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Issue No 3 | Autumn 2012

THE SHETLAND MURDER MYSTERIES Ann Cleeves’ celebrated Shetland Quartet of crime novels

BORN SURVIVOR Betty Mouat: The remarkable tale of a Shetland knitter

ILLUMINATING THE PAST Sumburgh Head Lighthouse Project

PLUS The Shetland Bus Shetland Wildlife A visit from Norway Abby’s Wish List Textile Museum Sports Week 2012

Belmont House Relaxation in an

exquisite setting Editor: Misa Hay Sub-edited by Jordan Ogg Design: Left, Cover image: Belmont House by Mark Sinclair Contributions and suggestions are more than welcome. Submissions can be made directly to the Editor by email to 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. Like Shetland on Follow us on Twitter @promoteshetland


4. Born Survivor: Betty Mouat Kate Davies on the remarkable tale of a Shetland knitter, Victorian curiosity and unwilling celebrity

10. Belmont House: Relaxation in an Exquisite Setting Shetland offers an excellent selection of places to stay and, as Alastair Hamilton has been discovering, one of them is quite unique

14. Shetland’s Big Five Jon Dunn from Shetland Wildlife on the isles’ most popular wildlife draws

17. Illuminating the Past The buildings at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse are being restored as part of a £5.4m project to deliver a top visitor attraction and preserve an iconic Shetland landmark

20. The Shetland Murder Mysteries Ann Cleeves’ celebrated Shetland Quartet of crime novels will feature in a BBC adaptation for prime-time TV later this year. Craig Laurenson spoke with the author to learn more about her life and work

23. A Visit from Norway Filming, kayaking and dancing - all in a day’s work for three lucky students from Norway

26. The Shetland Bus Douglas C. Smith tells the story of the Shetland Bus, a clandestine operation that helped thousands of Norwegians escape from their Nazi occupiers

30. A treasure of historical and contemporary textiles Alastair Hamilton receives the warmest of welcomes at the Shetland Textile Museum

34. Shetland Wildlife’s Nature Notes Autumn Gold Jon Dunn is often asked what brought him to live in Shetland. While there were many aspects of island life that he found attractive, what first took him north was the autumn birding

36. Full-blooded, Fully-Committing, Untamed Adventure Paul Whitworth from Climb Shetland introduces an increasingly popular local leisure pursuit

38. Be a Part of Shetland Sports Week 2012 Residents and visitors alike are welcome to take part in Shetland Sports Week, which is being run for a second time by Shetland Islands Council’s Sport & Leisure Service

39. Lerwick: A Guide for the Busy and Hungry Lerwick resident Jordan Ogg shares his tips on how to make the most of a day in Shetland’s capital

42. Abby’s Shetland wish list A selection of inspirational contemporary and traditional hand crafted finds from Shetland

Photograph: Lichen on stone wall, Muness Castle, Unst

Since we last spoke… We’ve been busy at the peat hill, peats are dried and ready for taking home, heather is starting to turn purple, skies are getting more colourful, some of our birds are leaving and some of the rare migrants are making an appearance for one of the most stunning parts of the Shetland year… the Autumn. The Autumn issue of 60 North is here, full of interesting facts, information and inspiration for those of you who are as crazy about Shetland as we are. Kate Davies will take us on an unscheduled sea voyage to Norway to join the brave and determined Betty Mouat, Alastair Hamilton will give us a tour of the new Shetland Textile Museum at the Böd of Gremista and will also take us to Belmont House to tell the story of the amazing restoration. Matt Arnold will let us know about the ambitious Sumburgh Head project, which will culminate in the creation of a world class visitor attraction and preserved iconic landmark. We also have an exclusive interview with Ann Cleeves who talks about the television adaptation of her novel Red Bones and gives some exciting details about her new planned Shetland quartet. And if an untamed adventure is what you are after then you might be interested to find out about climbing in Shetland, an increasingly popular local leisure pursuit. And that’s just to begin… Hope you enjoy!

As we are publishing this Autumn issue of 60 North, the UK’s most northerly music, cinema and creative industries centre opens. Mareel will provide a year round programme of film, live music, education and other performance events. It will be a hub and a focus for the creative communities, not just in Shetland, but beyond and a catalyst for the creative industry sector in Shetland. We are very excited and wish Mareel all the very best.

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Misa Hay, Promote Shetland |

PS. Autumn is a fantastic time for walking in Shetland, the landscapes are suffused in hues of red, brown and gold and on a nice day the visibility is just amazing. So why don’t you take a flask and a packed lunch and set off to explore a part of Shetland? For some inspiration try My favourite is Fethaland Circular. And yours?


Betty Mouat from Scatness, Dunrossness, sitting knitting. Opposite: Betty Mouat carrying the yarns

Born Survivor: Betty Mouat Kate Davies on the remarkable tale of a Shetland knitter, Victorian curiosity and unwilling celebrity Photography by Shetland Museum and Archives & Kate Davies


etty Mouat was an ordinary Shetlander. A crofter, spinner and knitter, she worked hard at home and on the land. Under her hands, the finest Shetland fleeces were transformed into even finer two-ply. She knitted lace of dazzling beauty and complexity. She was a woman with talented fingers, but in this she was by no means unusual. On 7th February, 1886 she was transformed from Betty Mouat of Scatness into Saint Elizabeth, the Heroine of the Columbine. Her name was known in Canada and Australia; poems were written in her honour; and crowds gathered on the off-chance of glimpsing “the remarkable Betty Mouat”. This is the story of the transformation of an ordinary Shetlander into a global media sensation.


On 30th January 1786 the smack The Columbine set sail from Grutness to Lerwick. On board were skipper James Jamieson, two crew, and, below in the boat’s small cabin, Betty Mouat. She carried with her forty Shetland lace shawls; the fruits of women’s winter labours, these had been knitted by Betty and her neighbours. Betty, aged 60, and respected in such matters, had been enjoined with the task of taking them to town to be brokered, blocked, and dressed. Even for January, the weather was more than usually wild and squally when The Columbine set sail. After covering three nautical miles, the smack suddenly hit choppy waters, the boom lurched and the main sail snapped. As they tried to carry out repairs, skipper Jamieson and the mate

were thrown overboard. Clutching the torn fabric of the sail, the mate struggled back onto the deck, and, with the other crew member, launched a small dinghy in an attempt to rescue their skipper. Rowing frantically, they saw no sign of Jamieson, but they did see The Columbine veering and rolling in the waters, before drifting further and further away. Fearing for their lives and realising they could not reach The Columbine, the two men made for shore. After a halfhour’s hair-raising journey through the storm, they landed up at Boddam, where a small crowd had gathered, having noticed the smack was in difficulty. But in this weather, there was nothing anyone could do. Left to the mercy of the elements, The Columbine, Betty Mouat and the shawls

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Above: Fine lace shawl (c.1880) from the collection of the Shetland Museum and Archives. Top Right: Betty Mouat, exposed to the elements on the deck of The Columbine, as imagined by The Graphic. Bottom Right: Nineteenth-Century Shetland knitters dressing fine lace shawls. Illustration from Frank Barnard, Picturesque Life in Shetland (1890)

were carried out into the North Sea. Rewards were offered. Rescue boats were launched from Lerwick, Yell, and Kirkwall “in the endeavour to save the life of the poor woman adrift on the ill-fated Columbine.” In parliament, the M.P for Leith argued that the admiralty should send fishery vessels to join the search. Days passed, with no news. Returning from an aborted attempt to search for the Columbine, one captain spoke of the appalling weather he had had encountered and concluded, “I cannot think that [The Columbine] is now afloat anywhere... no one at land could form any idea how stormy it was.” There was now little hope, The Shetland News reported, of rescuing poor Betty Mouat. “Her position”, wrote the editor “is a heart-rending one. Neither in the supposition that she speedily found a watery grave, or is still alive drifting about in the smack, is there anything to take away from that position its frightfulness.” On Saturday 6th February William Gladstone was elected British Prime Minister for the third time. A day later, Betty Mouat turned up alive and well on the Norwegian island of Lepsøy. It is hard to say which caused the bigger sensation. Remaining calm and quietly resourceful, Betty Mouat had survived. Clinging to a rope from the ceiling of the cabin, she stayed upright while the boat rolled and tossed about her. Discovering the 6

skipper’s jacket and watch, she warmed herself with the one and carefully kept time with the other. Unable to clamber on deck, she arranged boxes on the floor of the cabin, and at intervals put her head out of the hatch, gauging the condition of the sea, and the position of the stars. Cold and exhausted, she eked out her meagre rations - a bottle of milk, a few biscuits over several days. Betty initially assumed herself to be drifting off the coast of Bressay (an island close to Lerwick), but as the days passed, she realised that the Columbine had travelled much further away than the islands she knew. Betty Mouat had, in fact, taken a perilous zigzagging journey three-hundred miles across the North Sea. According to The South Australian Advertiser, in an editorial that appeared shortly after on Mouat’s safe return: “It is said that the poet Coleridge drew from his own brain during sleep the wonderful imagery that renders The Ancient Mariner one of the most striking poems of its time. The experiences [of Betty Mouat] would surely supply corresponding material.” And indeed, Betty’s journey was made the subject of countless doggerel verses and sensational articles, and the voyager herself was transformed from Hudson’s

hardy, resourceful Shetlander into a suffering, romantic heroine, all alone on the wild, wild sea. In James G. Ollason’s poem A Greeting, for example, Mouat is made to speak with the “anguish of the derelict”: Spirit of tempest raging Ruthless war for ever waging ‘Gainst the wreck, bare hid with foam! Wilt thou never, never more, Drift me to my native shore My rock-bound, far off home? Will the wave, convulsive, fatal Far from kin and village natal, Wrap me in its writhing fold? A piece covering Mouat’s story then appeared in William Luson Thomas’s popular London paper The Graphic. In the accompanying illustrations, Mouat was depicted as a younger woman with loose blonde locks, cowering on deck while the tempest raged about her. Because of damage to the cabin ladder, Mouat had never actually ventured onto the deck of The Columbine, but clearly the image of a lone woman exposed to the elements really appealed to Victorian readers. A piece in children’s paper The Chatterbox similarly pictured Mouat as a desperate figure, crouched “on the deck of the smack... could she stand up against the cold of the wind and the great waves which washed so constantly over the 60 NORTH | AUTUMN 2012

Above: The coast of Lepsøy, Norway where Betty Mouat finally landed. Right: On Saturday 6th February William Gladstone was elected British Prime Minister for the third time.

