October 2009 Newsletter
News from Shetland.org
Hi, thank you for subscribing to the Shetland.org Newsletter and welcome to our October 2009 edition. We hope you find it of interest. If you're considering a move to Shetland, please don't hesitate to contact us for more advice using either the contact details at the end of this Newsletter or via the contact page on the website.
On 12th May 1951, two men were cutting peat near Gunnister, in the north mainland of Shetland, when they came across the remains of a man's body. Whilst the acidic peat had ensured there was little left of him, it had preserved his clothes and other items incredibly well. Normally kept in the National Museums of Scotland, the artefacts are currently on show at the Shetland Museum and Archives, where visitors have found their condition quite astonishing; the coat looks as though it has just come back from the dry-cleaner. It was possible for specialists to record the stitches of the knitted items, right down to minor flaws made by the original knitter. The style of the man's clothing, and coins found in his purse, date his death to around 1700. The collection amounts to one of the few complete outfits found in Britain belonging to an "ordinary" person from this period. The purse features the earliest physical evidence of two-colour patterned knitting in Shetland. There were also two tablets of wood with a unique design and a kind of small wooden bucket. The Gunnister find was one of the most significant discoveries of its type in Europe.
Despite the preservation of the artefacts, mystery still surrounds Gunnister Man. Who was he? How did he die? Why was he buried in a peat bog? Some think he was local while others think he came from further afield, possibly abroad. Speculations on his profession have ranged from a clerk of some sort to a farmer or a thief. Theories on his demise include exposure, accidental injury, starvation or murder. The most intriguing fact is that he wasn't buried in a graveyard, which may suggest either that he was murdered, or that he died of natural causes and was simply buried where he lay, perhaps because the body had decayed before it was found.
As well as the original objects, the exhibition includes a life-size reconstruction of Gunnister Man wearing exact replicas of the clothes found in the peat. All of this is displayed in very subdued light, necessary to avoid damaging the fabrics but also greatly strengthening the sense of mystery. The exhibition continues until 1 November.
A mansion on the island of Fetlar, which lies to the north-east of the Shetland mainland, is to be rescued from decay. Brough Lodge, last occupied in the early 1980s, is a category A Listed Building and was recently acquired by a charitable trust that was set up for the purpose several years ago. Shetland Islands Council has offered a grant of £140,000 towards the cost of making the building wind and watertight and it's hoped that support will also be forthcoming from national agencies and private sponsors. The Trust's Chairman, Pierre Cambillard, intends that the house will eventually be completely restored to provide high-quality accommodation for visitors to the islands who want to pursue courses in such skills as knitting, archaeology, music, painting or photography. Such a venture would provide much-needed employment on Fetlar, which has seen a steady decline in population.
The lighthouse at Sumburgh Head, at the southern tip of mainland Shetland, is also to be restored. It's one of Scotland's finest surviving examples of an early 19th century lighthouse and it will be put back in good order and opened up to the public with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
Built in 1821 by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sumburgh Head lighthouse is for many the first glimpse of the Shetland mainland as they approach by sea or air. The group of buildings includes a 1905 foghorn and one of the first British radar stations, a Chain Home Low Radar Station, which was added to the site during the Second World War. Sumburgh Head holds a fascination for visitors, making it the second most popular attraction in Shetland after the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick.
A grant of £683,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund will help restore the buildings and improve access to them. The existing engine room will be refurbished and used to interpret the story of the lighthouse and the Stevenson family, while the radar huts will be opened up to tell the wartime history of the site. High-quality interpretation will explain the natural heritage of Sumburgh Head, which is an established RSPB Reserve supporting 35,000 breeding seabirds including fulmar, guillemot, kittiwake, puffin, razorbill and shag. It has dramatic views to the most remote inhabited British island, Fair lsle, and is a popular location for whale watching, with sightings of killer and minke whales, dolphins and porpoises. The West Pavilion will be developed into self-catering holiday accommodation, generating income to maintain the other buildings.
Jimmy Moncrieff, Shetland Amenity Trust General Manager, said: “This is a tremendous boost for the Sumburgh Head project, which will significantly enhance the visitor experience and the educational potential of the site.”
Following the success of the first Shetland Food Festival last year, the 2009 event began on Friday 2 October and runs until Sunday 11 October. The islands produce superb food from land and sea, including succulent lamb, many kinds of fish and shellfish, the sought-after Shetland Black potato and such delicacies as crisp seawater oatcakes and the enticing "puffin poo". The Festival is intended to celebrate all of this through demonstrations by celebrity chefs, a producers" market, evening sessions featuring music and stories and a reprise of last year's hugely successful bannock-making workshops.
New for 2009, and very much the centre of attention on the first weekend, has been "Ready, Steady, Shetland", a local version of the television programme, Ready Steady Cook! Many local eateries will be putting even more emphasis than usual on Shetland ingredients and traditional recipes.
