November 2011 Move Shetland Newsletter

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Hello! I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to our November edition.

It's been another really busy month in Shetland. Highlights included the first-ever Shetland Wool Week - more about which below - and the ever-popular Accordion and Fiddle Festival. There was lots of other music on offer, too, and the appearance of Ed Byrne - latest in a succession of top comedians to perform in Shetland - also went down very well indeed.

It was good to see, too, that our islands and the skills and talents of our people continue to impress a wider audience. Belmont House, an impeccably-restored Georgian mansion in the northern island of Unst, has just won another commendation, Shetland has done very well in a travel magazine's poll and, last but not least, fiddler Maggie Adamson has triumphed at the Glenfiddich Championships. Travel writer Robin McElvie has been to see us and has written enthusiastically about his 'mind-blowing' trip. Our rugby team's been doing well, too.

November's main events include a major energy conference, Dynamic Shetland, and we've more details of that below. We also have the latest information about the Food Festival and Christmas Craft Fair. The Craft Fair is always a good place to find unusual, locally-made gifts, but Shetland's shops and galleries are also a source of many beautiful things.

For example, the Christmas show at the Bonhoga Gallery, beginning in mid-November, features art and craft from studios and designers based in Shetland and throughout the UK. You can also find locally-made jewellery, woodwork, ceramics, textiles, painting and a great deal more besides in places such as the Peerie Shop, The North Rock Gallery, Ninian or Vaila Fine Art, all on Lerwick's main street, or in the shop at the Museum. The Shetland Soap Company's shop is always a good place to go present-hunting, too, as is Scoop Wholefoods. Lerwick also boasts a large and very well-stocked traditional toy shop, part of Harry's Department Store.

These are just some of the options and a web search on, for example, 'Shetland shop' or 'Shetland craft' will reveal more; there are several Shetland shopping websites offering mail-order.

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. 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!

Shetland Fiddler Is Glenfiddich Fiddle Champion

Maggie Adamson, a 19 year old Shetland fiddler, has carried off the premier Scottish award for fiddle-playing at the Glenfiddich Fiddle Championship, held at the end of October in the picturesque setting of Blair Castle, near Pitlochry, in Perthshire.

The Championship was established in 1989 to encourage, stimulate and perpetuate the art of fiddle playing throughout the country. Taking place annually at Blair Castle in Perthshire, the awards celebrate the very best fiddlers from across the UK. The winner is often referred to as the 'Champion of Champions', since those who compete do so by invitation, following earlier competitive successes.

Maggie said that she was delighted to be taking home the coveted title. 'I'm just thrilled to have won,' she said. 'I was second last year so it's so great to have finally gained the title. It's brilliant to be invited along to the competition, something I really aim for, and I've loved playing with all the other competitors, who are fantastic."

Adding his congratulations, Peter Gordon, Chairman of William Grant and Sons, said that everyone had been 'enthused' by the 'wonderful fiddle finalists, who offer a day of exceptional music.'

Maggie usually plays with Brian Nicholson (guitar) and they have appeared together at many folk festivals. However, she's classically trained and is equally at home leading the Shetland Community Orchestra in a Haydn symphony, as she did recently. To sample her exquisite playing, we recommend Maggie and Brian's MySpace page: try 'Mason's Apron' and 'Csardas'.

Maggie, like the rest of her generation, has grown up in islands where music of all kinds is at the heart of life. Astonishing numbers of local musicians perform regularly throughout - and well beyond - the islands. It's a strong heritage, nurtured by local tuition and by those who've championed local music and musicians over the years.

Our photograph shows Maggie (centre) with runners-up Graham Mackenzie (Inverness) and Barbara Anderson (Huntly).

It's Festival Time Again!

The fourth Shetland Food Festival kicked off on Saturday and runs until next Sunday, with the biggest events taking place next weekend, 12 and 13 November, when there's a Producers' Market, cookery demonstrations in the food theatre and Shetland's highly entertaining version of Ready, Steady, Cook!, in which local celebrities, partnered by chefs, compete to win over the audience. Running alongside it, the Christmas Craft Fair features more than fifty stands representing more than sixty makers. The quality of work on offer, from textiles to leather and photography to jewellery, and much more besides, is really impressive. There are more details on the Shetland Arts and Crafts Association's Facebook site, including the full list of exhibitors.

