study area with food for thought regarding Shetland’s commitment to a clean environment and the detrimental effects man can have on our fragile marine life. New webcam equipment will improve and extend the existing coverage. Engaging with visitors to Sumburgh, RSPB staff have discovered that people have chosen to holiday in Shetland and Scotland as a direct result of watching the Puffincam. This shows the importance of seabirds to the local economy. The addition of a Guillemotcam will add a new dimension to visitor observations. Being more difficult to observe closely, they often don’t capture the headlines as much as their puffin cousins. This new webcam will reveal the untold stories from within the colony. X
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Clockwise from top: The restored engines in the Engine Room. View from the newly installed decking area. Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, with it’s restored buildings, will be a world class visitor attraction.
X The Engine Room is presently undergoing meticulous restoration by former Occasional Lighthouse Keeper and engineer Brian Johnson, returning the three diesel engines to pristine working condition. Interpretation material has been installed while the rest of the room has been fully restored. The story here explores the perilous waters at Sumburgh Head and the fog horn and light’s essential role in protecting mariners from the rugged coastline, especially in darkness and fog. The neighbouring Smithy is fully restored and includes extensive interpretation material, telling the story of Lighthouse Keepers’ family life at Sumburgh Head and using sounds to recreate the atmosphere of the working forge. The original 1822 forge and leather bellows have been cosmetically restored by Brian Johnson and Erik Erasmuson ready for installation before the opening. The Lighthouse Tower itself, fully automated since 1991, remains under the control of the Northern Lighthouse Board. Visitors will have the opportunity to climb the tower in small groups.
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Self-Catering Accommodation A new three-bedroom, luxury selfcatering accommodation facility for up to five guests will also be available. This has been sensitively restored to an extremely high standard, returning the building to its original layout and level of prestige, preserving features, where practical by reusing original timbers and sourcing closely matching materials for a consistent finish. All rooms have modern facilities including under floor heating. Bookings for the self-catering accommodation are now available online at www.shetlandlighthouse.com
The Education Centre is the only new build component of the project. The main space has been fitted with impressive panoramic curved glass windows affording stunning views. The wooden clad interior is complemented by contemporary lighting, providing a bright and modern space. The building will be ideal for wet weather and craft activities for younger visitors. The facility will also be available for hire for events such as small weddings, conferences and meetings, which could be booked in connection with the selfcatering accommodation providing a unique environment for business or pleasure. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has had a nature reserve and main Shetland office here since the 1990s. In spring 2013, the charity moved across the courtyard into new offices in the old self-catering accommodation block. They share the accommodation with SOTEAG (Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group), whose ornithologists have been monitoring seabirds at Sumburgh Head for more than 30 years. Volunteers are essential to the work of the RSPB, from the Scilly Isles to Unst. Sumburgh Head will join the suite of over 40 Residential Volunteer Schemes, thanks to the refurbished Occasional Keepers accommodation. During peak season, volunteers will be able to stay at the iconic lighthouse and have the chance to absorb themselves in the work of RSPB – from helping show people birds to assisting with monitoring. The scheme will formally launch in 2015, with details to be announced on the RSPB website. WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
Clockwise from top: The cliffs at Sumburgh Head are home to many species of plant life Sumburgh Head is is one of the most accessible seabird colonies in the UK. Explore the underwater environment in the Marine Life Centre. Stimulate your sight, sound and touch senses as you learn about Sumburgh’s seabirds.
It has been a really interesting build project that has a personality of its own, with great history
The RSPB are looking forward to working with Shetland Amenity Trust to deliver formal and informal learning opportunities for young and old. Helen Moncrieff, Shetland manager with RSPB, said: “We’ve been offering curriculum-linked experiences here since the 1990s. Our main objective has been to help spark and develop interest in the natural world, so hopefully children (and adults!) will care for and actively look after the environment. Some of my most rewarding experiences here at Sumburgh have been from sharing nature with children and we’re looking forward to developing opportunities with Shetland Amenity Trust.” The new classroom and visitor centres will be great additions to the learning experience at Sumburgh. Helen added: “It’s surprising how few school visits we’ve had to cancel because of adverse weather, but the new facilities here mean that no visits need be cancelled again.”
Exploring Sumburgh’s Coastline The Sumburgh area offers visitors a great day out, with plenty of activities and things to see including a great coastal walk for hill walkers. Beginning at Scatness Broch and Iron Age Village, hikers can head along Westvoe beach to the Sumburgh Hotel, with access to Jarlshof, an Historic Scotland site. From here the core path leads up to Sumburgh Head following way markers before heading back to Grutness. An average level of fitness is required, with care of the cliffs needed once reaching the Compass Head. Sumburgh is most famous for seabirds, but smaller birds such as warblers and goldcrests are often attracted to the headland when migrating. There will be a few more trees planted for the benefit of these birds, offering them a chance to rest and feed before continuing on their awesome journeys; some going beyond the Sahara.
Sumburgh Head Lighthouse Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve will be officially opened at a ceremony in early June 2014. Visitors will be able to access the site during May. Visit www.sumburghhead.com for up to date opening times and ticket prices.
