My Shetland Adventure
This is the first place I stayed in Shetland. I arrived at Sumburgh (Sum Bra) Airport, sans suitcase, late in the evening and took a bus to Lerwick. I knew about this the only real city on the islands. I came with map and appropriate phone numbers - no phone mind you. I bought one in Tesco’s the following day. But I stayed here. It is literally on the dock. That is the view in upper picture. The following day I took a bus to Unst which included two ferries. Remember, I know no one, never been here before, just went.
I’m sitting in Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms. (Wi-Fi complementary.) You can look it up on the internet. It is a lovely place. Overlooking one of the prettiest bays. Victoria is the daughter-in-law of my Landlady. That’s how I found this house that I now rent. I came up here by bus, about 5 miles from Baltasound where I had been staying in the Baltasound Hotel to the village of Haraldswick. I’d heard about the Tea Room while still in White Rock and it was on my to-do list.
Over coffee and a superb lunch (Victoria does all the cooking and baking – yum, yum) I mentioned that it was too bad that the Unst Heritage Centre was closed for the season. I knew there was some awesome old knitted lace I wanted to see and I’m always looking out for historical stuff.
“My mother-in-law volunteers at the centre. I’m sure she can let you in. Would you like me to phone her?”
“Oh. Really! Yes please.”
She whips out her cell and makes the call.
“She’ll come up at 1:30. That will leave you time to finish your lunch. She’ll meet you up there. Her name’s Irene.”
“Thank you very much.” On and off through my lunch we converse over things Shetland, family, world. At about 20 after she comes and says I should go to the centre.
“Just go left out of here. Go along the shore a little way to the next road and go up to the end. The centre is just there.” Off I go in my big, black and grey Haida blanket with the killer whale on it and my shocking red rain hat into the wind. I and my walking stick are a little slow and before I’m at the end of the road (well that might be a little overstated, the end of the impossibly narrow lane – mind you it is paved, as most of the roads are here, no matter how small, excellent money spent by the D.O.T.) Irene has driven down looking for me. I jump into her car.
“I didn’t know if you’d find it. So I just though I come and make sure. Hello.”
“Hello. That was nice of you. To come and let me take a look in the museum.”
“Oh well. It’s no bother.”
We had a great time. Probably late sixties, early seventies. Very, very knowledgeable. After all she was born here (Here as in Unst – pop. 687 in winter). Along with lace, WWI, schools, grandkids etc., I could tell she knew all about me. And I’d only been on the island a week. Off-the-wall Canadian grandmother, staying for the winter, looking for a place to rent, retired school teacher, into literature – well, I have to laugh. Shetland grapevine is remarkable.
“Tony and I have a little chalet if you are interested.”
“Sure. When can I see it?”
“What are you doing this afternoon?”
“Well, I thought I would have another cup of coffee at the tea room and go back to the hotel.”
“Come and have tea at my house and you can see the chalet.”
“Thank you. That would be nice.”
“Are you a knitter yourself?”
“Very much so.”
“Well we have a group that meets Monday nights here at the centre to knit. Are you interested in goin’?”
“Yes. I’d like to go. I have the number of the local taxi, I could get there quite easily.”
“Good. It starts at 7:00.” We hadn’t gone 300 feet when we came to a woman walking along. Irene stops and rolls down my window. “Hello Minnie.”
“This is Mallory. She’s a knitter and is wantin’ to go the group on Monday.”
“Hello Mallory. That will be nice. Would you like me to pick you up at the hotel?”
“That very kind of you. I don’t want to put you out though.”
“It’s on my way. It’s no trouble. See you just before seven.”
Irene lives on the south side of the sound or inlet or “Voe” – the main lot of the people in the village of Baltasound live on the north. But it is all really walking distance. More than I am used to but I’m taking it a day at a time and gaining strength. She introduces me to her husband Tony who had been in BC quite a bit when he was in the merchant navy. He a fabulous story teller and accompanied his stories with pictures from Chemainus for heaven sakes. And place all over the world. Wonderful afternoon. He tremendously articulate and interesting.
Then Irene takes me to her chalet – a three-bedroom house! I had had the romantic notion of living in an old stone croft house complete with a peat fire. Well, very few of those are still habitable. The rooves are gone and really just a pile of rubble. And peat fires – sigh - sorry to say the method of heating nowadays is electricity.
Ah, well. I have a nice house now. There are a cluster of five in this little cul-de-sac, housing for helicopter pilots who used to fly the workers out the oil rigs. Sadly that is gone now, pilots, airfield and jobs.
Telephone, internet will be re-connected on Nov 13. For now, I’m keeping in touch from Victoria’s.
Below is a continuation from my blog. It takes up back in Ireland where I began writing my reflections and feelings in poetry. I hope you enjoy it.
