April 2011 Move Shetland Newsletter

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Hi, I'm Alastair and, once again, I'd like to introduce our monthly newsletter. In each edition, we highlight what's happening in Shetland and try to convey what life in our islands is like. If you're tempted to make the move or (as we'd recommend) come for a reconnaissance visit, we have lots of down-to-earth information on our website or you can contact our team for advice. Please also feel free to get in touch with questions and comments via Twitter or Facebook - we would love to hear from you.

At our latitude, the hours of daylight are more limited in midwinter than farther south, but of course the reverse is true in summer, with no real darkness for several weeks around 21 June. Because the length of the day increases so dramatically in just a few months, the difference from week to week is really very noticeable. Signs of Spring are everywhere: the daffodils are out and newborn lambs are to be seen all over the islands; one of their more endearing abilities is that of leaping a foot or more into the air from a standing start.

Around this time of year, too, sightings of whales usually become more frequent; people in Lerwick have already had one close encounter with a pod of pilot whales, seen in a number of photographs by Austin Taylor. Hugh Harrop has also posted some photographs and four short high-definition video sequences; and this further sequence was captured from an office window. Orcas (killer whales) are resident around Shetland and a pod of them appeared in Yell Sound in late March. If you'd like to know about all the latest sightings of whales, or indeed any other kind of wildlife, the best place to look is the Nature in Shetland website.

The main event on the horizon this month is the Shetland Folk Festival. Eclectic as ever, its popularity has led the organisers to stage more concerts this year. Even so, most events sell out weeks in advance, as the festival website confirms. Beyond that, this summer will be packed with all kinds of events and, each month, we'll bring you the highlights.

Earth Hour Underlines Shetland Commitment to Carbon Cuts

Earth Hour, an annual event organised by the World Wildlife Fund, aimed to raise awareness of the need to cut carbon emissions by encouraging everyone to turn off their lights for an hour at 8.30pm (local time) on Saturday 27 March. Shetland residents signed up to support the switch-off in such large numbers that (as our illustration confirms) the islands topped the UK table, an impressive 415 supporters ahead of the nearest rival. There's more information on the WWF website.

Meanwhile, Shetland Islands Council (SIC) will begin training its staff in how to work in a more environmentally-friendly fashion. Specific measures to lower carbon consumption in the Council's buildings will also be introduced. A recent survey of Council staff showed a 'widespread and deep awareness' of the need to change attitudes and practices within the Council, in order to reduce the carbon footprint.

Jim Grant, the SIC's Environment and Energy Services Manager, said: 'Staff have been reducing their own carbon consumption at home, have made changes in their lifestyle to do that, and have seen the advantages. Now they are keen to see the same thing happen within the Council.'

Crime Tales Capture Visitors' Imagination

Crime statistics don't suggest that Shetland would be a fertile setting for a series of murder mysteries. However, that hasn't stopped Ann Cleeves from chronicling the exploits of her detective hero, Jimmy Perez, who - in four novels - has had to sift his way through all kinds of intrigue.

In a recent article in the Daily Telegraph, Liz Hunt followed in the footsteps of Perez, tracking down the places in Fair Isle, the southernmost island in the Shetland group, that feature as locations in the last of the present series, Blue Lightning. Her article explains how Ms Cleeves fell in love with Shetland and Fair Isle and was inspired to set her quartet in the islands. The article also provides an insight into the life lived by the seventy or so residents of Fair Isle and explains the extraordinary attraction that the island holds for the birdwatchers who head there each year. Many of them stay in the Bird Observatory, the scene of the murder featured in Blue Lightning; however, they can expect an entirely tranquil experience.

Shetland Sites Make World Heritage Site Shortlist

Three of Shetland's hundreds of archaeological sites have been nominated by the UK government for possible designation by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The first of the group is the iron-age broch that stands on the island of Mousa, nowadays uninhabited, that lies off the east coast of the Shetland mainland. It's the most complete example of the distinctive towers that are concentrated almost entirely in the north and west of Scotland and the islands. Stoutly-built and usually in commanding positions that are inter-visible with other broch sites, they are generally assumed to have had a defensive purpose, though archaeologists and historians are not sure what external threat may have provoked their construction. The Mousa broch is an impressive structure, rising to more than 13 metres (40 feet) and with its stonework virtually intact. Inside the double walls, a staircase allows access to the top. There is evidence of internal floors and a roof. Apart from its archaeological interest, the broch is also the summer breeding place for hundreds of tiny Storm Petrels, which find the stonework offers an excellent choice of places to nest.