These events draw big crowds and they're a very valuable platform for local businesses. If you're thinking of a move to Shetland that would involve establishing a high-quality food or craft business, you'll be following in the footsteps of others who've already done so successfully. Please don't hesitate to contact our team for advice.

Rarities Keep Birdwatchers Coming

Last month, we mentioned the many rare species that turn up in Shetland during the Spring and Autumn migrations. It was clear by then that 2011 was already an outstanding year, but there was more to come. October's highlight was the gorgeous and extremely rare male Siberian Rubythroat that took up residence in the village of Gulberwick, just outside Shetland's capital, Lerwick. So elusive is it that it featured in the Daily Express and the Guardian; scores of birdwatchers from all over Britain made their way to the Ockendons' wooded garden. For up-to-date information, check the Nature in Shetland page detailing the latest bird sightings.

Condé Nast Travellers Place Shetland Among Top European Islands

As well as Siberian Rubythroats, our islands also appeal to that discriminating group of explorers, the readership of Condé Nast Traveller. Their Readers' Choice Awards, now in their 24th year, were recently announced in New York. Once the eight million votes cast by 28,876 readers had been counted, Shetland emerged at number five in their top ten of European islands. Ahead were the Turkish Aegean islands; Mykonos and the Cyclades; Madeira; and Mallorca and the Balearics. Coming in sixth, behind Shetland, was Capri. As our picture of one of Shetland's glorious beaches suggests, there are days when comparisons with the Aegean aren't too far off the mark. In the full list of awards, the European Island category is on page 160.

Yorkshireman Recounts Trip To Foula

Foula is Shetland's westernmost island, lying 16 miles or so from the nearest point on the mainland. It's a dramatic landscape. The relatively flat, settled land in the east sweeps up to sculpted western peaks, which in turn loom over cliffs that are the second-highest in Britain. The population is only around thirty, but it has a modern school and regular (if occasionally weather-affected) transport links from the Shetland mainland.

Earlier this year, Josh Sutton, who lives near Leeds, took his family to Foula to visit his sister, who moved there two years ago. He's written about the trip in this piece in the Yorkshire Post. It seems they had a great (and thoroughly enjoyable) adventure.

There's more about Foula in this article on our website and a web search will reveal more: it's a place that has fascinated many visitors over the years.

Shetland Rugby Moves Up A Gear

Rugby is well established as a popular sport in Shetland and, although the islands are a long way from the game's Scottish spiritual home in the Borders, there's been a club in the islands since 1878. The oval ball continues to enjoy an enthusiastic following and the club has recently won the funding needed to appoint a full-time development officer on a two-year contract. The person appointed will be expected to increase participation in the game and raise its profile in the community. He or she will work with schools and offer coaching at all levels.

The Shetland team plays in the RBS Caledonia Regional League Division Three. They've had some excellent results this season, including a stunning 85-0 victory over Peterhead. Those local rugby fans who bear allegiance to Scotland will be wishing that the Shetland team's ability to score 13 tries in that match will one day be reproduced at higher levels of the Scottish game.

Fair Isle Cap Returns To Shetland

Shetland Museum and Archives has recently received a donation of a traditional Fair Isle cap, which is thought to be the oldest piece of knitting in the collection. Masami Yokoyama, from Japan but now living in London, purchased the stunning cap from internet auction site eBay for £7.39 from a seller in Kent. Ms Yokoyama was in Shetland recently on a wool holiday, organised by Jamieson and Smith (Shetland Wool Brokers) Ltd, as part of the Wool Week celebrations and decided that she would donate the cap to Shetland Museum and Archives textile collection. She's pictured presenting the cap to Textile Curator Dr Carol Christiansen.