A Foreigner Welcomed
How do I spend my days
Since coming, I knitted a skirt for my Granddaughter, Alexandra, 3 ¾, for Christmas. I’ve almost finished an afghan for my grandson, Kai,1. This is a block of the Brown family tartan with a very wide border of geometric design with the same colours. He can learn about his Brown heritage when he is older and someone can explain to him the meaning of the afghan. I have also started another afghan for my other grandson Josh, 13, in the colours of his favourite soccer team, Arsenal.
Afghan knitted in the "Brown" tartan of my Grandfather.
I attend meetings.
One group is a ‘women’s institute’ kind of group. They discuss issues, take on charities and up-grade their knowledge. One in November was very interesting. The ladies who is the librarian of the local Baltasound Primary has a brother who works in the Museum in Lerwick. This is a very large, very beautiful, very well directed facility. One could send years studying the collection. The brother is responsible for the massive archive of photographs that have not yet been researched and categorized. So he was invited the give a presentation. He projected about one hundred photographs dating back to the time of the first photographs of people and places in the Isles. He had some names and dates but his research had big holes. Many of those holes were filled this evening by the older people in the audience. So everybody benefited. Plus it was a fun night. How better could you spend a cold, wet, blustery evening? Watching a game show on TV?
One the last meeting before Christmas we took ourselves to dinner. Everything we go to, a meeting, a birthday, celebration, we bring at little wrapped gift – chocolate, fancy candle, biscuits - these are raffled off at the end of the meeting. £1 per ticket. This raffle idea seems to be carried out in most get-togethers. With the proceeds, a charity or a meal for the members is provided. Victoria’s Vintage Tea Room is the best place on the island. Victoria is also Irene and Tony’s daughter-in-law. She is a wonderful cook and although they restaurant is closed for the season, she can be booked for special occasions.
The dinner was lentil or turnip (Neep) soup to start; turkey, ham, beef, lamb, potatoes (fired and mashed), sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts, yams, asparagus, stuffing, gravy, pudding, cake and wine. The evening had many giggles. It totally stagers the imagination. Victoria is such a good cook.
We were also entertained by Victoria’s daughter, Macey. This 13 year-old has an awesome talent. She sang and played the flute. You wouldn’t believe she was so young. Providing your own entertainment is a well-entrenched island thing. That’s not to say this girl was not nervous. She was. But she knew she was in a safe environment of friends and family and she found the courage to do it. Good on her and lucky for us.
The tea room is in a village called Haroldswick – I call these things villages but most are very difficult to tell from the ‘country’. To be strictly accurate, they can be described as a slight thickening o houses. Back in the time when Unst was much more populated the villages had schools and shops and industry. Baltasound now is the only school left. The Unst Heritage Centre, where we meet for knitting, is the old Haroldswick School. It is a very pretty village which looks out over a wick. A wick is a location of settlement but it also has another meaning. It is a bay that has a wide mouth to the sea. Here is a picture from the glass fronted tea room:
I study history and dialect.
t is amazing really. I belong to the Shetland library in Lerwick, which has 3 van that come to the islands every ¾ weeks. Annette drives the one to Unst. It has books in the van but I usually go on line and order what I want and Annette brings it to my crescent of 5 houses – Mary, my neighbour and I belong - and delivers our books already checked out – we just switch bags. Anything pretty much is available.
So what about entertainment?
Yes there is TV – with all the UK stations and a lot of American programs. There is also the self-made entertainment as I talked about before. There’s the library service and lecture brought in and there is community social events, dancing, house parties, teas etc. That is the winter program. Definitely the summer program is a totally different level of activities, and an explosion of tourists with events on all the islands. I am looking forward to my first summer.
Down south in Lerwick there is anything you could want. A huge number of bands, singers, plays, shows and sport events, live and screen, etc that have two venues: the old Garrison Theatre and the new modern, not always appreciated, Mareel. Both put on wonderful shows. This is all very well for mainland Shetland people but rarely is there a matinee where the other islanders can attend and still catch the last ferry home. The evening shows can be prohibitively expensive for the people of Yell. Unst, Foula, Fetlar because the ticket would have to include the price of overnight accommodation.
However, that is not to say that wonders cannot be created elsewhere in the remoter islands. There is on Unst, ‘Britain’s more northern post office’. They can also claim “Britain’s most northern opera’.
One of my friends, Tony, is a staggering wealth of information about the islands. He is totally fascinating. He and his wife are my landlords in the cottage I rent from them. They are also super people. Kind, friendly, hospitable. They drive me to all sorts of places. A fabulous show and tell.
Stories from Tony (actually his family name is Mouat – pronounced just like Farley. I often wonder if Canada’s beloved author has some ancestry here.
The Heather Legacy
I would have thought this island was reluctant to bloom with magical colours. I was wrong. Yes, winter grows mainly rocks and a smidgen of grass for sheep, cows and ponies. But give it a few months into the baby year and the hills come alive with purple heather just like the old song tells us.
