May 2011 Move Shetland Newsletter

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Hello again. I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to our May newsletter. 'Spring, the sweet spring, is the year's pleasant king', as Thomas Nashe put it; and it certainly feels like that here in Shetland. The days are rapidly lengthening and, very soon, there'll be no proper darkness: it's the time we call the 'simmer dim'.

All our seabirds are back on the cliffs and a couple of the puffins at Sumburgh Head have been checking out last year's burrow. We hope they choose it again; in any event, you can join viewers all round the world who've been logging into our PuffinCam to await developments.

The pace quickens for humans, too: there's the usual spring-cleaning which, as we explain this month, we do on the grand scale in Shetland. There's work to do in the garden, Shetland's huge boating community is getting afloat and those long days make exploring our hills and coasts even more appealing.

All kinds of activities are on offer and this year we're looking forward in particular to July's visit by the Tall Ships Races. This is also the Year of Scottish Islands and their website lists some - but by no means all - of the events taking place in Shetland this year.

There's no doubt that Shetland has many assets as a place to live and that's been reflected in many assessments over the years. School results always stand out: 91% of Shetland's 16 year olds gained five or more awards at SCQF level 4. Interestingly, the only English area with a comparable result was the Scilly Isles. Shetland also tends to score very well on other factors, with relatively little crime and low traffic flows.

If you're interested in moving here, our website can help with lots of honest, practical information.

Simon King To Launch 2011 Nature Festival

This year's Shetland Nature Festival, which runs from 2 to 10 July, will be opened by wildlife film-maker Simon King with a talk in which he'll share his secrets for tracking, watching and appreciating the wonderful wildlife of Shetland. He'll also join the annual nature cruise aboard one of the Shetland Islands Council's large ferries. The ship will sail all the way up to Out Stack, the most northerly point in the British Isles.

Those on previous cruises have seen harbour porpoises, white-sided dolphins and minke whales and of course there's always a chance of encountering killer whales, of which there have been several sightings during April.

The festival, now in its fourth year, is jointly organised by Shetland Amenity Trust, the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage, and part funded by Shetland Islands Council. As well as wildlife, geology will again be a major theme, thanks to a partnership with Geopark Shetland.

Geopark Shetland's Robina Barton explained: "As well as the annual Noss and Sumburgh Head open days, we plan to hold several other days focused around one area or island, including Eshaness, Unst, Fetlar, Bressay and Lerwick. Each day will consist of a number of events, including guided walks, family activities, evening talks and more."

To find out more, you can visit the Shetland Nature Festival website.

National Award Goes to Shetland's 'Swan'

The 'Fifie' class herring drifter, Swan (LK243), launched in May 1900 at Hay and Company's yard in Lerwick, has been designated Britain's 'Flagship of the Year'. The award is designed to promote the part that historic vessels play in the heritage of the UK. National Historic Ships bestows the accolade on the vessel with the most impressive seasonal programme of public events in the forthcoming year. The winning vessel receives a traditional swallow-tailed broad pennant to fly from the masthead wherever she goes to mark her flagship status, and a grant of £1000 towards the cost of keeping the vessel in operational condition and opening her for public viewing.

After surviving two world wars and falling into disrepair, the Swan was restored to her former glory some years ago by a team of dedicated volunteers from The Swan Trust. The judges were particularly impressed with the breadth of Swan's summer programme which, starting in her home port, will take her to Orkney; along the Caledonian Canal; to Waterford to compete in the Tall Ships Race to Glasgow, and then to Norway.

Throughout, the Swan's crew will be formed by groups of young people and they'll invite visitors on board wherever she goes. The Swan is one of some 200 vessels of pre-eminent national significance which together form the UK's National Historic Fleet. The chairman of the Swan Trust, Allister Rendall, said: "I'm delighted that Swan has won such a prestigious award. It's particularly appropriate that Swan has been selected, since the Tall Ships will be visiting Shetland this year."

Martyn Heighton, Director of National Historic Ships, commented: "With the Flagship award now in its third year, the quality of entries has gone from strength to strength. Swan is a worthy winner in a year of fierce competition."

Growing Your Own? New Website Aims To Help

More and more people are growing their own vegetables and fruit, ensuring that produce is fresh and wholesome, reducing food miles and lowering costs.

The new Grow Shetland website encourages more people to explore that path, whether they intend simply to feed the family or want to go into small-scale commercial production. The new site is intended to bring people together. Those who don't have any land may be able to find some through the site, or perhaps offer to help someone work their existing plot and share the crop.