Jarlshof is a very different site, the remains of a settlement that dates back, in part, to the late Neolithic period around 2,500 years ago. People continued to live here until the late 17th century, when the Scottish-period farmhouse on the site was abandoned. Archaeologists first became aware of the riches of the site when it was partly exposed by storms in the late 19th century; excavations took place during the first half of the 20th century. They revealed extensive remains from the Bronze age, the Iron Age and the Viking period. The name, 'Jarlshof' (Earl's house), was bestowed by Sir Walter Scott, who had visited Shetland in 1814 and was so taken with the laird's house that he used it as a setting in his novel, The Pirate.

Old Scatness also came to light unexpectedly, when - in the late 1970s - the construction of a new road to the adjacent Sumburgh Airport resulted in the discovery of a broch. Subsequent excavations revealed a large and complex iron age settlement around it. The investigation was able to deploy the very latest archaeological techniques and it revealed that the broch was built between 200AD and 400AD, which is somewhat earlier than had been expected based on experience elsewhere. Many artefacts, including a Pictish carving of a bear and items carved from soapstone, were recovered from the site.

If designation as a World Heritage Site is to be achieved, it will be necessary to prepare a much more detailed case for consideration by UNESCO. The Shetland Amenity Trust will begin the task shortly, but it's likely to be several years before the case is formally considered.

BBC News School Report Features Two Shetland Schools

Each year, the BBC gives school students the chance to operate their own newsroom and prepare a television news bulletin. The BBC School Report website has advice on gathering news, writing the stories, putting the bulletin together and keeping on the right side of the law. In March 2011, more than 30,000 British students took up the opportunity and two schools in Shetland, Mid Yell Junior High School and Sandwick Junior High School, were among those participating. Mid Yell led their news with the innovative methods used in the construction of their new school, whilst Sandwick's package included school closures, the antics of students and teachers on Comic Relief's Red Nose Day and the South Mainland Up Helly Aa.

Actors Sought For Shetland Feature Film

Casting is now well under way for Between Weathers, the film drama that's to be shot in Shetland - mainly in the island of Fetlar - later this year.

Cast members already announced include singer-songwriter Sharleen Spiteri, formerly lead singer with Texas, making her acting debut; Dawn Steele, probably best known for her role in the BBC's long-running 'Monarch of the Glen'; and Colin McCredie, who appeared in more than 75 episodes of the ITV1 drama, 'Taggart', between 1995 and 2010.

Auditions for other parts are being held in early April in Perth, Aberdeen and Inverness. Later in the month there will be a two-day audition in Lerwick.

The film takes its title from the phrase often used by Shetlanders, 'a day atween wadders', to mark those calm days that often occur between storms. The story has been developed by author Ron McMillan from 'Between Weathers', a book he wrote after spending time travelling in the islands. The screenplay is:

'...a modern day David and Goliath story set against the stunning and magical backdrop of Shetland, where a disappearing way of life is fought for tooth and nail, against a corporate giant unable to see beyond the dollar signs'.

The film's Director is Jim Brown and the Executive Producer is Carol McGregor, mother of Ewen McGregor.

Volunteers Transform Interior Of Historic Island Home

Also in Fetlar, a large group of volunteers gave up the weekend of 19 and 20 March to begin the painstaking job of restoring Brough Lodge, a category A-listed mansion. Before they began work, the interior of the old house was in a poor state, with collapsed ceilings and all manner of other accumulated debris covering many of the floors. A considerable amount of furniture remained in the house and one of the weekend tasks was to decide which items were worth saving for restoration. Our photograph shows work in progress in the oval hallway which is one of the building's unusual features.

With support from staff of Shetland Amenity Trust and the advice of Groves Raines Architects, the volunteers removed hundreds of bags filled with rubbish and secured the better pieces of furniture. One member of the local media who had turned up to report on the work was unable to resist the temptation to join in.