My friend and landlord, ever generous with his intimate knowledge of his homeland explained that 70 years or so ago the Sound (Balta’s) thanks to its protected entrance – small islands stand guard at its opening to the sea - homed 700+ fishing boats, with both shores packed with hard working docks, herring curing plants and seafood processors – salmon, white, lobster, mussels. Now, sadly, there are a handful of boats that herd the mussels in a farm in the sound, and one or two boats a week that come to the one remaining dock to take stone to a market down south. Gone are the forest of boats and the traffic jams at the entrance to the sound which caused lots of paint-scraping and interesting word choices as too many vessels competed to enter and exit, morning and night. Gone also are the long line of processing shacks on the south bank. Apart from the four or so croft houses scattered on the hill to the south, there is one plant left where the mussels are taken by truck around from the north side dock where the critters are cleaned before being taken off island.
Back in the earlier part of the twentieth century, making an individual living and a prosperous island community was not such a struggle. And of course the off-island men coming to work on the boats, and women to work the land-based-part of the industry, needed temporary accommodation shacks which sprang up on the south side of the sound like mushrooms. Common were the straw beds, stuffed with vegetation of all sorts. I’ve slept in one of these beds and it not bad at all and growing up on a farm my mother knew nothing else and I never heard her complain. Well, come the end of the season, the bedding and other scarce comforts of temporary home life were packed up in wait for next year. The straw from the beds naturally were dumped into the fields. And the ubiquitous wind did its job. Heather. Stacks of it was scooped up with the seeds and dusted all over the island. A good-times legacy enjoyed to this day.
Opera in the Isles
I saw an opera last night. And good it was too. The Scottish and various local governments along with private concerns contribute to an institution called NOISE. This is an entertainment company North Scottish Entertainment, was created in order to not only encourage but to develop awareness of grassroots dialects and talent among the various traditions throughout the country. Hear Hear!! Brilliant, I say.
Toward this aim, an opera was commissioned in the Shetland dialect. One of Scotland’s national great musicians and a super famous Shetland musician wrote the opera called “Herda”. Great plot. In parallel are two sets of lovers. A couple from maybe 75 years ago, who never made it to the alter before the man died at sea and the woman died of a broken heart play ghosts through the actions of a modern day set of lovers, a woman who has just married the brother of a returning man when the woman and the prodigal son discover that they love each other. Each couple’s actions revolve around each other echoing and hinting at a possible parallel tragedy. It is sensitively and intelligent done. Pathos and laughter mix in a stellar performance.
The talent is super. The groom’s acting skills and the singing quality are first rate. A small orchestra, which included the violin of the Shetland musician, was conducted by William . I was entertained!
As to the dialect. I couldn’t help but noticed a few low grumbles. It is difficult for off-islanders to pronounce the language like a native. Granted. But the quality of the libretto I think did the Isles proud. The grumbling actually is a good sign that these people are adamant to keep their uniqueness alive.
At home this performance would have cost 10 times the price of the ticket! Haroldswick Hall too small for the size of the voices and instrument made the auditory component a little difficult. The weather. Well yes, blustery snow and sleet kept some away, but at least 50 people turned out – just about the limit of the facility.
So what more could a person ask for? For my humble wants, I was entertained. For the islanders, their language was getting air time, not only at home but the show was going on the road. When a place is losing ground economically, population-wise, traditions and language are dwindling, swamped by the modern era of English/Chinese only, this production is a good thing.
Two Girls in a Dingy
Arrrggghhhh. Can you imagine being on the sea in the dark, in the cold, in a tiny oared boat? And alone! On the north side of Uyea Sound looking out toward the east, lies an island, called Uyea, maybe a few acres in size. It has a hill and pastures. Pretty in the day light.
Not long ago, in living memory anyway, there was a large estate on the island that is gone now. There is barely anything left of it to see. It is amazing how short a time it takes or nature to reclaim its own. This large household employed two girls from the town of Muness, a small village on mainland Unst. Being Unst girls, they were both able seamen, or seawomen, more accurately. Each morning they rowed a small craft over to the island, a distance no more than several hundred yards and back again in the evening.
Yes, it is very dark in the afternoons in the winter up in these latitudes. Come December and into January it is dark by 3 o’clock or shortly after and not light again until close to 9 o’clock. But a thing that is strange and really awesome is that you can see in the dark up here. If there is any clearing in the sky, the starlight is enough for you to be able to make your way walking. It is arresting to look out at three in the night and see the line of the hills and the clouds.
Now these girls were quite able to make it back at the end of the day by aiming toward the lights in the cottages along the shore. Perhaps not everyone would choose this but if you grew up by the sea and were dependant on the sea as people have been here, and all over the world’s shores, for thousands and thousands of years, it is probably not that terrifying.