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Alastair Hamilton on a successful social enterprise that sells everything from sandwiches to soap
COP A VISION REALISED
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Main Picture: Sandwich making was the first of COPE’s ventures Below: Traditional soap bars are always in demand
pretty innovative stuff for Shetland, or anywhere really
or many people, Shetland is associated with the traditional symbols of the islands, for example diminutive ponies, colourful puffins or exquisite knitwear and lace. Until quite recently, though, nobody would have connected Shetland with fine soaps, one of the products of a remarkable organisation called COPE, the acronym for Community Opportunities for Participation in Enterprise; and soapmaking is just one of many things that COPE does. Indeed, in little more than 10 years, soap has become one of Shetland’s established products. However, COPE also supplies trees and shrubs, planted enthusiastically by gardeners and crofters all over the islands. It recycles all manner of things, too, and supplies really good sandwiches. It’s a very diverse and quite special business. COPE is a social enterprise, a form of company which, in Britain, has a history stretching back more than 200 years. The most prominent example is probably the Co-operative movement, which first put down roots in Rochdale in 1844. However, scores of social enterprises have emerged
over the past 15 to 20 years, involved in everything from removals and storage to psychological services, electricity supply to chocolate. In Shetland, one of the new breed of social entrepreneurs was Frank Millsopp and it was his vision which crystallised in COPE. Frank’s skills and passion have since taken him to other parts of the world, working for the Aga Khan Foundation and elsewhere, but Ingrid Webb, who manages COPE today, says that he was “the creator, the real innovator, behind COPE” and the organisation grew from a passion of his. “Although there were good services for people with disabilities within Shetland at that time, through the local authority, there was a bit of a gap. He felt that people with disabilities could absolutely achieve the development of really good working skills, but maybe in a different kind of environment. So he set off on a mission to achieve that. I actually used to work alongside him at the Eric Gray [a day centre for people with disabilities] and saw his passion at that early stage.” The project that Frank had in mind attracted support from Shetland Islands Council; it helped that there was increasing interest, at that time, in how the so-called Third Sector could work in partnership with statutory services. But, as Ingrid says, this was “pretty innovative stuff for Shetland, or anywhere really”, back in 1998. X
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Strength in diversity Today, as it has always done, COPE works very closely with the council and with the other organisations that help meet the needs of people with disabilities. There’s also been valuable support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Highlands and Islands Social Enterprise Zone. For prospective participants, there is a referral process, in the course of which COPE looks at whether it has the capacity to take someone on and, if so, which business would be best suited to them. Because the businesses are so diverse, COPE can offer a very wide range of opportunities. However, as well as meeting the needs of participants, the operation has to be viable, taking account of the limited amount of public funding available. Ingrid points out that the market place is always changing, and she wants COPE to be flexible and “develop and respond to what your customers are looking for. That’s part of our challenge.” That flexibility and diversity was, she says, very much part of Frank Millsopp’s vision when he conceived COPE. The first business that COPE established was sandwich-making. In many workplaces, it became possible for staff to order an individual lunchtime sandwich delivery or have supplies provided for a meeting or conference. Ingrid says: “The catering business still exists and is really successful. We provide sandwiches to local shops. We also supply NorthLink Ferries and a number of local colleges and businesses. It’s a really steady, successful local business and we have run out of space upstairs. We do plan future development for that business, but not immediately.” Other businesses followed. COPE Trees and Shrubs was initially run on a small scale, with a limited number of plants. Now, it offers a much wider range of products, including garden furniture, planters and other necessities. Ingrid says: “We’ve invested a lot of time and planning, because it’s a fantastic job for participants. There’s so much that they can learn. They become involved in not just the production and growing of things, but also in the retail, the marketing and choosing the goods that we buy in to sell. Our aim for that business is to grow and to attract more customers.” The Shetland Soap Company, also begun early in COPE’s history, is probably the best known of the businesses. At its heart is the shop and workshop on Lerwick’s main street, but it sells its products to
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wholesale and retail customers all over the UK and the rest of Europe. Shetland soap regularly makes its way to Lanzarote, Italy and Turkey. The company’s products are widely used in Shetland, appearing in leisure centres, ferries and some hotels and guest houses. There is a subsidiary soap company in Orkney, which makes some of its own products and imports others from Shetland. Sarah Jackson, COPE’s assistant manager, oversees The Shetland Soap Company’s operation. She says: “What sets Shetland Soap Company products apart is the fact that they’re WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
handmade. Handmade and handcrafted are terms that are bandied about by lots of companies but we physically handmake everything. So, that makes it quite unique. We source our raw materials from really reputable companies and we have very high standards.” Every product is backed by an information pack, so that customers can find out exactly what they’re using. Ingrid Webb echoes that concern with quality. “We need to ensure that we’re within all the regulations for producing that kind of product. We made a decision very early on in the company, long before I was here, that we would only use the best products. We know that’s what’s going into Shetland Soap Company products is of really high quality and we’re passionate about that.”
