October 2011 Move Shetland Newsletter

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

September was an action-packed month in Shetland, so thought we should look back on two or three of the highlights. Music fans, skygazers and birdwatchers are just some of those who've have had a particularly rewarding time, as we'll see.

One of my recent tasks has been to top up the insulation in the loft to help cut my fuel use and carbon footprint. Needless to say, I had to clear out all the bits and pieces I'd stashed up there in the mistaken belief that they'd be useful one day; and that in turn got me thinking about how good our services in Shetland are when it comes to getting rid of stuff we don't need.

First, there's a community skip less than ten minutes away from where I live, which is emptied for recycling every week. Then there's an excellent, modern recycling centre in Lerwick, under cover (unlike most such places), where you can dispose responsibly of virtually anything, including electrical goods, plastics, paint, oil and so on. One of the best things about it is that, if you have something you no longer need that might be just right for someone else, you can leave it for other folk to browse and take away. As our picture shows, the centre - like most such places - also boasts a remarkable display of assorted garden ornaments.

Also in Lerwick, there's the Shetland Scrapstore, which involves people with disabilities in recycling all manner of things, from bubble wrap and yoghurt pots to furniture. If you have an old bike, it'll be welcome at the Shetland Community Bike Project, which reconditions and sells bikes and, in the process, offers rehabilitation to people recovering from addiction or who've faced mental health difficulties. As well as all that, we have the usual range of charity shops, the Enviroglass project that turns glass bottles into beautifully sparkly paving slabs and a district heating scheme that burns what can't be recycled to heat homes and offices. The chore of clearing out becomes much more enjoyable when you know that everything's going to be put to good use.

There's lots to look forward to in the months ahead. The Accordion and Fiddle Festival will fill a dozen halls with music next weekend. In mid-October, Scottish Opera bring their new production of Offenbach's 'Orpheus in the Underworld' to Lerwick's Garrison Theatre. Updated and with a new translation by Rory Bremner, it promises sharp and risqué satire.

In November, we have the Food Festival and Craft Fair - more on which below - and country music enthusiasts will be heading for the Thomas Fraser Memorial Festival, celebrating the life of an extraordinary musician whose story is told here. Dozens of evening classes have begun, clubs and societies are meeting again and of course we'll be keeping an eye on the night sky, for (as I'll explain) we've already had one spectacular display of the aurora borealis.

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!

Food Festival Programme Announced

Last month, we mentioned that the fourth Shetland Food Festival will be taking place from Saturday 5 to Sunday 13 November and suggested that, if you're thinking about a reconnaissance trip, it could be a good time to come to the islands. The programme is now available and it looks as though this year's event will be as enjoyable - and tasty - as ever. You can find all the details on the festival website and keep in touch on the festival's Facebook page.

One of the highlights will be the cookery demonstrations in the Food Theatre featuring Neil Forbes. Neil hails from Pitlochry and has worked alongside some of the world's great chefs including Raymond Blanc and Michel Roux. In February this year, Neil was named Scottish Chef of the Year at the acclaimed Scottish Restaurant Awards and he was particularly praised for his use of Scottish seasonal produce, of which he's an avid promoter. Neil is currently Executive Chef at Café St Honoré in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town.

Also a popular feature of the festival is the Producers' Market, packed with a great range of Shetland food. There will local lamb, fish, cheese, breads, oatcakes, ice-cream, sweets and much more to see and taste.

Both these events take place in the Clickimin Centre over the weekend of 12 and 13 November, but there's a great deal more in the programme. You can visit the cheese factory at Skeld on Sunday 6 November and make your own cheese, which will be ready for Christmas, with the guidance of Jay Hawkins of Shetland Cheese Ltd. Making traditional Shetland bannocks is another popular option, with workshops on 5 November. On the mornings of 7 and 11 November, there will be opportunities to see the Lerwick Fish Market in operation and watch the electronic auction in action. Throughout the festival, there will be special menus and offers at more than a dozen eating places all over Shetland. For children, there's a chance to craft a Tammy Norie (which is a Puffin) from that delicious concoction, Puffin Poo.

