July 2011 Newsletter
Hello! I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to our July 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.
Shetland summers are always packed with activities and this one is fuller than most, because later in the month, we'll be welcoming the 2011 Tall Ships Races, an event that last featured in Shetland's calendar in 1999. We'll have some photos in our August edition.
Meanwhile, there's no shortage of other diversions, as the Shetland Times 'what's on' list makes clear. The Shetland Nature Festival is under way, with lots of special events. Over the weekend of 8-10 July, fans of alternative music and arts will raise the roof in Vunk Fest. There are several evenings of traditional music during the month, too. Sailing regattas, sheepdog trials and nature walks are just some of the other events that keep Shetland folk busy at this time of year; and (as I explain below) there are few better ways to relax than at one of our celebrated Sunday teas.
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!
Great Performances Strike Gold In 2011 Island Games
Shetland competitors have carried off 15 medals in this year's NatWest Island Games, in which sportspeople from 24 island groups around the world take part every two years. There have been some outstanding individual performances, with the greatest successes in the swimming pool, where Shetland - despite its much smaller population - took third place in the medals table behind Guernsey and the Faroe Islands. Overall, Shetland secured a very creditable tenth place in the games' medal table.
Andrea Strachan and Amy Harper put in stunning performances in the pool. Andrea set a new Games record in the women's 100m individual medley. As well as picking up a gold medal for that, she won three more golds, in the 50m and 100m breast stroke and the 200m individual medley. Amy Harper took home five medals, a gold in the 50m freestyle, silvers in the 100m and 200 m freestyle and bronzes in the 400m and 800m freestyle. Felix Gifford won a bronze in the men's 400m freestyle.
Away from the pool, there were two more gold medals, for Emma Leask in the women's 800m and Christine MacLean in the women's individual cycling time trial. Other Shetland medals were won by the archery team, who secured a silver, and Inga Woods, who gained a bronze in the javelin competition.
The successes in swimming, in particular, no doubt flow from the exceptional facilities that swimmers in Shetland enjoy. With eight modern swimming pools available throughout the islands, most islanders are no more than a few minutes' drive from one of them. There's a very active Swimming Association and excellent coaching is available.
Shetland hosted the eleventh Island Games in 2005, when 2,400 competitors made their way to Lerwick, including teams from as far away as the Falkland Islands and St Helena. Shetland broke a record at that time by becoming the smallest community, by population, ever to host the games.
Shetland Shellfish Expected To Win First Accreditation For Sustainability
Shetland fishermen who specialise in shellfish are expected to gain the sought-after approval of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for their good environmental practice. The fishery, which harvests lobster, scallops and brown and velvet crabs, is in the final stages of the MSC assessment. Although the fishery makes up a relatively small proportion of the Shetland catch, it finds a market throughout Europe. Annually, around 300 tonnes of velvet crabs - which is most of the catch - find their way to Spain.
More than a hundred Shetland fishermen take part in the fishery, working inshore in small boats. The certification, if granted, will be the first of its kind in the world. It's hoped that Shetland mussels, grown entirely naturally on ropes suspended in the sea, will also achieve accreditation within the next year or so.
The key to gaining MSC certification is sustainability; the stock must be managed to ensure its long-term survival and the fishing must be carried out in ways that are environmentally acceptable. The Shetland shellfish industry has taken steps to ensure both criteria are met. For example, they organise scallop dredging - which, uncontrolled, is a highly damaging practice - in such a way as to avoid sensitive areas and allow stocks to regenerate.
You can read more about the accreditation of Shetland shellfish in this article in the Guardian.
Lerwick's Youth Hostel Retains Five Stars - And Is Better Than Ever
The Lerwick Youth Hostel has secured its five-star VisitScotland rating for a ninth year. Inspectors have again praised it highly, awarding a score of 93%, five points higher than the minimum needed to gain the top classification. The score is up from 91%, reflecting improvements in the shower rooms and the provision of a new quiet area for reading. The accommodation, facilities, hospitality and service were classed as 'exceptional' or 'excellent'.
