October 2014 Move Shetland Newsletter

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Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the October 2014 issue of our monthly newsletter.

We've been enjoying something of an Indian summer during September, with lots of sunshine and temperatures in the mid to high teens, so 2014 will certainly go down as one of the longest, warmest and (with the exception of a couple of downpours in August) driest for some time.

Any outdoor activity has been a real pleasure on these mild days, often with little or no wind. I've been making progress with lots of jobs in the garden but many people have been enjoying the last few weeks of the trout season or seizing the chance to get afloat. The aurora borealis has made several low-key appearances and we hope for more spectacular ones as the winter approaches.

Indoors, local clubs have begun their winter programme; there's a group for just about any interest, as the Shetland Community Directory demonstrates. Preparations for next year's series of Up Helly Aa festivals are under way, too: any of them would be a great excuse for a winter reconnaissance trip.

We've also had great music, ranging from virtuoso playing by Sharon Shannon to Verdi's Macbeth presented by Scottish Opera. There was a sell-out night of comedy at Mareel with Ross Noble and it's also the venue for a National Theatre Live presentation of the Young Vic production of Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Gillian Anderson. The October film programme is out too, featuring Emma Thompson's much anticipated Effie Gray and a host of other delights.

Looking ahead, Shetland Wool Week is under way, there's music from The Men They Couldn't Hang and the Shetland Community Orchestra – among others – and we're also keenly anticipating this year's WordPlay and the Guitar Festival; there's more about these in this newsletter.

But we might also enjoy some windy weather, which will make a real change from the calm summer, and give many folk an excuse to take some spectacular photos around the coast. Or there might be an opportunity to spot some otter cubs, possibly in the company of Brydon Thomason, whose blog I've highlighted this month. As I explain, Brydon and his team have something to celebrate.

Exceptional Efforts Boost Charity Funds

Shetland's generosity in supporting charities of all kinds has been convincingly demonstrated by a series of summer events.

September saw the announcement of the final total for what is undoubtedly Shetland's largest fund-raiser, the Relay for Life in aid of Cancer Research UK. The relay was held overnight on 31 May and 1 June and the many hundreds who took part were delighted to learn that they had raised a grand total of £306,560.76. That makes Shetland's Relay for Life the most successful event of its kind in Europe, let alone the UK, which is a remarkable achievement given that the islands" population is just over 22,000.

A number of other events were held during the month.

Bressay Sound – the stretch of water which separates the island of Bressay from Lerwick – was the scene of another fund-raiser, when 17 swimmers made the crossing from Bressay to the town's harbour. They were raising money for CLIC Sargent, the Lerwick lifeboat and NHS Shetland and the total had reached well over £17,000 by late September. There are more details, and lots of photographs, on the swimmers" Facebook page, where you can also find out how to donate, and there's a swimmer's view of the crossing in this video.

Ben Nevis was the setting for an astonishing effort by Craig Smaaskjaer, whose six-year old nephew, James Hawick, has a rare blood disorder, aplastic anaemia, and needs a life-saving bone marrow transplant. Craig's campaign aimed to raise money for the Anthony Nolan Trust, which maintains a register of bone marrow donors, and to encourage people to register to donate bone marrow in the hope that a match for James might be found. Craig succeeded in his task of climbing Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, seven times in seven days and more than 600 people have volunteered as donors. Donations are still being accepted at Craig's JustGiving page and, at the time of writing, the total was approaching £14,000.

Meanwhile, ten employees of one of the firms involved in work at the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal walked from Unst, Shetland's northernmost island, to Sumburgh, at the southern limit of Shetland's mainland. The eighty-mile journey took just under 34 hours, with only the briefest of pauses en route to take on food and drinks. They were aiming to raise funds for cancer and leukaemia charities and their donation page is also still available.

Those, it must be stressed, are just a few of the fund-raising events held recently.

Guitar Festival Promises Great Weekend Of Music

Shetland may be best known for fiddle music but, thanks to the world-renowned talent of the late "Peerie Willie" Johnson, it's also a magnet for guitarists.

The Festival, which is dedicated to his memory, takes place in early November, so if you're thinking about a reconnaissance visit, it could be a good time to make the trip. Things kick off on the evening of 5 November with Tommy Emmanuel & Dr Martin Taylor MBE in Conversation, when these two guitar greats will reminisce about their musical careers and collaborations. Tommy, who is one of Australia's most respected musicians and has twice been a Grammy nominee, will play at the opening concert the following night.