However, one evening when the girls set out, things took a turn. Yes, it would be unusually for there to be no wind. The Islands grow two thing well: rocks and wind. It is staggering that in this age of wind-generated power they aren’t selling loads of it up here. One would think it would be like gold. But then in this day and age, it is not common sense and practicality that run the world. It is big business whose fuel is supergreed, with political manipulation as the engine in ‘civilized’ countries and bullets in the less fortunate or weaker ones.
On this particular night, some little time after they had set out toward home a terrific blow came up. Worthy sea people though they were, this sudden blow was so violent that it was beyond their meager human ability to fight it. They were taken out to sea. Lost supposedly, to unbearable grief of their parents and fellow islanders for very close all of the islanders are. Family and friends in their fishing boats set out as soon as they could to look for them. No trace was found of them.
Stand down the tears and sorrow. It is not though the end of the story. In fact it is all quite charming. An ending quite in keeping with any fairy tale.
Well, I guess not so fast. First of all there was the night in the boat. Yes. Well. That must have been horrendous. For the many hours on the mountainous, mutinous sea, the noise of the wind, the darkness, fear, cold anyone of which could have killed them.
Two Girls Adrift in a Storm
The throat of the North Sea
Stretched black and dire
Screamed its threats.
At those daring or foolish
Its fowl breath sinking
Of salt and fish, inhaled
And exhaled like a
Mountainous unseen alien.
Soaking hair whipped
Lips and eyes cowering
In pale faces, unable to
Escape the fury.
Not star, nor light from distance
Homes, fires, street lights
No line between heaven
Grasping each other
Lest herself or her friend
Over the gunwales
Fighting for breath
Fighting to hold on
Fighting for courage
Fighting to live
Even if speaking
What could be said
This dreadful night
Oars gone, useless now anyway
Day light gone, worsening
The terror. Where was Neptune
Taking them now?
Huddling low, hand in hand
Two young girls fight the terror
Clutching each other for warmth
For courage, for contact to life
Where did Neptune take them? Norway. Yes these two hardy souls survived their ordeal and many, many hours later hauled up on the shore. Clothed, fed, warmed, watered and comforted by the inhabitants, the girls lived. And true to good fairy tale fashion, they each fell in love with a handsome, young Norwegian lad, married and lived happily ever after.
Tasks on the Hoof
One of the things I was beginning to find wearing on my psyche was how the modern world tends to make a big palaver when doing things. This needs doing: call in the a hundred experts, spend a fortune in fancy, high tech tools, get the lawyers involved, the doctors – don’t discuss what is actually needed. I remember a joke on this - What do you get when you engage a committee to move a pencil from a pencil case to the table? - The Queen Mary.
When I had the business taking tours to outlining native communities for city people to educate themselves on the various cultures, I was always delighted in how smoothly and easily courses of actions were assessed, by the native people, decisions made, action initiated and completed, and life moved on.
I tried for months to get my thermostat fixed. I hired several people and paid several people who all claimed “Of course I can do it. I can slot you in in two weeks.” Only when they do turn up after missing several vaguely agreed upon times -without phoning me to say they can’t make it, when I had had to cancel activities I’d planned. Then what? They arrive to fuss, use a bunch of tools, make a mess in my living room, run out to buy ‘needed’ parts at Home Depot on my nickel. Create new tools, new philosophies, invent the wheel, discover fire. And then give me long lectures on why it could not be done – no fault of their own, somebody else’s, - I would need to get my house rewired – thinking this is OK and left. So why do they take expensive education? Why do they claim to be able to do all things? Why are they in business? Why do they take people’s money?
Finally my friend said she had a neighbour who had retired quite some time ago (Old school) who had solved some difficulties for her. I phoned him. He came around some few hours later with a couple of screw drivers in his pocket. “Oh yes. I see. Not a problem.” In less than five minutes the job was done and he left protesting he couldn’t possibly take the money I offered him – the job didn’t warrant any bill, not even a tip. Nice man. No lectures. No derogatory innuendos about ‘my’ house not be wired properly. ‘my’ wasting his time, ‘my’ stupidity for buying a house in such shoddy condition.
Well, much to my delight but not surprising, Shetlanders have not forsaken common sense or practicality. Sheep are a case in point. Around Christmas crofters will their rams who have been pasturing in a separate field and guide them over to the ewe fields. No fancy equipment, walk up grab him by the scuff, wiping some bright coloured powder (cheap, I imagine) on his front, which he doesn’t make any fuss about, guide it to the gate and he quite willingly charges in. Next ram, happy to comply. Then the crofter goes back home or onto another task – job done.
I have seen TV documentaries where, the vets were called in, trucks, test tubes, ultra sounds, Phds, white coats, appointments, barns, masses of money changing hands, return visits with follow-ups, more money changing hands, blood tests, committees standing around assessing. Assessing what?