The hostel, which is run by Shetland Islands Council but is affliated to the Scottish Youth Hostels Association, has been widely praised by hostellers, too. As we reported earlier this year, it has been voted best in Europe and second best in the world in a Hostelling International poll.
New Competition Gathers Shetland Stories
A competition aimed at collecting stories about Shetland and its famous wool has been launched by wool brokers Jamieson & Smith in association with Promote Shetland and local heritage organisations Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Museum and Archives. Through the project, the organisers will bring together a collection of memories and stories relating to life in Shetland in connection with wool. The most inspiring entry will win what's described as a 'life changing bed', worth over £11,000, handmade with the finest Shetland Wool by the prestigious bedmakers, Vi-Spring. As our photo shows, it looks spectacular!
The stories need to be connected in some way to Shetland wool; perhaps the life story of a crofter or a knitter, the travels of a much-loved jumper or a tale about a place or community in Shetland with some special woolly association. These pieces of real history will be kept to provide a rich source of information on Shetland life for future generations. Forty entries will appear in a book to be published by the Shetland Amenity Trust.
Entries will be judged by Curator at the Shetland Museum and Archives, Dr Ian Tait, along with local storyteller, Davy Cooper, and Textiles Curator at the Museum, Dr. Carol Christiansen.
The Real Shetland project highlights the importance of textiles and crofting to Shetland's heritage, culture and economic development. The aim is not only to remember knowledge and skills but also to preserve them, helping to ensure the future of the islands' world-renowned wool and textiles industry.
There's more information about the competition on the competition's Facebook page.
A Celebration Of Nature
Shetland's Nature Festival occupies the first week of July and there's a great deal to celebrate. Few, if any, places of Shetland's size can lay claim to a more impressive natural heritage. The islands have it all: complex geology, inspiring landscapes and seascapes, colourful (and sometimes unique) flora and the possibility of thrilling encounters with rare wildlife. No wonder that one of Britain's best-known naturalists, Simon King, has taken Shetland to his heart and is one of those leading this year's event. Indeed, he opened the festival with a talk in which he shared his secrets for tracking, watching and appreciating Shetland's wildlife. The following day, he acted as guide on a nature cruise around the northernmost tip of Britain,with close-up views of the Hermaness National Nature Reserve.
Other highlights during the week include a cruise intriguingly entitled 'Visit the ruins of the Appalachian Mountains'. The guide poses a question: is Shetland a little bit of North America that got left behind or is North America a big bit of Shetland that lost its way? In fact - 600 million years ago - Shetland was indeed joined to North America, before continental drift opened up the North Atlantic.
There's a host of other events, including guided walks, seabird watching, whale and dolphin spotting and experimental archaeology. The prospects for viewing killer whales seem good, as there were several sightings around the islands in the last week of June.
You can find full details on the Shetland Nature Festival website.
Warm Welcome Prepared For Tall Ships
A total of 57 ships from 12 countries will sail to Shetland during the 2011 Tall Ships Races, which will include stopovers in a number of ports around Shetland from mid-July. All the ships will gather for three days in Lerwick from 21 - 24 July. All the ships, which range widely in size, can be seen in the photographs on this web page.
They'll be crewed by a mixture of professional crew and sail trainees from around the world. 42 young people from all over Shetland will be tasting life on the ocean wave, with placements on seven Tall Ships. They'll experience life as crew members, undertaking tasks such as watch-keeping, setting sails and other domestic duties.
According to Fiona Dally, project manager of The Tall Ships Races 2011, the crew members and several thousand visitors can expect a 'marvellous welcome' when they arrive in Shetland.
Activities kick off with the crew parade on Thursday 21 July, when over 2,000 crew from twelve countries will parade along the waterfront in Lerwick in a fantastic spectacle of colour and music, culminating in a welcoming ceremony, with dancers, musicians and singers. On the Friday and Saturday, there's a full programme of street entertainment, traditional and contemporary music, local food and drink, and arts and crafts. On the Friday night, the headline band is The Levellers and on the Saturday the main attraction is Bjorn Again. The Saturday night will end with a huge fireworks display.
