January 2015 Move Shetland Newsletter
Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the January 2015 issue of our monthly newsletter and to wish you, on behalf of all of us at Promote Shetland, a very happy New Year.
December was, for the most part, quite mild, though windy enough to cause some disruption to ferries. But the weather didn't get in the way of preparations for the festive season and Lerwick was busy with shoppers, their numbers boosted by the town centre's winter festival, which featured live music from a large number of local bands.
What's more, a dusting of snow on Christmas Day meant that Lerwick was the only weather station in the UK to record a white Christmas. It did make the efforts of Shetland's hardy band of Christmas Day swimmers that bit more heroic, though, especially the brave souls at Lerwick's Sands of Sound who took to the sea without wetsuits.
People from Shetland made their mark in various ways during 2014, notably the Shetland athletes who brought home medals from the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. However, two families had another cause for celebration as we entered the new year.
Elizabeth Johnson, who works at the PURE Energy Centre in Unst, our northernmost island, has been awarded the MBE in the New Year Honours. PURE has been involved in renewables research and development for eight years and undertakes projects all over the world. Elizabeth is also heavily involved in Shetland's Relay for Life, which in 2014 raised more than £300,000.
Mark Wylie, who for around thirty years was a gymnastics and trampoline coach at Lerwick's Clickimin Centre, was awarded the British Empire Medal. In fact, his career extended well beyond Shetland, with coaching undertaken in Malawi, Zambia and Romania, and he's now doing similar work in Aberdeenshire.
We join everyone else in Shetland in congratulating Elizabeth and Mark and offering our very best wishes for the future.
Looking ahead, as the days rapidly lengthen, we're about to enter the three-month season of fire festivals, more about which below. There's a lot more to look forward to, of course. Indoors, there will be more great music, films and comedy, with Kevin Bridges the latest of many stand-up stars booked to visit the islands. Outdoors, the spring and summer will, as always, see folk get out and about on foot, on bikes or in boats, making the most of one of Europe's most unspoilt environments.
If you're tempted to make the move north, we hope you'll take the chance to visit us in 2015 and see these very special islands for yourself; and we hope, too, that – whatever you do – 2015 will be a good year for you and yours.
Fire Festivals Brighten Winter Nights
From January until March, many Shetland communities stage fire festivals and, although these are local events, visitors come from far and wide.
The best-known of the festivals is Lerwick's Up Helly Aa, always held on the last Tuesday in January, and featuring close to 1,000 torchbearing "guisers". It has found its way into any number of travellers" "must-see" lists but remains very much the local celebration it's always been. However, a couple of bonus events, featuring traditional music and a stand-up comedy show, have been added to the day's programme in recent years, making Up Helly Aa even more memorable for both visitors and local folk.
We have details of all the fire festival dates here, and – if you're planning a winter reconnaissance visit, any of them would give you an insight into what they're all about.
So, what's it like to attend an Up Helly Aa as a local? Anyone who's lived in the islands for any length of time will almost certainly know folk who are involved in one way or another, either as members of one of the squads of guisers or helping with catering or stewarding. Especially in rural areas, it's very easy to get involved; the Lerwick guisers remain all-male, but women and men take part on equal terms elsewhere.
The first part of the day usually involves visits by the leading squad – the Jarl's Squad – to schools and care homes. In the evening, things get going around 7pm, when squads begin to gather, collect their paraffin-soaked torches and form up in ranks ahead of the galley. In Lerwick, large crowds gather on the Hillhead, the Brass Band and Pipe Band get ready to play and there's a hush of anticipation when all the street lights are switched off. Moments later, a maroon is fired into the sky and a dozen or so flares are lit, which in turn are used to light the torches. The scene is instantly transformed from total darkness to a blazing river of pink and orange light.
The procession then moves off; in rural areas, the location and route may vary from year to year but in Lerwick the guisers march around the grid of streets that forms the late 19th century "new town", with the galley eventually coming to rest in a small park. Elsewhere, the galley usually ends up in the sea. Either way, the resulting bonfire - is spectacular. Along the route, the smoke, the flames, the flying sparks and the smell of paraffin, accompanied by lusty singing of the Up Helly Aa song and other traditional marches, make for an unforgettable experience. If it happens to be a particularly windy or – rarely – a snowy night, the impressions are even more powerful.
As the flames die away, those who are going to a "hall" – in Lerwick, access to most of these is by invitation – head off for an entertainment that begins at around 9pm and lasts right through until breakfast-time. Around 30 squads rotate between around 11 halls in Lerwick, performing a short routine – often a song and dance number or perhaps a skit satirising local politicians – then staying a while to dance and chat with hall guests. For rural fire festivals, there are usually three or four halls open. There's a constant supply of soup and sandwiches to keep everyone going. A certain amount of alcohol is involved, of course, but the striking thing about these events is that they're really very disciplined; indeed they simply wouldn't work otherwise. The police have a particularly quiet evening, and it's clear that the community spirit is the most powerful one around.
New Firm Adds Chutneys To Shetland's Larder
A new Shetland company has launched a range of delicious chutneys, hand made in one of the islands" local halls.
Shetlandeli, based on the west side of Shetland, was established by Jill Franklin, who settled in Shetland a few years ago. The firm is very much rooted in the local community and leases the well-equipped kitchen at the Skeld Hall. Everything is made by hand and the recipes, devised after a great deal of careful experimentation, are proving very popular.
The company say that they're not in a rush to develop the biggest range in the world and would prefer to focus on "amazing taste", exemplified by a chutney, a piccalilli and an onion marmalade.
Jill and other members of her team were recently interviewed on BBC Radio Shetland's "Shetland's Larder" and you can listen to the whole programme, which features some live pre-Christmas cooking and an item on raw food, among other things. It's also a good way to tune in to Shetland's dialect and accents.
