Tempted North? There’s Lots To Do In May and June!

by Alastair Hamilton -

If you’re thinking of heading to Shetland in May or June, there are all kinds of events to whet your appetite.

Our natural environment is endlessly fascinating, and one of the main reasons people head for the islands. For many people, a close encounter with puffins at Sumburgh Head is the highlight of their trip, but there are all sorts of other possibilities. Already this spring, many people have seen Orcas, and if you’re in the islands for several days, and are plugged into local social media, there’s a chance you might find them. Otters may also be seen, with patience or the help of a local guide.

many people have seen Orcas

In fact, there’s a well-established programme of local guided walks, organised by the RSPB. On Fridays in May and June, you can explore Sumburgh Head, with its wealth of seabirds, not to mention the chance to visit the beautifully-restored lighthouse buildings. On 31 May and 14 and 28 June, there’s a walk at the Mires of Funzie Nature Reserve on Fetlar, one of the few places in the UK where the beautiful little Red-necked Phalarope breeds. On Mondays, there’s a walk on Mousa, with the chance to stand on top of the best-preserved broch anywhere and see lots of birds, plus a seal colony.

Few places in the UK have as high a density of archaeological remains as Shetland; even so, some sites stand out. As well as the broch on Mousa, the multi-period site at Jarlshof is open daily in summer and the recently-excavated Old Scatness site is open on Fridays from 12 May. On 24 May, a talk at the Shetland Museum will reveal the results of research into the early prehistoric landscapes of Shetland, which are among the best-preserved in Europe.

the early prehistoric landscapes of Shetland...are among the best-preserved in Europe

Music is never far away in Shetland and, on 19 May, one of the highlights is a visit by the Dunedin Consort, who’ll be performing Monteverdi’s beautiful madrigals in the last concert of Shetland Arts’ classical season. At the end of the month, after a hugely successful visit to the Shetland Folk Festival in 2016, Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards will be back, playing new material in a concert at Mareel on the 30th. Their blend of folk, rock and Cajun will set toes tapping. Local band, Kansa, will be in support.

On 9 June, the islands will host the only European performance by folk supergroup, the String Sisters, founded by Shetland’s own Catriona MacDonald and featuring six top fiddlers plus piano, guitar, bass and drums players hailing from Norway, Sweden, the USA, Ireland and Scotland. They’ll be in Shetland to record a new album using the facilities at Mareel.

Later in the month, the focus will be on country and soul sounds, with Yola Carter playing in Lerwick on the 23rd and in Sandwick on the 24th. Bristol-based, she went down well at Glastonbury and in Nashville and was described by the Times as ‘spectacular’.

There’s an opportunity to hear music of the traditional kind in a regular feature of the Shetland summer, the showcase of traditional music and crafts at Islesburgh Community Centre, which gets under way on 5 June and runs every Monday throughout the month.

There’s lots to see on the visual arts front, too. At the Bonhoga Gallery, the winners of last year’s Shetland Open art show are exhibiting the work they’ve been doing over the past year. As part of the prize for last year's Shetland Open each of the four category winners – Vivian Ross-Smith, Gillian Bridle, Jeanette Nowak and Aimee Labourne – was offered the opportunity to work towards a group show, supported by Shetland Arts. The artists discussed connections between their work and themes that resonate beyond it: traditional skills, preservation and decay, lines of impermanence and layers of time. Their work can be seen until 11 June. It’ll be followed, from 17 June until 2 July, by an exhibition entitled ‘The Future’, which will feature work by Amy Gear and 300 school pupils.

There are other places to see art in Shetland, too, including two private galleries. The Shetland Gallery in Yell offers a selection of work by a number of local artists and Vaila Fine Art is currently showing etchings by Richard Rowland. Both are well worth a visit; and that’s not all. There’s always some work on show in Mareel’s café-bar; other venues, such as the Peerie Shop Café, frequently feature local work.

Those are far being from the only diversions in May and June.

Lerwick Harbour is always busy and cruise ships will be a familiar feature over the summer. Visitors in May include the Spitzbergen on Sunday 14th, the National Geographic Explorer the following day and the Hebridean Sky on Wednesday 24th. On the 25th, a regular summer visitor, the beautiful Norwegian sail training ship, Statsraad Lehmkuhl, will be back. In June, the port welcomes many more, with no fewer than three liners in port on the 22nd: Silver Explorer, Viking Star and Le Soleal. It’ll be an exceptionally busy and colourful scene, as the harbour will simultaneously be hosting the Bergen Shetland Yacht Race and the 1000-mile Double Handed Race from the Netherlands. The yachts begin to arrive on the 21st and leave on the 24th.

Elsewhere in the islands, there are many other events. For example, there will be fun and games at Aith, in the west mainland, on Saturday 4 June – that’s the Aith Lifeboat Gala Day. And all over the islands, one of the highlights of the Shetland summer – those unbeatable Sunday afternoon teas, run by volunteers in aid of good causes – are back; home baking at its best, washed down with bottomless cups of tea or coffee.

those unbeatable Sunday afternoon teas

Shetland offers a wide range of events year-round; we’ve a guide to some of the highlights here. We’ve all the information you need about getting to the islands, and getting around and, if you’re tempted to make the move to Shetland a permanent one – as many have – we’ve put together lots of guidance covering the sorts of things you’ll want to know. However long you stay, we hope to see you soon!

we hope to see you soon!