By Promote ShetlandApril 17th 2013

Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the January 2013 issue of our monthly newsletter and to wish you, on behalf of all of us at Promote Shetland, a happy, healthy and successful new year.

The old year ended in Shetland, as it always does, with family gatherings and parties all over the islands. At midnight on Hogmanay, several hundred people always gather around Lerwick's Market Cross to bring in the new year. Midnight is marked not only by the Town Hall's bells but also by a full-throated blast of ships' sirens in the harbour.

One of the talking points this year was the stormy weather in the run-up to Christmas. There was some damage along the east coast, especially at the hamlet of Leebitton, where a stone wall and sheds were damaged and low-lying fields were flooded. The storms also meant that the ferry to and from Aberdeen missed several sailings. Extra flights were provided to ensure that people could make their way to family gatherings in Shetland or visit mainland relatives. Both of our supermarkets, Tesco and the Cooperative, made headlines by chartering aircraft to bring in the turkeys and sprouts, though local shops remained pretty well-stocked throughout.

There's a lot to look forward to in January. I understand that the long-awaited two-part crime thriller, Shetland, based on the novels of Anne Cleeves, will be shown on BBC1 during the month. What's more, Anne will be launching her fifth Shetland crime novel, Dead Water in Lerwick on 31 January. Once again, her detective, Jimmy Perez, has a murder on his hands. As well as readings from the novel, by a Shetland actor, the launch event will feature a discussion between Anne and leading Forensic Pathologist, Dr James Grieve; he is a Senior Lecturer in Forensic Medicine at the Department of Pathology at the University of Aberdeen and a Police Forensic Pathologist for the North East and Grampian area.

Well before that, as I explain below, there's an excellent selection of films available at our new arts centre, Mareel , and January also sees the beginning of Shetland's unique and spectacular season of fire festivals.

Eclectic music delights December audiences

There were some great musical evenings on offer during December, with concerts by former Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews, a sparkling jazz dinner and new music from Shetland College students.

Cerys Matthews - also a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, author and broadcaster - was making her second visit to Shetland in three months. When not touring, she hosts an eclectic Sunday morning music show on BBC 6 Music and makes documentaries for television and BBC Radio. This time, she brought her 'Cerys by Candlelight' tour to Mareel. The tour was well reviewed elsewhere and the Shetland audience certainly enjoyed themselves. The lyrics for some of the songs she was to perform were available either by download or at Mareel, and Cerys had the Shetland audience singing along to several Christmas carols and Baby, It's Cold Outside, which is the title track for her new Christmas album on which she duets with Sir Tom Jones. There was poetry, too.

Jazz fans had a treat in store in the beautiful setting of Lerwick's Victorian Town Hall, where they enjoyed a superb three-course candlelit dinner created by Bo Simmons and accompanied by some first-class performances. Local band. Mahogany, opened proceedings with a string of traditional favourites, brilliantly played and sung. They were followed by a scratch trio made up of accomplished local players Norman Willmore and Hayden Hook (who, up to that point, had been helping to serve the meal) and visiting Brazilian guitarist Rodrigo Nunes.

Finally, we had the virtuosity of Brass Jaw, a quartet from Glasgow, who mixed classics from the likes of Thelonious Monk with seasonal tunes. Afterwards, a good few of the audience gravitated to the Bop Shop, the Shetland Jazz Club's new base, where music making continued into the small hours.

Another December highlight was Mareel@Mareel, an evening of new music, poetry and images created by Shetland College students. Mareel, the name given to the new arts centre, is the Shetland word for the phosphorescence that's sometimes seen in the sea and the students' brief had been to create interpretations of mareel in fabric, photography, words and music. The result was an absorbing evening marked by some superb composition and great playing. I wasn't able to get along myself but I watched and listened online at home, since one of the features of Mareel is that performances can be streamed live to audiences world-wide.

Cecilia undertakes one-woman assault on litter

Shetland residents enjoy one of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes in Europe and one woman has being doing her best to ensure that it remains pristine.

Over the last thirty years or so, Shetlanders have built a tradition of clearing rubbish and litter from roadsides and beaches, coping with the impact of the world's increasingly 'disposable' lifestyle. Every year, around 4,000 volunteers clear many bags of rubbish in a spring clean known as the Voar Redd-Up.

One woman, Cecilia James, has made her own, unique contribution. Back in September, she began picking up litter in the village of Voe, 18 miles north of Lerwick. She gradually worked her way south, clearing all the roadsides, roadside ditches and adjoining land along the way. She actually covered approaching 100 miles during her effort. Along the way she collected 254 bags of litter and many other larger pieces of 'bruck' (rubbish). Wheel trims were a remarkably common find, with more than one per mile.

Support for Cecilia's project has come from many quarters, including passers-by, local businesses and organisations and Facebook followers. Cecilia did face challenges along the way. Having filled her own and her neighbour's sheds before reaching half way, she needed somewhere to store all the bruck. Streamline Shipping stepped in to loan Cecilia a 20 foot container, which Garriock Bros transported for free to a suitable location. The Council's Roads Service supplied signs to help ensure Cecilia's safety and the Shetland Amenity Trust provided bags, transporting the collected bruck and promoting her project on its Dunna Chuck Bruck Facebook page. The local Ford garage even gave her car - which she'd been using to transport the bags - a free valet.

Cecilia said: "The support received has been very heartening, not just from the businesses but also from the public. Many passers by have tooted and waved and some have even come up to shake my hand and thank me."

So what now for Cecilia? Well, she hopes to work with Shetland Amenity Trust to sort the bruck gathered to get a picture of the rubbish being discarded at our roadsides. The data gathered will help the Trust and other local organisations to understand where the bruck is coming from and try to tackle it at source.