So what’s the bright-coloured powder for? Well you can look from the comfort of your living room with you cup of tea in your hand see to whom the ram has done his job and who needs a bit extra nourishing food in the next few months. Brilliant. They want to give more food to the ones who hare pregnant – the ones with the bright powder on their rumps.
Knock on the Door on a Dark Night.
One night at the knitting club, a woman told this story. It’s dark, cold, blowy, wet and she is by herself when a knock comes at her door. She opens the door to find a soggy, frozen young man standing there. She lives quite far north on the island of Unst, quite a way from any neighbours and she didn’t know him. So, of course, she pulls him into her house and gets a warm cup of tea down him and a blanket. Eventually his shivering had gone down enough to enables him to speak properly.
He was from down south – on Shetland, but down where the population is higher, actual towns. He had taken a fancy that afternoon to make the drive, plus ferry crossings, to come and look at Muckle Flugga. He’d stopped his car at the end of the road and walked the rest of the way to the shore. Well, not unreasonable – I mean I do things off the wall too.
This chap however had left the excursion to quite late and it starts to get dark here at 3:00. Along his way, he told her, he had been worried about losing his keys so he kept taking them out of his pocket to make sure they were still there. Sure enough he lost them! So he goes over and over the path until it is blacker than black. No luck. Now he is in serious trouble. No flash light. Can find his way and he staggers around for a couple of hours. He knows he is in serious trouble. He hasn’t come suitably dressed and by now he is soaked.
Shetland people use black out curtains in their homes. In winter I presume for heat retention and in summer to give some darkness for sleeping. Land of the midnight sun and all that. So spotting a home in the rocky hills is an immensely challenging task. The young man could have been out most of the night and either fallen and been seriously injured or just died of exposure. A very lucky chap for sure. Warmed, tea-ed, telephoned (mobiles are a hit and miss proposition here), he had managed to get hold of a friend to come and take him home – a two hour journey including ferries.
In a place that rarely locks doors, he could have left his keys in his unlocked car. But who’s to point fingers. My Dad use to say, if temporary stupidity was a crime we'd all have spent time in jail.
The Great March
About 9:00 the morning after the snow, I looked out the back and several sheep were scurrying toward the cottage. What was making them nervous? Well, four cows were walking across the field. To be truthful, three cows and a bull. I know these animals. They live in a pasture down the road – three fields, a fast flowing creek and a road away. The road maybe has two or three cars a week if that, but still. It’s a long way away. How did they get into the sheep field? And where were they going? So I watched. Wondering if I needed to tell someone their cows were on the run.
On they went to the far right corner. Behind them followed a man. Slowly with one stiff leg but forceful. Up behind his beasties, he got to the corner of the fences and opened a gate. Cows sauntered through and kept going. The man closed the gate and he too continued on.
Over the gentle hills, along the creek until there was a good place for fording, my four friends forged on. Over to the far right corner, then stood patiently waiting for the man. They repeated this for at least four more fields. It surprised me that I had been standing half an hour watching. Down behind a low hill was a large red building. I’m guessing it is a barn. I had been told the sheep are fine in all weather but the cows don’t like, cold excessive wet or snow. I guess they knew where they were going. Such a far cry from the old west movies. It was a calm, quiet, peaceful maneuver. No need to guide, cajole or yell at the animals. How cool.
Life as an Unster
I’m getting to know the area, people and critters. Out of my back door, it is quite normal to have sheep snuggling into the shelter from the wind. When they see me they often rush up to me. The first time this happened, I was a little nervous because the rams are rather large. Actually, they’re not interested in doing mischief. They expect to be fed. Big eyes look at me with expectation. They event tilt their heads when I don’t cough up. “What gives Lady?”
View out of the living room window after a slight snow during the night. This is looking north across the Balta Sound. In Voegard Street there are five houses in a cul-de-sac. Mine is the end one.
THis is looking north west out of a bedroom window. Ther town across the Balta Sound is called Baltasound. The square brown building just over the end of the sound in the middle of the picture is the shop, hairdresser on left of lower floor. The post office (most northerly in GB is the builfing to the right.
Rain after the snow. This is looking at Tony's sheep pasture (one of them) from the kitchen window.
This is looking out of my bedroom window to the south slightly west. The white building is the youth hostel.
Looking east out of the dining room window. On the other side of that hill is the sea.
The sheep quite ofter settled by my back door.
This is the Mouat's farm stead. Their house, farm machinery museum and animal pens.
This is looking out of the back door but more to the west. The Building is Henderson's store - some groceries but more a genersl store, hardware, clothing, pots and pans etc.
Down into the Mouat homestead.
A homestead and accommodation place.