Dr Christiansen is delighted with the donation, confirming that the cap is definitely a 19th century example of Fair Isle knitting. 'The dark red colour indicates it is more than likely from Fair Isle as they had this deep red. I would say that this piece is now the oldest item in our knitting collection, although it's impossible to put an exact date on it. It's really in super condition and just fantastic that Ms Yokoyama found this on eBay and generously donated it to us.'

The cap has the classic Fair Isle OXO pattern with still-vibrant colours in the natural dyes that would have been used in Fair Isle in the 19th century. The dark red, indigo, black and moorit (a dark brown) colours have faded very little, while the white areas give the only clue as to the age of the piece. This kind of cap would have been the type of item that 19th century Fair Islanders would have knitted to sell to tourists and passing traders either for money or goods.

The cap was recently discovered during a house move in Palmers Green in London. The seller is pleased that it has made its way back to Shetland and has been presented to Shetland Museum and Archives. She said 'I'm thrilled that it has been added to your collection. If I had any idea that it was special, I would have submitted it myself!'

A Story...And Then Bed!

Thanks to his story-telling abilities, Shetland crofter Drew Ratter is the proud owner of a magnificent new bed, featuring a mattress made with pure Shetland wool. A short story competition was held in connection with the Shetland Wool Week and Drew's affectionate tale, woven from early memories of life on the croft, won the judges over.

The competition, run in partnership with Shetland Amenity Trust, Jamieson and Smith (Shetland Wool Brokers) Ltd and Curtis Wool Direct, attracted over 100 entries. Memories and stories relating to wool, sheep and textiles were sent in from all over the world. Forty winning entries were selected and, next year, they'll appear in a book to be published by Shetland Heritage Publications.

Bed makers Vi-Spring supplied the first prize for the overall winner. Mr Ratter will receive a Vi-Spring Shetland Superb, handmade in Devon using the finest quality Real Shetland Wool and worth £11,000. Mr Ratter and the other 39 runners up will receive a special gift of a Jamieson & Smith throw made from Real Shetland Wool, sponsored by Norwegian banking firm DNB Nor.

Competition judge and local storyteller Davy Cooper said "The range of subjects and wonderful memories that folk shared made the judging process a real pleasure. All three judges agreed that the winning entry represented a powerful Shetland memory, and a true piece of our heritage, that the next generation may not experience. It is important that projects like this continue to preserve our heritage and culture in this way."

In his story, Drew recalled gathering the precious wool with his grandmother. She appears in this photograph dating from about 1960. He wrote:

She was a body who liked outside work, and she especially liked working with sheep. She knew her sheep as well, and had built up a good stock in Ronas Hill. The picture you see here shows her going out by the Cliffs, in the Ronas Hill boat.

The Wool Week was very successful and the organisers hope that it will become an annual event.

Wide Range Of Work On Show In Local Galleries

Visitors to the Bonhoga Gallery, in Weisdale, have been intrigued by a remarkable event, 'Blowup'. The work consists of two large video projections in which video imagery of dance performers or viewers is continuously fed into a computer and then manipulated by the software in real-time. The images are cut up, redistributed and distorted by the software so that parts of the body are projected larger or smaller than others depending on how fast they are moving. It was an event easier to experience than to describe and the effect was quite remarkable. In order to explore the potential of the installation, workshops were led by choreographer and dancer Sue Hawksley.

By way of complete contrast, the work of Ron Sandford has been on show at Da Gadderie, in the Shetland Museum and Archives. Ron came to drawing and painting via graphic art and architecture, and those influences are clear; buildings are a recurring feature and their variety, structure and texture clearly fascinate him. Before moving to Shetland, Ron went to live for seven years in Hong Kong - 'running away to see', as he puts it - and there is a strong oriental flavour in some of his work.

In her notes for the show, his wife, Meilo So, says that Ron has done even more work since he came to Shetland. 'Now', she says, 'he never goes anywhere without taking something to draw with. He makes drawings for himself, both as a way of coping with getting old and to understand people, the world and himself.' It's a diverse and very enjoyable exhibition.

Major Energy Conference Attracts Widespread Interest

A major conference and exhibition on 16 and 17 November will promote Shetland's exceptional renewable energy resources to specialists from all over Europe. Dynamic Shetland aims to demonstrate every aspect of Shetland's massive potential to the 'biggest and brightest names' in renewable energy.

