June 2009 Newsletter

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Here is our newsletter from June 2009. To receive our monthly newsletters by email, please sign-up using the form in the left column.

Shetland Wins Spring Clean Award

As we reported last month, huge numbers of Shetland people turn out each year to give the islands a spring clean, known locally as the Voar Redd-Up. Now, their efforts have been richly rewarded: they've won the National Spring Clean Quaich, awarded by Keep Scotland Beautiful in recognition of the tremendous success of the campaign. 4,157 people from Shetland participated in clean up events during April, the 22nd year of the Redd-Up, and this was the highest percentage participation per head of population (at 19%) of any area in Scotland.

John Summers OBE, Chief Executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful said: "The National Spring Clean Quaich has been presented to the partnership between the Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Islands Council, who received it on behalf of the community of Shetland, for having the highest percentage participation in clean ups per head of population. The sheer number of people who volunteered to really make a difference to their own area is staggering."

Shetland To Become Geopark?

In late May, Shetland hosted a visit by two assessors charged with the task of deciding whether Shetland should become a UNESCO European Geopark. A Geopark is an area which not only has an outstanding geological heritage but is also using that heritage to help benefit the local economy. Shetland has a remarkable and very diverse geological heritage. There is the best section through the flank of an extinct volcano in Britain, a sub-arctic landscape featuring freeze-thaw patterning and a superb exposure of the Great Glen Fault. Post-glacial features are also to be seen.

The Shetland Geopark application, submitted last June, has been very well supported by the local community, and there's now a new website with more information about it. The assessors" visit is the last step in the process for gaining membership of the European Geopark network. During their trip, they toured the islands, visiting sites of geological interest and meeting local communities. The outcome should be known in September.

Viking Theme For 2009 Johnsmas Foy

Shetland's annual summer festival takes a different theme each year. In 2008, it commemorated the islands" historic trading links with the Hanseatic League and this year's event, which runs from 18 until 28 June, focuses on Shetland's role in the Viking world. As always, there's a wide-ranging programme that features everything from guided walks at outstanding heritage sites to the playing of Hnefatafl, an ancient Norse board game.

There will be an exhibition of the "Sails of St Magnus", a remarkable display of 14 sails painted by Erlend Brown, Dave Jackson, Andrew Parkinson and Mary Scott that tells the story of the journey to Jerusalem made in 1151 by Earl Rognvald of Orkney. The respected Icelandic lecturer and author, Professor Gisli Sigurðsson, will offer two fascinating talks on the 'Icelandic Sagas and the British Isles'. Traditional Scandinavian music will feature strongly, with appearances by the Norwegian group 'Strengleikr' and Finnish musician Marianne Maans.

Concert pianist, Neil Georgeson, makes a welcome visit to his home islands with violinist David Worswick and there will be jazz, too. Over the last four days of the Foy, Victoria Pier in Lerwick will host two international yacht races along with Flavour of Shetland, a celebration in music, crafts and food of all that's best about the islands. The annual Summer Carnival, with many decorated floats winding their way through the town, will make for a great family outing, with money raised going to charity. As ever, the Johnsmas Foy promises to be a memorable event. There's more on the Foy website.

Conference Also Considers Shetland In Viking Times

Three weeks after the Johnsmas Foy, the Viking theme will be picked up in a conference to be held from 16 - 19 July. The conference will take place in the Shetland Museum and Archives and will present the findings of the last three years" excavations and surveys of the Viking longhouses at Hamar, Belmont and Underhoull on Shetland's most northerly island, Unst. However, other speakers will take a broader look at the Viking period as a whole.

There will be presentations from Viking specialists well known to Shetland, including Julie Bond, Anne-Christine Larsen and Barbara Crawford, as well as period scholars from around the Viking world. These include Andrew MacDonald speaking about the Isle of Man, Niall Sharples on the Western Isles and Pat Wallace on Viking Dublin. The keynote speaker will be Olé Crumlin Pederson, from Copenhagen, who will talk about Viking boats and how the Vikings first came to Shetland.

On the Saturday, conference delegates will spend the day in Unst, where they will see the Viking Unst excavations at the three longhouses and stop at the replica of the Gokstad ship, the Skidbladner. In keeping with the theme of the conference, there will be a Viking Market throughout the weekend in Unst, where local and visiting Viking crafts people (including Timeslip, who worked in Shetland schools earlier this year) will recreate the feel of a Viking trading post.