Clockwise from top At the Scrapstore, everything is carefully checked prior to re-sale. A wide range of plants is available. The shop sells work by local producers, including this glassware. Chilled Oot is one of the most popular ranges.
The last of COPE’s current businesses is the Shetland Scrapstore, which specialises in recycling used household items, office equipment, books, electrical equipment and much else. Whether a customer is looking for a wardrobe, a lead for their hi-fi, a classic DVD or a set of golf clubs, there’s a good chance they’ll find it in the store. One of the aims, says Ingrid, is to encourage people to be “more comfortable with the idea of recycling”. She adds: “We target those who, in the current climate, are being affected by welfare reform, and who are on lower incomes. They can come in and buy things that are cheaper.” People donate items to the Scrapstore and the staff there check them prior to re-sale. Their ability to repair electrical equipment that has been given up for dead is legendary. It came to national prominence when naturalist and film cameraman Simon King, shooting his superb Shetland Diaries for the BBC, found that, thanks to a wiring fault, his electronic viewfinder had expired. Fearing that he’d be unable to capture any more footage of diving gannets, he headed for the Scrapstore and entrusted the device to the team at Last Ditchology, as that part of the business was then known. In the book of the television series, he recalls the tense moments when the team took apart the delicate instrument, found the right spare part from their stocks, undertook a tricky repair and, to his immeasurable relief, handed back the vital piece of kit, in perfect working order. They refused to take any payment and King records that he was “humbled and speechless”, and was “filled with admiration for the principles at the heart of COPE”.
A principled approach Sarah explains that, within the past two years, the Soap Company’s product range has been streamlined, the aim being to ensure that each of the fragrances is available across the full range, from body wash to soaps and bath melts. The packaging was re-designed too, though the quirky product names – like “Chilled Oot” and “Strawberry Smoorikens” [Kisses] – are there to stay. The shop also sells other local products these days, including Beltane Candles, Shana knitted bags and glassware from Glansin Glass. There’s an online presence, with up to 15 per cent of sales coming via the website. WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
Ingrid Webb stresses that those principles guide every decision that the company makes: “We are a business and we’re a limited company but we’re also registered charity, so we’re different. We trade for a community purpose, so in everything that we do, we ask ourselves two questions. If we develop a new business, does it have meaningful employment development opportunities for people with disabilities? That is, can somebody with a disability be part of every single part of that business and be meaningfully involved? That’s really important to us, so we make sure that that is possible.” The second question is about viability. “Particularly in the economic climate that
we have now, is that business financially sustainable? Can it wash its own face? In the past, we’ve been able to sustain businesses that have been making a loss and that’s no longer possible. So, there really has been a focus, this past year, on how we’re running our businesses and how we can get best value from them by looking at every aspect.” Ingrid explains that COPE is not in business to make a profit, but to break even, with any surplus being invested back into the business. The company’s directors take no fee for their work: “We have seven directors and they are my bosses. They volunteer their time and they really help me to develop the direction for COPE. They’re the trustees, people in the local community who have a passion for what we’re doing.” For the future, Ingrid, Sarah and everyone else involved in COPE will focus on “organisational excellence”. Ingrid explains: “That’s our focus for the next three years. It’s about really concentrating on our outcomes, not only our financial outcomes but also outcomes for people with disabilities and how we can really prove that they are developing their skills. In the past, it’s been a more informal assessment of skills but we really want people to know what they’ve achieved, so we’re looking at developing a formal assessment process. We can then go to employers and say, ‘this is what this person is capable of, they’ve achieved this level, they’d be a good employee for your company’. That’s what it’s all about.” Overall, Ingrid feels that COPE is a “brilliant” place. She has worked for charities in Australia, an experience which taught her to do more with less and to be innovative with whatever money was available. But COPE, she feels, is unique. “I’ve never found anywhere else quite like it. We’ve really good staff who really understand what we’re trying to do. Most staff here have dual roles. They’re not only working in catering, or producing or selling soap, or working in a garden. They’re also supporting someone to learn at the same time. So it takes pretty special people to be able to do that day in, day out, under the circumstances. Even if you’re busy, you’ve still got to involve your participants, find meaningful work for them to do every day and develop their skills. There’s no two days that are the same.” True to the original vision, but adapting with the times, COPE combines a vibrant business with developing the potential of its clients. A visitor to any of the businesses quickly grasps that COPE and the people who work there are, indeed, very special. 60 NORTH | SPRING 2014
A Study in Contrast Paul Bloomer escaped from the Black Country in 1997 to live in Shetland, but, he tells Paul Riddell, he appreciates it more nowadays – and it still influences his art as much as his new home.