deck?” Chatterbox’s youthful readers were then cautioned to remember Betty’s terrifying ordeal “when spending their holidays by the seaside and watching the tiny waves lapping the yellow sands.” When reporting her story, newspapers in London, Canada, Australia, and the United States invariably described Betty Mouat as “Scotch” or “a Scotchwoman” - a moniker which, as a Shetlander, she may not have necessarily have recognised. Mouat’s assumed “Scottishness” also leaked out into several of the poems in which she appeared. One terrible group of verses, by an author identifying themselves as “MEM” imagined Mouat speaking a sort of “braid” Lowland Scots - a dialect quite different from her own: Wae’s me! The skipper ower he fell Dashed by the flappin’ sail; The waters plashed his deein knell And drooned his helpless wail An day an nicht, an nicht an day Gaed roon an roon the sky; Ten times I lost the welcome light Ten times the mune rode hie. As well as being assumed by the global press to be “Scotch” Betty Mouat also became the focus of assumptions about what it meant to be a Shetland woman: 60 NORTH | AUTUMN 2012

“She has spent her life in a miserable hut the typical crofters dwelling - a place not fit for cattle... her home [is] amid the solitude of the hills where the peat fire burns in the middle of the mud floor and the smoke makes an uneasy exit through stray holes in the roof. In this dismal abode she has maintained a lofty independence being able to provide her “puckle meal” and “cup ‘o tea” by assiduously knitting Shetland wool shawls and placing her trust in the Lord.” One doubts very much whether Betty Mouat would have described her crofthouse home as either “miserable” or “dismal,” but this account would no doubt have rung true to the metropolitan audience of the London paper in which it appeared, as it rehearses a very common stereotype of Shetland women, who in stark contrast to Victorian ideals of femininity, were seen as hardy and independent to the point of being primitive. Like Betty Mouat, the kishie-carrying knitters who appeared on picturesque Victorian postcards also fed (and perhaps continue to feed) this stereotype. Betty Mouat had been transformed into a romantic heroine; she had been misrepresented as “Scotch” and pigeonholed as a Shetland “primitive.” Now the Victorian press went even further. Discussing the physical appearance of the “survivor of the Columbine” newspapers mentioned her

stature (low), her complexion (dark) and the fact that she walked with a limp. This last became the focus of much conjecture. In some sources it was said that Betty had a congenital weakness on one side; elsewhere that she had one leg shorter than the other. Different papers speculated that Betty had previously suffered a stroke, and yet others rehearsed a story that, several years earlier, while working at the peat, her leg had been run over by a trap. Old Betty, it was said, had suffered multiple misfortunes prior to her extraordinary voyage. She was clearly a survivor - but wait - wasn’t there something just a little weird about her consistent ability to survive? “She is called the witch of Dunrossness owing to a prevailing superstition that she ‘couldna be kilt’. Some years ago a cart passed over her foot, which permanently injured it and made her a cripple. On one occasion, her head appearing above the rising ground was taken for a rabbit and fired into, the shots being still in her head. Then she was nearly drowned on a previous occasion. Now she has been drifting about for nine days in maddening solitude, half drowned, wholly starved, quenching her thirst by licking the drops of water condensed on the window panes, living, and yet dying...” The idea of Betty-the-witch, just like the idea of Betty-the-heroine, had its own 7

narrative power. More terrible doggerel followed: One more strange saving of my frail old life, Already thrice nigh wrecked-by crushing wheel By gunshot rashly aimed, and choking force Of water; yet I lived through all of these, And in my dark, rude hut among the hills Dwelt, a poor cripple, but secured from want By deftly-woven web of gossamer wool, Such as fine ladies wear; a harmless soul, Yet named by men the “witch of Dunrossness” For no weird practising on others lives But simply for the saving of my own. Amid so many perils as though I, Old Elspeth Mouat, knew, and wrought some charm On those destroying powers that, day by day Sweep off the young and strong.... By the spring of 1786, Betty Mouat was well enough to return home to Shetland, and finally escaped the curious crowds of Edinburgh and Leith. But she was still not free from the attentions of the press. When a story is in the public eye for long enough, it becomes easy fodder for political satire, and Betty Mouat’s was no different. In Westminster, the recently re-elected Prime Minister was intent on securing Irish home rule, and in April set his unpopular bill before the British parliament. The following, in W.S. Gilbert vein, compared the voyage of Betty Mouat to the stormy waters the nation navigated under Gladstone’s elderly hand:


Ah! Ship of the state, In sorest strait: Fast bound for the rocks of a suicide fate; With thy crew divided twixt greed and fear, And that whisperer sly at thy steersman’s ear: Good ship of the state, With thy priceless freight, Which we all have insured at so heavy a rate; Some passengers sick in their bunks below, Are painfully rising, and wanting to know: If the desperate case of the smack Columbine Should not after all, be preferred to thine, And really and truly, On weighing it duly, Myself I find, Very much of their mind; I mean that I should not pretend to lament If that grand, Old Hand, At the helm, Of the realm, With his crew at the tail of him overboard went... When Betty Mouat arrived in Leith, merchants competed to acquire the forty fine-lace shawls she had carried on her voyage. But Betty refused all offers; apparently concerned to “secure” the shawls for their makers, the women of Dunrossness. Apart from one of her own shawls, which she had blocked and dressed in Edinburgh, and sold to George Thomas, Vice Admiral and Sheriff of Shetland, Betty took all the shawls home with her where, after their unscheduled trip to Norway, their value was considerably enhanced for the women who had knitted them. Because of the truck system, it was relatively unusual for any Shetland knitter at this time to receive fair payment for her labours. However, after decades of exploitation and investigation, on the year following Mouat’s voyage, an act was finally passed to abolish truck on Shetland (though many local merchants continued to operate the system to their own advantage). Back in Edinburgh, meanwhile, Sheriff Thomas was impressed by Betty’s shawl. He recognised the value of her skill, but also the wider value of the publicity she might bring to the cause of Shetland knitting. He devised a “scheme” to bring Mouat back to Edinburgh, together with six other Shetland craftswomen, to appear at The International Exhibition of Science Art and Industry. Thomas was keen that the exhibition should be a showcase of modern Shetland skills:

By the spring of 1786, Betty Mouat was well enough to return home to Shetland, and finally escaped the curious crowds of Edinburgh and Leith “The Sheriff hopes that the work of the exhibition will not be confined to the usual goods but will show that the knitters can adapt themselves to the demands of the times. Thus in Fair Isle goods embracing jerseys for lawn tennis, knickerbockers, &c &c And in Zetland goods embracing silk thread shawls, window curtains in cotton thread, traveling waistcoats &c.” And he insisted that the knitters be fairly recompensed for their labours: “Elizabeth Mouat and the knitters are to have as their own property the proceeds of the sales of their work subject only to deduction of 5 per cent by the authorities of the exhibition.” Research for this piece was conducted at the Shetland Museum and Archives. My thanks to the staff for their help. I have also traced the representation of Mouat and her story through the archives of The Scotsman, Gale’s Nineteenth Century British Library Newspapers and other publications available through the Trove digitisation project at the Australian National Library. The sheer quantity of terrible verses and essays that her voyage inspired is, in itself, quite astounding. I have barely scratched the surface here, for which I am sure readers are grateful.

Oral recordings held by the Tobar an Dualchais project reveal that, because of her disabilities, Mouat was still being spoken of as a witch as late as the 1970s. Anyone interested in learning more about the story of Betty Mouat might begin with the albums of press cuttings and poems that were carefully collected by Shetland merchant and polymath, E. S. Tait. Shetland Archive refs D1/259 and D6/292/15/1/1. Right: Betty’s home in Scatness is now a böd (a camping bothy) and you can stay there while visiting Shetland. Left: Edinburgh Exhibition 1886 Parish Not in Shetland (Zetland and Fair Isle knitters. The Jaw Bone Stand, Edinburgh International Exhibition, 1886) Shetland Museum and Archives Photo Library collection contains over 60,000 images showing all aspects of Shetland life.

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Belmont House relaxation in an exquisite setting By Alastair Hamilton Photography by Mark Sinclair


hetland offers an excellent selection of places to stay but one of them is quite unique. Belmont House, on the northernmost island of Unst, was built in 1775 by Thomas Mouat of Garth, a local landowner and businessman. Magnificently set, it overlooks Bluemull Sound, the stretch of water that separates Unst from Yell. Thanks to easy ferry connections, it’s perfectly placed for exploring not only Unst, but the other northern isles of Yell and Fetlar, not to mention the north of the Shetland mainland. The house is a perfectly-proportioned Georgian mansion, unquestionably the best example of its kind in Scotland’s northern and western isles. Mouat was


clearly in touch with the style of the times and constructed a truly beautiful home: gracious, spacious and flooded with light. The architectural details and fittings were of impeccable quality and the house overlooked a formal garden and, beyond, land stretching down to the shore. For many visitors, one of the smaller rooms, the Venetian writing room, is a particular favourite. It has wonderful views towards the coastlines of Unst and Yell. Just as remarkable as Belmont’s architectural perfection is the fact that it survived intact. Although an extension (now demolished) was added later on the west gable, the interior was never altered. However, it lay empty for many years and, by the 1970s, there were growing problems

with water penetration and rot. The Belmont Trust was established in 1996 with the aim of carrying out a full restoration. Today, the house enjoys the highest level of legal protection, category A Listing, which means that it is of national importance, and the garden is also scheduled in the national inventory. The project took 15 years and cost £1.2 million. Mike and Gill Finnie, who have been involved with the restoration from the outset, told me that raising the money had been the greatest challenge. ‘It wasn’t so much that it was difficult’, says Mike, ‘it was endless. By the end of it, though, we knew how to fund-raise and we had a lot of success’. Gill stresses that a crucial part of the fundraising effort was keeping everyone

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involved; a lot of work went into preparing regular newsletters to ensure that funders and potential funders were kept up to date with progress. Cash came from a number of larger organisations but also from individuals, like a farmer from the Lake District and a man with very distant Unst connections, both of whom contributed quite substantial sums. ‘The biggest benefit was that Historic Scotland supported us throughout’. More recently, some money has been raised by selling daffodil bulbs from the garden. ‘We made £1,000 the last time we did that’, says Mike. ‘We packaged them up with a nice heritage label and they went like hot cakes at a Christmas sale in the Whiteness and Weisdale Hall’. Because of the building’s listed status, the work had to be carried out to the highest standards and, for the Trust, it’s a source of great satisfaction that virtually all of it was done by local craftsmen. Seven men were employed full time for five years, at a time when Unst was reeling from several economic setbacks, in particular the closure of the RAF’s Cold War radar station at Saxa Vord. Gill Finnie says: ‘We had excellent workmen. That’s what made the project. They were in love with the building as much as we were.’ The team went well beyond the call of duty. For example, there was a need for a bench in the porch for folks’ wellies and, as Mike says, ‘it just came - one of the team made it at night, in his own time.’ Two of the men came in, unasked, to repair some ‘miniscule’ chips in paintwork the night before the official opening. The project has helped to build traditional craft skills. The Trust paid for a month’s work by a specialist lime contractor from north-east Scotland on condition that they trained the local team in lime work, which meant that the local men were able to use those skills. But the


project unearthed some latent talent, too: it turned out that one of the local Unst men in the team had spent some time as a plasterer working in Georgian Edinburgh, and knew exactly how to tackle the work at Belmont. Wherever possible, the existing detailing, plasterwork, wood panelling and stonework were simply retained and refurbished. In the few instances where restoration or replacement was needed, the results precisely reproduce the original. It was possible to match most of the original interior colours using paint from the Farrow and Ball range, so that if Thomas Mouat were to walk into the house today, he’d recognise his original scheme of decoration.