He may be a long haired calico. That’s a guess. I’ve never seen all of him. He has a cat door but he doesn’t use it. At least not all the way. I’ve only been here autumn and winter. Maybe he uses it in the spring and summer.
When I come home he rushes to his door to see whose on his street – there are only five houses in a large field, so there is not must traffic at all. What he presents is his face through the kitty door. I don’t know how he does it. He flips the flap backward into the house and sits with just his head in the frame. Cute as could be – that little face, safe and warm yet keeping his eye on his neighbourhood.
So how do I get around? On Unst, I take ‘the bus’, a minivan actually (the only bus left in service in the winter). To go to Lerwick, which I do every once in a while, Jimmy (sonetimes Mike) picks me up in the mini-van. To get to the bus stop I walk about 20 mins, or sometimes get a ride with a friend, arriving at 7:55 am. Bus stops in Unst can be hilarious with decorations making them look like a living room with pictures, chairs, bunting, old computer monitors and bureaus. After a circuitous route through Uyeasound, the bus goes to, and onto, the small ferry at the south end of Unst at a village called Belmont. This ferry takes you to Yell and there Jimmy drives up to the bigger bus parked on the dock. The buses even position themselves so that the door of one opens onto the door of the other so that you don’t even have to get wet.
Oh yes. This world famous bus stop really exists. But the bus doesn't really stop there. I have however seen people in cars stop and have a little rest and read the news paper in there in comfort.
The bigger bus then drives the full length of the island of Yell from Gutcher to Ulsta. This can be a little hair-raising. Sheep, not so much on Unst or the mainland but particularly on Yell, like to commit suicide by bus. The driver is very careful always to avoid these beasties but it can be alarming especially if you are a total animal softly like me. Winter evenings are especially harrowing because the sheep believe that the council truck drives through their island specifically to deliver them salt. Imagine in your headlights six or seven sheep, feeling it is their right to be there, licking the road surface.
|Onto the next ferry, we leave Ulsta on a bigger ferry and longer crossing to Toft on the mainland. And on into Lerwick. It takes about 2 ½ hours. Return turning leaves Lerwick at 2:30pm and the reverse happens but on the homeward journey, Jimmy drives me right to my door. It is dark both going and coming now.
There are also taxis. They have a cheap service called dial-a-ride where you phone up and Mike or someone local comes and gets you and takes you where you want to go – it cost about a pound or two.
And there are you friends. Abundant, generous, willing and very friendly.
Busy with my new activities and friends
I’ve been to lunch with Irene and again with Francis. We go to Victoria’s Vintage Tea Room. Victoria is Irene’s daughter in law. The tea room is the only place to go and it is really nice. It’s in the Hamlet of Haraldswick (from King Harold of old Norway) overlooking the bay.
Behind Santa is the bay – gorgeous. If you opened the patio doors and took a stone and tossed it gently, it would land in the sea. Waves crashing on the rocky shore.
Fact – the sea is not further than 3 miles from anywhere on Shetland.
Her husband Richard build the little Santa’s house and her Twin (identical) sister, Catherine, played Santa. This is not the kind of place where any of the kids don’t know who is playing the Santa. Everybody knows everybody. Victoria has 4 kids. Having kids is encouraged here because of the dwindling population. A couple of decades ago it was over 1,000, now it is 600. At the beginning of 1900s, the summer population was 8,000 or so, they came for the fishing and fish processing – that is done on boats that do not come ashore for months at a time now and then go to market down south.
The trouble is, isn’t lack of new islanders but employment for the bread earner. This place is very depressed. They all have sheep but crofting doesn’t pay. They keep sheep for food only. Some get sold and the wool gets sold but it wouldn’t keep milk on the table or shoes on your feet. Mostly government bureaucracy – forms that are impossible in number and impossible in complexity and boards for marketing, boards for selling, English boards, European boards! Tax here, tax there. They have just taken the stuffing out of crofting.
Clockwise from left to right Sharon, from Australia, Eileen from England, all her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are here. Dot, from England, married a Shetlander 50 years, but her children have gone south for work, Francis (good friend) from Elgin in Scotland, came here 30 years ago as an art teacher and stayed about 75 now, is a fabulous artist, works in porcelain that incorporates Shetland lace, I’ve given her some of the very old Unst patterns that I knitted up for her; me, Suzanne, is originally from Spain but married a Pakistani man and they live in Geneva, has come with her children (3) for a year for her and her children to learn English – they speak, English, French (Fiona was reading Harry Potter in French at the school party, German, Spanish and Pakistani, Suzanne teaches Flamenco and comes to knitters group to learn spinning, Hazel, a Shetlander, lovely person, Dorothy, charming, has the deepest voice that is wonderful to listen to, Shetlander, Ann, Shetlander and Alison, Shetlander..