Kevin Moreland, Marketing Projects Manager for Shetland Islands Council, said that there had been interest from Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain, Norway, Faroe and Sweden as well as from the UK. He explained that places at the event have been taken up very quickly, though a few are still available.

Dynamic Shetland will be based at the Clickimin Leisure Centre in Lerwick and will include a video introduction from the Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing MSP. There will be presentations by Professor Alex Kemp from Aberdeen University, a respected authority on the UK energy industry, and Calum Davidson, Director of Energy and Low Carbon for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Tours to key renewable energy sites will be available.

The event aims to ensure that Shetland is firmly on the map as a source of renewable, sustainable energy. It will also demonstrate the high quality and experience of Shetland companies involved in the industry, illustrate the support available from key agencies and show how local facilities can enable renewable energy developments.

The event is funded and coordinated by Shetland Islands Council and HIE in partnership with Shetland Charitable Trust, the Shetland Renewable Energy Forum and Energy North.

David Priest of HIE said:

"Dynamic Shetland has been attracting a fantastic level of interest and demand to attend is high. If you think Shetland could be the place for your next renewable energy project, please go ahead and reserve your seat now at www.dynamicshetland.co.uk."

Engineering Firm Wins Funds For Major Expansion

One of the local companies that's already very much involved in the energy industry is set to benefit from the range of assistance available from public agencies including Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Shetland Islands Council. Support has been offered by HIE and the Regional Selective Assistance Scheme towards a £2 million expansion project by Ocean Kinetics Limited (OKL), a successful Shetland engineering firm, as it bids to ensure that local businesses are ready to meet the supply needs of the energy industry.

OKL, based in the Marina Business Park in Lerwick, provides a range of engineering services for the oil and gas, port services and renewable energy sectors. It has reached capacity on its site and the investment will see the development of new, larger, energy efficient premises.

£240,000 is being provided by HIE and £500,000 will come from the Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) scheme. RSA is a national grant scheme available for capital expenditure projects taking place within Scotland which will create and safeguard jobs. The development is set to create 24 new posts.

HIE's Mark Georgeson commented: 'Investment in the North Sea is forecast to increase in the next five years in oil and gas and marine renewables. As a community Shetland has many of the required skills and expertise which will be needed to support the next stages of energy development. HIE is committed to continuing to work with our businesses and communities to provide support to maximise these fantastic opportunities.'

OKL's main customers at present are BP and Fortum at the Sullom Voe Terminal, Aberdeen Harbour Board, Dover Harbour Board and Scottish Water.

Traditional and Contemporary Skills Feature in BBC Videos

The work done by Ocean Kinetics is in a long Shetland marine engineering tradition, albeit on a large scale. In contrast, many Shetland businesses operate on a one-person or family basis and two of them are portrayed in short videos on the BBC's website.

Andrea Williamson is a young textiles designer, based on the island of Whalsay, who embraces both Shetland tradition and more recent sources of inspiration. The short BBC feature takes us across to Whalsay on the ferry, where we visit her workshop and hear about her approach to her work, which - as we learn - goes well beyond jumpers. Her own website has photographs of her work. Andrea is just one of a host of young designers working in Shetland, many of whom are members of Shetland Arts and Crafts.

The video of Mary and Tammy Isbister illustrates another strand in the Shetland way of life. They run a croft (a small farm) on the island of Trondra, which lies just west of the Shetland mainland, to which it's linked by a road bridge. Mary has a particular interest in maintaining Shetland's own distinctive breeds, including the Shetland sheep, pony and cow and crops including bere (an ancient form of barley), oats and potatoes. Although it's not mentioned in the film, Tammy is well-known as a builder of traditional boats and he also provides the fiddle music on the video.

Blog Of The Month

This month's blog is 'Ogg Spot', by Shetland writer and broadcaster Jordan Ogg, who focuses on arts, literature and popular culture. He writes a blog each month, which may be a book review or perhaps a feature on an author. Our link is to the October blog, but others are available in his archive.