Our July Diary

by Alastair Hamilton -

It’s high summer and, assuming the good weather continues, Shetland life will be lived largely outdoors in the weeks ahead. Although there are plenty of organised events, many folk will be organising their own outings, whether by land or sea.

One very popular fixture in Shetland’s summer calendar is the Noss Open Day, which this year takes place on the 7th. Noss (the name means ‘a point of rock’) is a small island on the east side of Shetland. At this National Nature Reserve, with its high seabird cliffs, the gannets are a really impressive sight as they plummet into the sea in search of fish. There are thousands of other seabirds, too: guillemots, razorbills, puffins and more. Porpoises and whales can sometimes be seen, too.

Noss is separated from the larger island of Bressay – which shelters Lerwick’s harbour – by a narrow, shallow channel, and one of the thrills of a visit is the two-minute dash in an open inflatable. On the Open Day, organised by Scottish Natural Heritage, there is a series of special events on Noss, several with children in mind; but you can simply take off on your own and enjoy the walk around the island, allowing enough time to soak up the sights and sounds of the bird colonies.

Slightly larger boats feature in the regatta season, now under way. It continues with the Aith regatta, in the West Mainland, from the 4th to the 7th; and still bigger vessels will tower over the yachts, fishing boats and ferries in Lerwick Harbour during the month, with 26 visits by cruise liners. Some of them bring two or three thousand visitors to explore Lerwick and other parts of Shetland; on several days there will be two liners in port.

For landlubbers, two exhibitions continue until the 15th. The marvellous Holbein exhibition at the Shetland Museum and Archives has already drawn more than 5,000 visitors, and no wonder: the Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling is a wonderful painting. We’re delighted that the National Gallery chose Shetland as one of the places she’s visiting on her tour.

Up in the Weisdale valley, about twenty minutes’ drive from Lerwick, the Bonhoga Gallery is hosting the second ‘Shetland Made’ exhibition in a series. This show focuses mostly on textiles, with some pottery and drawing; some beautiful work is on display.

Music is never far away, of course, and there are several much-anticipated concerts during July. Our arts centre, Mareel, is staging a Folk Weekender from the 5th to the 8th. It features workshops, sessions and talks and there’ll also be a concert featuring Kris Drever, Kevin Henderson and Laura-Beth Salter. Kris lives in Shetland these days and continues to play with Lau; he was named Folk Singer of the Year in the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and also picked up the award for best original track with If Wishes Were Horses. If you’re unable to see him in Shetland, he has three concerts in England this month: Stamford (13th), Lichfield (14th) and Hay on Wye (15th).

Kris was named Folk Singer of the Year in 2017

Kevin Henderson is a leading Shetland fiddler who’ll curate the Shetland Fiddle Frenzy from 2019. He’s playing these days with The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, who have concerts coming up in Aberdeen on the 11th and 12th. Mandolin player and tutor Laura-Beth Salter, originally from Lincolnshire, is now Glasgow-based and plays in a number of bands, including The Shee and the Kinnaris Quartet.

There’s more music later in the month, including a performance by the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, with local fiddlers and pipers, in the Clickimin Centre on the 25th. Then on the 31st, we can look forward to a really special concert in Mareel which will feature Drever McCusker Woomble plus returning Shetland Folk Festival favourites, Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards. It’ll be another chance to hear Kris Drever but it’ll also be great to hear from Roddy Woomble (from Idlewild) and leading fiddler John McCusker. What’s more, their percussionist for the evening will be Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbott.

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards will be making their third visit to Shetland, where their brand of Americana has gone down very well – as indeed it did at this year’s Glasgow’s Celtic Connections. They’ll be playing music from their new album, California Calling. It should be a great night.

There’ll be music, too – along with a great many other delights – at Unstfest 2018, which runs from the 14th to the 22nd. The inhabitants of Britain’s northernmost inhabited island – featured in the recent BBC Springwatch series – will present a remarkably wide range of events. Picking a few from the programme (PDF) at random, we find harbour tours on an authentic Viking boat; curry takeaways, Chinese takeaways, tapas with wine or an Italian night; a clothes swap shop; guided walks; a pool party; yoga on the beach; a 5k run or 10k cycle; and a twilight mystery tour. For a community of its size, Unst always puts together an astonishingly full and diverse festival.

That’s far from all that’s happening in July. For example, budding song-and-dance stars can audition for a part in an autumn production of Fiddler on the Roof. They might want to hone their skills at Shetland Arts’ ‘Summer Dance Intensive’, beginning on the 30th. We may bump into some established stars, too, as filming gets under way for the next series of the BBC detective drama, Shetland. As well as other events, there’s a full cinema programme at Mareel, plus the ever-popular Film Quiz on the 24th,. Local comedian, Marjolein Robertson, will be there on the 19th to preview her Edinburgh Festival Fringe show in front of a home audience.

And we mustn’t forget the delights of Shetland’s Sunday Teas, run for good causes at two or three different community halls (sometimes more) every week.

Locals and visitors have – as always – plenty to look forward to.

Posted in: Community