The ships leave on Sunday 24 July and it will be a spectacular sight as they take part in a magnificent Parade of Sail. At 5pm, they begin the next stage of the race, which takes them to Stavanger in Norway.
'S Wonderful: Jazz Club Pulls In Big Audiences
Shetland Jazz Club has gone from strength to strength over the past two years, thanks in part to a Jazz Development project administered by Shetland Arts and with financial assistance from Creative Scotland. The progress that's been made has been recognised by a nomination for the club's Secretary, Jeff Merryfield, as 'Jazz Promoter of the Year' in the Scottish Jazz Awards 2011.
Jeff said of the nomination, 'This is not about me; it is about the spirit that has allowed us to bring well-known jazz musicians to these islands. All the musicians we have brought here in the last couple of years have gone back home and raved about the experience of playing in Shetland, their reception at gigs, the hospitality and the warmth of the people.'
Bryan Peterson, Shetland Arts Music Development Officer said, 'Interest in jazz has seen a real resurgence recently, in no small part due to the tuition provided in schools by brass instructors including Roy Hughson and Jane Morton.'
'Over the course of the two-year jazz development project, the Shetland Jazz Club membership has risen from only a handful in 2009 to over 30 at present, with concert attendances regularly into the hundreds. It's great to see the hard work and enthusiasm of Jeff being recognised through the award nomination.'
A number of the other award nominees have played in Shetland recently, including The Nova Scotia Jazz Band and Havana Swing (both nominated in the Early Jazz - Band of the Year 2011 category), frequent visitor Martin Taylor (Mainstream Jazz - Band of the Year 2011) and Tommy Smith (who won the Jazz Educator of the Year 2011 category), who played in the islands as recently as 25 June.
Other notable acts who have visited Shetland over the course of the project have included leading lights such as drummer Alyn Cosker, saxophonist Derek Nash and guitarist John Etheridge. Each visiting act has played concerts in Lerwick, rural venues and schools, and led a range of educational activities for local musicians and school children. There's more about jazz in Shetland on the jazz page of the Shetland Arts website.
Royal Scottish National Orchestra To Visit Next Year
Orchestral and choral music, and opera, also enjoy a dedicated following in Shetland and there are many enthusiastic players, too. Each year, there are several recitals by visiting soloists, chamber ensembles or members of Scottish Opera. A Shetland Orchestra has been formed.
Visits by larger orchestras also take place from time to time and the BBC has announced that, as part of an event linked to the 2012 Olympics, Music Nation, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) will be resident in Shetland for its eighth annual Out and About, from Thursday 1 March to Monday 5 March 2012. During their stay, the RSNO will host, contribute to and participate in dozens of musical events with local communities. In partnership with Shetland Arts, the RSNO will take its music-making not only to the Shetland mainland but also to the northernmost island of Unst and the remote Out Skerries, Fair Isle and Foula. These visits will involve a range of activities, from concerts and participative performances to community events and coaching opportunities. Although the RSNO has visited Shetland in the past, this visit will include the orchestra's northernmost UK performances in its 120-year history.
Gwilym Gibbons, Director of Shetland Arts said: 'This is a hugely ambitious and exciting project and one that has been a long term ambition of Shetland Arts and the RSNO. It was always about picking the right time and for us the combination of this visit taking place as part of Music Nation, in the Year of Creative Scotland and in the opening season of Mareel, Shetland's new £12.2m waterfront music, cinema and creative industries centre, makes this absolutely the right time.'
Shetland Households Incur Smaller Debts
A recent article in Which? magazine explains that Shetland has the lowest level of personal debt in the UK, at £12,278. That's more than £7,000 below the UK average and less than half the debt reported in the areas with the highest debt, Slough and Watford. It's likely that the low Shetland figure is partly related to the fact that house prices in Shetland are relatively low in relation to incomes.