“sad to say goodbye to this house with modern luxuries while seeming so sympathetic with traditional life on the island. It was beautiful, comfortable and unforgettable!” In fact, he would see very few changes, apart from the conversion of two rooms into bathrooms. The furnishings for the restored Belmont were chosen with great care. Some had survived and were restored, but Mike and Gill Finnie selected many items from the collection of Georgian antiques held in Edinburgh by the National Trust for Scotland. Beds and soft furnishings are mostly contemporary, including woven wool curtains from Johnstons of Elgin. Some rooms have fitted wool carpeting whilst other floors are painted, with rugs

appropriate to the house. The windows have working shutters, useful not only for retaining warmth but also for keeping out the early morning sun, which in summer might otherwise wake guests in the wee small hours. A selection of fine paintings by artists presently working in Shetland and Faroe completes a very elegant picture. So, how has the house been used since it was restored? Mostly, it serves as a selfcatering holiday home for groups of anything from two to twelve people. However, it has also been used by musicians requiring space to compose, play and reflect, and there have been weddings, too. Most have been local couples, but one wedding party came all the way from Newcastle and, according to Gill Finnie, they ‘had a ball’, attending every community event for a week. They also used a local hairdresser and florist and bought all their food locally. The Belmont Trust is keen to encourage guests to use local services. Gill says that the local shops will happily deliver anything to Belmont and fresh local meat, fish, vegetables and other essentials can be put in the fridge, ready for each party’s arrival. Fresh fish and shell fish can also be sourced locally and can be delivered to the house. Jackie Smiles of the Bluemull Development Company, which manages the house on behalf of the Belmont Trust, is one of the team who welcomes guest on arrival. Jackie points out that, for a larger group, the cost per person per night can be as low as £25 in high season, which represents excellent value. In Jackie’s experience, guests are invariably excited and thrilled to have journeyed to Britain’s most northerly island and to find themselves in such an impressive house. ‘The best reaction comes from the children, who usually just fling their bags down and run up and down the stairs and into every room

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over the three floors, usually whooping as they go along!’ Jackie Smiles and Mike Finnie both stress that most of Belmont’s visitors actually spend the majority of their stay in Unst itself. As Mike puts it, ‘they don’t have a Shetland holiday, they have an Unst holiday’. Jackie adds that ‘there is so much to do and see for all the family whether your interest is history, wildlife, photography, walking, fishing, geology, archaeology... or just enjoying the peace and quiet!’ Some visitors are drawn to the house and to Unst because the National Trust for Scotland handles the bookings and has some land on the island. Some day-visitors have arrived on the Trust’s cruises. Local people sometimes book Belmont for weekends and the Trust would like to encourage that, in winter especially, to ensure that the house is in use. Party sizes have varied from two to twelve. ‘Sometimes there are families, other times we’ve had, for example, two dads with five kids while their wives had a girly weekend elsewhere’. Mike and Gill recall one group led by a church minister. ‘It included a former governor-general of Hong Kong and a French nuclear physicist. The whole trip was organised to a tee. At almost eleven o clock one night, we found them out on the front lawn playing croquet with their G&Ts and whiskies. They were all desperate to get their pictures taken, because the sun was setting over Bluemull at about quarter to eleven and they wanted to be able to prove to their friends that this was possible!’ People who stay at Belmont go to all the usual places on the island, including the two National Nature Reserves at Hermaness and Keen of Hamar, the island’s beautiful beaches, the local museum and the Boat Haven. ‘What a lot of them can’t get over, and aren’t sure about to begin with, is that they can walk anywhere’, says Gill Finnie. ‘When you say to them that they can roam

everywhere, as long as they shut gates, they don’t sound very convinced!’ Jackie Smiles says that she’s never yet met a guest who said they were bored, even during foggy or rainy weather. ‘The joy of staying in the luxury of this beautiful house and curling up with a good book or playing with the board games we provide is just a treat in itself. It’s what a break from the norm is all about’. She adds that another wet-weather diversion is the excellent local leisure centre, with an indoor swimming pool. It seems that a stay at Belmont leaves guests with some very happy memories. In the visitors’ book, one reminisced about: A wet day, warm in Belmont with a gin and tonic followed by a great dinner. Then the weather cleared. A calm evening for a walk along the coast, past the locals, to Belmont Broch. The impressive ramparts get great views all round. Walk back via the loch of Belmont where over 100 long tailed ducks were displaying noisily and then to the house for a good port. Another guest was ‘sad to say goodbye to this house with modern luxuries while seeming so sympathetic with traditional life on the island. It was beautiful, comfortable and unforgettable!’ There are more visitors’ comments on the Belmont Trust website. Clearly, the Belmont Trust should be warmly commended not only for rescuing a fine mansion but also for creating a real economic asset to the island. So, what else do the Trustees have in mind by way of future developments? Mike and Gill Finnie say that further progress obviously depends on fundraising, but they hope one day to convert the central heating to run from a renewable source, such as a heat pump, instead of from mains electricity. They’d also love to convert the former garage into a studio, so that groups of artists could have painting and drawing weekends.


“A MAGICAL VENUE FOR HOLIDAYS AND EVENTS IN A STUNNING LOCATION” This superbly restored Georgian house sleeps up to 12 people in a stylish interior for self-catering holidays and offers a total experience for the discriminating guest. 5% off for bookings for 2013 if you make the booking before 14th Dec 2012 Visitors to Unst who aren’t staying in Belmont may be able to see around the house on one of the days each year when it is open to the public. Information can be found in local shops or on the Belmont Trust’s Facebook page. Occasionally, visits at other times may be possible by special arrangement: to enquire, you can email or use the contact form on the Trust’s contact page. In any event, the walled gardens to the front of the house are open to the public at all times and walkers or picnickers are welcome. The forecourt just in front of the house is for the exclusive use of guests who are staying. If a holiday in this stylish, magical place appeals to you, there are full details on the Belmont House website. Bookings – which are handled by the Bluemull Development Company – can be made there too, and there’s a calendar showing availability. The calendars on theses websites show bookings on a weekly basis, but you can also contact the Bluemull Development Company direct to enquire about shorter or longer stays, or about use of the house for weddings or other events. However long your stay, and whatever the occasion, it’s guaranteed to be a memorable experience. Contact Belmont House Belmont-House-Unst/ 153079381426454 Email:

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Shetland’s Big Five Jon Dunn from Shetland Wildlife on the isles’ most popular wildlife draws Photography By Hugh Harrop


or those on safari in Africa, wildlife tour guides refer to the ‘big five’ species that are especially desirable to see: lion, African Elephant, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, and Black or White Rhinoceros. This set me thinking – what would Shetland’s ‘big five’ be during a trip here in mid-to-late summer? Some species are getting hard to find by this time of year. Female Red-necked Phalaropes are long-gone, having migrated south and left their mates to do the serious (and secretive) business of incubating eggs and rearing chicks. The flowering period for Edmonston’s Chickweed, found only on Unst, is over by now, so despite its great rarity and exclusivity, it doesn’t make the list. And besides, in the spirit of the African ‘big five’, I think all candidates should probably be mammals. As I thought about the species our Shetland Wildlife guests always hope to see, the Shetland ‘big five’ became clearer: Otter, Mountain Hare, Grey Seal, Common Seal, and Killer Whale. What was 14

immediately obvious was that this list contains one species that supersedes all the others. In the space of a day or two, we’d always hope to enjoy good views of the first four species, but Killer Whales, or Orcas as they are sometimes known, are altogether more difficult to guarantee.

“To experience the full Shetland ‘big five’ during a short stay requires enormous good fortune” In fact, they simply can’t be guaranteed. As the entire ocean forms their habitat, they come and go as they please. We know there are regular pods that specialise in feeding on fish; and that in recent years, different pods have spent weeks in latesummer moving around the coastline.

Chance plays a huge part in Killer Whale sightings in Shetland. One of the pods filmed for Simon King’s wonderful Shetland Diaries TV series was found by a Shetland Wildlife guest when he happened to look down at the base of the cliffs at Sumburgh and saw the animals surfacing far below. Last year I found myself driving down to Sumburgh airport and noticed two small, dense flocks of gulls over the water beside the road. It looked like the feeding activity I’d associate with recent kills and, sure enough, when I pulled over to have a proper look I found a pod of Killer Whales hunting seals just offshore. Annoyingly, I had to leave them straight away (I had a helicopter to catch) but I phoned the news out and by nightfall hundreds of people had enjoyed watching these powerful predators work their way along the south mainland coast. I tell these stories to illustrate both the luck needed to see Killer Whales here, and how much pleasure a sighting can bring. Each new sighting adds to our collective 60 NORTH | AUTUMN 2012

“Chance plays a huge part in Killer Whale sightings in Shetland�

knowledge of Killer Whale ecology, and because individual animals are identifiable by their markings and dorsal fin shapes, we can provide data on their movements to an ever growing database. To experience the full Shetland ‘big five’ during a short stay requires enormous good fortune; but the moment, if and when it comes, will form a memory that will stay with you for life. I will unashamedly finish with one last story: a couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to encounter a pod of four Killer Whales hunting seals just a few metres from the sheltered western shore of Bressay. They were visible even from Lerwick’s Victoria Pier, though I had the good fortune to be aboard the Seabirds and Seals vessel Dunter III. We watched them from a respectful distance for an hour as they methodically checked every nook and cranny of the coast for prey. We couldn’t go further beyond the lea of Bressay, as the sea was wild that day and not fit for spending any time upon in our boat. It was clearly not suitable for hunting seals either, for the Killer Whales abandoned their hunt and swam directly towards us. A short distance from our port side they dived and circled our stationary boat, looking up at us as they did


so. Curiosity evidently satisfied, for they surfaced again on our starboard side and set off south into the open sea, leaving us speechless after an amazing close encounter initiated by the animals themselves. Every time I recall that morning, the hairs go up on the back of my arms. Seeing Killer Whales in the wild in British waters is always special, but that particular encounter was without compare before or since. We can’t guarantee you Killer Whales in Shetland – but your chances of seeing them with us are better than anywhere else in Britain, and if you do… well, you’ll never forget it. To keep up to date with wildlife news and sightings of Killer Whales as they happen, follow Shetland Wildlife on Facebook For more information on dedicated wildlife holidays in Shetland, visit The company has been running wildlife and birding holidays in Shetland for nearly 20 years and offers weeklong fully guided trips to all corners of Shetland. As well as offering organised group holidays, Shetland Wildlife also offers a bespoke guide service for individuals and small private groups. Fully bonded with the CAA: ATOL 9151.