Pierre Cambillard, Chair of the Brough Lodge Trust, said:

'This was obviously an auspicious day for the project. We had a fantastic turnout of extremely motivated volunteers who had come from Fetlar and many other parts of Shetland. We were lucky with the weather, too: the rain stayed away and there was just a moderate wind. There was excellent catering, which kept everyone going at full strength all day long. The Brough Lodge Trust wishes to thank everyone very warmly for their support.'

The next phase of the restoration project will see the old house made wind- and watertight, after which there will be renewed efforts to raise the funds needed for a complete restoration. The aim is to create high-quality visitor accommodation that will specialise in offering intensive courses in music, knitting, photography, archaeology and other disciplines to an international audience, bringing income and employment to the island.

Paperback 'Shetland Diaries' Released

Simon King's Shetland Diaries, the book of the much-admired BBC television series, has now been published by Hodder in paperback at £8.99. The series and the book recount the naturalist's experiences in Shetland - which one reviewer characterised as 'a touching love affair' - over a year of filming. He, his wife Marguerite and their daughter Savannah had some memorable wildlife encounters during their sojourn in the islands. Simon King observed otters, gannets and puffins at close quarters, had a very close underwater encounter with a seal and managed to capture some great footage of orcas (killer whales).

However, both the book and the television programmes also recount the other aspects of their stay, including Simon's participation in the Northmavine Up Helly Aa. There are also nail-biting moments, for example the repair work carried out by the talented people at the local recycling centre in fixing his very expensive film camera. It's clear that Simon King is very much in love with Shetland: he says that where once he visited the islands, he now 'goes back'. All in all, the 'Diaries' are a highly enjoyable read. This recent review by Pam Norfolk has appeared in a number of English local newspapers.

Demand For Concert Tickets Outstrips Supply

The recent visit to Shetland by Brit-award winning band, Mumford & Sons, underlined the local appetite for music of all kinds, with ticket purchasers queuing outdoors all night to be sure of a place. The concert itself, pictured here by Marvin Smith, was a great success. The band mixed their best-known songs with some new material, all of which went down very well with an enthusiastic crowd. Supporting singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni also made a very good impression on the audience with her gentle vocals and engaging guitar playing. The Mumfords have promised to come back so that more fans can have a chance to see them.

Meanwhile, two concerts to be held in July, during the visit by the Tall Ships Races, have also sold out remarkably fast. 2,000 tickets for The Levellers disappeared in just 45 minutes and another 2,000 for Abba tribute band Björn Again went in just over an hour. Most of the sales were handled online by the recently-established Shetland Box Office.

Other well-known names billed to appear in Shetland in the months ahead include comedians Al Murray and Ed Byrne.

Young Parliamentarian Wins Recognition

Nicole Mouat, who lives in the village of Scalloway and attends Lerwick's Anderson High School, has emerged as Scotland's 'best up-and-coming politician'. Nicole, who has just been re-elected to represent Shetland in Scotland's Youth Parliament, also carried off an award for outstanding achievement. She was surprised and delighted to win the award, thanking all those who had supported her nomination.

The Scottish Youth Parliament has been in operation since 1999 and its MSYPs are elected from every part of the country. It seeks to involve young people aged between 14 and 25 in the issues that affect Scotland in general and younger people in particular. Shetland's young people have also elected Emily Shaw as the other islands MSYP.

Major Investment In Offshore Gas Moves Ahead

Following the approval of Total's proposals for the development of its Laggan and Tormore gas fields, which lie 125km (80 miles) west of Shetland, good progress is being made on the development. Work is now well under way on the site of a new processing plant to be sited adjacent to the existing oil terminal at Sullom Voe and contracts are being confirmed for the subsea elements of the project. The gas is expected to start flowing to Shetland in 2014.

Moves To Strengthen Links With Faroe Islands

A delegation from Shetland has been in Faroe to explore ways in which connections between the two island groups can be developed. Shetland is only about 200 miles from the north-western neighbours, roughly the same distance as Aberdeen or Bergen. There have long been cultural ties. Shetland dialect has many words in common with Faroese, which is itself a form of Old Norse. Both communities have strong fishing traditions and current tensions over quotas for mackerel haven't got in the way of exploring the potential for other kinds of progress. The land area of Faroe is very similar to that of Shetland; however, Faroe's population, at almost 50,000, is more than twice that of Shetland.