“I just felt pulled to Shetland for some reason, probably the landscape and lifestyle and freedom and beauty and people.” So says artist Paul Bloomer about his decision to move to the isles in 1997 – “without a masterplan” – after just two previous visits. Appropriately for an artist whose work is strong on contrast, as much between the many different media he uses as within individual works, Shetland was at the opposite end of the visual spectrum to where he came from. Rural, with big, open landscapes and skies, the isles couldn’t have been more different to the urban, enclosed industrial surroundings of the Black Country to the west of Birmingham. Both places are strong influences on his work, although it took him a little time to get accustomed to working in Shetland. He says: “Initially I found it a little bit of a challenge having grown up in an urban area to come to terms with the Shetland landscape. The lack of uprights, like buildings, meant I needed different compositional solutions to make sense of the landscape here. “My art has several strands – I have never given up on the urban art because that is part of who I am. My response to Shetland is still evolving really. Initially, coming from fairly a fairly figurative painting background, I latched onto shapes, particularly birds, the shapes in the landscape to build narratives around, being a bit of a narrative painter. “But eventually the landscape started to creep in. The longer I’ve been here the more I’ve absorbed the landscape, the more that has started to come out.”
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We meet in one of the art rooms at Shetland College where Paul teaches up to 17 National Certificate in Art students doing an intensive, hands-on course that can set participants up for a degree course further afield or just be enjoyed for its own sake. “I have always been interested in teaching, and first started at the college when I first came here. I really believe in the power of education and creativity. “Shetland is a great, inspiring place to be and it is nice seeing the students developing their creative skills. I learn a lot from them and I hope they learn a little bit from me.” His own formal artistic education took place at Nottingham Polytechnic, where he did a degree in fine art, and the Royal Academy in London where he studied painting for three years. But, he implies, all artists are always learning. He teaches history of art as part of the college course, and that has had a strong impact on his work. “I would almost say that whole history of art is in [my art] somewhere, it keeps resurfacing. People who have had a big influence are the twentieth century German Expressionists. They really seemed to look at the world as it is – they are less concerned with beauty and more with the inner meaning of things. An artist like Max Beckman has been a big influence. “I have also been influenced by early Italian art, pre-Renaissance religious art, particularly from the city of Siena for their very inventive, extremely imaginative spatial solutions. “The artist I consider the greatest of all time is Pieter Brueghel. He captures the human condition, he doesn’t idealise it, and he takes the
I initially struggled to find a narrative in the landscape so I looked for shapes to compose pictures around which came to me in the form of birds, plants and fish
1. Gannets at Noss 2. Children of the Furnace, charcoal 1990 3. Seals at Bousta, etching 1997 4. Crow 5. Bigton Sunset, mixed media 2006 6. Night Fishing, oil on canvas 2006
seasons and nature, fusing that with a visionary sensibility.” As we look together at a book on Brueghel, then another on the art of Siena, outside the winter wind is howling and the seas are roiling. Perfect weather, in this soft-spoken and thoughtful artist’s mind, for working! “The two main times I like to work are either in stormy weather, with dramatic, brooding skies and seas, or the last hour of the day when the sun is starting to set and tones start to separate into very dark darks and very light lights. I don’t really like sunny flat calms, I find it hard to work then.” He works in all kinds of media – printmaking (“a bit of a backbone, carving out a piece of wood and taking a print from it”), etching, charcoal drawing, painting (in watercolours, acrylics, oils) and, increasingly, digital – using an iPhone or iPad. Paul lives near the beautiful St Ninian’s Isle at the south end of Shetland, and a lot of his pictures are set around there. He spends a lot of time outside, internalising
the landscape and sketching. Only when he has done so, he says, is he ready to go into the studio. But he is inspired just as much by world events as he is by Shetland. Most recently, he has been moved by the horrific war in Syria. On the day of 9/11, he reacted by making a large crucifixion woodcut, the print of which features in a current exhibition at Mareel. “I try not block out what’s going on the world. It’s quite easy to become immune to it. I prefer to somehow respond to it, no matter how dark or difficult or disturbing it is. I don’t always have an end product in mind, I just follow whatever the instinctive feeling is.” Paul has found himself very welcome in Shetland, both as an artist and a person, but he likes to go back to the Black Country from time to time. “I think I really appreciate it now,” he says. “At the time I wanted to leave. It’s good to be able to be in both places.” Paul’s latest exhibition, How then shall we now live, is at Mareel until September 2014. www.paulbloomer.com
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Samantha Dennis: Biodoodle, Lighters gathered on the beach.
I guess it’s just pretty random, but it all seems to have come together That’s how Emma Perring, one of the creators of Back from Beyond, modestly sums up the project’s success.
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o, what is Back from Beyond? It’s a creative project. It’s a musical and poetic journey, illustrated by some cracking photography. It’s a successful attempt to find inspiration for tunes and words in some of Shetland’s most beautiful landscapes and seascapes. Emma explains that she had become interested in developing ‘positive’ projects and had exchanged ideas with her friend Alice Mullay, a music therapist, player and composer. Alice was running a musical composition course on the theme of ‘mareel’, the phenomenon after which Shetland’s new arts centre was named. In Shetland ‘mareel’ means bioluminescence,
the naturally-glowing particles that are seen in, say, the wake of boats. In due course, the project led to a concert – in, of course, Mareel. Emma thought that “the performance was stunning. I was just inspired by that and I thought I’d quite like to work with Alice on something.”