There are also a few surprises planned for the trip too. Appropriately, the conference dinner will take the from of a Viking Feast, with entertainment provided by the popular Living History duo Keith Prosser and Tony Sherratt. Booking forms for the conference are available from the Shetland Amenity Trust offices (telephone 01595 694688) or online through the Viking Unst Project website. Places are limited and applications must be received by 26 June.

Frequent Orca Sightings Thrill Visitors

Killer Whales have been seen many times around Shetland in recent weeks. Most sightings have been in the north and east of Shetland, especially around the islands of Unst, Yell and Fetlar, but the orcas have also been seen off the north-west coast and the south mainland. People in the Fladdabister area, about seven miles south of Lerwick, had an excellent view of a pod of three animals on Sunday 31 May.

Those treated to the spectacle included the young Norwegian crew of the Staadsrad Lemkuhl, a sail training vessel on one of its regular visits to Shetland, who were on a coach tour in the area at the time. An English couple on holiday in the islands told Shetland.org that it was a sight they'd never forget. The Shetland Sea Mammal Group records sightings and the Killer Whale Research Team is undertaking research into the animals that frequent Shetland waters. You can find out more about the sightings and the research here.

Swan Has Full Sailing Programme

Meanwhile, Shetland's very own sail training vessel, the Swan, has a busy few months ahead. The vessel, a beautifully-restored sail fishing boat dating from 1900, will be in Shetland from time to time and will, as always, feature in the Johnsmas Foy. However, June will find her in the Caledonian Canal, in Wick and Portsoy, taking part in local festivals. In August, as we mentioned last month, she'll be travelling to Greenock and Belfast, taking part in the "Small Ships Race".

In early September, readers within reach of Great Yarmouth will be able to see her at the Maritime Festival there on 5 and 6 September. There are fuller details of the Swan's programme here.

…And Shetland Is On Polar Bear's Route

A recent caller at the port of Lerwick was the ocean-going yacht Polar Bear, which has been around the world three times; one of those trips was a single-handed voyage by yachtswoman Dee Caffari. Built in 2000, Polar Bear is one of the sturdiest yachts afloat, built of 5mm steel plate and with a 12-ton keel for stability. She specialises in voyages to the Norwegian fjords and northwards into the Arctic; on this trip she was en route from Newcastle to the Lofoten islands.

From there, chartered by Eco Expeditions, Polar Bear will head for the first of two trips to Jan Mayen, an outpost that was once a base for whalers and is now occupied by the Norwegian armed forces and the Norwegian meteorological service. The visit to Jan Mayen will allow a climbing party to tackle Beeremberg, a 2,277 metre volcano in the north of the island.

Exhibition Pays Tribute To Noted Painter

This month sees a major exhibition at Da Gadderie, the gallery in the Shetland Museum, of works by June Hainault (1924-2007). A painter who travelled widely, she exhibited around Britain over a period of thirty years. For the last decade of her working life she painted and drew inspiration from Shetland, and in particular the area west of Walls, in the west mainland.

She was an abstract colourist, pulling from the clouds, land and sea the essence of the drama and exhilaration that the ever-changing light of Shetland suggested. That is why her son, the writer Simon Mundy, has called this show "The Velocity of Colour". Her fresh, vibrant and subtle pictures, full of liberation and energy, are visual poems on the islands she loved.

Agency Will Help Promote Shetland

A new agency is being set up to help make Shetland and its products better known. Many people, especially perhaps those involved in the tourism and food sectors, have long felt that the islands" unique attractions and produce really ought to be more familiar to those who may be interested in what's on offer.

For visitors, Shetland's attractions are rather different from those of Scotland and the Islands Council and many businesses believe that that distinctiveness needs to be asserted. Tenders are being sought from firms or individuals interested in providing services on behalf of the new agency; there's more information here.

St Ninian's Isle Treasure Inspires Beautiful Hats

A joint initiative between Shetland Amenity Trust and the Shetland College has created a new range of products inspired by the St Ninian's Isle Treasure to sell in the Museum and Archives shop. The St Ninian's Snood, designed and made by local student Angela Irvine, combines traditional fine lace knitting with contemporary fashion to produce a range of highly decorative lace and bead hats.

Angela, currently in the 2nd year of a BA Contemporary Textiles course, designed the snood as part of a Professional Practice module. Tying in with the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the St Ninian's Isle treasure, the students were asked to create a product inspired by the treasure which could be sold in the Museum and Archives shop.