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Illuminating The Past The buildings at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse are being restored as part of a £5.4m project to deliver a top visitor attraction and preserve an iconic Shetland landmark The Project When complete, visitors will be able to discover the fascinating stories behind the history of the lighthouse, its role in World War II and the area’s rich natural heritage. Opening in 2014, the site will include a brand new multimedia education centre with stunning views from its floor to ceiling windows. Sumburgh Head Lighthouse holidays will continue to offer high quality self-catering visitor accommodation in the former assistant lightkeeper’s quarters.

The History Sumburgh Head Lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson, one of the five generations of famous Stevenson civil engineers. He was employed by the

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Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) which was established in 1786 to create a safer sea for Scotland’s mariners. Stevenson assessed Shetland on a visit in 1814 with the writer Sir Walter Scott. The engineer decided that Sumburgh Head was the best location for Shetland’s first lighthouse and the work was completed in 1821. The walls at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse were built double the usual thickness in order to protect the building from the extreme elements. Elevated 91 metres above sea level, the light is visible for up to 23 nautical miles and flashes three times every 30 seconds. Lightkeepers worked and lived at the lighthouse for 170 years before the light was automated in 1991. Ownership of the buildings passed into private hands, while the NLB retained responsibility

for the tower. In 1994 the area was designated as an RSPB nature reserve. Then, in 2002, Shetland Amenity Trust purchased the lighthouse buildings and began offering an accommodation service as part of Shetland Lighthouse Holidays. The lighthouse is now a Category A listed building.

The Plans The restoration of the three accommodation blocks, along with the engine room, smithy and fog horn, will create space for the site’s interpretation, holiday facilities and an RSPB office. While there will be an overview of the technology of the light itself, the main theme will focus on how the lighthouse has acted as a guardian that enabled mariners to navigate the dangerous waters around Sumburgh Head.


The Engine Room will mark the start of the journey. It will revert back to its former glory to recreate the sights, sounds and smells of a typical lighthouse engine room. The work on the former Smithy building will focus on the daily challenges of life for the lightkeeper and his family. The restoration will take in the cobbled floor and the original set of bellows within the hearth. The Smithy would have been one of the warmest spaces on the site and the aim is to recreate this feeling through projections, flames and fire sounds. Located over two floors, the Marine Life Centre will take visitors into another world as light, sound and visuals create an environment inhabited by a mix of nature from zooplankton to Minke Whales. The lower floor will allow visitors to enter an immersive underwater ‘cocoon’ to discover the rich and productive marine environment which lies off Sumburgh Head. The themes of water currents, tides and sunlight will all be explored while visitors ‘float’ through the space. Upstairs, the centre will continue to explore the diverse marine environment, which includes top predators such as Killer Whales and Puffins. Large screens will link to webcams showing features such as puffin burrows, and there will be plenty of opportunity to interact with multi-sensory displays. The restoration of the two Radar Huts

will highlight the site’s role during World War II, with a focus on the development of radar in the UK. A series of information panels, set in a radiating structure, will mirror the curve of the light tower. The interpretation will look at the stories of the people who worked at the site during the conflict, and reveal how the lightkeeper handled the arrival of gun stations, soldiers and equipment to construct air raid shelters.

RSPB, Scottish National Heritage, Scottish Rural Development Programme, Shetland Islands Council, The Wolfson Foundation. Lead organisation Shetland Amenity Trust acknowledges these partners and funders as key players in the preservation and championing of the natural and cultural heritage at Sumburgh Head.

Opening in 2014, the site will include a brand new multimedia education centre with stunning views Other new features include the former Muckle Roe Lighthouse which is being given a new home in the site car park. The area’s rich Archaeology, which can be traced back for hundreds of years, will also be covered, as will the history of the Foghorn and the Geology of the area. The project is dependent on funding from: European Regional Development Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Historic Scotland,

Do you know anyone who has worked or lived at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse? The project is looking for photographs and stories to include in the interpretation about lightkeepers and their families. Please contact Matt Arnold, Sumburgh Head Interpretation Manager, at or telephone (01595) 694688.

View from new terrace looking South West

Distant view from field looking East towards the Lighthouse buildings


Looking up from ground level to the new Education room

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Aerial shot by Frank Bradford

The Shetland

MURDER MYSTERIES Ann Cleeves’ celebrated Shetland Quartet of crime novels will feature in a BBC adaptation for prime-‐time TV later this year. Craig Laurenson spoke with the author to learn more about her life and work. I know your relationship with Shetland began some time ago. Tell us about the first time you came to Shetland. I first came in 1975. I’d dropped out of university and was offered a job as assistant cook in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle. I think they must have been desperate because I couldn’t cook and I knew nothing about birds. I arrived on the mail boat The Good Shepherd feeling very sea sick, in fact thinking that I was dying, and wondered what had possessed me to come to such a place. But I fell in love with the island almost immediately. I returned as cook the following season and have been visiting Shetland ever since.


What inspired you about the place to write your Shetland Quartet of books? I write very traditional crime fiction and Shetland is brilliant for that – there is a small, enclosed community and people do very much know each other’s business. The first book in the series, Raven Black, came about when my husband and I visited in mid-winter. It had snowed and we saw ravens, very black against the white ground. I thought if there were blood as well that would make a beautiful visual image. Continued on page 22

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Having a particular association with Fair Isle yourself, did you always want to set one of the books there (as you did with Blue Lightning)? I don’t really plan my books very far in advance. The Shetland Quartet follows the seasons and the last book was autumn. For me this means birdwatchers flocking to Fair Isle in the hope of rare migrants – and strong westerly gales that mostly keep the birds away. Blue Lightning was a very easy book to write. I know Fair Isle so well that I felt as if I was walking in Jimmy’s footsteps and seeing the world through his eyes. For those who have yet to read your books, would you like to tell us a bit about Jimmy Perez? Jimmy Perez is a Fair Islander. Raven Black is about what it is to be an outsider and I wanted my central character to be an outsider too. So Jimmy’s ancestors were washed ashore from the Armada wreck El Grand Grifon, he has a Spanish name and dark hair and olive skin. He describes himself as ‘emotionally incontinent.’ I suppose that means that he takes other people’s troubles to heart. Is he based on any person or people from your own life? No, Jimmy is completely fictional. Though there are people on Fair Isle who might disagree… Have any of your previous jobs, such as a cook for the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, helped to influence any aspects of your writing? I describe baking scones with some accuracy in Blue Lightning! Seriously though, any job which involves meeting different people is great for a writer – and all sorts of people came to stay in the observatory hostel. I met my husband there, for example. Later I became a probation officer and that gave me an understanding of the criminal justice system. I worked on Merseyside – quite different from Shetland. Now you’ve completed the Shetland Quartet, do you plan to write any more books set in Shetland, or using the character of Jimmy Perez? Yes, I’m hoping to write another four, this time with titles based around the elements. Dead Water is finished and will be published in February. Jimmy Perez is


rather different in this book, coincidentally perhaps a little closer to Davy Kane’s description of him in the BBC TV script. As usual I’ll be up in Shetland to launch it. Where do you do your writing? Do you have a dedicated study or office from where you work? I’m at the kitchen table, the warmest room in the house. My husband works in the office, which is decidedly more chilly. Which writers do you admire? Have they influenced your own writing in any way? I love crime fiction in translation the Scandinavian writers like Henning Mankell and Karin Fossum, but also Andrea Camilleri from Italy and Fred Vargas from France. Congratulations on the announcement of a television adaptation of your novel, Red Bones! Are you looking forward to seeing your stories being brought to life on screen? Very much. Filming has already started. I was at the read-through in Glasgow last week. Douglas Henshall, who plays the central character, doesn’t look like my idea of Jimmy Perez, but will be magnificent I think.

Would you ever consider moving to Shetland? It’s probably too late now, but certainly when our family was young we considered it. My husband was never sure about the long winter nights but they wouldn’t have bothered me. Now it’s a great place for us to visit to enjoy the bleak but beautiful scenery and the natural history. Shetlanders are amazingly hospitable and I feel that I’m coming home when I arrive at Sumburgh or into the ferry terminal. What advice would you offer to any budding writers? Write the kind of books that you would enjoy reading yourself. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be published or successful – it was 20 years before I could afford to give up the day job –so you have to love what you do. Read a lot. You need to develop an instinct for the way good stories work. And be lucky. Luck is just as important in this business as talent. Finally, what’s your next writing project? I’ve finished all the edits on Dead Water, the new Jimmy Perez book and I’ll be getting page proofs through soon. Now I’ve just started a new Vera Stanhope novel. I like alternating characters; it stops me getting bored.

How closely does the script follow your original story? It’s a fusion between Red Bones and Raven Black. I hope readers come to the film with an open mind, because I think Davy Kane has beautifully captured the central premise in the book. There’s a lot about history – the Shetland bus - and families that become fractured. Do you holiday regularly in Shetland? Yes, I’m there three or four times a year to visit friends or for research. What do you like to do with your spare time when you’re not writing? At the moment I don’t have much spare time! I’m invited to book festivals and library events and always enjoy meeting readers, so there’s lots of travelling. And with six grandchildren and an elderly mother living locally there are domestic commitments too. But I always find time to read and I like walking and swimming, meeting friends for meals and going to the pub.

Dead Water will be published in the UK by Pan Macmillan on 31st January 2013: it is already available for advance order from Amazon (ISBN: 978-0=2307-6017-2).