In this picture, Minnie, who took the last picture has swapped with Francis to take this picture, beside me. She is a good friend, She is a Shetlander, married to a Shetlander who has just retired from commanding the fleet of ferries, has one daughter who lives with her Norwegian husband in Norway. She is a stunning spinner, spinning the most delicate of yarn.
A lot of Shetlanders move to Norway. They feel a kinship with the Norwegians that they do not feel with Scotland or Britain. In a DNA test, it was found that Shetlanders have about 40 – 60% Norwegian DNA and their culture is very Norwegian as is the modern Shetland language and there are many other ties with the two places. I get the impression Scotland looks down its nose at Shetland. Both Scotland and England think the Shetlanders don’t have indoor plumbing yet and are not educated. Shetland has a university for heaven sakes but they are just not interested in this rock in the North Sea.
Went to the gym for chair exercises. Good. And the instructor makes tea and goodies for everyone after the class. So Unst. Cake, cake, cake. Nice. Great people. Always welcoming to me.
Herded a ram the other day. See blog. Up Close and Personal.
Christmas dinner at the senior centre...turkey with all the trimmings.
There must have been 80 people. One of the difficulties of the island is that because there is no employment for employable aged people, the average age just keeps rising. The meal was fab, lots and lots to eat.
Normally you don’t get such a range of food. Somebody has to go down to Lerwick to get food. But that is no guarantee of a variety of food either. I went down to do shopping and the shelves were bare. There are two large ferries (about the size of Queen of Vancouver or Queen of British Columbia). One leaves Shetland every day at 5:30 pm, to Aberdeen to pick up supplies, one leaves one day and the other leaves the next day throughout the year. Each ferry takes the turnaround in about 30 hours. But the ferries of course are dependent on weather. It is not unheard of that three or four days will go by when the seas are too rough to make the passage. Orkney is not so bad because they are closer to the mainland but Shetland is reeemote!!!!!
I’m going to the tea room with Irene and her family. Everyone brings a dish sort of thing. About 14 people. What a welcoming charming delightful family. Boy am I blessed.
Awesomest-est-est baker there ever was
From Victoria's window
The Sloshy Roads
I was invited to lunch by my friend who lives overlooking the bay at Westing, that painfully beautiful rocky, cliffed, sea ravaged, heart stopping place where I couldn’t possibly say no to even if I haven’t have been affectionate of my friend. I can’t talk about this place yet, it is still too raw but I can talk about these awesome people.
The day was bleak, cold, a rain that was neither rain not snow but that scary in-between. Westing is kind of out of the way, maybe 6 to 10 miles from Baltasound. Though from a metropolis perspective you may not recognize it as a town. Just a slight thickening of houses in the remote country side. Well. Unst people, at least the ones I have been in a car with, drive quickly. Perhaps it is a familiarity with the territory. But there it is, I wouldn’t drive so quickly, even at home.
The way my invitation to lunch came about is that I had walked to the store for some groceries. The day had started out pleasantly and although it is a slightly longer walk that my back is favourable to, with a little rest on the bench in the lobby of the store (most northern buildings have lobbies or artic entrances – an enclosed foyer at the outside doors to prevent heat loss) I was happy to walk home. However, two things happened. The weather changed, and I met Francis in the story. Hallelujah. Sleet had started to come down.
I like Francis. Perhaps we will go traveling together in France. This had been hinted at from time to time between the two of us. When it is warm. Anyway, she is an off-islander but a long-time resident. She’s a fabulous artist in ceramics. She makes bowls, vases, sceneries in beautiful white porcelain, decorated with snippets of Shetland knitted lace, wonderfully polished river (or in this case – sea) pebbles,, perhaps even driftwood chips all becoming porcelain in the firing. I don’t understand the process but I do recognize the tremendous skill and the gorgeousness of the finished pieces. And we seem to have an understanding of the things we speak together without misunderstanding caused by the way we express ourselves.
So she offers to drive me home. “Yeah! Thank you very much.” On the way, after the settling into her car accounting for stuff (she is in the process of downsizing after recently moving) and Mosse – her precious sheltie, who finally and comfortably get settled on my lap and I have dutifully and very willingly have loved him up and cuddled him into a conformably position. Cars in Unst and pretty much in all of Shetland are tiny. Enough said. Before my turn off she invites me to soup and a sandwich at her house. “I’d love to come and have lunch with you. Thank you very much.”
Off we go south. Did I just see a car passing?
Back up a smidgen. Previously we had been talking about yoga and other fitness things for seniors. After we headed south toward the turn off for Westing she mentions there is a chair exercise class in the rec centre, in Baltasound, at 2:00pm and would I like to go with her? “Yes. Please.” I have been making it a habit to say ‘yes’ to practically anything, for a social reasons, experience sourcing and so as not to become lazy.
