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December 2012 Visit Shetland Newsletter



I'm Abby, author of Postcards from Shetland, and I'm here again with the latest Shetland happenings, information and holiday suggestions. If you are considering a visit to Shetland, please do not hesitate to contact us for holiday planning advice, using either the contact form on the website or by phoning +44 (0) 1595 98 98 98.

Since we last spoke…

I've been thinking about all the Shetland adventures I've had over the past few years and asking myself, as always, 'where has the time gone?!' As I was hanging Mary Fraser's Fair Isle bunting across the fireplace I recalled one winter when the gales were so strong that car keys flew out of my hand into the darkness and my coat rose, like a hot air balloon, above my head! I couldn't stop laughing as I struggled back to the house to find a head torch.I tethered myself to the fence and eventually found the keys twinkling in the snow!

Apparently, the winter of 1947 was particularly harsh. Snow fell every day for weeks on end and many sheep, sheltering in peat banks or in the lee of a stone dyke, were buried in drifting snow.

A good sheep dog and a skantin-staff (a long staff or wand) were used to locate and dig out the buried sheep. If you'd like to view Shetland from the comfort of your own home with mulled wine in hand - visit the live webcams and see if Shetland experiences a white Christmas this year!

Did you know: Centuries ago, the festival celebrated in Shetland was known as Yule, which had ancient pagan roots. Yule Day was originally 23rdDecember and the month long festivities began a week before that day.

A robin is spied and reestit soup savoured

Last month a friend told me he had spied a robin in his garden (in addition to many striking waxwings. View a fantastic video of waxwings having a spot of lunch on Fair Isle here). I've been told that the sighting of a robin this early in the year means a wild winter to come. I have to admit I do love the snow. Out comes the sledge and squeals of delight as we fly down the steep hill behind our creaky old cottage, followed by foodie treats - potato soup made with reestit mutton (mutton steeped in brine, then salted) - a Shetland tradition and a great winter warmer, and a cheese and pickle midnight feast by a blazing peat fire. (Jay - why oh why did you relocate to Skeld and establish Shetland Cheese? My waistline will never be the same!) Don't forget to order one of Jay's moreish hampers as soon as!

Did you know: In times past, Yule cakes were made for the main celebration. The cakes were pinched into points around the outer edge and a hole was made in the centre; symbolizing the sun returning to the north.

'The last untamed corner of Britain' is waiting for those with a pioneering spirit

Life in magical Shetland is always an adventure, including the journey to get here! The Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2011 contributors agreed that, 'Shetland is the last untamed corner of Britain…adventurous travellers step this way'. Whatever the time of year - life (and the weather!) is never dull and there's a huge amount to offer wildlife watchers, outdoor enthusiasts and culture buffs. Author of the Shetland Quartet - Ann Cleeves, recently spoke to Mark Lawson on Radio 4 (6th November, starts at 10.20) about Shetland's scenery and its powerful influence on her writing'…because there are very few trees, so an open landscape covering hidden secrets is very interesting…You have the contrast between that great sparse openness with the huge skies and nothing to stop the wind from Norway…'

Shetland is a unique and fascinating place to live and visit, and as another new year approaches and I am click-clicking my way slowly (no competition for Hazel Tindall!) to finishing my first ever hand knitted green-as-mistletoe hat for hubby (with a rather too large brim!), it's the perfect time of year for reflection and an ideal time for those, with a pioneering spirit, to plan a winter wonderland visit to Shetland's wild and beautiful islands….

Fiery adventures and a blazing good time

Would you like to escape the gloomy January chill and visit the largest fire festival in Europe? Then get over here for January 29th 2013 and celebrate one of the events of the New Year - Up Helly Aa! Author Gary Sutherland wrote about this epic festival in his book: Great Balls of Fire: A Year of Scottish Festivals (a hilarious read). He flew in for 24 hours, didn't bother with accommodation and had the time of his life, 'Oh what a night! I'm sure I've forgotten half of it. That's what Up Helly Aa does to you…'

I recall my first Up Helly Aa - being amazed by the sight of over 800 men in crazy costumes, led by the Guizer Jarl and his fellow Vikings - all with lit torches held aloft; a mesmerizing trail of fire marching around the darkened streets of Lerwick - the sparks tracing patterns across the night sky, and the Longship carried to its final resting place - flaming torches thrown into the galley. TO VALHALLA! Followed by feasting and merrymaking in Halls across Lerwick until the wee small hours. Unforgettable.

I'll be joining local historian and guide, Douglas Sinclair, on one of his renowned Up Helly Aa tours and getting insider information about this annual festival (the Visitor Centre, Lerwick, will have dates and times). Up Helly Aa really is one blazing good party you'll brag about for years to come (when you've recovered!). Top tip: There is a programme of events throughout the day leading up to the evening shindig - visit the UHA website for further details, including information about applying for Town Hall tickets. Get booking! Did you know: Up Helly Aa actually dates from the 1880s and arose because authorities objected to raucous revellers dragging burning tar barrels through Lerwick's narrow lanes!

There's a shopping buzz in Shetland!

It's so easy to go Christmas shopping in Shetland - no crowds to battle with, no queues, and most importantly - a wide range of unique local arts and crafts to choose from. If you can't get over here for some Zen retail therapy - pop over to Shetland Heritage Shop, Shetland Arts and Crafts website (with artisan contact details) andSpirit of Shetland (irresistible knitwear).