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A Visit From Norway Filming, kayaking and dancing -‐ all in a day’s work for three lucky students from Norway


hetland is not the first destination that comes to mind when young Norwegians go abroad to work at a placement. But thanks to the Leonardo da Vinci Scholarship, three students from Voss in Norway - Ingeborg Gjerde, Hege Skjoldli and Johanne Underdal - got the chance to experience life on the islands for a whole month. This is an account of their trip. We arrived in Shetland on the 29th of February not knowing what to expect. Our new home was The Decca in Lerwick, where we were spoiled by Self Catering Shetland with our own kitchen and flat screen TV. We had some good times filled

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with sugar kicks and laugher. Our king size beds were to die for, and we were always looking forward to going to sleep.

“They gave us what we can only describe as the dream job” Our placement was at Promote Shetland, where Andy, Deborah and Misa took really good care of us. On our very

first day, they said they wanted us to come to the office, work, have fun and go home tired but happy. They gave us what we can only describe as the dream job. Our assignment was to make a movie they could use in their work. This let us see things we wouldn’t have seen otherwise and have some amazing experiences. We got to go horse riding, sea kayaking, visit Fair Isle and try out the spa. Deborah and Misa were pretty much our guides. They took us to places such as St. Ninian’s Beach, Sumburgh and Eshaness. In Sumburgh we got to see our first live flashmob which was quite the experience. In


Eshaness the stunning view from the cliffs took our breath away, literally. They’ve also showed us where the best cakes and sweets are being served, along with the best meals. Ingeborg and Johanne got to try fish and chips for the first time - they loved it! Through Promote Shetland we also met Eliabeth “Liz” Musser and got to work with her for a few days. She is probably the most energetic woman we’ve ever met. Liz taught us much about filming and showed us a lot of different tricks and techniques. She also took us to Unst where we filmed for Channel 5. While we were waiting at the ferry terminal, we were met by three hungry and scary geese that ran after Ingeborg shrieking. Liz tought us a lot, and even though the days were long and the work was hard, we enjoyed every moment of it. When Liz invited us to Fair Isle, we said yes immediately. People kept on warning us about the boat to Fair Isle. They said it was a rough ride: “In the first half you think you’re going to die, in the second half you wish you had.” This didn’t scare us, but in the week we were planning to leave, the boat was out on a routine check. So instead we were flying. The weather was bad when we got to the airport and we had to wait for several hours before we could fly out. In Fair Isle we got really spoiled by Tommy, Liz and Henry. They served us the best food, the most delicious cakes and bread. Tommy took us golfing and Henry took us rock pooling. The people in Fair Isle were so kind to us. We got a tour in the churches and in the museum. When


we said we needed to learn a local dance to take back and show the other students, people basically dropped whatever they were doing and showed up to teach us. Due to the fog, we spent two extra nights at Auld Haa. On Saturday we learned how to spin yarn and it was fun to try something new. Shetland has always had a close relationship with Norway, but when we were in Fair Isle, we really got to feel it. In the museum we found a picture of the Hardangerbunad, and in the local store we found Norwegian Brown Cheese.

“During the month, we got a real taste of what Shetland has to offer. Shetlanders have so much to be proud of” One of the best things we got to do was sea kayaking. This turned out to be a wet and exhausting experience. Ingeborg was the only one who’d tried kayaking before and the other two of us were pretty terrified of capsizing. In the beginning we held onto the paddles so hard that our knuckles turned white as we paddled like our lives depended on it. Poor Angus had to try and guide and control three crazy girls from Norway! After a while we started to get the hang of it and managed to relax and enjoy the view. Shetland is just as amazing from sea level as from up high on the cliffs. We

even got stalked by a curious and not very photogenic seal. After a short lunch break, we continued our journey out towards the sea. As we got closer, the waves got both rougher and bigger. We really got to test our strength. At this point we were having too much fun to be scared, but we were starting to feel the exhaustion. But these three girls are not afraid of a challenge and chose a harder route back. As we got closer to the shore, we could really feel the four hours work in our arms. Safely returned without capsizing, we felt like collapsing. As Johanne was placed in front of the camera to speak, she was laughing on the edge of crying from exhaustion. She’d been clutching the paddles so hard she couldn’t open her fists for hours. Sea kayaking was quite the experience, and we would love to do it again sometime. During the month, we got a real taste of what Shetland has to offer. Shetlanders have so much to be proud of. Shetland is unique and it has something for everyone. The people we met were very friendly and service minded. If it wasn’t for the scholarship we would have never have met the amazing people form Promote Shetland, Liz and her family or the crazy students from Maddrim. We wouldn’t have been able to go see Lise Sinclair’s wonderful concert or do all of the things we’ve done. There is not a day without us longing to come back to you. A month went by too fast and we wish we could’ve stayed longer. We fell in love with Shetland, and hope we can return one day.

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Norwegian fishing boat HELAND. She was a Shetland Bus boat during the war and is now in Sunnm/ore Museum. Right: Lifebelt from M/K Heland

The Shetland Bus Douglas C. Smith tells the story of the Shetland Bus, a clandestine operation that helped thousands of Norwegians escape from their Nazi occupiers Photography by Shetland Museum and Archives


he Shetland Bus is the name given to the secret boat traffic across the North Sea between the west coast of Norway and Shetland during World War II. After Nazi Germany invaded Norway on 9th April 1940, many Norwegians, young and old, did not want to stay in their occupied homeland. Instead they sought escape to the west, to freedom and for the chance to join the Allied forces to fight for the removal of the Nazi invaders. Barely a month after the invasion, the first boats carrying refugees began to appear on the Shetland coastline, following the routes of their Viking forefathers from Fair Isle in the south to Unst in the north. These were all directed to Lerwick for interrogation by the military authorities and temporary internment in a camp situated where the Shetland museum car park now stands. In the early days these boats arrived in a haphazard manner, disorganised and arranged only when a group


attempted to beg, borrow or steal a vessel for the escape. Those who were fortunate would include someone with knowledge of navigation and/or of marine engines, but many left with no expertise to guide them. Many reached Shetland successfully but some sailed off into the unknown, missed any landfall and disappeared.

this presented a golden opportunity to send secret agents The boats were predominantly brown and white wooden Norwegian fishing vessels, measuring between 30 and 40 feet, the hull designs of which came from a particular region on the Norwegian coast. Where a fishing boat were not available, more desperate means were employed; a friend of mine who is still alive in southern Norway tried with a compatriot to

cross the 300 kilometres from Bergen in a two-man kayak, but was forced to turn back by when spotted by German aircraft. They pair escaped later on a fishing boat, joined the Royal Norwegian Air Force, and were eventually stationed in Shetland. Approximately ninety boats came to Shetland from the Ă…lesund area, but the majority, about three hundred, came from the coast and islands around Bergen. When the boats reached Lerwick, some of the skippers wanted to go straight back to Norway to continue their fishing careers and rejoin their families before their absence was noted by the German authorities. The British Naval Authorities in Lerwick realised that this presented a golden opportunity to send secret agents to the west coast of Norway, where they could be based on the chain of offshore islands and report by radio to Home Station in London. Their reports would mainly concern German ships carrying

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men and supplies for the forces in northern Norway, and on the way south carrying iron ore from Narvik, which was vital for the German war effort. The majority of fishing boats, however, did not return and were first sent to Buckie on the Moray Firth coast of Scotland for repair and maintenance. Only those considered suitable for the operations being undertaken from Lerwick were returned to be based here. I have already mentioned that the designs of the fishing boats were indicative of the area from which they originated, and it was vital that if an operation was planned in a certain area, a boat belonging to that area was used to help to avoid detection. While the refugee traffic continued to be centred on Lerwick, the secret operations were entering a more structured phase. Lerwick harbour was a very busy and important naval base with constant visits by capital ships, destroyers, and submarines, particularly during the campaigns in Norway. This was not suitable for the top-secret operations of the small Norwegian unit, so, having operated from Lerwick for about a year, the decision was taken to move the base to a Lunna, secluded and remote bay further north on the east coast of Shetland. Lunna had a small pier and harbour, plus a good sheltered anchorage, and, most importantly,



a large mansion house which became the accommodation for the officers and men. The unit also became the Norwegian Independent Unit No.1. It was not possible to carry out missions on the Norwegian coast during the summer months because of the long hours of daylight and the consequent risk

Headquarters had no idea whether the mission had succeeded until the distinctive “Bung-‐bung” sound of the single-‐cylinder engine was heard of detection by the constant air and sea patrols by the Germans. Consequently, the crews of these small vessels had to endure the fury of the North Sea in winter before they had to face the risk of arrest, torture and almost inevitable execution if detected. Having safely reached their arranged rendezvous, they still did not know if they were to be met by the

intended agent or by a Quisling who would report their presence to the enemy, or even by members of the dreaded Gestapo itself. The crews were expressly forbidden to make contact with any member of their families, even though their landing place might be within sight of their homes in Norway, as this could jeopardize the secrecy of the missions and leave the families exposed to detection and torture. Lunna was the unit’s headquarters from the summer of 1941 to mid-summer 1942. Several missions were undertaken, ranging from the most southerly point of the west coast of Norway to well beyond the Arctic Circle in the north. These northern voyages could take up to five days in each direction, always, of course, without any radio contact. Headquarters had no idea whether the mission had succeeded until the distinctive “Bung-bung” sound of the singlecylinder engine was heard approaching the tiny harbour. Two particular missions are worthy of mention, although neither was successful. In early November 1941, a message was received that a radio transmitter belong to a secret agent in Norway was defective. Another agent was waiting to cross to Shetland and he was supposed take the radio with him, then travel to London to file his report. The fishing boat Blia sailed

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from Lunna to the island of Bømlo, south of Bergen, to pick up the agent but there was a crowd of refugees hiding there who also wanted to escape. In the end, she sailed for Lunna at midnight into a storm, with a total of forty-three persons on board. Nothing more was ever heard from her, the greatest single loss of life in the entire Shetland Bus operation. The second was the abortive attempt to attack the German pocket-battleship Tirpitz - then the most powerful ship in the world - using two vessels called ‘Chariots’, which were to all intents and purposes like torpedoes on which two men sat. Two of these were attached with shackles to the bottom of the fishing boat Arthur, while the Tirpitz was anchored in an arm of Trondheimsfjord. Having successfully crossed the North Sea and scrutiny by a German Guard boat at the entrance to the fjord, disaster struck the Arthur. Only a few miles from the target, a violent storm broke and the sea became so rough that the shackles broke and the Chariots both sank. The Arthur’s crew, skippered by the famous Leif Andreas Larsen, escaped by walking across the border into Sweden and eventually returned to their unit in Shetland. Lunna, meanwhile, had no repair facilities and was unpopular with the young crew-members because of its remoteness.

