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January 2011 Newsletter


Here is the newsletter from January 2011, which we hope you find of interest. If you're considering a move to Shetland, please don't hesitate to contact us for advice.

Government Backing Secures Sumburgh Head Project

A government announcement has already made it a happy new year for the South Mainland of Shetland. £1.44m of European Regional Development Fund cash will help pay for the restoration of Sumburgh Lighthouse and dramatic improvements to visitor facilities at Sumburgh Head.

The headland, the southernmost point on the Shetland mainland, forms a coastal landscape that has justly been described as iconic. It's also very familiar to those arriving in Shetland by sea or air. The ferry passes close by and the most memorable of the four available approaches to Sumburgh Airport takes aircraft to within a few hundred feet of the lighthouse.

The lighthouse was completed in 1821 by Robert Stevenson, who was the grandfather of the author, Robert Louis Stevenson. It is still in use as a lighthouse, but the Northern Lighthouse Board only maintains the tower and light, all the other buildings on the site having come into the ownership of the Shetland Amenity Trust, which has offered self-catering accommodation in the former keepers' homes.

For the many visitors who explore the headland, though, the most thrilling encounters are probably with the puffins, which can be approached to within a few feet. Some visitors are rewarded with the sight of orcas (killer whales) which are seen from time to time in the waters below, hunting for seals. The headland is an RSPB reserve.

Shetland Amenity Trust has been developing plans for the lighthouse and the surrounding area for the better part of a decade. They envisage restoring the lighthouse buildings and adding an exciting new interpretive centre that will offer unique insights into the bird and marine life of the surrounding cliffs and seas. There will also be information about the headland's wartime role: it was the site of an early radar station.

The project, which will cost nearly £5m, is now almost fully funded and work will start this year. It will represent a valuable investment in Shetland's south mainland, reinforcing the many attractions of the area, which include three internationally important archaeological sites, important bird habitats and some outstandingly beautiful beaches.

Lunar Eclipse Offers Superb Spectacle In Shetland

Many people in Shetland had an excellent view of the lunar eclipse on 21 December, thanks in part to the fact that, at this time of year, the sunrise is later in Shetland than anywhere else in Britain. It helped greatly that it was a crisp, clear morning with almost no cloud to be seen, so the images captured by local photographers were superb. Hugh Harrop's photo-blog - which we also feature this month as one of our Shetland blogs - has some examples. There are also some in this Facebook album by Austin Taylor, who has captured many images of the night sky.

Incidentally, Shetland has an active and enthusiastic Astronomical Society and there are more details about their activities on their website.

Shetland School Shares Olympic Dream

Baltasound Junior High School, on the Shetland Island of Unst, is one of 45 winning schools for the Olympic Dreams School Search 2012. The search began in September with the aim of arranging for dozens of primary and secondary schools across the UK to twin with schools all over the world and take part in a special project in the run-up to the London Olympics in 2012.

The BBC and British Council recently announced that the Baltasound school is to be twinned with St Mary's Catholic High in Croydon, formerly attended by British basketball star, Luol Deng. A full list of winners can be found at

Over the next two years the project will support teachers in developing school-to-school partnerships and encourage pupils to share creative work inspired by the London Olympics with the organisations' global audiences. The British Council - which connects classrooms in the UK with schools around the world - has partnered the winners with schools attended by athletes from around the world, who are part of the BBC's World Olympic Dreams project.

Every winning school has been invited to send a teacher to a special conference, Olympic Dreams Live, held at the British Museum, London on 15 and 16 January 2011, where they will meet teachers from the athletes' schools to start their twinning journey. Secondary schools have also been invited to send one pupil.

The winning schools will also follow the stories of Olympic athletes with their twin schools. All the athletes, and the schools they attended, can be found on the World Olympic Dreams website.

PhD Student Will Offer Knitwear Design Skills

A doctoral student has been appointed by a social enterprise in Shetland to provide textile expertise to them and the wider community.