There are also Christmas gift ideas in the Autumn and Winter issue of 60 North (free online magazine, Winter issue is out on 30th November) and if run-of-the-mill high street goods are driving you crackers - Promote Shetland info gurus are happy to answer gift idea queries and point you in the right direction (01595 989898). If you do have time to jet over to Shetland, with an empty suitcase in hand - don't miss following the Craft Trail or visiting Buzz at Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale - this year the Christmas exhibition (16th November - 23rd December) showcases a selection of work from some of the UK's finest artists, designers and makers.

Don't missDiane Garrick's stunning embroidered maps of Shetland or the very funny cartoon correspondence between local illustrator, Smirk and Sally Kindberg. There's late night shopping until 8pm (21st and 28th November, 6th and 12th December), there's hot chocolate and yummy cake in the café, there may even be an otter hanging around the burn! What more can you want? Ummm…maybe a tipple and a plate of nibbles at Mareel?! The giving is easy - in Shetland!

The Foy and other folk tales - an ideal Christmas gift for all ages

It seems like yesterday that I was on the high seas, enjoying the North Isles Nature Cruise with Simon King - watching hundreds of gannets dive for fish (spectacular), being wowed by the coastal scenery and relishing the running commentary from acclaimed Shetland storyteller, Lawrence Tulloch. I met him once again at Shetland Museum - we were both there for a 'sheeks' (a free monthly informal chat where you can discover more about Shetland's past and present). Lawrence shared that he is busy writing his second book of Shetland folk tales, due to be published in 2014.

In the meantime, I have been reading his first folk book: The Foy and other folk tales. I especially love the tale of brilliant fiddle player Robbie Anderson who was accosted by a trow (troll). He said to Robbie, 'I want you to come and play at our Owld Yul Foy' (Christmas celebration) - an occasion that Robbie always spent with his family and friends. However, Robbie knew that it was a bad idea to deny the trow his request, 'to get on the wrong side of the trows was living very dangerously.' Robbie eventually agreed to play every Owld Yul Een and was subsequently rewarded with exceptional good luck until….

The spellbinding collection of tales, many of which are from Lawrence Tulloch's native island of Yell, deals with stories of the supernatural to the lives and hardships of ordinary Shetlanders. This book is an ideal Christmas gift and suitable for all ages. If you'd like to find out what happens to Robbie Anderson and the magical Foy loving trows -follow me! Be sure to watch out for mischievous Shetland trows - according to folklore they like to appear from their underground abodes seven days before Yule Day (known as Tulya's E'en) and visit the homes of mortals. Did you know: On Yule Eve people use to leave an iron blade near the door - apparently trows don't like iron!

December's prize: Colours of Shetland - ten signature hand-knit designs from Kate Davies

Congratulations to November's prizewinner Joanne Rowshangohar from Essex - the Shetland Quartet - a sequence of four spine-tingling murder mysteries is on its way to you! Don't forget to keep an eye on for scheduling information about the forthcoming two-part drama: Shetland. I can't wait!

This month's prize is from my favourite woolly writer and textile designer - Kate Davies. I'm wearing one of her designs (Sheepheid) in my profile photo, and on my Christmas wish list (BIG hint hubby!) is the snugglyRams and Yowes Blanket kit.Kate's new book - Colours of Shetland - featuring ten signature hand-knit designs (five garments and five accessories) is inspired by Shetland landscape, wildlife, objects and people - each pair of designs is part of a different Shetland "colour story" which is explored through words and pictures.

If you're not familiar with Kate's work - you're missing traffic stopping cool knits and if you want to nail cold weather chic - visit Kate's website. I heart the Snawheid design - a snowflake-adorned beanie featuring a gigantic snowball pompom and knitted in Shetland Organic 2 ply, and a second beanie knitted in, 'it feels like spending time with an old friend'Jamieson and Smith Jumper Weight. Gorgeous!

New Year Plans…

I have so many plans for 2013 - camping on Fetlar,Geocashing - an outdoor treasure hunting game, navigation lessons and a walk on the wild side with walking and wildlife guide, Graham Uney… My to-do list is endless and a calendar (or three) is essential! My favourites are Mark Sinclair's breathtaking contemporary full colour Shetland calendar (£12.50) andShetland Museum and Archives calendar (£6.50) showcasing vintage scenes of knitting and textile production. Make sure you highlight your holiday to Shetland!

Wishing you a very happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

See you soon!

The Perfect Christmas

Beginning of December is our favourite time of the year. It's dark and cold outside but inside the fire is blazing, lights are twinkling and the house smells of mulled wine, gingerbread and mince pies - it's Christmas time!

Every second year we tend to spend our Christmas in the Czech Republic where I come from but this year we staying is Shetland. We are looking forward to two weeks of spent cosied up inside after long afternoon rambles and visiting friends. And for Hogmanay we are heading to Unst to spend a few days in my favourite cottage. Unst is brilliant for a mini adventure so we will be taking waterproofs and warm clothes with us and I'm looking forward to exploring more this beautiful island.

If the weather allows us the plan is to do the spectacular 'Burral and Sandwick' walk which ends on our favourite beach - The Easting. Also known as Sandwick, meaning 'sandy bay' in Norse, it provided a home, food and shelter to generations of Shetlanders and the land surrounding the bay is peppered with the remains of farmsteads, field boundaries and cultivation from periods spanning from Iron Age, through Picts to Viking/Norse settlers. For Jan, who loves Vikings, it will be amazing to 'step inside' a Norse house which was built in the early 1100s and lived in by several generations - we will be instantly transported almost 1,000 years back in time! And when we get back to the cottage we'll have some hot chocolate and enjoy reading some of Jan's favourite Shetland books - one of them 'The Grumpy Old Sailor' written by Janice Armstrong and beautifully illustrated by an internationally renowned Mailo So. Sounds like a plan!

Merry Christmas and happy adventures!

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