A seed is planted The women, who’d known each other for many years, became aware of potential funding from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which was promoting the ‘Year of Natural Scotland’. With that in mind, they developed the idea of encouraging artists to get out and about and find inspiration WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
m Beyond A creative journey around Shetland
in the natural environment. They would focus on the National Scenic Areas and National Nature Reserves within Shetland, offering eight potential locations. They then began to identify people who might participate in the project on what was clearly going to be a tight timescale. They should be people of different ages working in different genres of music and poetry. Alice explains: “we were trying to approach people that we thought were very much grounded in the community, had strong roots in Shetland and were very passionate about Shetland in the first place.” Because community involvement was so important to them, Alice and Emma quite WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
deliberately relied on word of mouth to build momentum. The response was positive. “We were really fortunate”, says Alice. “Everyone that we approached agreed to take part. A lot of voluntary effort went into it. Thankfully, they embraced the spirit of what we were trying to do. We were always looking ahead to the idea that what we wanted to create was something that would inspire other people to do the same thing. That’s why we were keen to document some of the process. A lot of the musicians are quite open about saying ‘I went to this place, but I had no idea what I was going to do’ and then an idea came. And I think that can help other people to feel confident about
trying their own ideas. As a music therapist, one of the main things I’m trying to promote is that everybody is creative and everybody has the opportunity to do something.”
Concept to reality Numerous musicians, poets and photographers spent part of the summer of 2013 visiting the eight selected areas. Alice and Emma travelled to the locations and Alice created videos of the trips and performances, or made videos to accompany the music. Among the poets involved was Laureen Johnson, who went to the magnificent cliffs of Eshaness. In one of the project’s X 60 NORTH | SPRING 2014
Clockwise from top Gemma Graham: Boulder Beach, Eshaness Emma Perring: biodoodle stones Rodrigo Ferrari-Nunes: The Revellers playing at Hermaness
X videos, Laureen recalls the visit. “The thing I mind best about it was that it was a most beautiful day, an awful suitable day for Eshaness, because it was sunny, it was dry, the ground as usual was lovely to walk on – that’s a really good thing about Eshaness. And also, there was a bit of wind, enough wind to make waves, rolling and spray lashing around. And really, the sea, I think we saw it at its best. I canna mind, myself, being at Eshaness on a better day. And another thing is, you’re just right on the edge, you really feel that this is the edge of the world, almost, and out beyond you is nothing but sea for hundreds of miles.” One of the bands inspired by their journey was The Revellers, who spent a weekend walking and performing in the northernmost island of Unst. The group, originally formed out of admiration for The Levellers, has gone on to become one of Shetland’s longest-established and most popular bands and the ‘rock with fiddles’ sound has gone down very well. Their concerts invariably sell out. Band member Lewie Peterson and his colleagues found the experience really valuable. “At the time, we said yes just because it sounded like a really novel idea. You don’t know when you’re going to get that kind of chance. It did sound a bit mad, actually, something really different to what we’d done before. The walk was really nice, the whole band was together for the whole time, and we got a really nice sense of the place and the people. As we did the project, and after we came back from Unst, everything made sense as to why we have Back from Beyond.
We were all buzzing afterwards and feeling inspired, and really proud of what we were doing
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“We were all buzzing afterwards and feeling inspired, and really proud of what we were doing. Usually, when we write songs as a band, somebody comes with an idea and people maybe develop it together afterwards, whereas because we all went to Hermaness and we all heard the same things and saw the same things, we were all coming at it at the same time. It’s become the most collaborative piece of work that we’ve done.” Another of the bands, Haltadans, went to Foula, and their adventures are also recorded in another of Alice Mullay’s videos, Foula Transit. She says: “For the band, the idea of going to Foula and having the time to create new material has been really good for them, because they’re saying, ‘Oh, I think we want to make an album’, and they’re quite a new band. So, for them, it’s like a turning point. I think the Foula folk really appreciated the dance in the hall, and there’s a few folk in Foula who are musicians and I think it was genuinely a very special thing for them, because if people are visiting, they’re often quite separate.”
New directions What of the future for Back from Beyond? For the moment, Alice says, they are continuing to focus on the eight areas, which she says are “very special”. However, she adds, “we’re completely open to the idea of maybe introducing other areas. Already, we’ve had a few people making submissions outside the original areas. You don’t want to discourage folk!” There have been many additions to the website, including several ‘biodoodles’, images using natural or found items, often on beaches. Some people sent these in from Australia. New material will continue to accumulate. Emma and Alice like the idea that Back from Beyond can grow as a resource, a way of people in each place having a bank of material. The main aim, though, is to encourage people to be creative. They hope to promote a different theme each month, which could range from fiddle tunes or WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
Comin fae da mill Laureen Johnson
Mill burn, Loch o Houlland to Hol o Scraada, late nineteenth century A week o watter an da mill burn rushin a caald track we’re apon noo – but he’s November, whit can you lippen? A winter afore me laek nae idder A’m seen, an time we hed mel ida kist. Hit doesna maitter foo trang you ir or whit da Loard is seen fit ta send you or wha is come, or geen, da mill taks da sam time an you man wait. Fill in da coarn, mak your sock, an wait for da grindin. Whit’s twartree ooers in Eshaness for stane ta grind apo stane? Whit’s wan efternön ta da tirl o time at’s grund hale banks awa? Da mill’s time is naethin in compare, my lifetime little mair.
