6 Things for a Perfect Shetland Summer Picnic

by Elizabeth Atia -

Winter in Shetland can sometimes feel extraordinarily long, dark and bone-chilling wet. When the wind whips the horizontal rain at your face at 60 miles per hour it can also be slightly painful! This last winter we were bombarded with day after day of severe gales, hurricane force winds and the all encompassing dark; the worst winter weather seen in Shetland in twenty years, locals said.

So, when the glorious summer sun shines down on Shetland we, as a family, like to make the most of it. The housework gets abandoned, the laundry gets left flapping in the breeze and we head out into the hills or coastline for some proper outdoor adventuring.

I believe no outdoor escapade is complete without a good picnic. The following are six things I think are required for a perfect Shetland picnic; these are the things we like to take with us anyway!

1. Bread - Every good picnic starts with a sandwich, bannock or oatcake of some sort. My personal favourites are made from thickly sliced artisan Westside Cob made in the Walls Bakery on the west side of Shetland or the traditional Shetland bannocks from the Johnson & Wood Bakers & Confectioners in Voe. The delicious all wheat Westside Cob is handmade the traditional way by young bread maker Robert Tonkinson. This well flavoured dense loaf fills you up and it is a great source of slow-release energy for outdoor adventuring.

Voe Bakery bannocks pair very well with thinly sliced salt beef or J & K Anderson's sliced ham, Shetland cheese and a generous dollop of wholegrain mustard. There's something really satisfying in hiking a good distance, say, to the trig point atop of Scalla Field, Shetland's 5th largest hill, and stopping for a salt beef bannock picnic.

Alternatively, another of our staple picnic lunches include the oceanic oatcakes with chilli made by the Skibhoul Bakery on the most northerly UK island of Unst. Made with Scottish oatmeal, pure Shetland oceanic water and a gorgeous chilli kick these oatcakes transport well in a backpack and pair excellently with Shetland cheese.

2. Cheese - The Shetland Cheese Company in Skeld, on the west side of Shetland, produce a superb range of cheese. My favourites for picnic sandwiches include the cumin special, a popular cheese based on a traditional Dutch recipe, and Zetland cheddar or sandstinger which both go well with the oceanic chilli oatcakes.

Just picture it, you're sitting on a scenic cliff top with the glinting ocean ahead of you stretching to the horizon, sun streaming down, a slight breeze to keep the midges away and a minke whale silently swims by. Using a pocket knife you cut thick slabs of Shetland cheese and scoff them with your oatcakes, savouring every moment. Bliss!

We're sorry to say that as of recently the Shetland Cheese Company has shut down.

3. Chocolate! - I'm a chocoholic, I admit it. Chocolate always makes a presence on all of our picnics. The Island Oven, another Shetland west side small business, bake the most fantastic peat bog brownies. Dense, moist and intensely satisfying for any chocoholic these brownies (in four different flavours - chilli, jaffa orange, salted caramel and original - as well as a gluten free variety) are easily portable, especially since they are available individually or in packs of four from Scoop Wholefoods in Lerwick, Robinson & Morrison in Weisdale and in the Bigton shop on south mainland. This latter stockist is located very close to one of my favourite walking/picnic locations, St. Ninian's Isle. They're also available to eat in at Mareel in Lerwick.

I should also mention Fine Peerie Cakes on Commercial Street in the town. They make The Best Tiffin Ever! Their own secret recipe has got them (one of only six cafes in Scotland) to the finals in the 2014 Scottish Baking Awards to be held in Glasgow this September. Alternatively, if cake is your thing, they make a whole range of delicious cupcakes all available for take away.

4. Fruit & veg - Of course you need some healthy stuff with you for your picnic. Transition Turriefield in Sandness grow a wide range of soft fruits and seasonal vegetables. I am fortunate enough to be one of the lucky recipients of their weekly vegetable box delivery but they also sell their produce to the public via Scoop Wholefoods.

Hayfield Croft Produce also sell their produce at Scoop and they have this gorgeous little roadside honesty cupboard at their croft in East Burrafirth where you can pick up what's in season in addition to fresh eggs (cold boiled Shetland eggs are a nice quick picnic addition!) delicious home bakes and homemade jams. They also grow a range of heritage tatties including the gorgeous purple-skinned yellow-fleshed Shetland Black variety.

A must-not-miss are the vibrant, juicy strawberries grown in Yell. These succulent strawberries are available at Scoop and at many country shops throughout the islands. They never last long though, so if you see them get them! Ask for them in any village shop - they'll know what you're looking for.

5. Coffee - I love my coffee and I always bring a flask with me when out adventuring. Coffee & Keetchin in Harrison Square in Lerwick have been roasting and grinding crema-blend coffee beans and blending their own exclusive mix since they opened in the summer of 2013. If you bring in your flask they will happily fill it for you. They also do a range of filled bannocks, including the traditional reestit mutton and salt beef, or whatever filling you might like, all packed and ready to take away on picnics. Fresh fruit boxes and made on site home bakes means this could, if you were in a hurry, be your one stop shop for everything you need for a Shetland picnic when the sun comes out.

Coffee & Keetchin even do salad boxes for dogs! Their plastic takeaway containers are big enough for one side to be filled with ham and other nibbles that dogs like and the other side filled with fresh water, so your dog can have a little snack while you wait for your own picnic lunch to be prepared, all wrapped up in a brown paper bag ready to go.

If you're like me and have milk with your coffee a little bit of Shetland Farm Dairies milk in a small jam jar works well. It's water tight and if you keep it in your rucksack out of direct sun it'll stay cool enough to have in your coffee later.

Don't forget to bring plenty of water with you too.

6. The location! You've got your picnic packed and now you need somewhere to go! Walk Shetland have mapped out 28 fantastic circular walks for all walking abilities. Shetland offers some of the finest walking in Europe. These walks can include spectacular coastal scenery on both North Sea and Atlantic facing cliffs, quiet inland lochs and gentle heathery hills; whatever your heart desires.

Alternatively, at the time of writing, there are over 165 geocaches hidden in Shetland. For those new to geocaching this is a fantastic world-wide treasure hunt. 'Treasures', usually small waterproof click-lock boxes filled with goodies, are hidden in scenic locations all over the islands, simply download the co-ordinates and clues from the Geocaching website and get searching!

There are plenty of opportunities to get out and explore areas you may never otherwise have thought to visit, and with such a wide variety of local produce available you can have a scrumptious picnic to enjoy while you are out.

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