Running alongside the Food Theatre and Producers' Market, there will be the annual craft fair organised by Shetland Arts and Crafts. There's always a great variety of craft work on display and it's an excellent place to do some Christmas shopping, as there are all kinds of delights, from fine jewellery to beautiful photography, leatherwork, woodwork and, of course, exquisite Shetland knitwear and lace. You can keep up to date on the fair's Facebook page.

Birders Spot Many Rarities

Shetland is well known as one of the best places in Europe to see wildlife and, in particular, rare birds, which find refuge after flying - or being blown - thousands of miles, perhaps from Asia or North America. September 2011 will go down in the record books as a particularly productive month for the many local and visiting birdwatchers, some of whom regularly migrate to the islands at this time of year.

Highlights have included a dozen British rarities with names that sound exotic even to non-birders: Pallid Harrier, King Eider, Arctic Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Least Sandpiper, Pechora Pipit, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Swainson's Thrush, Buff-bellied Pipit, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Yellow-breasted Bunting and Lesser Grey Shrike. There were also several local rarities during the month, ranging from Coue's Arctic Redpoll to Mediterranean Gull.

The Nature in Shetland website faithfully records all of these, sometimes with photographs, as well as other wildlife sightings, such as whales and dolphins.

Thrilling Auroral Displays Mark Changing Seasons

Now that the endless daylight of midsummer is behind us, the darker evenings allow us to see the spectacular aurora borealis, or northern lights, that are such a feature of autumn and winter in Shetland. The season got off to a great start on the night of 26 September, when clear skies allowed many people to see a fantastic and unforgettable display that began overhead and infused the entire northern half of the sky with rays and curtains of green, pink and orange light.

These days, of course, news of such things spreads very quickly via sites like Facebook and Twitter, so many people had cameras at the ready. The Nature in Shetland website has great pictures by Mike Pennington, Austin Taylor and Chris Brown and there are more superb pictures on Ivan Hawick's website. For an explanation of the aurora and predictions of sightings, this Lancaster University site is helpful.

September Music Hits All The Right Notes

Shetlanders enjoyed a great range of music in September. Well over 2,000 people cheered on (and screamed at) X-Factor winner Matt Cardle at the two concerts that we previewed last month. Meanwhile, blues fans immersed themselves in an excellent Shetland Blues Festival. However, that was by no means all that was on offer.

Classical music enthusiasts had two treats. Pianist Mami Shikimori and violinist Masayuki Kino returned to Shetland to perform a programme of works, including Kreisler, Falla, Khachaturian and Wieniawski. At the end of the month, the recently-formed Shetland Community Orchestra performed its first concert, with a programme that included James Bond themes, Vaughan Williams' 'Fantasy on Greensleeves' and two works by Haydn, his Divertimento for woodwind and the London symphony. The orchestra, which numbers over 40 players, draws on the remarkable depth of musical talent in the islands. Some players - like orchestra leader Maggie Adamson - are well known as performers of traditional Shetland music.

Audiences also loved two performances by the Australian jazz singer Becc Sanderson and her trio; you can see a BBC Radio Shetland interview and listen to them perform Radiohead's Last Flowers, one of the tracks they recorded in the Radio Shetland studios. She blogs about the visit here and, having marvelled at her voice, local jazz enthusiasts share her hope that the trio can return for next year's Shetland Jazz Festival.

WordPlay and ScreenPlay Retrospective Available

The WordPlay and ScreenPlay festivals were held in early September and drew writers, poets, directors and actors to Shetland for a week of celebration of the best of the worlds of books and films. Local film production company, Burntcandle TV, has put together a video record of both festivals. Also available is a filmed interview of Oscar-winning actor Jim Broadbent by BBC Radio Shetland's Mark Inchley; Broadbent won the Oscar for 'Iris', the film about the life of Iris Murdoch, and his many other credits include 'Gangs of New York', 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'. Both festivals are now well established in the Shetland calendar and enjoy a large following.