haiku poems to recipes or tapestries. Alice also thinks that the project has potential health benefits. “I’ve spoken to quite a lot of people through my work, and colleagues, who’ve found that walking and walking groups can be a really useful thing for people, especially folk with low-level mental health issues. I’d quite like to see that with a creative slant. I would hope, in a modest way, that we could offer something that existing mental health professionals could use as a tool.” There’s been interest from farther afield, too. Emma has had an approach from people in Wales who would like to do something in the same vein. A connection has been made with the Glasgow Film Festival, featuring a film about the Shetland poet, Robert Alan Jamieson and other material from the collection. The other thread that has run through the project is the value of Mareel, the arts centre. Alice says: “In Shetland, I had always WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
Dis bulderin, wirkin burn, in a meenit, will faa ower da edge o da Hol o Scraada an be geen, cheated forever, a burn lost ida air Da aert sabbin weet, an da daylight feddin A kishie o mel ta hyst, an a hill-gaet hame tae a hoose queer an quiet, wi nae answers ta gie but mooths ta feed
hoped that Mareel would help to bring people together artistically, and I think it has. I meet people; it is a hub.” Lewie agrees: “It’s a nice building to work in anyway, but I think you’ll find that there’s a lot more collaborative stuff going on and a lot more sharing of ideas.” Summing up, Emma Perring says: “What’s been quite rewarding is that everybody that we asked to do it has actually enjoyed it so much. Every time you say ‘thank you’ to anybody, they say “no, thank you!”. It’s good when things like that happen.”
bulderin: gurgling sabbin: soaking sock: knitting tirl: water-mill wheel trang: busy
More Information You can find the Back from Beyond website at www.backfrombeyond.org You can read the Shetland Times’ review of the Back from Beyond show at Mareel, Lerwick at www.shetlandtimes.co.uk Alternatively, just enter Back from Beyond Shetland into any search engine.
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Walks Deborah Leggate reveals her favourite Shetland spots
alking in Shetland is probably something you take for granted when you’ve lived here most of your life. It often takes going away for a while (in my case university) to help you really appreciate what you’ve always had around you – miles of coastline to explore, fantastic landscapes and sea views, clean fresh air and, last but not least, peace and quiet. Knowing you can go for walks to breathtaking places and never meet another soul is one of the things I love the most. Trust me when I say that you really can “get away from it all” when you walk in Shetland. I’ve been on many walks throughout the years but here are some of my favourites. Deborah, West Sandwick
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West Sandwick, Yell My husband spent many a happy summer here while growing up but it’s not really somewhere I had been that often. Well that has certainly changed, and we now head up there several times a year. Many people come to Shetland to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and relax. I go to West Sandwick for the same reasons. The beach there is absolutely stunning and I could sit on the sand watching the crashing waves all day. We’ve braved the cold a few times to go body boarding but usually we keep dry and just walk north along the coastline past a small waterfall and an old mill. There are plenty of spots to stop and admire the view across to North Roe. We tend to cut inland for the return and follow an old track back to Hjarkland.
Culswick, West Mainland
A walk I’ve actually only ever done once but I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to go again soon. We were lucky enough to get gorgeous weather that day and I remember feeling like a child with my constant “are we there yet?” as we made our way toward the broch. We walked inland on the way and it often didn’t feel like Shetland with the wide open spaces of soft green grass. The broch sits on top of a hill which is accessed by a short causeway. Once at the top you can admire the fantastic sea views. We opted to return via the coastline and enjoy the dramatic cliff scenery. Definitely on my list of places to camp.
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To find out more about Deborah’s favourite
Undoubtedly one of Shetland’s most popular spots for walking and I still rarely meet anyone else. Probably because I like it best when the weather is a bit wild and I can enjoy watching the wild sea crashing against the huge cliffs. In fact I often don’t venture very far at all but just follow the coastline to where I can find a spot to sit and stare out to sea. I could sit for hours getting lost in my thoughts. However it’s nice to have a longer walk when I’ve got company, so heading toward the Grind o da Navir is a must, plus it’s the perfect spot for a packed lunch. Return via The Holes of Scraada – which impress me every time.
walks and perhaps discover some new routes visit www.walkshetland.com or request a copy of our Walking Guide.
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Da Hams of Roe It’s a long walk on an old track road but it’s worth it. I know you can take different routes and probably the coastal ones are much more interesting, but we always seem to take the track. It’s a great one for talking. You don’t need to pay attention to where you’re going, you just subconsciously follow the road and get caught up in a good old conversation. My husband and I have covered many subjects walking this route. The little beach and beautiful scenery make the long walk worthwhile. It’s so picturesque and another place I could happily sit and enjoy.
