August 2011 Newsletter
Hello! I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to our August edition. If you're thinking of making the move to Shetland, as many others have done, we hope this newsletter offers a flavour of the life you could enjoy in the islands. Even if the weather is not always quite what we ordered, the landscapes and seascapes are stunning and the community is one of the most go-ahead and helpful you could wish for. It's also a very 'connected' community.
To take an example, I recently needed to turn off my mains water supply but half an hour of probing with a long screwdriver in the adjacent field, whilst no doubt entertaining for the neighbours, failed to reveal the iron cover over the stopcock. A metal detector was the obvious answer, so I made a plea for help on a Shetland web forum. A couple of hours later, I had a reply and, that evening, a local enthusiast turned up with some very sophisticated equipment. He quickly found the cover and went on to help my neighbour find his. That sort of cheerful mutual support is one of the things that make Shetland such a special place.
July was an exceptionally busy month in the islands, the excitement peaking with the colourful Tall Ships' visit, but there were other highlights, too, including the whale sightings we've mentioned in this edition. Looking ahead, August kicks off with the annual Fiddle Frenzy, a lively cocktail of learning and performing, and then we'll be into the season of agricultural shows, always very enjoyable events. Yacht and rowing regattas, often with fishing competitions, also continue during the month.
We have a large amount of essential information about Shetland on our website but we also recommend that you make a couple of reconnaissance trips to experience island life, ideally at different seasons. If we can help in any way, please don't hesitate to contact our team!
Tall Ships Thrill Thousands, Involve Everyone
The Tall Ships Races last visited Shetland in 1999 and this year's spectacular return was, without doubt, the biggest event since Shetland staged the NatWest Island Games in 2005. To Shetland's population of 22,000 were added more than 2,000 crew from 56 vessels and a large number of visitors to the islands, many of them Shetlanders living away who'd understandably decided that this was an ideal time for a 'hamefarin' (homecoming).
The Tall Ships Races, organised by Sail Training International, are held every summer in European waters. Between 50 and 100 ships from more than a dozen countries are usually involved. It's very much an event for young people, as half of every ship's crew must be under the age of 25.
The races have several stages; some are competitive but at least one is a 'cruise in company'. In 2011, the starting point was Waterford in Ireland, from where the fleet raced to Greenock. The next stage was more relaxed, as the ships cruised at leisure up the west coast of Scotland and then north to Shetland, with many calling at Orkney en route. From Shetland, the ships raced across the North Sea to Stavanger and were then due to finish with a race to Halmstad. There's a four-day break in each of the main ports.
Although most people will think of a tall ship as one of the great square-riggers, any monohull sailing vessel with a waterline length of more than 9.14m can enter. The ships that took part in 2011 included several of the larger ships but there were also many smaller historic vessels - including Shetland's very own Swan - and a number of racing yachts.
The Shetland organisers had laid on a vast range of activities to keep the crews and visitors fully entertained throughout the tall ships' visit. Some of the ships called at ports around Shetland before arriving in Lerwick for four days of festivities. In Scalloway, for example, the community staged a summer version of the fire festival that they normally hold in early January; it drew huge crowds.
Music was at the heart of the Lerwick celebrations, with three music venues along the waterfront. The largest arena, Holmsgarth, drew more than 3,000 fans to a succession of performers including many local bands, the Levellers and Bjorn Again, an Abba revival that guaranteed a party mood on the Saturday evening. At Victoria Pier, a more intimate setting offered performances by another host of musicians, including a set by Shetland's most famous export, fiddler Aly Bain, with his longtime musical partner, Phil Cunningham. Between those sites there was a dance tent with local and Scottish DJs.
Added to all of that were a Shetland craft market, a continental market and a host of food and refreshment outlets. All sorts of other events were laid on, too. The Shetland Museum and Archives drew 4,616 visitors over four days, a new record; they enjoyed lots of treats including barbequed mackerel baps and a Mad Hatter's Tea Party for children.
To make sure people got to Shetland and away again, there were extra daytime sailings of the Aberdeen - Shetland ferries and additional flights, all filled to capacity. The organisers did have to contend with some unseasonal weather, which delayed the Tall Ships' departure for a day.
Overall, the visit was a huge success. It underlined Shetland's ability to stage events on a large scale. However, it couldn't have happened without the quite extraordinary efforts of huge numbers of islanders. An army of local volunteers was recruited to act as information officers, merchandise vendors, administrators, bus drivers, stewards, marshals and, last but not least, the more than eighty yellow-shirted liaison officers, many of them multilingual, who were the point of contact for the ships. To all of them must also be added the staff of dozens of public agencies and businesses, who went the extra mile to make sure that everyone had an enjoyable, carefree and safe four days.