Sita Goudie, Environmental Improvement Officer at Shetland Amenity Trust, said: "Cecilia is an inspirational individual and what she has done, especially at this time of year, is incredible. One of Cecilia's original aims was to raise awareness of roadside litter, which she has certainly done. We now need to build on Cecilia's efforts and try to reduce the level of littering in the isles. By storing the bruck, Cecilia has given us a great opportunity to analyse the types of litter gathering at our roadsides and where it could be coming from. We'll have regular updates on the Dunna Chuck Bruck Facebook page."

Mareel's cinemas offer a great range of January films

January's film programme at Mareel contains a very appealing mix of current or recent features, alongside a selection of more unusual offerings including classics and documentaries.

Until last year, film fans in Shetland had to be patient. Feature films were shown from time to time in the Garrison Theatre and the long-established Shetland Film Club presented an excellent selection of less well-known films over each winter season.

Since Mareel opened in September 2012, the choice of films on offer has widened dramatically. Several, including Skyfall and The Hobbit, have opened in Shetland on the same day as elsewhere in the UK. What's more, Mareel's two cinemas have the very latest projection equipment, terrific sound and well-raked, really comfortable seating.

Mareel will have several new movies on offer during January include Les Miserables, starring Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman and director Ang Lee's mesmerising Life of Pi. Quartet, with Billy Connolly and Maggie Smith, and Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, a story of slavery in the American south, are also bound to prove popular. Children are well catered for, too, with showings of Madagascar 3, Ratatouille and Tangled.

Away from the mainstream new releases, there's an outing for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Amour (2012), is a touching French-language film which picked up the Palme d'Or at Cannes, the European Film Award and a basketful of other nominations. Other more unusual features include Chasing Ice, a powerful and visually stunning documentary about a photographer's record of climate change; Neil Young Journeys, a documentary about the singer-songwriter; and Poland's 2012 Oscar entry, In Darkness, which will mark Holocaust Memorial day on 27 January. In all, 18 different films will be shown during the month.

The two cinemas are a very welcome addition to the Shetland scene and they've proved extremely popular with audiences, with admissions running far ahead of forecasts.

New Year Honours for Shetlanders

Two Shetland women have been honoured in the New Year honours list.

A crofter from Weisdale, in Shetland's central mainland, is to receive the British Empire Medal for services to crofting in the islands. Agnes Leask, who is 78, still works the croft at Cott in Weisdale as she has done since 1958. Over that time, she has also acted as a very able advocate for crofting and, as an office-bearer in crofting organisations, has frequently acted as spokesperson for the industry, featuring many times in television and radio programmes.

The other award, the Order of the British Empire, has been given to Eileen Moir for services to nursing. In 1974, she started work as a nursing auxiliary in Lerwick's Gilbert Bain Hospital and, in the course of her career, has tackled every nursing role, spending time in Aberdeenshire, South Africa, New Zealand and the Scottish Borders, where she still lives. She became Nurse Director for Health Improvement Scotland and, more recently, established her own consultancy business.

We send our very warmest congratulations to them both.

Islesburgh House Hostel wins again

Following confirmation last month that it has retained its five star award from the national visitor agency, VisitScotland, Islesburgh House Hostel has again been voted the best in the world at the Hostelling International Hostel Awards in Cologne.

The 'Best Hostel in the World' title is reserved for the establishment with the highest overall customer satisfaction rating on the Hostelling International website. The site has over 4,000 hostels affiliated to it from countries right across the globe. The winning score achieved by Islesburgh House Hostel was an overall customer satisfaction rating of 97 per cent for 2012. It's the second year in a row that Islesburgh has secured first place.

Dale Smith, the hostel's manager, said: "I'm absolutely delighted that we have won this award again and I emphasise the word 'we' as it wouldn't have happened without the support of the great team of people who work with me and consistently deliver the highest standards of service.

"This is a great Christmas present for all of us and sets us up to start the New Year on a high."

A season of fire festivals

January in Shetland always means the beginning of a three-month season of fire festivals, beginning with the Scalloway Fire Festival on 11 January.

The biggest and best-known is, of course, the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, which always takes place on the last Tuesday in January and features on any number of international 'must see' lists. As always, the town will welcome visitors from all over the world, yet Up Helly Aa is a fundamentally local affair, a tradition that grew up in the community rather than being created as an attraction.

The event is best known for the procession of around 900 torch-bearing 'guizers' in Viking and other costumes, but that's only part of the story, for the festival lasts a full 24 hours. After the evening procession, there are all-night dances in a dozen or so 'halls' around the town, with celebrations only winding down at around 8am on the Wednesday morning. Most of these parties are by invitation only; tickets are sold for the Lerwick Town Hall, but they go very quickly. Other events are laid on, too, including the Fiery Sessions (a concert of Shetland music) and Stand Up Helly Aa, a comedy night; there are more details of these here.

As in previous years, there are plans to stream live pictures of the Lerwick Up Helly Aa over the internet. The pictures may well be better than in previous years, thanks to the availability of Shetland's new fibre-optic cable connection. Switched on in December, it offers speeds of up to 20 Mbps to users in the Lerwick area.

If you're thinking of making the move to Shetland, a visit to one of the fire festivals would make an ideal hook on which to hang a reconnaissance visits. The festivals offer a real insight into the community and - in the more informal country festivals - you wouldn't be the first visitor to find themselves invited to take part! There are full details of the Lerwick Up Helly Aa and dates for all the other fire festivals on our sister Visit.Shetland website.

Blog Of The Month

Our blog this month comes from Nat Hall, a poet, writer and artist who, like many others, has found inspiration in the islands.