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1 Shetland Bus boat, BERGHOLM approaching the liner Bergensfjord at Reykjavik, Iceland 2 Shetland Bus boats Sjølivet and Lygrefjord at the Malakoff pier, each loaded with 80 mines. These mines were laid in the Florø area, and the Sjølivet returned to Lerwick. On the Lygrefjord the crew had problems with the launching rails for the mines and they had to be thrown overboard by hand.Then because of bad weather the Lygrefjord had to lie in hiding on the Norwegian coast and eventually made landfall at Wick- a fortnight after leaving Lerwick.

Furthermore, the hamlet was unprotected against attack should its location be discovered by the enemy. The decision was therefore taken to move the base to the village of Scalloway on the west side of Shetland. Although this would increase the sailing time to Norway, the village was defended by a military garrison, and home to a well established shipyard. There the Norwegians built their own slipway, still to be seen to this day, which was visited by Crown Prince Olav in October 1942. The winter of 1942/43 proved disastrous as many boats and lives were lost. The operation could no longer depend on the aging and slow fishing boats and an approach was made to the American Navy for suitable replacement vessels. Three submarine-chasers were handed over to the Norwegian naval unit and were renamed Hitra, Hessa and Vigra after three islands off the Norwegian coast. From then until the end of the war in Norway on 7th May 1945, these small warships made regular trips, carrying men and supplies to the Resistance Movement in Norway without any loss of men or vessels. This helped convince the German High Command that an invasion of Norway from Britain was imminent. In turn, this persuaded the Germans to maintain an army of 350,000 men in Norway. Had these men not been in

3 Shetland Bus boat H 120 B JAKK with fourareens alongside. This boat left Helles/oy on 9th September 1941 with 15 people on board and arrived at Lerwick the next day. 4 Alfred Langeren (middle), looking out of wheelhouse (he was later lost on the Gullborg, on her way back to Shetland on a raid) Man on right is paymaster of the Shetland Bus 5 Shetland Bus boat, BERGHOLM, carrying ships officers back to their vessel at Reykjavik, Iceland. 6 & 7 The Shetland Bus display at Scalloway Museum.

Normandy at the time of the “D” Day landings on 6th June 1944, the outcome for the Allied forces might have been very different. During the operations to evacuate refugees, no fewer than 3,500 Norwegian men, women and children reached safety in Shetland. Their stories are told in the magnificent new Scalloway Museum and on the memorial in the main street of the village, which contains the names of the 44crew members who lost their lives making the crossings.

Links and Further Reading Scalloway Museum Shetland Bus exhibition, a tribute to the resistance movement which operated between Norway and Scalloway during World War 2, is one of the main sections in the museum. central-mainland/scalloway-museum Shetland Bus: David Howarth and Kjell Colding, The Shetland Bus (1951) Trygve Sorvaag, Shetland Bus: Faces and Places 60 Years On (2002) Shetland Bus Friendship Society: Shetland Bus Memorial - Souvenir Booklet We Die Alone, David Howarth (1957)


A Treasure of Historical and Contemporary Textiles Alastair Hamilton receives the warmest of welcomes at the Shetland Textile Museum Photography by Alastair Hamilton & Misa Hay


ven among people who know very little of Shetland, the islands’ association with knitwear and extraordinarily fine lacework is world-famous. Now, thanks to the dedication of a group of volunteers, Shetland’s wonderful heritage of textiles can be properly appreciated at the Shetland Textile Museum. The need for a museum was realised by Shetland’s Guild of Spinners, Dyers and Weavers, formed in 1986. Founder member, Bess Jamieson, recalls: ‘I used to think it was very sad that the visitors that came all asked, “Where’s all this wonderful knitting that we’ve heard of?” There was very little exposed to the public. Although the old Shetland Museum had a very good collection, they did not have the facilities for displaying it properly’. The Guild collaborated with the Shetland Arts Trust, which was raising funds for the conversion of the old Weisdale Mill into an art gallery, and in due course a textile museum was 30

established on the lower floor of the renovated building. By then, the group had launched an appeal for old items of interest. Bess remembers how, ‘It was quite difficult to explain to people that we didn’t really mind if it had holes in it! I think they wanted it to be perfect, because they were always taught to make things perfectly.’

Our whole aim was to not let the old methods and the old patterns disappear. The appeal was successful and today the museum’s collection includes more than 500 knitted and woven items, some of which date back to early Victorian times. There are also around 500 knitting patterns. Bess told me that, after the museum was properly established, the Guild’s work

continued. ‘Our whole aim was to not let the old methods and the old patterns disappear. We wanted to rejuvenate them and also get the next generation interested’. The Guild faced an uphill task because in many folks’ minds, spinning and knitting were associated with poverty. Bess continued: ‘For a long time – I think nearly two generations – the young ones in Shetland were just so scunnered at the prospect of “going down” to knitting again.’ Bess was referring to memories of the times when cash was a rare commodity in Shetland’s economy. Fishermen paid their rent in fish and, under the hated truck system, knitters were not paid in money but instead were forced to exchange their work for goods – often not the things they most needed – from the merchant’s shop. Nevertheless, the Guild attracted many people and, as Bess puts it, ‘rejuvenated spinning’. The group met in local halls throughout Shetland and membership grew to around 60. However, after ten years or so, the room occupied by the Guild at 60 NORTH | AUTUMN 2012

the Bonhoga Gallery was needed for other purposes and, for several years, the collection was stored. Eventually, thanks to the Shetland Amenity Trust, space was secured at the Böd of Gremista, a historic house on Lerwick’s northern waterfront. When I visited the museum recently, volunteer guides Barbara Cheyne and Brita Hövenmark explained that it comprises four sections. On the ground floor, there’s a shop that offers a variety of textiles and items, such as knitting belts. Many visitors are fascinated by the belts in particular, while others enjoy choosing an example of traditional or contemporary work from the selection on display. Next door, there’s the weaving room, almost entirely filled by a magnificent wooden loom that was gifted by Bess Jamieson. It was brought from the Scottish Borders to Shetland around 1926 by the firm of T & M Adie. When the company’s knitwear and weaving operations ceased about sixty years later, it was destined for the skip, but Bess and her sister rescued, cleaned and restored it. Bess has just put it back into working order again, though when I visited there was still some fine tuning to do on the shuttle boxes, which she thinks have warped slightly. The room also contains samples of tweed made by Adies, by Bess herself and by Annie Mouat of Levenwick. In the display room upstairs, the


precious historical exhibits, including bonnets, jumpers, lace and hosiery, are safely behind glass, but in one corner I was able to handle wool in its original form, and when spun and knitted. Brita explained that, ‘in a place like this, you can’t have “hands on” with everything, but in order to understand wool, you have to feel it. So I think it’s really good that people can do that.’ The exhibition in this room is changed each year, so that more of the collection can be seen by visitors.

Highlights include beautiful old lace from Unst, believed to be the island where two families first began Shetland’s lace knitting. Highlights include beautiful old lace from Unst, believed to be the island where two families first began Shetland’s lace knitting. The lace, so fine that a shawl can be pulled through a wedding ring, is legendary. It has also gained fame through being gifted to many members of the royal family on special occasions, including coronations and christenings. Edward VIII had several Shetland pullovers. More recently,

gifts of Shetland lace were presented to Queen Sonja of Norway and Camilla, Duchess of Rothesay when they and Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay opened the Shetland Museum and Archives. Shetland lace knitters also presented a little scarf to the Queen Mother for her hundredth birthday and a gift was made to the Queen on the occasion of her diamond jubilee. Members of the royal family have commissioned items from Shetland, as the Queen did to make a gift to the Empress of Japan. Bess Jamieson has no doubt that these royal endorsements have helped make people aware of Shetland’s heritage and have increased demand for local textiles. One corner of the display room is devoted to the Gunnister Man, a body found in a peat bog on which many items of clothing were astonishingly well preserved; replicas have been made and are on show. A leaflet about the finds, prepared by the Shetland Museum and Archives, can be downloaded here: http://www. GunnisterMan_Leaflet.pdf (pdf, 4.85mb). The room also includes a catalogue with illustrations of everything in the collection, not all of which can be put on display at the same time. The other exhibits are stored in the attic above. The room used for temporary exhibitions will house frequently-changing displays, either highlighting particular

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themes in Shetland’s textile heritage or providing a platform for the many local designers and makers working in contemporary textiles. When I visited, the temporary exhibition was by Shetland Organics, a local group that formed in 2001 and has since become a Community Interest Company. They’ve been very active in stimulating interest in producing more wool from native Shetland sheep, which have been present in the islands for around 5,000 years.

The visitors’ book overflows with praise for the exhibits and the volunteers who look after them. They work with local crofters and farmers to produce organically grown and spun wool, backed by certification from the Soil Association. They have been experimenting, too, with local organic dying. The company sells organic wool and employs outworkers to make a range of very attractive items from their product. Visitors need not know anything about textiles to be in awe of the skill that has gone into the work on display throughout

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the museum, though those who are members of the world-wide family of knitters are especially impressed. The visitors’ book overflows with praise for the exhibits and the volunteers who look after them. One admirer wrote: ‘A highlight of my visit to beautiful Shetland is the pleasure of meeting such lovely ladies who have been so willing to share their time and talent with us. Such fun! Thank you!’ Part of the appeal is the demonstrations given by volunteers who knit, spin and weave, and are delighted to talk about their work. The building that houses the museum is of considerable historical significance in itself. The three-storied Böd of Gremista was, in 1792, the birthplace of one of Shetland’s most distinguished sons, Arthur Anderson. Indeed, the house was, for a time, a museum dedicated to Anderson and some of the artifacts remain. The display room retains a box bed typical of his day, while he surveys the room - which, as Barbara Cheyne points out, may have been his birthplace – from his portrait above the fireplace. The young Arthur helped with the family fishing business. Then, after serving then years in the Royal Navy, Anderson was discharged in London. In due course he became a clerk with a shipping company, later rising up the firm’s ranks to become co-founder of the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company. It began by running

services to Spain but gradually extended its reach to Australia and the East Asia, adding ‘Oriental’ to its name and thus becoming P&O, the largest shipping line in the world. Anderson was P&O’s Chairman but he also found time to become an MP, representing Orkney and Shetland in the Liberal cause, and was very active in developing the fishing industry in Shetland. He endowed Shetland’s principal secondary school, the Anderson High, and the Widow’s Homes in Lerwick. However, there is a direct connection with our story, for he was an enthusiastic promoter of Shetland knitwear. He made an early royal connection, sending fine lace stockings to Queen Victoria, which she thereafter ordered by the dozen. As the Textile Museum demonstrates, turning Shetland’s wonderfully fine wool into lace, knitwear, tweed and hosiery has been a vital part of Shetland’s economy and culture down the centuries. It continues to be important today and the interest in Shetland’s wool is steadily increasing, helped by events such as Shetland Wool Week, which takes place this year from 8 to 14 October. The museum will continue to celebrate the achievements of the past, but through exhibitions of vibrant new work and by making the best contemporary designs available in the shop, it will also help ensure that Shetland’s rich textile heritage has a firm foundation for the future.