Several videos about the Tall Ships' visit are available on the internet. The BBC has made a short film about outstanding Shetland fiddler Maggie Adamson , who was one of the 18 young Shetlanders taking part in the race from Lerwick to Stavanger. STV's news bulletin was presented from Lerwick on the Friday evening and the whole programme is available here; the main Tall Ships sequences are at the beginning and at 16' 00" minutes in. Among a number of YouTube videos is this one showing the colourful crew parade. An online search will find others, including some showing musical performances.
New Invention May Bring Back The Days Of Sail
The Tall Ships Races remind us of the potential of the wind, but might sail power once again have a commercial future? Faced with steadily-rising fuel costs, all of us are looking for ways to cut our use of oil. The fishing industry, which relies entirely on oil to power the fleet, is no exception.
Not surprisingly, then, there was a great deal of interest recently when Stuart Balfour, who lives in the north mainland of Shetland, revealed the results of more than a year of research and development work undertaken by his company, Sail Line Fish. With the backing of Scottish Enterprise, he has come up with a sail for the 21st century. It can be raised and lowered by hydraulic pumps with no physical effort on the part of the crew; indeed, it can be operated by one person. In theory, it could be developed to power any sort of vessel, either eliminating fuel use or at least reducing it.
Stuart has patented the device and, encouraged by the response to the invention, is now moving towards production. There's more information on the Sail Line Fish website.
Orcas Provide Awesome Encounters
Shetland is becoming known as a place to spot orcas, or killer whales. Is that because we look out for them more than we used to? Or are whales simply spending more time around our shores? Either way, there have been many reports of encounters recently. Certainly, a project to track them around Shetland has made everyone more aware of their presence and news of sightings spreads rapidly via social networking websites.
David Gifford, a local photographer, was on hand to capture this footage of a pod of orcas when they paid a recent visit to an inlet in Shetland's south mainland. The orcas hunt for seals and may take other kinds of wildlife, including seabirds, creating heart-stopping dramas of life in the raw.
One of the pleasures of living in Shetland is that it's so easy to enjoy the islands' wonderful marine wildlife. For orcas, you do need to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Encounters with otters are a little commoner; one turned up recently on the pier in the village of Scalloway, untroubled by spectators, and they may be seen almost anywhere. Porpoises are often to be seen but easiest of all to spot are seals: most days, they haul out on the rocky shore beside Tesco.
Shetland's First Pop-Up Gallery Attracts Art Lovers
One of the more unusual destinations for visitors to Shetland during the Tall Ships Races was a pop-up art gallery in one of the oldest houses on Lerwick's historic waterfront. The property, a Listed Building retaining all its original features, is awaiting renovation. Its owner, Ruth Brownlee, is a painter who has won many awards, so the idea of staging a pop-up art exhibition in the house during the Tall Ships Races was just a short creative leap. She got together with Mary Fraser, who is a bookbinder, often using knitted wool in Fair Isle patterns for book covers and other gift items. Ruth is best known for atmospheric, richly-toned paintings that brilliantly capture the light and shade in Shetland's dramatic seascapes. They created a very appealing show.
Shetland Art to Join National Online Collection
Shetland paintings are to gain a wider audience. Shetland Museum and Archives, along with a number of rural museums and other organisations in Shetland are set to participate in a new national project called 'Your Paintings'. The project was launched in June by The Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) in partnership with the BBC, and is intended to provide the public with a complete catalogue of oil and acrylic paintings held in public ownership in the UK.
The first phase of the project went live in June, with over 60,000 paintings added to the website from 860 collections. Shetland Museum and Archives holds a collection of over 200 paintings, of which 30 are currently on show. These will be photographed by fine art photographers from the PCF in early August and entered into the online catalogue as part of this project. All the paintings will be available to view on a dedicated website along with information about them, including their whereabouts. While in Shetland, the PCF team will also be visiting a number of rural museums to photograph and catalogue paintings
The online catalogue and further information about the project can be found on the website: www.bbc.co.uk/yourpaintings
Summer Sports Season Sees Annual Inter-County Contests
There are many contacts between the people of Shetland and their nearest neighbours in the Orkney Islands, helped by twice-daily flights and ferry connections two or three times each week. Sporting links have been maintained since at least 1947, when the present series of annual inter-county sports competitions began. Junior and Senior Inter-County competitions are held.