There's a free recycling page, too, where users can look for tools or plants they need, or offer what they don't need to others. Advice can be shared and information is also available on the site about a number of existing agricultural and horticultural projects in Shetland.

Grow Shetland is linked to Transition Shetland, part of the transition movement that has grown across the UK and Ireland over the past five years or so. It's a response to climate change and advocates adjustment to a world where oil will be scarcer and more expensive. After successful beginnings in Totnes, Devon and Kinsale, West Cork, the theme has been taken up in places as diverse as Bristol, Brixton and Dunbar, not to mention the BBC's Ambridge.

For more information, visit the Transition Shetland website.

Huge Clean-Up Readies Isles For Summer

The largest annual voluntary clean-up in the UK has been under way in Shetland during April and will continue for a few weeks yet. Volunteers have been out in force collecting all manner of rubbish (known in Shetland as bruck) from beaches, roadsides and public areas around the islands.

Pointing out that Da Voar-Redd-Up ('the spring clean-up') involves an astonishing 4,200 people, or nearly 20% of the population, the Shetland Amenity Trust's Sita Hughson says that 'this level of support, and the vast environmental improvement it produces, is something Shetland should be very proud of. The number of people giving up their time to redd up bruck from winter storms, as well as local litter, shows how much Shetland residents care about our local environment.' No fewer than 419 groups registered to take part this year.

Recycling is very much part of the redd-up. For example, the pupils at Skeld Primary School collected a quantity of old rope and netting around the Skeld Marina and immediately put it to good use in weaving sessions with a visiting artist, Jo Jack.

A complete tally of all the rubbish collected will be available in July.

Shellfish Quality Assured

Shetland Seafood Quality Control has secured another accreditation, this time for shellfish biotoxin analysis, in a programme run by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). The laboratory is part of the NAFC Marine Centre in the village of Scalloway and is one of only three in the UK that carry out these tests.

Local shellfish producers can now have their products tested quickly before dispatching them to buyers. This is vital, as shellfish production is an important part of Shetland's economy and mussels, which grow naturally on ropes suspended in the sea, are a major export. Shetland produces more than half the mussels grown in Scotland and their superb quality has gained them a place on menus throughout the UK and western Europe.

New Research Project Probes Viking Past

Shetland's Viking heritage is everywhere in the islands, evident in ancient settlements, in place-names and in the Shetland dialect. Now, a new research project is to explore the Viking age in Shetland, or Hjaltland as it was known in Old Norse. It will look into the origins of the Norse settlers and when, and where, they first established their communities. The Centre for Nordic Studies, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, has been awarded £17,000 from the Royal Society of Edinburgh to establish the Hjaltland Research Network.

The project will bring together international experts in place-names, archaeology, folklore and genetics, led by Dr Andrew Jennings, who has written extensively on Viking place-names and Shetlandic folklore. He said: 'Shetland is the perfect place to study the Viking period. It was in a central position within the Viking world. It has remained a focus for Viking studies, attracting scholars from abroad. However, it has also maintained its own tradition of high quality research in history, place-names and archaeology. It is going to be exciting drawing these together."

Dr Donna Heddle, director of the Centre for Nordic Studies in Orkney and Shetland, said: "We're aiming to answer some outstanding questions about Viking Age Shetland, including the date of Viking settlement, the origins of the Norse settlers, and the intensity of settlement. Findings will be presented in a conference and book, as well as online for the public."

Former Chancellor Recalls His Shetland Childhood

Writing in the May edition of Scottish Field, Baron Lamont of Lerwick - otherwise known as Norman Lamont, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1990 to 1993 - offers an affectionate account of his early years in Shetland. He was born in Lerwick in May 1942; his father was a surgeon who had moved to the islands from Glasgow and worked in the town's Gilbert Bain Hospital. He spent most of his primary school years in Shetland before being enrolled in Loretto School, in Musselburgh. Later, he was to graduate from Cambridge and enter investment banking. As Chancellor, Norman Lamont was often involved in controversy, not least on 'Black Wednesday', when he removed the pound sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

His early years in Shetland were, of course, altogether more placid; it was, he says, 'the perfect environment for a child'. From his home in Burgh Road, Lerwick, he was able to wander down to the beach and fish or collect cockles. His grandfather gave him two sheep, from which he collected and sold the wool each year, and he developed an early interest in bird-watching. In the article, he expresses his love for the 'spectacular' landscape and the endless summer days, when he would complain to his mother about having to draw the blinds at bed-time to shut out the daylight. In winter, he remembers the aurora borealis, or 'northern lights'.