New Rock Climbing Guidebook for Shetland
ince the launch of the new climbing website ShetlandClimbing.info, the climbing scene in Shetland has had a real boost of interest. The website started life as a project for 3 local climbers to collate all the information on crags and the routes that have been climbed to date, and then provide a place where climbers can then find, and add to that information. It’s been a real success with over 100 climbers registering on the site. The obvious progression with all this information in one place is to make a guide to the climbing as it’s tricky taking your laptop to the crag! Each crag has been made into a “miniguide” and these have been collated into a small book. More miniguides have been added recently, and now 15 crags are covered with nearly 400 routes between them. Each miniguide has photo topos clearly marking each route.
The set of guides cost £10 and are available to buy direct from www.shetlandclimbing.info All sales go towards the cost of maintaining the website.
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Shetland stars as a film location by Davie Gardner
ver the years the Shetland Islands – a small island group located around 130 miles north of the Scottish mainland and home to a total population of around 22,000 people - have proved to be an irresistible attraction to many TV production companies and film makers of various persuasions. Up until now however by far the greater percentage of such media interest has been documentary orientated, largely intent on capturing various aspects of the islands unique environment, culture and heritage, its abundant wildlife or, alternatively, the community’s ongoing relationship with the oil and gas industry - given that much of the UK’s huge reserves of these natural resources are to be found around the islands shores. But now it appears that Shetland may be about to cross a relatively new media thresh-hold, as a prime ‘location’ for drama productions and even TV advertising ‘shoots’. Evidence of this comes through its increasing recent involvement with national productions such as the BBC detective drama series ‘Shetland’, and that now world famous ‘3 Mobile’ advert featuring ‘Socks’ the ‘moonwalking’ Shetland pony, which was filmed entirely on location in the islands.
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We have scenery that is the envy of the world, while technology has also much moved in our favour in recent years too
Previous to this, Shetland’s involvement in this particular world had been relatively limited. As far back as 1937 Director Michael Powell shot his acclaimed feature film ‘Edge of the World’ almost entirely on the island of Foula. Starring soon to be household names such as Finlay Currie (‘Ben Hur’, ‘Fall or the Roman Empire’ and ‘Whisky Galore’) and John Laurie (Private Fraser in ‘Dad’s Army’) this endeavour proved to be a monumental feat of cinematography for many reasons, not least the fact that the island - located in the Atlantic 30 miles off Shetland’s west coast is still termed ‘remote’ today. Then from there it was pretty much fast forward to 2004 and the Stuart St Paul film ‘Devil’s Gate’ – which attracted both mixed media reviews and local comment. Although the logistical challenges of transporting a full film crew and their equipment to, from and around places like Shetland may not be as demanding as they were in Powell’s day, significant barriers still remain which never-the-less have to be overcome to create viability for such enterprises. Production costs are a primary example, especially when you consider the fact that even a relatively small film unit can consist of around twenty large vehicles and sixty of a crew. X WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
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X But set against this of course there are numerous creative elements and advantages which potentially make such remote places increasingly attractive as film locations. In Shetland’s case let’s consider its many stunning land and seascapes - all contained within a relatively limited area, its near twenty-four hour daylight (during the summer months at least), not to mention that extra special light – a cameraman’s so called ‘Golden Hour’ - which can in Shetland, at specific times of year at least, simply last all day. Add to that perhaps more practical considerations such as the local community’s enthusiastic ‘cando’ attitude, coupled to its range of well resourced, high quality support services, then perhaps it’s understandable why Shetland has, of late, attracted increasing business in this respect. Gwilym Gibbons, Director of Shetland Arts Development Agency who operate the islands new multi-million pound arts and education centre ‘Mareel’ agrees. “I believe there is huge potential for Shetland in developing our isles as a location for film and television, while Shetland itself now has a growing number of skilled people working within our creative industries sector” he says. “We have scenery that is the envy of the world, while technology has also much moved in our favour in recent years too, which coupled to ‘Mareel’ and its excellent multi media facilities, should all help Shetland develop its role as a desirable film location”. Of course it helps to have a story-line that actually features Shetland too. You could, of course ‘cheat’ locations if you must, say by using a similar, perhaps more accessible, landscape elsewhere. After all it’s very likely that the larger percentage of your viewing audience will be none the wiser!! But will such an approach deliver the level of authenticity many Producers and Directors, not to mention audiences, desire nowadays? When national Norwegian television (NRK) introduced a Shetland related story-line to their massively successful ‘Himmelbla’ drama series, watched in Norway by around 50% of the total population, they had no qualms that this actually had to be filmed on the islands. However, absolute secrecy was key, given the Shetland scenes featured a character
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who had ‘disappeared’ from the Norwegian story-line (presumed dead) and it was vital to retain that particular element of mystery. The subterfuge that NRK were shooting an advert in Shetland featuring Norwegian actors worked locally, but then their ‘cover’ was almost blown when, on the very last day of filming, a large Norwegian sailtraining ship arrived with two hundred young sea-cadets onboard. Inevitably, given the huge viewing figures the series was attracting in their homeland, many were fans of the series and immediately became aware of what was taking place literally in front of them. Incredibly, and despite their excitement, they respected the plea to maintain secrecy and especially not to put any mobile phone photos or video footage they captured on social networking sites. WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
Clockwise from top Filming of Himmelbla overlooking St Ninians. Shoot on Commercial Street. Set of ‘Shetland’, South Whiteness. Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez. Socks on location with pony handler Elaine Tait.
