A tour of Shetland with Ann Cleeves

by Misa Hay -

Ann gives a personal tour of Shetland to a couple from Glasgow

by Ann Cleeves

I love introducing people to Shetland.  It's as if I'm visiting it for the first time and seeing it through their eyes.  In May I was there with two of the scriptwriters who will be adapting my novels for the new BBC series SHETLAND and over the short trip I saw them developing a deeper understanding of the place and its people.  Photos can give a sense of the landscape, but nothing is as good as being there, seeing the low horizons and listening to the rhythms of the people speaking.

In June I was back again to meet Carole and Graeme Ross, the winners of the Waterstones loyalty card competition.  The prize was sponsored by Promote Shetland and included travel, three nights in the islands and a very special dinner.  I went north to meet them and to show them around for one of their days.

They arrived into Sumburgh Airport to bright sunshine, ready to explore and to have a good time.  First stop on my itinerary was St Ninian's Isle; it's impossible to come to Shetland and not visit this stunningly beautiful place.  A hoard of Pictish treasure was found here, and a unique geographical feature, a tombolo or fine sandy strip, links the small island to Shetland mainland.

By then it was almost lunchtime so we headed north again to the Bonhoga Art Gallery in Weisdale.  The gallery hosts touring exhibitions and shows by local artists, but is probably as well known by locals for the coffee shop looking out to the hill.  After homemade soup we continued our exploration of the north of the island to Mavis Grind, where the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea almost meets.  We had a view across the water to the Sullom Voe terminal, where the oil that has provided much of Shetland's wealth comes ashore.  Sullom provides the backdrop to most of the action in my latest novel DEAD WATER.

Carole and Graeme arrived on a Sunday, so I wanted to introduce them to a very special Shetland institution: the Sunday Teas.  Throughout the summer, community halls throw open their doors to visitors and locals.  There are home baked cakes, and scones and sandwiches, huge pots of tea and coffee and for a very modest sum you can eat as much as you like.  All funds raised go to local organisations.  The Vidlin teas are renowned and have live music and a craft fair too.  

Then it was back to our hotel in Scalloway.  It stands right on the water and there are views of the fishing boats leaving the harbour.  The Scalloway Hotel is unpretentious and the small bar is used by locals and holiday makers.  But the restaurant is famous and all the fish is fresh and locally landed.  It was a very good way to end our day.

The following morning Carole and Graeme headed out by themselves.  They spent some time in the new museum in Lerwick.  "We could have spent all day there."  And they drove to the lighthouse at Eshaness to explore the dramatic cliff scenery.  I suspect they'd never have chosen Shetland as a holiday destination, so what did they make of the trip?  Carole emailed as soon as they got home. "We both had a fantastic time!" As for me, I enjoyed their company and it was a privilege to share their first experience of the islands.