Anyone thinking of establishing a business in Shetland can expect to have access to a full range of advice. However, there are also one-off events designed to help business newcomers. In early October, for example, a business breakfast will be hosted by Iain Scott, Chair of Highland Venture Capital, a "business angel" network based in Inverness, whose 40 members have, between them, invested some £1.3m in eight new start-ups across the region. At the end of the month, there's a free session focusing on how to use the media to benefit your business. Jill Franklin of Franklin Rae Communications will suggest ways of identifying the right media, getting your message across; how to influence what it written and reported; understanding the deadlines of particular publications; and what to do when things don't turn out quite as you'd hoped. Events like these help to ensure that local entrepreneurs are well-briefed on business trends and know where to get further help.
Shetland's strong musical tradition is a very open and welcoming one. In recent years, local musicians have been delighted to jam with their counterparts from the USA, Mongolia, Zimbabwe and Italy, to name just a few. This autumn sees another eclectic selection of visiting players. During September, the Shetland Guitar Festival featured Lulo Reinhardt, great grandnephew of Django Reinhardt; Itamar Erez, a guitarist, pianist and composer from Israel; and Brian Gore, who is American and plays acoustically on a steel-strung instrument. From closer to home, in Scotland, came Havana Swing, a Scottish quintet that recall the Hot Club of France in which Django Reinhardt played (with, among others, Stephane Grappelli) from 1933 until the outbreak of war.
The Guitar Festival was followed by a visit from Scottish Opera, who performed Janacek's opera, Katya Kabanova, in Lerwick. The story is drawn from a play by Aleksandr Ostrovosky and, in adapting it, Janacek was inspired by his own romantic experience with a much younger woman.
In early October, Lerwick hosts a sell-out appearance by the folk-influenced, guitar-led rock of Turin Brakes. Later in the month, a shining star of African music, Seckou Keita from Senegal, will be appearing at the Clickimin Centre; his speciality is the kora, a traditional West African instrument that has elements of harp and lute. Musical treats like these, sometimes as part of events such as the Shetland Folk Festival and sometimes as one-off concerts, are very much part of life in the islands.
Meanwhile, Shetland's leading band continues to impress. Last month, we previewed the new album from Fiddler's Bid, All Dressed In Yellow. It seems that other reviewers like it, too. The online magazine for folk and roots music, Spiral Earth, called Fiddler's Bid "a joyous celebration of the Shetland fiddle tradition. Their sheer brilliance lies in their ability to be faithful to a tradition whilst extending it and making it stronger." They particularly liked the fifteen-minute title track with which the album ends, calling it "epic and absorbing." Meanwhile, Scotland on Sunday said that this was "the finest CD yet from Shetland's musical ambassadors, a tour-de force of rhythmic, melodic and harmonic imagination in but six tracks", in which "the four fiddles take flight over landscapes laid down by harp, piano, bass and guitar." The reviewer called it "a joy-filled album". So we can safely say that it's pretty impressive.
Shetland has once again been represented among more than 1,500 exhibitors who took part in Offshore Europe 2009, an exhibition and conference that takes place every two years in Aberdeen. This year's event was the largest ever, drawing a record 49,000 visitors. The gathering is the largest of its kind outside North America and attracts exhibitors and speakers from around the world.
Sandra Laurenson of Lerwick Port Authority said: "This year, Offshore Europe has been more important than ever for us. With growing awareness of Lerwick's deep-water capabilities, we were very busy with customers and enquiries for both offshore project support and decommissioning. The exhibition is invaluable for us to invite mainland-based contacts to visit us on the Shetland stand. There is also an opportunity to renew contacts with other exhibitors and visitors to the show and we look forward to the next show in two years" time with increased confidence".
Mystery surrounded the activities of a Norwegian television crew, accompanied by cast members, who recently spent time in Shetland filming an episode of one of their drama series. It's understood that the programme is aimed at young people, perhaps with echoes of Hollyoaks, but nothing was being given away about the plot line lest it reach Norway as a "spoiler". The visible evidence of the crew's presence included the brief transformation of Lerwick's Lounge Bar – an iconic, some would say a sacred place – into "Kim's Bar", provoking temporary panic among aficionados of the Lounge's renowned musical sessions. Streets were also briefly closed to allow filming to take place. It all apparently went smoothly, despite the unplanned arrival of several score young Norwegians on the sail-training vessel Staadsrahd Lehmkuhl, whose suspicions must have been well and truly aroused. Shetland is always a welcoming place for film-makers, as our filming in shetland page explains.
Earlier this year, as part of the Johnsmas Foy, a talk about the Viking expansion around the North Atlantic was given by Professor Gisli Sigurðsson, an eminent academic who is currently research professor in the Folklore Department at the Arni Magn?