When the students visited the Museum and Archives to study the treasure, Angela was inspired by the bowls: “I was drawn to the bowls immediately and sketched and studied them. The colours and patterns were so sophisticated for their age, I wanted to take these and create something modern and "chic" to reflect the skill it took to make this treasure which is so important to Shetland.”

The students also had the opportunity to study the Museum and Archives extensive textiles collection. This is where Angela saw a traditional yoke jumper with beads knitted into the Fair Isle pattern, which inspired her to use beads in her design. Angela Added: “I had never seen a yolk pattern with beads knitted into it. The beads gave the Fair Isle a delicate look, which I thought would really suit my design. I learned to knit Shetland lace with beaded Fair Isle, as I wanted to take my design from paper to the final product. I am really happy with the result - a "chic" modern hat that reflects the precious beauty of the bowls themselves.”

Originally the term "snood" was used to describe an ornamental hair-net. The Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli reinvented the design as a fashion item in the 1930s and Angela has now modernised this design with stretched lace, allowing it to be worn as a beret.

Jimmy Moncrieff, General Manager Shetland Amenity Trust, said: “We are always looking for innovative products linked to our heritage and culture, and encouraging local designers in the development of new products. Working with the College allows us to support local designers who are developing their craft and encourage them to utilise our heritage and culture to create contemporary and attractive products. Angela's snood is a fantastic product and we are delighted to be selling it in the Museum and Archives shop.”

Sunny Start To Summer

It's not unusual for Shetland to enjoy long spells of dry, sunny weather during May and June, but 2009 has entered the record books, with the weather station on Fair Isle recording 282.8 hours of sunshine during May, making the island the sunniest place in Britain. It's also a new local record. At Shetland's latitude, there's no proper darkness during most of May, all of June and most of July; night owls can instead watch an unfinished sunset track across the northern sky.

Although temperatures rarely reach very far into the 20s Celsius, unpolluted air means strong sunshine. There have been some warm days and at the end of May the local electricity company had a busy day (and night) replacing several transformers that had failed in the heat.

New Book Encourages Children To Use Traditional Dialect

Over recent decades, many people have worked to ensure that the Shetland dialect is kept alive. Although it has a Scots base, the dialect contains many words derived from Old Norse, so that someone from the Faroe Islands or Iceland will find that Shetland words for such things as parts of boats, kitchen utensils or birds are very similar to the terms they use. The latest venture in dialect publishing is called the Shetland Wildlife Alphabet.

Published by the Shetland Amenity Trust at £5.95, it's aimed at young children. The idea has been developed by Mary Isbister, a crofter who runs a "croft trail" for visitors, and Davy Cooper, a well-known local storyteller who works for the Shetland Amenity Trust. Described as "a peerie book ta help peerie bairns ta learn ta spaek Shetlan"”, it gives dialect names for, and illustrates, such things as Arctic Terns (Tirricks), Eider Ducks (Dunters) and daisies (Kockaloories).

New Council Chief Executive Takes Up Post

As we've previously reported, Shetland Islands Council has been looking for a new Chief Executive to replace Morgan Goodlad, who has done the job for ten years. The successful candidate for the post is David Clark (43), who has worked in both the private sector and local government. He has particular experience in the management of large capital programmes, a skill that will no doubt stand him in good stead in the islands.

He also happens to be the son of Ian Clark, who in the 1970s was the Council's first Chief Executive and was responsible for devising the arrangements that allowed Shetland to benefit financially from the arrival of the oil industry. However, David Clark has made it clear that, whilst he's very proud of what his father achieved, he'll be ploughing his own furrow.

Shetland Cyclist Wins Another Medal

Christine McLean, a Shetland-based cyclist, has come away from the British 10-mile cycling time trials with another gold medal to add to the one she won last year. Although wind can sometimes be a problem, Shetland is, on the whole, an excellent place to cycle, with smooth and generally quiet roads.

There's an enthusiastic local cycling club, the Shetland Wheelers, whose activities you can read about here.

Young Player Wins Musician Award

A talented young alto saxophone player from the village of Aith in Shetland, Norman Willmore, has won a grant from Awards for Young Musicians. Norman's brilliant, remarkably mature, playing has impressed audiences around the isles and in 2007, while still at primary school, he was junior Shetland Young Musician of the Year.

Chef Jean-Christophe Novelli Waxes Lyrical About Shetland

The best-known chef at last year's first Shetland Food Festival was Jean-Christophe Novelli; it was clear during his visit that he'd fallen for the islands and, of course, the food they produce.