Sarah Dearlove, 38, is a knitwear designer by profession and will gain first hand experience working with Global Yell Ltd as part of her PhD research. Based on the island of Yell, in the north of Shetland, she'll be looking at Shetland's textile heritage and studying creativity in the community.

Global Yell is a charitable company with a remit for education and training in textiles and music. It operates the Centre for Creative Industries, which aims to nurture, train and educate in arts and crafts. The aim is to combine traditional skills with new technologies and it's hoped that existing businesses will be strengthened.

The PhD research programme will research and develop ways of working with textiles, both historical and contemporary. There are plans for workshops and events within the community which will support textiles across the islands. Sarah will have access to a fully equipped weaving studio and relevant resources such as a collection of textiles. She will also be able to get to know makers and artists.

Currently a part-time lecturer at Heriot-Watt University's School of Textiles and Design based in Galashiels, Sarah has the MA in knitwear design from Central St Martin's in London. She has worked abroad for fashion brands in Milan, Munich and New York as well as running her own knitwear company, selling to the international luxury market.

Shetland Actor Notches Up Another Feature Film

Steven Robertson, who hails from the Shetland village of Vidlin, plays a technician in 'The Tourist', which goes on general release in British cinemas on Monday 10 January. The story, which revolves around a trip to Venice and the recovery of an embezzled £2bn, has Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie attempting to evade both police and gangsters; it also stars Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Stephen Berkoff and Rufus Sewell.

Steven has a string of feature films to his credit. He has also made an impact on the stage, earning an award nomination for his performance in Chekhov's 'The Seagull'. Television work has included 'Shameless' for Channel 4, E=mc² (in which he played Michael Faraday) and 'He Kills Coppers', as Tony Meehan.

Good Progress In Arrangements For Tall Ships Races

The port of Lerwick will be at its busiest and most colourful between 21and 24 July 2011, when the Tall Ships Races will visit the town. It's a huge event, but Lerwick has hosted the race previously, in 1999, and can build on that experience. At the moment, one of the tasks facing the organisers is raising £400,000 in sponsorship, and they're well on the way to meeting their target. The amount raised so far stands at £316,500 and sponsors include Lerwick Port Authority; Peterson SBS; Shetland Catch; Total E&P UK; DONG Energy; Events Shetland; and BP's partners in the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal..

The Tall Ships Races 2011 are organised by Sail Training International ( The event starts in Waterford, Ireland on 30 June, with vessels racing to Scotland, calling at Greenock and then taking the Cruise in Company leg to Shetland. Lerwick will then host the Ships for four fun-packed days before the start of Race Two sailing to Stavanger in Norway.

Fiona Dally, project manager for The Tall Ships Races 2011 - Lerwick, said: "To date the support from the community and local businesses has been fantastic and we look forward to bringing a world-class event to the Shetland Isles next year."

Shetland Again Features Among Best Places To Live

Shetland has once again emerged as among the best places to live in Scotland. In the 2010 Halifax Bank of Scotland assessment, the islands achieved second place, after Aberdeenshire and ahead of East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian and East Renfrewshire. Also featuring in the top ten were Orkney, Moray, Midlothian, Aberdeen city and the Scottish Borders.

Fire Festivals Kick Off Eventful Year

Shetland offers a wide range of events every year. A huge range of interests is catered for, but there's no doubt that the first three months of the year are dominated by fire festivals, linked to the urge to celebrate the lengthening days.

The best-known of these, and much the largest, is the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, always held on the last Tuesday in January. More than 800 torch-bearing guizers parade at night around the town; it's an extraordinary sight. After setting fire to a Viking galley, they circulate around a dozen or more halls, offering audiences a party-piece, which might be a satirical sketch on local politics or a song-and-dance act. The whole event is a masterpiece of co-ordination, run with near-military precision.

Such an energetic night demands ample supplies of food, laid on at every hall. There is always the traditional potato soup, tasty and filling, made with reestit mutton (mutton that has been salted and air-dried). The parties in the halls go on until breakfast-time, after which it's definitely time for some well-earned sleep.