Sea Kayakers Retrace Shetland Bus Route
During July, three kayakers are to attempt the first ever kayak crossing from Scotland to Norway. Patrick Winterton, Mick Berwick and Olly Hicks, who describe themselves as 'seasoned adventurers', will take on their toughest challenge to date as they attempt to make the 388-kilometre (242-mile) trip . They will follow in the wake of the heroic Norwegian fishermen who, during the Second World War, made repeated crossings of the North Sea in the worst conditions to ferry arms and agents into Norway and take refugees out. The operation was known as the 'Shetland Bus'.
They'll leave Shetland on 16 July 2011 and they say that their journey will celebrate the seafaring skills and survival capabilities of the Norwegians as well as remembering those who perished. The trio aim to raise in excess of £15,000 for the RNLI and The Make a Wish Foundation.
They say, 'We don't need to tell anyone that three nights in a single kayak on the North Sea won't be much fun. We hope you'll make our misery worthwhile and help us help them.'
The three paddlers will leave from Lunna Voe, the base for the Shetland Bus, and will stop for a brief rest at the Out Skerries. They'll then paddle as a team for most of the voyage but will race for the last 44 nautical miles to the 'Shetland Bus' commemorative statue in the centre of the city of Bergen.
There's more information about their kayaking adventure on this web page and there is also a page on which you can make a donation .
Shetland Gardens Open For Visitors
A dozen Shetland gardeners are opening their gardens to visitors this summer as part of the 'Scotland's Gardens' scheme, which has been in operation since 1931 and raises money for a number of good causes.
Many enthusiastic local gardeners have proved that a wide range of plants can be successfully grown at Shetland's northern latitude. The main requirement is reasonable shelter, though protection from sheep and rabbits is also important. Some of the gardens featured during the open days have been created relatively recently; others have a much longer pedigree. One of the gardens featured in the scheme, Lea Gardens at Tresta in the west of the Shetland mainland, extends to about two acres and contains more than 1,500 plants from all over the world. It's the largest plant collection north of the Inverewe Garden on the west coast of Scotland and is a popular place to visit and in which to be inspired; one journalist described it as 'magic'. Rosa Steppanova, who began to establish it in the 1980s, has written about the challenges and the successes in her book, 'The Impossible Garden'.
One of the most recent gardens to be developed is at Sand, also in the west of Shetland. Larger in area than Lea Gardens, Da Gairdins features more than 25,000 trees and shrubs spread over seven acres of woodland and meadow. Our photo shows a quiet corner by one of the three ponds. It's a peaceful spot for a walk or a picnic and the soft air is filled with bees and butterflies.
There are also several community gardens, maintained by local enthusiasts, around Shetland. On a larger scale, the Shetland Amenity Trust has an ambitious programme of tree planting and woodland maintenance.
Shetland Sunday Teas: A Great Tradition
One of the highlights of the Shetland summer is the programme of Sunday teas that runs from May to September. On any given Sunday, local people and visitors can choose from five or six community halls around the islands, each of which offers a splendid spread of scones, pancakes, bannocks, muffins, biscuits, quiches, sandwiches and a huge variety of cakes, all washed down with tea or coffee.
All the baking is done by local people in their own homes and the results are simply delicious. One of the accompaniments is usually rhubarb jam, because rhubarb grows exceptionally well in the islands. Fillings for bannocks may include another Shetland speciality, reestit mutton; the joint is cured in brine and air-dried, producing a distinctive flavour.
The teas raise money for a host of charities and they may be accompanied by sales of work, car boot sales or even musical performances. The tradition came to national prominence when the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme devoted an entire episode to it and you can listen to the programme on the BBC iPlayer; you may wish to skip to the beginning of the programme, which is 1 minute from the start of the playback.
It's events like these, and the shared effort that goes into them, that help to bind Shetland communities and generations together.
Blog Of The Month
Our blog this month comes from Jen Hadfield, a poet and artist who lives in Shetland and who won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry in 2008. As she explains, Shetland's landscape and language persistently influence her poetry and visual art. I hope you enjoy her writing.