On Friday 7 November, Martin Taylor will take the stage. Widely considered to be the world's foremost exponent of solo jazz and finger-style guitar playing, Martin is a multi-award winning guitarist, composer, educator and musical innovator and his inimitable style has earned him global acclaim from fellow musicians, fans and critics alike. He is the curator of the festival and will also be running his Martin Taylor Guitar Retreat in Shetland, though that is already sold out.

The following evening, the festival will draw to a close with a concert by Shetland's own guitar heroes supported by local guitar students and participants in the Guitar Retreat, so it should be an excellent finale for this year's event.

There's more information in the online version of the programme

WordPlay Features Author Appearances, Poetry, Comedy

Shetland's book festival, WordPlay, is now in its thirteenth year and has moved from September to November but continues to offer a varied menu in a packed programme.

The wide range of different writers, styles, and genres embraces sports journalist, Richard Gordon, who will talk about his new book, Scotland "74: A World Cup Story, and comedian, broadcaster, folk singer, flyfisher and poet, Mike Harding, who'll read his poetry. The BBC's Sally Magnusson makes a return visit to present her book Where Memories Go: How Dementia Changes Everything, in collaboration with Alzheimer Scotland.

Continuing the strong BBC Scotland connection to this year's festival, Steven Canny (Executive Producer of Comedy) and Jack Docherty (writer and actor) will offer a free workshop about writing comedy for television.

As ever, the festival features a number of collaborations and partnerships. Amnesty International support a visit by poet Ghazi Hussein; the Shetland Association of the Educational Institute of Scotland have again agreed to support a series of author visits to Shetland schools.

Shetland writers who feature in the programme include Julie Dennison, Donald S Murray, Nat Hall, Sheenagh Pugh, Marian Armitage. Jen Hadfield will appear with Elizabeth Reeder to celebrate 21 Revolutions, a project by Glasgow Women's Library. Also from Glasgow is Italian born best-selling novelist, Daniela Sacerdoti and she'll be joined by other writers including Roseanne Watt, Douglas Robertson, Ron Butlin and Regi Claire. Ian Stephen and Lawrence Tulloch will offer a session of storytelling.

If you're tempted to visit during WordPlay, you can find all the details on the festival website.

Repairs Begin On Vital Part Of Fishing Heritage

Volunteers have begun essential repair work on an old Shetland fishing boat which is said to be one of the best examples of its era.

The ex-seine netter, Nil Desperandum, was built for the Ministry of Defence in 1947. The Wiseman family, of Lerwick, bought it in 1951 and it worked in Shetland waters for the next fifty years. James Wiseman gifted it to the Shetland Amenity Trust in 2012 so that it could be preserved and it has been berthed in Hay's Dock, in front of the Shetland Museum.

Understandably, the boat is in need of some repairs after all these years and a band of volunteers has come forward to carry them out. The mast and winches are being removed first, after which a cover will be fitted to enable the volunteers to work on the deck and deck beams over the winter months.

Peter Chroston is coordinating the boat's repair. He's a boat builder with 25 years of experience in the construction and restoration of wooden boats and has been a lead shipwright on several projects. Peter replied to an advertisement seeking help to restore the Nil Desperandum and agreed to lead the project.

Tim Senften, another volunteer, is a retired teacher who hails from Ohio. His skills include joinery, electrical work, engineering and welding. Tim said: "I like the identity of old boats and feel that it's an important heritage point for people to identify with their past".

The Nil Desperandum isn't the first old Shetland vessel to be restored; the Swan, a sail fishing vessel built at Hay's Dock in 1900, was rescued in the 1990s and has spent the past 16 years as a sail training vessel, carrying youngsters (and some not so young) to dozens of ports in northern Europe.

District of the Month: Northmavine

In the next of our series, we look at Northmavine, a large parish which lies in the north-western corner of Shetland's mainland.

Northmavine is one of the most spectacular districts in Shetland. The western coastline, facing the Atlantic, is a dramatic crust of cliffs and stacks, caves and blowholes. A visit to Eshaness, where all these features are on display, is a treat for locals and visitors alike and is especially memorable during or immediately after an Atlantic storm, when huge waves crash ashore.

Northmavine also boasts Shetland's highest point, Ronas Hill, which rises to 450m (1,486 feet) and offers a sub-arctic landscape in which wind or frost have produced features, such as stone polygons, at a lower altitude than anywhere else in the UK. Not far away, at Ollaberry, is an impressive exposure of the Walls Boundary Fault, an extension of Scotland's Great Glen Fault. Northmavine is, then, an earth scientist's paradise – but non-experts are just as impressed.