There are smaller fire festivals between early January and March in nine other districts.

Once the smoke has cleared from all these galley-burnings, the islands get into gear for the next major event, the Shetland Folk Festival. It runs from 28 April to 1 May 2011. Now in its 31st year, the festival always features an eclectic range of performers from many parts of the world as well as those from closer to home. Given Shetland's traditions, fiddle music is always part of the programme, but musical genres encompass jazz, blues, country, bluegrass and much else. Not many such events can offer experiences as diverse as Hanggai from Mongolia, Elvis Costello, Kate Rusby, Sean McGuire and Eddi Reader, all of whom - along with hundreds of others - have appeared over the years.

June is always a busy time in Shetland: the endless daylight seems to stimulate all kinds of activities. From 22 to 26 June, the Bergen-Shetland yacht races will bring dozens of vessels to Lerwick and, at the same time, the village of Vidlin will host the annual Simmer Dim motorcycle rally, attracting an invited gathering of enthusiastic bikers from all over the UK and Europe.

The menu for July is dominated by the Tall Ships Races, but from 2 to 10 July there's the Shetland Nature Festival, a chance to get close to Shetland's amazing wildlife, landscape and geology. Vunk Fest, a celebration of alternative music and innovative art, runs from the 8 th to the 10th. By now, the many local yachting regattas will be under way and Sunday afternoons will be enlivened by wonderful Sunday teas at village halls the length and breadth of the islands.

August sees Fiddle Frenzy, running from the 7th to the 14th. Part cultural festival, part fiddle school, it celebrates Shetland's musical heritage and opens up opportunities for visitors from all over the world to share in it. At the end of the month, ScreenPlay (29 August - 4 September) is Shetland's film festival, curated by Linda Ruth Williams and Mark Kermode; and 2011 is a very special year, because Shetland's new £12m film and music venue, Mareel, will by then be open. August also sees several agricultural shows, any of which makes for a very enjoyable day out.

WordPlay, Shetland's literary festival, will feature well-known writers in readings, workshops and much more on the 3rd and 4th of September. The following weekend, 9th to 11th September, takes us back to music, with the Shetland Blues Festival. The line-up invariably includes outstanding British blues performers. A week later, there's the Guitar Festival, dedicated to the memory of 'Peerie' Willie Johnson, who was a master of guitar accompaniment and whose repertoire embraced jazz and swing.

There's another major festival in October. The Accordion and Fiddle Festival runs from the 6 th to the 10th and - like the Folk Festival - features concerts and dances the length and breadth of the islands. There's music from Shetland and Scotland and, often, from farther afield.

As the year draws to a close, there are two more events to look forward to in November, theShetland Food Festival and the Shetland Craft Fair. Held together for the first time in 2010, they offer a showcase for Shetland's excellent food and the work of a host of skilled craftspeople.

If you're thinking of moving to Shetland, we'd always recommend that you visit at least twice, once in summer and once at some other time of the year. Tying in your visit with some of these events would obviously make sense. For some of them, like the Tall Ships Races or the Food Festival, you can simply turn up and soak up everything that's on offer. For others, and especially the Shetland Folk Festival, you need to engage in some advance planning if you want to secure tickets, as the most popular concerts sell out very fast. In the case of the Folk Festival, you might wish to become a member, which allows earlier booking and discounts on tickets. All the deadlines are on the festival website.

Blog Of The Month

This month, we're offering two blogs, both of them by local naturalists passionate about Shetland's endlessly fascinating wildlife. Hugh Harrop lives in Shetland's south mainland and Brydon Thomason is based on the island of Fetlar, in the north-east of Shetland. Hugh's blog can be found here and Brydon's is here. We hope you find them of interest. As always, of course, our inclusion of these (or any other) links is intended simply to offer a variety of perspectives on life in Shetland. It doesn't imply any endorsement of any views that may be expressed or any products or services that may be offered.

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