Week Of Events Celebrates Shetland Wool

Shetland is known around the world for the fine wool that our island flocks produce and for the wonderful patterned knitwear and delicate lace that islanders make. The name has been applied to huge numbers of garments that have no connection with Shetland, so it's undoubtedly time to recognise and cherish the very special qualities of real Shetland wool and the things that we make from it.

That's the aim of Shetland Wool Week, which runs from 10-16 October and features exhibitions, demonstrations, workshops, talks and competitions. Those attending can learn lace-making, Fair Isle knitting, felting or weaving, find out about a career in textiles or learn how fleeces from Shetland's sheep are graded for quality. The Shetland Flock Book sales, featuring pure-bred Shetland sheep like those shown in our picture, will also be held during the week. There are events for children, too. There's a very attractive programme of events and many of them are free.

Meanwhile, another event appealing to those with an interest in textiles is a colourful exhibition of beautifully-executed tapestry (sometimes combined with other media) at the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick. It features work by three artists, Ingrid Arthur, Clare Coyle and Robyn Marwick. Their inspiration is the North Atlantic Drift, the warm current that washes Shetland's shores, and the people and places that are touched by it.

Herring Barrel Poems Recall The Gutters

The fishing industry has always been a central part of the Shetland economy and nowhere more than in Lerwick, the islands' capital. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the huge trade in herring dominated the northern section of the port. Boats like the preserved Swan were built and repaired there. Fish was landed. Hundreds of women gutted the herring, packing them for export in barrels constructed by a small army of coopers. Old photographs from the Shetland Museum collection showing the harbour and work at one of the herring stations hint at the scale of the operation, which stretched along the shore for the better part of a mile.

Those days have gone, but they've been recalled in poetry by Laureen Johnson, who spent time listening to the tales of women who worked as gutters. One of her poems, Rhythms, has been cut into the ends of old herring barrels. They've been put on display at the North Ness, now a business park but once at the heart of the herring industry. Appropriately, the barrels have been placed close to the building known as the Gutters' Hut, which was rescued from dereliction some years ago and now houses offices. The hut was one of many used as hostel accommodation for the women. It's good that their hard work has been recognised in such an appropriate way.

Rowing Team Impresses Londoners

When you visit the home page of the Move.Shetland website, the second banner picture to appear shows one of the islands' rowing teams in their six-oared Shetland yoal, a boat that's based on the vessels once used for fishing around the islands. Yoal-racing has become very popular in the islands over the last fifteen years or so and there's fierce competition between districts at regattas during the summer.

During September, the men's team from the small island of Trondra took their yoal - Throndarey - all the way to London to take part in the Great River Race on the Thames. It's a demanding event for traditional boats of many kinds, involving more than 300 crews racing for 21 miles upstream from Docklands to Richmond. This year, the fastest boats covered the course in about 2 hours 10 minutes and the Shetland crew managed it in a very creditable 2 hours 43 minutes and 59 seconds. They were 15th across the finish line but came 67th overall when handicaps were taken into account. It was a very impressive performance and you can gain some impression of the pace in this video. In the foreground, in the first few seconds of the sequence, the Trondra team is in the green boat sporting a huge blue and white Shetland flag.

Blog Of The Month

Our blog this month is by an outstanding wildlife photographer, Dr Richard Shucksmith. He moved to Shetland two years ago and he writes about his experiences and, especially, his wildlife encounters. Recently, he's been focusing on otters.

Dr Shucksmith, who is also a keen diver, has just emerged as winner in the British Wildlife Photography Awards. His exceptional shot of a jellyfish, taken off the north Atlantic outcrop of Sula Sgeir, 41 miles north of Lewis, was described by one of the judges as 'truly beautiful'. (Image courtesy of BWPA/R.Shucksmith).

His website contains many more superb images.