Incidentally, "Shetland's Larder", which is broadcast monthly, was a finalist in the first ever Fortnum and Mason Food Awards and was pipped at the post by BBC Radio 4's Food Programme. The regular presenters are Jane Moncrieff and Eunice Henderson and it always makes for enjoyable listening.
Shetland Firm Will Make Tidal Turbine Blades
A Shetland company will manufacture blades for a bank of tidal turbines that will power 300 homes.
The Scottish Government's Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, has announced that Shetland Composites secured the six month contract from Edinburgh-based Nova Innovation, a firm that proposes five 100kW tidal turbines known as the Shetland Tidal Array. The turbines, which sit more than a hundred feet below the waves, will be developed in two phases. Commissioning of the first three devices will take place by the end of 2015.
The device is identical in principle to a wind turbine, the blades being driven by the power of the tide. They drive a generator and the electricity is then transmitted to the shore via a subsea cable.
Mr Swinney described the contract as “great news” for Shetland Composites and the local economy. “The seas around Scotland have the potential to provide us with a sustainable, renewable energy source. We will do all we can to help companies such as Nova innovation to access these resources.”
Shetland Composites was awarded £69,774 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise towards the extension to its workshop premises in Lerwick.
Fred Gibson, from Shetland Composites, said that the contract was a big step for the company. “Up until now, most of our work in the marine renewable sector has been in the development of prototype devices. Now, finally, these projects are scaling up and becoming commercially viable. The funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise has been hugely important in helping the company realise its expansion plans. The extension will increase capacity which means we can take on more work and recruit two additional employees.”
Katrina Wiseman, Highlands and Islands Enterprise also welcomed the tender award said that they were delighted to support Shetland Composites with their expansion, which would “further strengthen their national and international capabilities, contributing to the growth of the marine energy sector in Shetland.”
Councillor Alastair Cooper, Chair of Development, Shetland Islands Council said that the Council had supported the growth of Shetland Composites over the years. “I am delighted to see a Shetland business involved at the forefront of the tidal energy industry in Scotland. Fred Gibson and his team have a successful business and have worked hard on many high quality projects to get the company to a stage where it can now secure contracts for significant work like this.”
District of the Month: Delting
Every district in Shetland has its particular appeal and, each month, we look at what each part of our islands can offer for new residents. This month, we visit Delting, part of Shetland's north mainland; Brae, the largest village in the area, is about 25 miles north of Lerwick.
The "ting" in the name comes from the same root as the Tynwald (parliament) in the Isle of Man or Dingwall in Scotland. It indicates that Delting was once an administrative unit under Norse rule; there are several other Shetland examples, including Tingwall, Lunnasting and Aithsting.
The ridges of hills that run from north to south through the Shetland mainland are the backbone of Delting's landscape. They produce a quite striking fjord-like inlet on the east side and such sheltered sea inlets (voes) provide excellent conditions for growing mussels and salmon. Much of the land is heather or grass moorland but, around the coast, there are lower-lying areas of cultivated land. The island of Muckle Roe, linked by a bridge, has some of Shetland's most appealing scenery, with wonderful walking, and great coastal landscapes in the adjoining district of Northmavine are just a few minutes away.
In the past, Delting folk made their living mainly from fishing, crofting and knitting. During the Second World War, Sullom Voe was a seaplane base and also had a military airport. However, since the 1970s, the parish's history has been bound up with the development of the large oil terminal at Sullom Voe, soon to be joined by a gas terminal. There are associated harbour facilities and a dedicated airport at Scatsta. In the late 1970s, the villages of Brae, Mossbank and Voe and the hamlet of Firth were expanded to cope with an increased population.
Most of the area's services and facilities are concentrated in the largest village, Brae, where there is a six-year secondary school and a primary school, a health centre and a leisure centre including a swimming pool. Brae also has hotels and shops, including a small supermarket. It also has Britain's northernmost Indian takeaway, whilst Frankie's is Britain's most northerly chippy, and rather a special one. Frankie's recent accolade as best eatery in the Highlands and Islands is just the latest in a very long list of awards. A marina is the base for sailing and fishing in the sheltered waters of Busta Voe.
Voe, in the south of the district, is noted for its decidedly Scandinavian appearance; it was in a building by the pier that the woollen jumpers worn by Hillary's Everest expedition were knitted. Today, the old workshop is one of Shetland's "camping böds", offering low-cost visitor accommodation.
Although the oil industry increasingly relies on visiting staff accommodated in purpose-built accommodation, many local people are employed at the oil terminal, the port and airport or in other oil-related services. The other major employer these days is aquaculture; Brae is an important centre for mussels. It's also an easy commute from Delting to Lerwick, with the capital's jobs and wide range of facilities only about half an hour away.
There's a good range of private housing in Delting and local authority or housing association property may also be available from time to time. Thanks to the current construction activity at Sullom Voe, affordable private rented property is harder to find, but that should ease in the years ahead.
Summing up, Delting offers a good range of places to live, with excellent facilities on the doorstep and more available in Lerwick. There's an excellent range of outdoor and indoor pursuits, too, and it's a welcoming community that has successfully adopted hundreds of new Shetlanders over the past forty years.
Jobs of the Month
Jobs on offer at NHS Shetland include a post for an experienced CT Radiographer, based in the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick.
Vacancies with Shetland Islands Council include a post for an Early Years Worker in the village of Cunnngsburgh, ten miles south of Lerwick.
Blog of the Month
Our blog this month will be of particular interest if you're into spinning, knitting and lacemaking. It comes from Shetland Handspun, based in Shetland's south mainland, and Elizabeth has clearly had a very busy year!