Goldcrests sometimes arrive in their hundreds after crossing the North Sea from their Scandinavian breeding grounds. How something that weighs the same as a 10p piece can fly such vast distances beggars belief. Photo by Hugh Harrop / Shetland Wildlife

Shetland Wildlife’s Nature Notes

Autumn Gold Jon Dunn is often asked what brought him to live in Shetland. While there were many aspects of island life that he found attractive, what first took him north was the autumn birding.


landed at Sumburgh 20 years ago with only the vaguest idea of how big Shetland really was and how the logistics of the place worked. In those distant, pre-internet days, how was I to know that the planes to Fair Isle departed from an airstrip some 30 miles north of the main airport at Sumburgh? Thankfully, and in no time at all, I’d been offered a lift north by a kind local birder, who as we drove north casually asked whether I’d like to see a Sardinian Warbler. By the time I sat down to dinner at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory that evening, I’d seen my first ever Sardinian Warbler, a southern European species. I had also been met at the airstrip by an excited birder with the news that a rare North American


wading bird, a Solitary Sandpiper, had just been found on the island. To a keen young birder, eager to see rare birds in Britain but used to the more usual day-to-day birding of an inland local patch with no such exotica, this seemed like a dream come true. Much has changed in the years that have followed, not least my deciding that, for a host of good reasons of which Shetland’s wildlife was but one, I would move permanently here. What hasn’t changed is my excitement as every year Shetland’s summer gives way to autumn, and I find myself watching the weather forecast with mounting interest, hoping for those easterly winds that bring the promise of rare birds from far away.

I’ve seen so many thrilling birds in Shetland in past autumns; charismatic and colourful species like Red-flanked Bluetail and Siberian Rubythroat; subtle Buff-bellied Pipits from America and Pechora Pipits from the east; and then there’s always the possibility of seeing the completely unexpected, like the Chestnuteared Bunting that was found in 2004, the first of it’s kind to be recorded in Western Europe, let alone Britain. Easterly winds often mean rare birds, but westerlies can be good too – North American thrushes and warblers make it across the Atlantic to landfall on Shetland. Wind in the north? Start looking for Arctic Redpolls, glowing like snowballs amongst their commoner brethren. You never know

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Swainson’s Thrush – this diminutive thrush hails from North America and was discovered on Fetlar – a great place to find your own birds, as it is so under-watched in autumn. Photo by Hugh Harrop / Shetland Wildlife

what might be around the corner – expect the unexpected. It’s not all about the rarities though – it’s hard not to be moved by the sight and sound of thousands of migrant thrushes pouring out of the sky onto the islands; by walking through the countryside with hundreds of Goldcrests scattered like bright jewels across the vegetation, fences and even the backs of sheep; or by opening the curtains on a sunny September morning to find there are dozens of Redstarts outside wherever one looks. Wading birds are on the move too, especially in the early weeks of autumn – and amidst those flocks of Arctic-breeding birds heading south for the winter, who knows what you might find? It could be a White-rumped Sandpiper from North

America or a Great Knot from Siberia… (Ah, there I go again thinking about rare birds - the imminence of autumn in Shetland does that to you!) Shetland’s long been famous as a place to see birds at this time of year, but it’s only recently that more people are choosing to come here for a week or two every autumn without fail. Maybe it’s the birds, or the chance to find your own rarity; maybe it’s the warm welcome; or the ease with which Shetland can be reached even from the south of England. Then again, it might just be the beer and the ready availability of an excellent curry in Lerwick after a long day’s birding! But one thing’s for certain – time spent birding in Shetland in autumn will always be eventful, and the very unpredictability of what you might see only makes the adventure that bit more exciting.

Top five

Shetland Wildlife’s top 5 recommended sites for autumn birding:

Sumburgh The first (and last, depending on your perspective) piece of land in the archipelago, the quarries, crops and bushes in the area traditionally prove irresistible to birds and birders alike. Pool of Virkie Easily checked for migrant wading birds from the road that skirts the northern side of the pool.

Norwick, Unst There are lots of good spots on Unst in which to look for birds, but Norwick is particularly attractive with sheltered nooks, small areas of crops, and some mature gardens. Be sure to respect residents’ privacy. Fetlar Something of a wild-card, Fetlar has a large list of some 300 species of bird recorded on the island, but is extremely under-watched nowadays. Definitely the place to go to find your own birds without bumping into many other birdwatchers! Fair Isle No list of Shetland birding sites would be complete without it! Without compare in Europe as the place to stay and witness migration with the chance of seeing plenty of scarce and rare birds. To keep up to date with wildlife news and sightings as they happen, follow Shetland Wildlife on Facebook For more information on dedicated wildlife holidays in Shetland, visit Shetland Wildlife: The company has been running wildlife and birding holidays in Shetland for nearly 20 years and offers week-long fully guided trips to all corners of Shetland. As well as offering organised group holidays, Shetland Wildlife also offers a bespoke guide service for individuals and small private groups. Fully bonded with the CAA: ATOL 9151.

Left: Red-flanked Bluetail – Once a real ‘mega-rarity’, Red-flanked Bluetail is an almost annual visitor to Shetland every autumn. This bird was photographed at Kergord Plantations. Photo by Hugh Harrop / Shetland Wildlife Far left: Siberian Rubythroat – this stunning male Siberian Rubythroat graced Gulberwick in October 2011. It was only the eighth-ever to have been seen in Britain – but the sixth record for Shetland. As the name suggests the species breeds in Siberia. Photo by Hugh Harrop / Shetland Wildlife

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“you feel part of something timeless and immeasurable”


limbing as a pastime is a fairly new thing for Shetland when compared to the rest of the UK. Early pioneers on the Scottish, English and Welsh mountains and moorland crags can be traced back to the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the late 19th to early 20th century that rock climbing emerged as an activity in its own right. Shetland’s sea cliffs and rocky outcrops, however, were not strangers to visitors in those early days and even before, for as long as there have been inhabitants on these isles there have been climbers. Martin Martin, the 17th century author of the book A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland writes of Shetland: “The people inhabiting the lesser isles have abundance of eggs and fowl, which contribute to maintain their families during the summer. The common people are generally very dexterous in climbing the rocks in quest of those eggs and fowl; but this exercise is attended with very great danger, and sometimes proves fatal

to those that venture too far.” He goes on to describe how these operations were carried out, descriptions that make even the hardiest of modern climbers shudder. But the modern world we inhabit is all very different; the eggs are not picked but protected; the sea birds not caught but counted. So too for the climber, no longer climbing to scratch out a living but climbing for leisure; not climbing for the avian quarry to sustain a family, but for the adventure. It’s not until the 1980s that modern rock climbing is first documented in Shetland and even this becomes dominated by visiting climbers rather than islanders. A local climbing scene only began to emerge shortly after the new millennium. 2003 Shetland saw the birth of the local climbing club and the number of local climbers has grown steadily year on year. So too has the number of crags available to climbers. In the 1980s and

Full Blooded, Fully Committing, Untamed Adventure Paul Whitworth from Climb Shetland introduces an increasingly popular local leisure pursuit 36

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90s the more obvious beauty spots such as the Eshaness lighthouse, Grind of the Navir and Nibon featured in the first guide book containing just seven or eight crags with less than 100 routes between them. Shetland now has over 40 documented crags all over the islands with approximately 1000 climbs listed. Development shows no signs of slowing either with new routes being added regularly to existing venues, and new areas being found and climbed every year. It is one of the last places in Britain to be developed in this way. The vast majority of cliffs on the UK mainland were climbed during the 20th century, leaving only the harder lines today for the elite few at the cutting edge of the sport. Climbers in Shetland enjoy the privilege of being able to climb new routes of whatever difficulty they choose, from the easiest to the hardest of challenges, and they lack neither quality nor adventure. So where does Shetland’s climbing fit

in? What does it offer that other places in Britain don’t? What brought visiting climbers here in the first place and what were they looking for? The answer is simple full-blooded, fully-committing, untamed adventure! Abseiling down remote 50m sea cliffs with waves pounding below and sea birds swirling overhead just to get to the route you want to climb is a full-on sensory overload – almost overwhelming – but not out of control. Climbing up on rock that’s never been touched before, working out how to move through seemingly holdless sections of the route and how best to place your gear to keep safe, requires a measure of cool-headed composure. It’s a captivating place to be, you feel part of something timeless and immeasurable, so totally connected to the surrounding environment that you’re passing through. Seeing otters and Killer Whales is not uncommon and occasionally minke whales and porpoises

make an appearance as they too pass below. And that’s the beauty of it; you become not an outside observer but an integrated part of the nature of the islands, a seasonal visitor to the cliffs and an element of an awe inspiring landscape. If you are a climber and want to know more about climbing in Shetland then visit This site offers up-to-date information on all aspects of climbing around the isles and a complete database of all routes and boulder problems. If climbing sounds like something you’d like to try then the local climbing club is a great place to start. Learn the basics of ropework and technique on an induction course at the indoor climbing wall and then progress to one of their introductory courses. For more information please visit:

Be a part of

Shetland Sports Week 2012

Residents and visitors alike are welcome to take part in Shetland Sports Week, which is being run for a second time by Shetland Islands Council’s Sport & Leisure Service


ollowing the success of last year’s event, funding has been secured to inspire people to participate in a celebration of sport and dance. The aim is to raise the profile of sport and local sports clubs in the community, and create new opportunities for participating, volunteering and coaching. Starting on Saturday 29th September, a huge variety of Shetland sports centres and games halls will be open for the public to watch demonstrations and take part in workshops and taster sessions. And the best part? It’s all free! The sports represented include netball, hockey, gymnastics, bowling, badminton, squash, fencing, rugby, volleyball,


swimming, weightlifting, football, golf, clay target shooting, cycling, athletics, table tennis, trampolining, karate, parkour and canoeing. In an effort to fuse Shetland’s musical, artistic and sporting cultures, this year will also see the inclusion of a dance programme and a photographic exhibition. A media production company based in Shetland and comprised entirely of teenagers will be producing a film for the event. A disability sports element is also to be introduced this year to help make Shetland Sports Week inclusive and accessible for all. With around 100 activities and sport sessions being planned around 16 sites, the task of pulling together around

170 volunteers will be a demanding task. Active Schools coordinator, Louise Jamieson, has been busy getting ready for the events: “We are ready for the challenge! Building on the success of last year’s Shetland Sports Week, we aim to provide even more opportunities for people to try new activities and get involved. We will be working closely with our partners and local sports clubs to create a full program which we hope will offer something for everyone throughout the isles.” The program will be released in September. In the meantime, take note of the dates in your diary and come along to try something new.