Although Lord Lamont lived in Shetland for only about ten years, he has returned frequently and photographs accompanying the article show him attending the annual fire festival of Up Helly Aa. It's clear that the islands left a very deep and favourable impression on him.

Great Range Of Art On Display

Shetland's local artists, craftspeople and writers have been joined, over the years, by several who've moved to the islands and found a warm welcome. One of them is Paul Bloomer, originally from the Black Country, and his work is currently on display at Vaila Fine Art, a private gallery in the heart of Lerwick's old town.

Paul has exhibited all over the UK and his work is in private collections in China, Japan, Singapore, USA, Germany and France. His painting is dynamic, with dramatic use of form and colour. He paints outside in all weathers. 'Sometimes', he says, 'the elements paint the pictures, ice freezes my paint into crystalline forms and wind blows my paint across the page'.

Not surprisingly, the opening night of the new show was very well attended. The gallery, beautifully converted from a former shop, makes a very pleasant diversion and there's always something interesting to see.

Something very different has been on offer at the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, where Lois Walpole's basketwork has been winning many friends. She is an internationally renowned basket maker living in France and Shetland.

The exhibition displays more than thirty pieces spanning 28 years. She makes extraordinary use of a range of materials, all of them either natural or recycled. A large open basket is beautifully formed from bottle corks; other designs make use of plastic binding tape, old cardboard cartons and all manner of other found items. It's a wonderfully imaginative and thought-provoking show.

Whatever the exhibition, a trip to the Bonhoga Gallery is always a pleasure. There's an excellent shop selling a wide range of books, cards, paper, jewellery and art objects and visitors can also relax over coffee and cake (or a more substantial snack) in the conservatory overlooking the stream. In fine weather, the terrace is also in use.

Lots On Offer For Sports Fans

Shetland has remarkably good sports facilities by any standard, which may help to explain why so many young Shetland sportspeople have made their mark in national competitions, with swimming and fencing being just two of the sports in which they excel. The website of the Shetland Recreational Trust is a good place to begin exploring all that's available.

Golf is another popular pastime and there are three courses. Close to the main town of Lerwick, the Dale Golf Course offers 18 holes set in a broad valley. A little farther west, the 9-hole Asta Golf Course is attractively laid out on the shores of two lochs. The 18-hole course on the island of Whalsay boasts a spectacular clifftop setting and is the northernmost golf course in Britain. At this latitude, midsummer tournaments can tee off at midnight.

The Shetland Golf Club recently had a visit from a former British Open Champion, Paul Lawrie OBE. The European Tour Golfer of the Month for March, he was in the islands to open new junior coaching facilities at Dale, which have been built to cater for the remarkable growth in youth golf in Shetland. The number of junior golfers at Dale has more than tripled, to 80 in just two years, so the £5,000 investment in a new driving range, nets, greens and mats will be put to good use.

Meanwhile, local darts enthusiasts have been snapping up tickets for a world-class eight-player tournament to be held at the Clickimin Centre on 10 September. Top of the bill is undoubtedly fifteen-time World Champion Phil Taylor, who will be defending the trophy he won in Shetland last year. However, he faces tough competition from the current World Champion, Adrian Lewis, Gary Anderson, whom Lewis defeated in January's final, and other leading players.

From Yell To The Grand Ole Opry

Shetland performer, Lynda Anderson, recently took to the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, the temple of country music in Nashville, Tennessee and the ultimate gig in country circles. She performed with Mike Snider & Co before an audience of 4,000 - more than four times the population of her native island - not to mention those who listened on the radio. The soundtrack is available on the Shetland Arts Facebook page.

Shetland: The Place For Love And Affection

Also on a musical theme, Shetland admirers of renowned British singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading were thrilled to learn that she and her partner, Maggie Butler, chose Shetland for their civil partnership ceremony on 2 May.

Ms Armatrading, born in St Kitts and brought up in Birmingham, now lives in Surrey. Musically, she encompasses soul, blues, jazz, folk, rock and pop. She enjoyed success in the singles charts with tracks such as the powerful 'Love and affection' (1976) and the upbeat 'Drop the Pilot' (1983). However, she's best known for a string of successful albums, beginning in 1972 with 'Whatever's For Us'; the most recent, 'This Charming Life', was released last year. She received an Ivor Novello Award in 1996, was made an MBE in 2001 and has gained several honorary degrees and a host of Grammy nominations.

All of us at Shetland.org end this month's newsletter by sending our warmest good wishes to Joan and Maggie. We hope that they enjoy their visit to Shetland and wish them a long and happy life together.