Up and over the hill where the bay suddenly envelops your vision, my breath is stopped again by its grandeur. Since the day is blustery, the waves are putting on a great show. Francis has a bit of a glass room built over her front door, about 12 feet by 12 feet in which she has placed comfortable chairs to turn it into a viewing station. She turns on the heaters and gets me settled with several cushions to raise me for the best position to take in the panorama and goes off to create lunch. A tasty and hearty, home-made chicken and tomato soup and a grilled, open-faced cheese sandwich.
Aaahhhhhhh. Active in animals, including birds at least 6 or 7 different species of ducks, geese, maybe cormorants; and smaller flitting things; also otters, sheep, ponies. And also waves, and I swear they are sentient too, not only pounding onto the rocky, cliffy shore but up against terrors just under the surface, further out into the bay. Too bad for shipping but awesome for the audience landed safely and warmly and encased behind glass. What food for meditative speculation on life.
So we eat – and dream and occasionally speak. Yes, I’m coming to the meaning of the title for this piece. Suddenly it is 10 minutes to two. Our class! So off we go. Getting Mosse settled. And me settled – for those of you who know me, you can imagine. For those who don’t, I am just under 6 feet tall and although not fat, I am not slim. I also have arthritis. Oh, those Shetland little cars.
She puts her foot down. I’m trying to make nonchalant, polite comments about the road conditions and even something a little philosophical about speed and arrival. Remember the slush and sheet. Well let’s add a little about accumulation and my habit of saying ‘yes’.
She understands. At least I think she understands that my clutching her dog is for his protection. I don’t know if she see it for desperation or for comfort. So, what does she do? Slow down?
“I’ll just turn on my hazard lights to warn others drivers that we are here and coming through.”
Francis is a truly lovely person. Both her and Mossey, her goreous shelty. And man-o-man is she a wonderful artist. Words simply cannot do her work justice. SO take a look for yourself.
If you want to buy her work, check her out on facebook and leave her a message.
Up Close and Personal
I went with Irene to lunch the other day and on the way she asked me if I wanted to go with her to the other cottage they rent out in the summer. It is Tony’s childhood home that he has refurbished. Just like the romantic idea you’d have of an old crofter’s home. Stone. I didn’t rent that one because it is too far to walk to the grocery store, maybe 6 miles. She wanted to stop in and check the new stove her husband had just installed in preparation for the coming tourist season. Stove was fine.
However, not so the farm situation. They own lots of land and up there too on which they pasture more sheep. Their son does a lot of the croft work know because Irene and Tony are well up there. But Richard also has a regular job (plus he is part of the volunteer emergencies services – who are called upon with pagers) All of his available, useful rams were on duty on other pastures so he asked a friend who had one going spare if he could borrow him. They need to do the job before Christmas if they want to have lambs in the spring.
“Sure.” Just like a fellow crofter and friend. “I’ll drop him off on my way to …..” Well, he did. There he was, at the back of house. But not with the girls. He was barking up with another ram at the neighbours. So Irene said she has to get him in with the ladies. The two of us hopped (ha, ha, ha, ha, ha) the fence and slowly tried to herd him toward the gate. No doing! We’d get him down along the right fence and he’d scoot back up.
So Irene hiked through and way into the other field and herded the ladies toward the gate. The idea being that the boy will go to them and see the open gate. The girls came. They were happy to be herded. While I stayed in the ram’s field. By the way, his land was on a steep slope with tons of rocks needed to be climbed over. Very difficult to get around. I slowly got up behind him and would attempt not to spook him, then work him down toward the gate. He kept getting so close but bimbo couldn’t see the opening and charged back up the hill. Again and again, up and down the hill.
I’m not afraid of him. He is smaller than the other rams that live near me. They terrified me the first time I walked down the road to the store. They saw me and charged. I thought they would leap the fence and butt me to the ground. But they didn’t get over despite their best efforts. I found out later they were not ‘after’ me but thought I might be bring them some food.
Anyway, buster is being a dimwit. He saw the girls and tried to climb the fence. Finally I got him close enough to gate that he realized the opening and through he went, off with his girls.
There are a lot of things I’ve have done since coming here that I have never done before. And I’m so grateful for those treasures. This is just one of the many.
Looking back at my cul-de-sac
Creek across from the Mouat's
My Cul-de-sac and the Mouat's dog Joy
Joy bringing home a prize
Sunrise. In the winter the sun comes up about 9:00am and goes to bed at about 3:00pm.
Sheep in the field
Awesome Sea where the sea and the sky are one
Can't enough of this
Boats at Uyeasound braving the waves
Can the rain ever come down
I'm glad I'm not in a caravan
You would think that if you could reach up and touch the sky, it would dye your fingers blue
They've been farming these fields for mellenia
Tony's childhood home. Behind which I chased the ram.
THey have a personality a bit like a mini dachshund
Through Victoria's Vintage Tea House's window
Where Francis Lives - Westing