Our June Diary

by Alastair Hamilton -

Summer is here, and so is the ‘simmer dim’, the overnight twilight that won’t fade to proper darkness until early August. It’s a magical time of year and folk in Shetland have long since mastered ways of making the most of it.

At the hardcore end of summer experiences, some of us may be spending the solstice walking to the top of our highest peak, Ronas Hill. Less challenging pursuits will include lots of less demanding walking and cycling, golf (quite possibly at midnight), some gentle gardening and, on the most hedonistic part of the spectrum, barbecues or soaking up the rays on any of our magnificent beaches.

It’s a magical time of year

In fact, the sea will be the focus of many activities, whether for local people or visitors, quite a few of whom arrive in yachts from all around the North Atlantic and sometimes farther afield. There are sailing or rowing regattas, for example in Burra Isle on the 9th and in the north-eastern village of Vidlin on the 23rd. The Burravoe Carnival and Sailing Regatta, on the northern island of Yell, runs from the 8th until the 10th. There’s also a rowing race round the island of Trondra on the 15th.

Rowing has become really popular in recent years, using a racing version of the traditional Shetland six-oared boat, and there are many categories of competition, from under-16 boys and girls to veteran men or women. There’s often a fishing competition (da eela) as part of the regatta programme, with many boats heading out to the best local fishing spots and competing to bring back the heaviest basket. Clandestine trips to the nearest fishmonger are not allowed.

Still on the maritime theme, our local sail-training vessel, the Swan – built in Lerwick in 1900 – will be operating several trips during the month. She sails from Orkney to St Kilda and back to Shetland between the 2nd and the 12th, makes day-visits to Foula, Shetland’s westernmost island, on the 16th and 17th, cruises the west mainland on the weekend of the 22nd to 24th, and heads to the Moray Firth on the 28th to take part in the Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival.

There will be many other sailing sights in June, too. The impressive ocean racers taking part in the Round Britain and Ireland Yacht Race will be in Lerwick from the 17th until the 19th. On the 28th, the annual Bergen-Shetland yacht race will be in port, leaving on 1 July. And towering over all of them will be a procession of around 16 visiting cruise liners, offering many thousands of passengers a glimpse of our islands. Last but not least, we have the Aith Lifeboat Gala Day on the 3rd and the Lerwick Lifeboat Day on the 9th.

Landlubbers are well catered for too. The month kicks off with the Shetland Classic Motor Show on the 2nd and 3rd; we’ll see hundreds of beautifully-restored cars, motorbikes, cycles, buses and trucks, plus stationary engines and lots of model cars and trucks. The show itself is at the Clickimin Centre in Lerwick, but on the days before and after the main event, most of the vehicles will be seen on outings around the islands. Those of us of a certain age will become deeply nostalgic.

The Classic Motor Show includes a traditional concert and there will be – of course – be music elsewhere too during June, and in great variety. For example, Gretchen Peters and Kim Richey, both Grammy-nominated, will be playing Mareel on the 7th and The Wallace Collection bring the sound of brass on the 9th, followed on the 16th by classically-influenced, kaleidoscopic jazz from Trio HLK. The Country Music Club have two concerts featuring Joe Davitt and the Davitt Country Band on the 15th and 16th. For younger listeners and players, the Shetland Community Orchestra and its partners will be offering workshops and a concert on Sunday 10th June as part of the BBC Ten Pieces project.

Shetland often features on comedians’ tours and next up is Fred Macaulay, who needs no introduction, given his regular appearances on BBC television shows such as QI, Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week and The News Quiz. Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s many comedy strands will know him well too, and an excellent evening’s entertainment is guaranteed.

There’s lots more. For example, the National Gallery’s masterpiece by Hans Holbein, A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling – painter at the court of Henry VIII – remains on display at the Shetland Museum and Archives throughout the month. Up close, it’s stunning; indeed, I’ve not seen a photograph that does full justice to the painting’s luminous, vibrant colour and intricate detail.

At the Bonhoga Gallery in the Weisdale Valley, the second instalment of Shetland Made includes work by another selection of local designers and makers, all of it for sale. This time, there’s an emphasis on textiles, but there’s also drawing and pottery on display.

And if a little more escapism is required, or we experience rain (which can be a rare and precious thing at this time of year) there is, as always, a great film programme at Mareel, ranging from the latest Star Wars episode, Solo: A Star Wars Story to Juliette Binoche’s poignant and perceptive French romcom, Let The Sunshine In or the latest Jurassic exploration, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella, on 24 June, is something else to look forward to.

Whatever floats your boat, midsummer in Shetland has it.

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