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By Toby SkinnerOctober 8th 2020

We asked ten locals, and here’s what they said.

The community

Says jewellery designer and photographer Sophie Whitehead

“I read something online recently that claimed the word community is an on-trend word at the moment. In Shetland it’s one of the most important things and very real, whether it’s trendy or not. Since moving here I’ve always been lucky to feel a part of ‘something’ and I think that that is what has stolen my heart and made me stay here. The Shetland community is welcoming, loving and helpful. It’s from walking down Commercial Street and meeting folk you know, to knowing there’s someone to call when your car breaks down; it’s cake deliveries on your doorstep, or people to adventure with and share the sunset with. I’m a real gang person, and everyone’s included – the more people I can share that experience with the better.”

The people

Says chef and cookbook author Marian Armitage

“There’s a warmth and a shared sense of identity here which is really special. I often meet older folk who knew my parents, and their stories of the past feel like they connect me. And what’s really nice in Shetland is that you see every new generation of bairns engaging with the islands, and really loving them.”

The support for crofting

Says modern crofter Chris Dyer

“Shortly after my wife and I bought our croft, there was a knock at the door late one windy October night. It was some good friends from a mile up the road. They announced that they had a croft-warming present, so we beckoned them in out of the cold, thinking it would be a good time for tea or a dram. However, they were intent on staying outside as our croft-warming present was in their trailer. Perplexed, we donned hats and coats and ventured outside, peering into the trailer to see two beautifully-coloured ewe lambs; a welcome addition to the flock.”

Being in tune with nature

Says zoologist and fiddler Martha Thomson

“In Shetland, you find beauty everywhere you wander, from the wild peatland hill to the weathered coastal cliffs. I particularly love how in tune Shetlanders are with nature and the landscapes and how it changes throughout the year. My great-granny would always remark on the first signs of violets at the start of Voar (spring) and my dad still lets me know when he spots the first of the steenchaakers, or wheatear, birds. I love that it feels like a marked event.”

I particularly love how in tune Shetlanders are with nature and the landscapes and how it changes throughout the year.

Martha Thomson
Martha Thomson

The childrens’ freedom

Says knitwear entrepreneur Joanna Hunter

“They roam free and everyone around keeps an eye out so you know that they can’t get into any harm. They head off on their bikes and come home when they get hungry. In the summer the marina is full of children in wetsuits jumping off the pier and playing on an array of boats, boards and toys. They still have the freedom and childhood which I had in the 80s. I don’t think that is the case in many places these days.”

The views

Says Wendy Inkster of Burra Bears

“The intoxicating views just go on and on, and are a real treat for photographers. Although we have many fantastic viewpoints, it’s not even necessary to hike up a high heathery hill or perch on top of wildly dramatic cliffs (although if you do you will be guaranteed a breathtaking panorama). Just driving along the narrow winding roads in the summer provides a patchwork of colour with never ending expanses of green, purple grass and heather showcasing the masterpiece of Mother Nature.”

The freedom

Says tour guide and blogger Laurie Goodlad

“The first time I felt it, or rather, the first time I felt a lack of it was when I was at uni on the mainland. When the weather was fine, I felt hemmed in by the city, with nowhere to go and little to do to escape the indoors. All my classmates assumed that being from Shetland would mean that I was in some ways insular, sheltered and protected from the world, but at uni, I felt the opposite. I craved the space and the freedom that I had at home and there was nothing that could replicate it on the Mainland. In Shetland, if the weather is fine, we can go to a beach, go for a hike, camp, go off in the boat and fish – there is never a moment when boredom has a chance to take root, but sitting in my third-floor flat at uni, the only option was the pub.”

In Shetland, there is never a moment when boredom has a chance to take root.

Laurie Goodlad
Laurie Goodlad

The sense of place

Says artist and gallery owner Shona Skinner

“Moving from Central London to Cullivoe has been so refreshing. The obvious sense of community is so important, and the children are incredible. You go to events at the local hall and there will be tiny babies through to 90 year olds. You will sit next to a six year old, who will ask how you’re doing and then launch into a totally adult conversation. It is also an incredibly safe environment, where everyone looks out for each other.”

The fact that everyone gets involved

Says business development officer Leah Irvine

“There are no airs and graces in Shetland. Everyone mucks in. You help clear tables at Sunday Teas, you help set up halls for weddings, you pick up your neighbour if his car has broken down, you run errands if someone is sick, you join committees, you pick up plastic off the beaches, you attend charity events. You are part of something bigger than you even realise, because that’s how a small community operates – and, in return your community looks after you too. You get back what you put in and more.”

With the Shetland community, you get back what you put in and more.

Leah Irvine
Leah Irvine

The accessibility of nature

Says tour guide Jon Pulley

“In Shetland, it always feels like everything is right there. It always amazes me that we have such beautiful scenery, landscapes, wildlife and history right on our doorsteps. Even living in Lerwick, I can walk out my front door and be on the beach in five minutes – totally immersed in nature, with nothing but the sounds of the sea and the wind filling my ears.”