There's a long history of human occupation, with evidence of life, work and trade from prehistoric times through the Viking age, the Hanseatic period and subsequent centuries of crofting agriculture and fishing. The abandoned fishing station at Stennes is a poignant reminder of the days when fishermen rowed fifty or sixty miles out to sea in small, six-oared boats, at the mercy of the north Atlantic. The district's story is told in a local museum at Tangwick Haa.

Northmavine's population today is around 840, most people living in the villages of Hillswick, Ollaberry, North Roe or Sullom. Crofting and fishing (including fish and shellfish farming) provide employment but, with all these natural attractions, tourism is important too. There are several bed and breakfast or self catering businesses, a café and camping site and a hotel. Other businesses range from a smithy to a garage and Northmavine is also known for producing innovative polycrubs, which are polytunnels built to withstand any weather and using recycled materials.

Three primary schools, at Hillswick, North Roe and Ollaberry, currently serve the area, though the future of the first two is under review; older pupils travel to Brae High School, a six-year secondary in the neighbouring district of Delting. Hillswick has a shop, a health centre, a hotel and a wildlife sanctuary which rescues seals and otters. Ollaberry has a shop and a garage. A wider range of services is available in Brae, including a Co-op supermarket, restaurants and a leisure centre with swimming pool; and all the shops and services in Lerwick are less than an hour away. Local bus services link Northmavine to Brae and Lerwick. Local events include the Northmavine Up Helly Aa and the Big Bannock, a charity event which involves, among other things, Merry Tiller races; it's easier to experience than describe.

Northmavine is a place where it really is possible to get away from it all and connect with nature. Wonderful walking, great fishing and a lively community life make the district a candidate for anyone who loves to make their living in exceptional surroundings. There's more information on the website of the local community development company and you can download a leaflet for visitors to Northmavine (pdf).

Extension Opens Up Opportunities At Shetland College

A new extension to Shetland College, costing £4.5m, has greatly increased the working space available for students and staff.

The new extension was opened by HRH Princess Anne, who is Chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), on 16 September. The extension joins the two earlier college buildings, previously separated by a road, and thus creates a unified campus for the first time. It also expands the available teaching space and offers a new library, a new café and social area and meeting rooms.

Shetland College is one of the constituent colleges of UHI and provides a wide range of full- or part-time courses up to degree level. The College has particular strengths in art and music and, when the UHI appoints a Professor of Creative Industries, the post will be based in Lerwick. The address at the graduation ceremony which followed the official opening was given by Midge Ure, formerly of Ultravox and now a much-loved solo performer.

Jobs on offer at NHS Shetland include posts for a hospital manager, clinical director, consultant and biomedical scientist. Several nursing posts, including one on the island of Whalsay, are available.

Vacancies with Shetland Islands Council include posts for an administration support worker, business support assistant, early years assistants, kitchen assistants and a mate on the Whalsay ferry.

It's also a good idea to check the job sections of the Shetland Times and Shetland News.

Our blog this month comes from Brydon Thomason, who is a wildlife guide - and, it was confirmed this week, a very special one.

Brydon established his company, Shetland Nature, in 2006 and quickly gained a reputation for providing an exceptional and authentic visitor experience, underlined by a four-star award from VisitScotland. Now, he has even more reason to celebrate, as his company has become just one of four in Scotland to hold the Five Star Wildlife Experience accolade.

The company arranges wildlife, birding and photography holidays and tours in the Shetland Islands and specialises solely in the islands' world-renowned natural heritage.

Brydon said that he was "extremely proud to be awarded five stars and to be the first wildlife experience to do so in Shetland."

He went on:

"Obviously this means a great deal to me personally, but there are more than just myself who have worked hard towards achieving this. I am very fortunate to have the support I do from those who work and collaborate with me at Shetland Nature, and none more so than Gary Bell and Karen Hannay.

"The wildlife that visitors experience here is second to none and yes, I am understandably biased, but to have the experience we offer our guests accredited to this level, really is something we are all extremely proud of." VisitScotland's Shetland manager, Steve Mathieson, offered his congratulations, pointing out that:

"Five-star status shows visitors that they can expect a fantastic and enjoyable experience, whilst learning all about the amazing wildlife offering here in Shetland."

In his blog, Brydon explains that young otter cubs are much in evidence at this time of year. He has posted some irresistible photographs from previous years and hopes to add some from this year in the near future, so watch this space!

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