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A guide for the busy and hungry Lerwick resident Jordan Ogg shares his tips on how to make the most of a day in Shetland’s capital mirlin and glisterin on da darkenin watter, lovelier far as da caald stars up abune, for every lowe wis da light o hame to someane whin da light o day wis dune Da Lights o Lerick fae da Bressa side, Stella Sutherland Having been tasked with writing an article about Lerwick - the town I’ve known as home for some 30 years - I thought I was in for an easy ride. Yet, when it came to putting pen to paper, I found myself covering the same old ground as any other guide to Shetland’s capital. So a few days before my deadline I took off to Fair Isle for a stay-cation of sorts,

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which I hoped would provide enough distance to see my home town from a new perspective. Serendipity, it seems, was on my side; for only a few hours after alighting the plane, I found myself up a cliff at Buness being asked by a German bird enthusiast about what he might do when visiting Lerwick the following day. He was going to be there for an overnight stay and wanted to see as much as he could, with plenty time given over to relaxing after his weekend of hard trekking around Fair Isle. Here then follows a few suggestions that I shared up the cliff. Each can be experienced in as little as an hour, or combined to make for a great day out in the town.


The Lanes ‘Running up the steep hill above the shore in Lerwick, above the Esplanade and Commercial Street, are a number of thin lanes as old and full of secrets as the winding main street itself. Their names are stories from an earlier era, but stories lost - Pirate Lane, Navy Lane, Hangcliff Lane timeless links with the past.’ Thin Wealth, Robert Alan Jamieson So begins an early chapter in the novel about Shetland’s oil era. The author perfectly captures the sense of history contained within the steep closes and trances that ripple across the broad side of the old town. Best seen as a whole from the harbour, the commonly repeated misconception that trees don’t grow in Shetland is quickly seen as nonsense when viewing the summertime bloom that bursts from the lush gardens nestled between each lane. These spaces have an important place in Lerwick’s creative culture: the legendary guitarist Peerie Willie Johnson lived at Bank Lane; the famous Victorian writer Haldane Burgess stayed at Queens Lane;


and at Reform Lane, John Graham and his associates produced Scotland’s longest running literary magazine The New Shetlander between the years 1956 to 1998. There may yet be budding writers and musicians learning their craft behind the thick walls of the lanes. And if these walls could speak, some would surely mention the teenage romances that have sparked in these dark spaces on many a weekend night through the years. Lerwick’s lanes can be experienced in as little time as half an hour. So go explore the nooks and crannies, soak up the historic names, and wonder at the Fuchsias and Rhododendrons spilling their pink bloom out over the old stone walls. Charity Shops Lerwick has some of the best charity shops in Scotland - many even outshine the pricier vintage boutiques of Glasgow’s West End and Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. The Cancer Research shop at Harrison Square is probably the best place for grabbing a bargain hand-knit Fair Isle sweater or hat, while the Red Cross shop on Commercial

the best place for grabbing a bargain hand-‐knit Fair Isle sweater Street often has rare editions of Shetland books for sale at reasonable prices. Indeed, much can be learned about the diverse reading habits of Shetlanders from a quick browse of the book shelves in any of the towns second hand stores - from metaphysics to astronomy, and fly fishing to baking; there’s always a good range of literary and genre fiction on offer too. For an extra special treat, make sure to visit the Cancer Research shop during late-summer to pick up a jar of juicy home-made rhubarb and ginger jam. Fish Supper The town has several options for dining, but the best and most authentic meal on offer has to be the good old fish supper.

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Shetland is ideal for those who enjoy a bit of rambling, and you don’t have to go far from Lerwick’s main street to experience a walk that boasts some of the best views of the town.

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Tasty, affordable and decadently nutritious, you can pick up a freshly cooked haddock with crunchy chips from one of the town’s three chip shops all year round. If the weather is playing ball, take your supper down to the Peerie Boat Harbour and dine al fresco. You’re likely to get an idea of the seafaring tradition that continues in the town, as members of the Lerwick Boating Club practice in Bressay Sound, or perhaps you’ll get chatting to folk from a visiting yacht, or some Lerwegians out for an evening stroll. Another fine place to eat out is at the town’s flower park, located just behind the Hillhead - itself a feast for the eyes and nose from May to late-September.

for more than half of the buildings in the old town. If you need a rest then lounge on one of the benches that look toward the south mouth of the harbour, or head uphill to the site of a World War Two air defense gun, from where you get a superb view of the new town and the Clickimin Loch. Keep an eye out for Seabirds: Gannets are common, as are Fulmars, and, if you’re lucky, you might even see the odd Puffin bobbing about between meals. If rockhopping is your thing, then head past the Knab golf course (free to use by all) and give your legs a workout along the rocks at the Sletts, where there’s also a bonny path with several benches for when you need a rest.

The Knab/The Sletts Shetland is ideal for those who enjoy a bit of rambling, and you don’t have to go far from Lerwick’s main street to experience a walk that boasts some of the best views of the town. Just head along the picturesque south end of Commercial Street, then past Twageos, and you’ll find yourself at the Knab - a rocky outcrop and site of two former quarries that provided stone

* For more on Lerwick’s modern history, Thomas Manson’s seminal collection of reportage, Lerwick During the Last Half-Century (1867 - 1917) is a must. So too is J.W Irvine’s Lerwick. Both works are published by the Shetland Times. For fiction, try Robert Alan Jamieson’s Thin Wealth, published by Polygon, which gives a vivid picture of life in the town during the peak and ebb of the oil boom. Each of these books and many more are available on guest loan from the Shetland Library.



Shetland Wish List 1. Best-dressed notebook in Shetland I my Fair Isle bunting, designed by Mary Fraser, purchased at the annual Christmas Craft Fair (happening this year 9th-11th November) and currently decorating my ancient Willow trees! Her Fair Isle notebooks are also divine and the perfect gift for all ages. Each book is handcrafted using acid free paper and bound by Mary using traditional bookbinding methods and genuine Fair Isle wool. The only problem is which colour notebook to choose?! Price for small notebook: £12.00, Large: £18.00. Get Fair Isle happy here

2. Nielanell Crocodile Cape – a snappy little number for £65! Looking for Va-va-voom artwear with attitude? Look no further than Nielanell – designer of über chic contemporary knitted textiles for clothing and accessories. My favourite item has to be the crocodile cape – a snappy little number and a perfect one size fits all. What’s not to like?! If you do pop over – visit her eclectic studio in Hoswick – bohemian with a capital B.

3. Reasons to read….Knit Real Shetland (and visit woolly online heaven at Jamieson & Smith) This is a must-read must-knit! The intro is penned by one of my favourite woolly designers - Kate Davies, Patron of Shetland Wool Week 2012 and creator of my muchloved hat Sheep Heid (purchase kit online). Get busy with 15 knitting projects in real Shetland wool from Jamieson & Smith and 42

Abby’s Shetland Wish List aims to bring you a selection of inspirational contemporary and traditional hand crafted finds, items you won’t find on the high street, something a little bit different, interspersed with a story or two and a behind the scenes glimpse of Shetland’s thriving creative community. After all, when you go shopping in Shetland – it’s not just a unique keepsake you purchase, but an unforgettable memory too. Priceless.

don’t forget to check out the new Shetland Heritage yarns too and then there’s those lush lace scarves and… Oooh goodness, feeling woolly headed! Yarn addicts - swoon here and choose either a digital download: £17.00 or print version: £20.00

4. Paparwark candlestick: simply stunning Paparwark’s range of candlesticks, designed by Cecil Tait, is simply stunning. The ash candlestick, ingrained with peat, would look perfect in my lounge, oh yes, accompanied by a honey scented candle; the flicker of the flame offering a warm glow on those long winter nights in front of the crackling fire, snow falling outside… Ooops daydreaming again…Ok, Ok, I know, don’t say the W word just yet, but home is where the heart is, and it’s where this candlestick should be too (hint, hint, hubby!) Click here to light up your life for £14.00 only!

5. Burra Bears need a good home (and lots of hugs!) The Burra Bear Studio, featured on the Craft Trail, is a must-visit and great fun. There are a choice of 3 bears: Burra Bear (£65.00), Peerie Burra Bear (£55.00) and naughty Peerie Oolets (£20.00) and each one is individually named, made from Fair Isle knitted in Shetland and will arrive with a letter asking new owners to write back to BB creator, Wendy - she loves to hear how the bears are and where they’re holidaying. If you have an old favourite knit - why not ask Wendy to transform it into your very own bespoke bear? Which brings me nicely to the story of ‘granny’s Burra Bear’. Click here to read!

6. Little trendsetters wear Phatsheep Set your cute Richter scale to 10 Phatsheep hats and mitts for newborns are adorable. Designed and created by textile guru, and co-owner of funky North Rock Gallery, Suzanne Shearer. Choose from the jolly boats print in powder blue or fall head over heels for the pretty in pink seagull print. Each item is priced at £9.50, is hand made, 100% organic cotton and sells like 99 ice creams on a sunny day. Get ordering!

7. Must-have accessory from Glansin Glass Take a trip to Unst – the most northerly inhabited island in the UK and visit Cheryl at Glansin Glass Studio. Discover beautiful fused glassware in a myriad of patterns and colours, be wowed by her new line of “crackle” glassware - inspired by a workshop with world-renowned glass artist, Bob Leatherbarrow. I especially love her range of pendants radiating with vibrant hues - the perfect accessory for a LBD or off-duty denim and definitely on my musthave accessory wish list. Get in touch with Cheryl to see what’s available. The pendants range from £26 on leather cord, to £32 on sterling silver chain, to £40 on sterling silver chokers. Happy Browsing! PS. Don’t forget to enter the monthly competition, featured in the Promote Shetland newsletter – a chance to win a special keepsake! Good luck! 60 NORTH | AUTUMN 2012








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GETTING RID OF THE BLUES. 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 Like Shetland on

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Autumn 2012

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Autumn 2012


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