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Our August 2019 Diary

by Alastair Hamilton -

There’s plenty to look forward to in August, including the islands’ agricultural shows, lots of traditional music and Lerwick’s annual Shopping Week. However, there’s no question that the dominant theme during the first half of the month is boats.

Things get under way with two rowing regattas, both in Lerwick, on the 2nd and 4th. Rowing has become very popular in Shetland over the past two decades, with crews from all over the islands competing. The craft they use are modern versions of the six-oared boat (the sixern or sixareen) that was the mainstay of the Shetland fishing industry. Distinctively Scandinavian in style and roughly 25’- 30’ long, the boats were originally imported from Norway but many were later built in Shetland. It was normal for the fishermen to row 40 miles or so from shore and it was a dangerous occupation. From time to time, boats and men were lost and there were two particularly serious instances, in 1832 and 1881, accounting between them for 27 boats and 163 men.

Distinctively Scandinavian in style...the boats were originally imported from Norway

By the late 19th century, they were increasingly replaced by larger, safer vessels. These days, though, the tradition of rowing is clearly in good health and there will be lots of vocal support for the crews as they race for the finishing line.

These regattas set the scene for Shetland Boat Week, which runs from the 5th until the 11th and features a huge range of events that will engage hundreds of local people and visitors. Not surprisingly, sixerns will be among the highlights, offering the public a chance to get afloat in Lerwick harbour.

This year, for the first time, the Shetland Museum’s sixern, Vaila Mae, will be joined by the rebuilt Far Haaf, which is usually to be seen at the Unst Boat Haven. The Far Haaf has a unique history in that she is actually a remake of the original Far Haaf which was destroyed in a storm in 1992. The current boat was built from the keel of the original and was reborn into the beauty that can be seen in Unst today.

Both boats will also be sailed under a square rig, and local expert Brian Wishart says that: “as far as we can tell, this will be the first time in over 100 years that two traditional square sail rig sixerns will be sailed side by side.” As well as these recently-constructed or restored vessels, visitors to the Shetland Museum can also see a preserved, original example – the very last surviving original sixern – in the boat hall.

But there’s lots more to enjoy, including a tour on board the NorthLink ship M.V Hjaltland and the Coastguard Emergency Towing Vessel, Ievoli Black. There’s more rowing in the Shetland Boat Week yoal race and boat owners can take part in their own small boats for an “eela night’ (an evening sea-angling competition).

Ashore, A Taste of Shetland is partnering with the Shetland Amenity Trust to trial a seafood-based marketplace and there will be seafood cookery demonstrations beside the Shetland Museum and Archives at Hay’s Dock. Also at the dockside, there will be activities including model boat sailing, face-painting, craft activities and demonstrations. An impressive traditional boat display will feature a selection of boats constructed by Jimmy Smith and other local builders.

Tickets for all Boat Week events are available online at

Towards the end of Boat Week, the focus shifts to sailing, with the 72nd annual Interclub Yachting Association regatta running in Lerwick harbour on the 10th, 11th and 14th – 17th of the month. Sailing is hugely popular in the islands and a range of dinghies, including some based on the traditional form of Shetland boat, will be competing.

The harbour will play host to 27 visits by cruise liners during the month, reflecting Shetland’s popularity as one of the top five cruise destinations in Europe. On six days, there will be two ships in port at the same time and on the 21st there will be three, the Aidacara, Artania and Magellan.

Our own restored sail-fishing vessel, the Swan, is much smaller than any of these visitors, but she’ll be setting off on a cruise to the Faroe Islands from the 17th until the 28th. Faroe is roughly the same distance from Shetland as Bergen, in Norway, or Aberdeen and local boat owners occasionally make the trip, marking a longstanding friendship between the two island groups that has its roots in Viking times.

Also running from the 5th until the 11th is Lerwick Shopping Week, which draws folk to Lerwick’s traditional town centre for a programme of activities, events, special offers and competitions. Lerwick’s centre is far from alone in having to adapt to the arrival of out-of-centre or internet shopping, but it does have some notable strengths. For one thing, the main shopping street – Commercial Street – is full of character and has been carefully conserved; in fact, it’s at the heart of a Conservation Area classed as ‘outstanding’.

For another, very few national retail chains are present, with the vast majority of shops in the area locally-run. That means that they offer a really distinctive experience; for example, there’s wonderful knitwear, locally-made soaps, artisan chocolate and an incredibly well-stocked toy emporium that would be the envy of much larger places. The past few years have seen the opening of more eating-places, too; there are several excellent café-restaurants including an authentically French one. The other dimension in all this is the harbour, which adds colour and activity just a stone’s throw from “Da Street”.

they offer a really distinctive experience

There’s always music to be enjoyed in Shetland and there are a couple of regular venues on or very close to the street. The Lounge Bar, just a few steps up Mounthooly Street, has long offered informal sessions featuring local musicians, but nationally-known stars have been known to drop in, unannounced, from time to time.

Towards the north end of the street, one of those newer eating-places, The String, has an intimate music venue on its first floor and there’s a programme of events, including, in August, Vair (on the 4th) and Adam Guest (on the 9th). Here, too, you can find quiz nights, games nights and stand-up comedy.

Around the isles, there are always traditional music nights, including the popular Shetland showcase series at Islesburgh Community Centre (on the 5th, 12th and 19th) and sessions at the Asta Golf Clubhouse (on the 1st, 15th and 29th), plus one on the west side, in Aith Hall, on the 17th. For jazz fans, Mareel will play host to a Sunday Jazz Lunch with the Loose Ends on the 25th.

The other main events during August are the agricultural shows, held in Voe (in the north mainland) on the 3rd; Walls (in the west mainland) on the 10th; Cunningsburgh (in the south mainland) on the 14th; and in our northernmost community, the island of Unst, on the 31st. All of them have the displays of cattle, sheep, ponies and other livestock that you’d expect, but there are many other things to see, ranging from baking, garden produce and flower arrangements to crafts, classic cars and photography.

Afternoon teas and a beer tent feature, too. With that eclectic mix, it’s no wonder that these shows are hugely popular, as there really is something for everyone.

And, speaking of afternoon teas, it probably goes without saying that summer Sunday afternoon teas are to be found every week all over Shetland. If you’re visiting the islands, you really should sample at least one, and nobody will judge you if you fit in two (or even three) on the same day – you wouldn’t be the first!

All in all, then, we have a very full month to look forward to and, if you’re here on holiday, we hope you’ll enjoy it!

Posted in: Community

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