The most significant recent development has been the laying of a fibre-optic cable link connecting Faroe, Shetland and Scotland, which will be used to provide faster broadband connections in Shetland. The Shetland delegation was also interested in the ways in which broadband had been rolled out in Faroe and in comparing their experience with that of the pilot projects that have been introduced in Shetland.

Transport connections were also under discussion. For many years, Shetland had a seasonal ferry link with Faroe, and indeed with Norway, Iceland and Denmark, using vessels owned by the Faroese shipping company, Smyril Line. Air services were operated by Atlantic Airways, another Faroese company. These included a direct summer service between Shetland and London Stansted and, in some years, a service between Shetland and Faroe. The Shetland-Faroe discussions explored the prospects of reviving those connections. The talks also covered possible collaboration on renewable energy projects and the processing of oil from the Faroese sector at the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal.

More Sporting Successes

Thanks to the hard work of local competitors, supported by excellent local sports facilities, Shetland sportspeople continue to perform well in national competitions. Swimming is one of Shetland's strongest disciplines and 18-year old Andrea Strachan has notched up another achievement, qualifying for the British championships in Manchester in the 50-metre breast-stroke and finishing in a very creditable eighth place in the final.

In table tennis, another Shetland competitor has had success in the Scottish national championships held in Glasgow. Lynda Flaws played in the doubles semi-final, came second in the senior singles final and was crowned Junior Women's Singles Champion.

Young Musicians Win On Woodwind

Shetland may be best known for its fiddle playing but young musicians in the islands tackle every kind of instrument. This year's Senior Young Musician of the Year is 14-year old Miriam Veenhuizen, who plays descant recorder, and Junior Young Musician is 11-year old bassoonist Amy Laurenson.

The finals of the competition also included excellent performances on piano, clarinet, accordion and saxophone.

Chess Revival Under Way

It seems that the recent exhibition at the Shetland Museum and Archives featuring the Lewis Chessmen has rekindled local enthusiasm for competitive chess. A junior competition attracted 32 players and a senior one a further 20. In the junior competition, the clear winner was Michal Samek. The senior prize was split three ways, with Derek Hughson, Jan Riise and Bobby Sandison each gaining four points. A tie-break calculation eventually led to Derek Hughson being awarded the overall prize.

Ken Beer, who acted as arbiter, said: 'I have controlled dozens of tournaments in Shetland over the years but this was the biggest and the best, and I want to hold more. The competitors were a joy to work with and the standard of chess was impressive. I have no doubt that we can develop a junior chess team over the next year or two that will rival or surpass the exploits of the 1980s when Shetland players habitually won national tournaments. Shetland chess has a bright future, thanks to the initiative of the staff at Shetland Amenity Trust and the touring Lewis Chessmen exhibition.'

Away from the competitions, visitors to the exhibition could enjoy a casual game on a normal chess board or try their skills with giant pieces standing nearly two metres tall.

Norwegian Woodcuts On Display

Also at the Shetland Museum and Archives, there's a new exhibition of woodcut prints by Norwegian artist Amy Lightfoot. Amy has travelled to Shetland many times over the last 21 years, in search of knowledge about traditional craft and crofting skills. Ever since her first visit in 1990, she has felt a special affinity for the islands' people and landscapes.

Many of those to whom Amy has spoken during those trips were born in Shetland during the late 1890s and early part of the 20th century. Her research for the exhibition included hundreds of hours of interviews, mainly focused on the close connection between sheep husbandry and textile production.

Blog Of The Month

Our April blogger is Keith Yates, who has recently been undertaking some work for Shetland Islands Council and, in his spare time, has been climbing the hills in Shetland that fall into the category of 'Marilyns', distinguished by having a drop of at least 150m on all sides from their summits. His blogs don't just describe his walking experiences, also touching on topics ranging from local ferry services to hospitality.

His site includes a number of articles about his exploration of Shetland, among which are Up Helly Aa, the South Mainland, and Ronas Hill and da Lang Ayre. These and the others included on the site make for very enjoyable reading. Why 'Marilyns'? It is, of course, a slightly contrived pun on the classification of peaks of more than 3,000 feet as 'Munros'.