Ultimately, as a direct result of the broadcast, Shetland experienced a significantly increased level of Scandinavian related tourism interest, primarily in relation to the various locations used throughout the programme. More recently still the islands have become the location focus for a prime-time BBC1 detective drama series (produced by ITV Studio’s in Glasgow) simply entitled ‘Shetland’, based around the Ann Cleeves’ murder mystery novels which feature Shetland based Detective Jimmy Perez, played in the series by Scottish actor Douglas Henshall. An initial two-part pilot programme, broadcast by the BBC in early 2013, attracted around seven million viewers each night. Now a new three part / six episode series, again filmed largely on the WWW.SHETLAND.ORG
islands, set against a back-drop of various Shetland locations ranging from the tiny island of Fair Isle - located 25 miles to the south of the main island group - to the stunning sea cliffs of Eshaness at the northern extremities of the Shetland mainland, is set to be screened in 2014. Filming on an incredibly remote island such as Fair Isle (population just over 60), with its very limited and totally weather dependant transport links, brought its own specific challenges to the ‘Shetland’ production team. Never-the-less the rewards were more than worthwhile accordion to Director Steward Svaasand. “Filming on Fair Isle was a wonderful experience, and something that will last long in the memory. It’s a unique place of real beauty and drama, with an amazingly generous community whose support and help proved invaluable.” ITV’s ‘Location Manager’ for the ‘Shetland’ series Michael Higson is equally enthusiastic about the place. “Shetland is so different to anywhere else in the UK and it was a real breath of fresh air filming there. It’s genuinely another, very different world” he said. “Everyone was so welcoming, approachable and supportive from start to finish. Perhaps this was down to the fact that we were actually filming a series about Shetland in Shetland – but equally I believe that’s just the way life is there. I honestly think we would have struggled to achieve what we ultimately did there anywhere else”. But if one thing alone has put Shetland well and truly on the international map in this particular context it has to be ‘Socks’, the moon-walking Shetland pony, diminutive star of that now globally acclaimed ‘3 Mobile’ TV advert, again filmed entirely on location in Shetland. Just over a week after its initial release it had not only been viewed by countless millions on national television, but it had also gone internet viral, clocking up over eight million views via You-Tube alone, while additionally attracting the frenzied attention of the world’s press into the bargain. Selected by the ad’s director Dougal Wilson from literally hundreds of locally owned pony’s for his “looks and attitude”, ‘Socks’ - owned by Shetlander Mari Williamson of the Benston pony stud danced and cavorted his way to global
stardom, and as a result now finds himself in huge demand at pony show’s all over the UK, in addition to being a very popular attraction closer to home into the bargain. “As soon as they told me the ad would feature a Shetland pony I just knew we actually had to film it in Shetland” Dougal said. “The islands are a perfect landscape for inspiration and film making. The light is magical and constantly shifting and every bend in the road reveals a new, breath-taking vista. The Shetland folk were also immensely helpful and welcoming, making our stay thoroughly enjoyable and an experience we will never forget.” he said. So is this recent flurry of media-related activity likely to last? Many on the islands believe that it can, and that if it does Shetland is currently well positioned to both effectively meet and support the industries requirements and equally take advantage of the promotional and economic opportunities that will inevitably come with it. Andy Steven, Promote Shetland’s Destination Development Manager, says: “Recent examples of filming projects such as these have had immediately positive benefits for Shetland through increased global exposure, raising awareness of and encouraging spending on local products and services. In the longer term profiling Shetland in this way helps us generate a significant interest in the isles which is just the kind of exposure we could never afford to buy.” “Cut... and that’s a wrap” - as they say in the industry.
Shetland is so different to anywhere else in the UK and it was a real breath of fresh air filming there. It’s genuinely another, very different world
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GIVE YOURSELF A
A TRIP TO SHETLAND WILL BRUSH AWAY THE COBWEBS & PUT THE COLOUR BACK IN YOUR CHEEKS. THE CRISP CLEAR AIR IS IDEAL FOR LONG WALKS
& SHORT BREAKS.
IN LATE SPRING, THE
SOUND OF THE BIRDS
IS JOINED BY THAT OF THE FIDDLE WHEN THE FOLK FESTIVAL BEGINS. EVEN AFTER DANCING ALL NIGHT, YOU’LL GO HOME WITH A SPRING IN YOUR STEP. Visit Shetland at any time of year and you’ll be enchanted by the rugged beauty of the landscape. The place where Scotland meets Scandinavia and the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Whether arriving for the first time or returning you can be sure of a great welcome. To find out more or to request a FREE copy of our Shetland Pocket Guide visit www.SHETLAND.org /promoteshetland
A magazine about all things Shetland.