In the 2011 Junior competition, which included athletics, football, netball, swimming and hockey, Shetland overcame Orkney in every sport except hockey and emerged with 241 points overall to Orkney's 176.
Over the years, Shetland has a narrower lead in the contests, with 33 victories to Orkney's 31. In the senior inter-county matches held on 30 July, the honours were split. Orkney won the hockey 2-0; however, Shetland's single goal secured their victory in the football and meant that the Milne Cup stays in Shetland for a seventh successive year.
Many other sports have been played in the inter-county competitions, including badminton, cricket, clay pigeon shooting, darts, golf, rugby, sailing, snooker, squash and trout fishing.
Norwegian Grief Felt In Shetland
Shetland has had links with Norway for 1,200 years and the Norwegian influence can be seen in the Shetland dialect, place-names and personal names and in many other ways. Shetland was the base from which the Norwegian resistance was supplied during the Second World War. Today, yachts from Norway are frequent visitors and eleven of the vessels in the Tall Ships Race had young Norwegians aboard. Following the news of the bombing in Oslo and the massacre on the island of Utøya, the Convener of Shetland Islands Council, Sandy Cluness, sent a letter of condolence to the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg. He wrote that Shetland and Norway 'have a common heritage and have shared the best and worst of experiences during and since the last war'. He expressed the 'heartfelt sorrow of all Shetlanders at the recent tragic events in Norway'. Flags - many of them Norwegian - flew at half mast across the islands. A book of condolence has been opened.
Broadcaster's Day Features In Short BBC Film
Tom Morton, an author and broadcaster, lives in the village of Hillswick, which is on the north-west coast of the Shetland mainland, about 35 miles from Lerwick. For nine years, he's been presenting his afternoon music show on BBC Radio Scotland from the Lerwick studios of the BBC. This short film about Tom's day (2' 50") follows him as he leaves home, travels by bus to Lerwick, presents the programme and relaxes in the evening on the beach near his home. We suspect it's a lifestyle that many of his colleagues in the media would envy. It's all possible because the BBC has a small but well-equipped broadcasting centre in Lerwick and is able to use high-quality links with BBC centres on the Scottish mainland.
The Lerwick studios are also used for the production of a half-hour evening news programme, Good Evening Shetland, and a range of other local features covering topics that include books, food, archaeology, music and much else. When necessary, they're also used as a resource for the BBC's national services. The BBC local station plays an important role in the community, in ways that range from matching orphaned lambs with new mums to strengthening the Shetland dialect. Shetland's BBC team has recently produced extended coverage of the Island Games in the Isle of Wight and, of course, the Tall Ships Races.
Fetlar Film Project Attracts Welcome Attention
The island of Fetlar is the setting for a forthcoming feature film, 'Between Weathers', which is to be shot later this year. Casting is now under way and the project has attracted the attention of 'The One Show', BBC television's evening magazine. We understand that presenter Dom Littlewood will be reporting on the movie from Fetlar in the next few days.
There's been more good news for the project. A Shetlander, George Stroud, who is Chief Executive of Marin Subsea - which provides services to the oil industry - has made a 'six-figure' investment in the film. George explained:
'Having pondered the question for some time about how I could put something back into the community, I got in touch with the team at B4 Films and Jim Brown. There were many similarities between the script and my own Shetland experiences. This really is a brilliant way to invest in Shetland and Scottish business. I couldn't think of a better way to give something back to Shetland, a place I regard as home'.
Literary Lineup Announced
The 2011 WordPlay festival will take place on 3 and 4 September and the programme offers a host of delights. Those appearing include the Scottish 'makar' (national poet), Liz Lochhead and the broadcaster and author James Naughtie, as well as other established voices such as poet and author Simon Armitage, Children's writer Viv French and Jonathan Meades, the television presenter and food and architecture critic. It promises to be a thoroughly stimulating weekend and more details can be downloaded from the Shetland Arts website.
Blog Of The Month
This month's blog comes from the southernmost island in Shetland, Fair Isle, which is the remotest permanently inhabited island in Britain. It lies 25 miles south of Sumburgh Head and about the same distance from North Ronaldsay, the northernmost Orkney island. Fair Isle is home to a thriving community of around 60 people and is owned by the National Trust for Scotland. It's famous for its traditional knitting style and for being one of the most important locations in Britain for observing bird migration; many rare species have been recorded.
Our blog is the online warden's diary from the new Fair Isle Bird Observatory, which has recently replaced an earlier, smaller structure. Although the blog focuses mainly on wildlife, it also conveys something of the flavour of life on the island.