Winter was tough and forgiving, a brutal time of sacrifice and hardship that I am, once more, glad to have survived. Each year the cold winds seep in and threaten to steal the life from right inside me. During these long, dark months I hold steadfast, gripping with iron-fist the arms of my ancient armchair – gritting my teeth and pouring steam from my mouth like a great steam engine.
So obsessed with surviving winter, do I become, that I sometimes miss the changing of the seasons altogether. This year, winter slipped into spring without my realising. The plants on my windowsill began to bud, the lambs started to mewl their dismal cries and I still lay under four layers of blankets – steadfastly gripping to the life that I feared would be ripped from mortal coil.
It took a sharp rap upon my front door and a cry of, “Timpson, Summer’s here!”, for me to awaken from my reverie and realise that I’d slept through an entire season. I was not surprised at all. I’m a hardworking man who needs his rest, like the great Brown Bear often I needs must hibernate for weeks, months on end to fully recuperate from the summer’s graft.
The summer times are a great deal easier to survive than the winter, as you might imagine. The food is plentiful, the days are hours longer – as a result I’m given the chance to both work and read, a luxury which I indulge in as much as possible. Having no electricity up here in the Shetlands, its imperative that I make the most of each summer’s day – cherishing every minute of glorious sunshine that I am given.
With the warm sun and long days, comes the tourists and weeks on end of boating around the isles. The booking schedule is already filling up for this season, tourists from all over the world have paid in advance for my guided tours of the Shetland Isles, and I absolutely adore giving them. Having the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, and introduce them to my world, is an absolute joy; I can’t quite believe that I get paid to do it.
Onward then, to another summer – and the purchase of an alarm clock for next winter!
When thinking of how to survive on the Shetland Islands in the winter months it is much better to look toward our brethren on the Northern Continent than it is to look south to our friends on the mainland of these United Kingdoms. The winter is a different beast up here, a different beast indeed. It lives inside the ground and the earth. It breaths through the trees and the hills. It seeps up from the very water itself and invades every element of your being. It grips the bricks and the rocks of your houses and slips under the doors. It creeps up the stairs and under your sheets to once again claw at your bones. It is inescapable.
Above we see a Shetland Pony enduring the Shetland winter. Our beautiful ponies are world famous. They are world famous because they are unique. They are unique because they have to be to survive. And so must we. We do not have the ease of assess to gas and electricity and all the shortcuts people have to heat themselves on the mainland. We need to find alternative ways of heating and fueling ourselves. I’ve been looking at biomass alternatives and biomass boilers on some forums that I’ve found (the most helpful one has been http://blog.grantbiomassforum.com so far) and I think its a great idea for all Shetlanders.
If we collectively choose to proliferate the number of biomass boilers on the island we can start importing biomass on a mass scale and really create a new future for the Shetlands as more sustainable than ever before. I’m looking for some of the bigger institutions on the Islands (the hotels, the farms, the clubs, the institutions of note) to sign up to try and move the islands huge heating bill toward biomass for both ecological and economical reasons. It would be a great step forward for the islands.
We need to look further into the advantages and disadvantages of biomass but the information is out there. It just needs us to have the courage to look for it.
Do we have that courage?
Our great Islands are fascinating and beautiful, they are magical, they are incredible, they are majestic and they deserve recognition and love. Though ‘Thurso’ may lay claim to having the most northerly railway in the British Isles, our fantastic Shetland Isles are proud to have the most northern of almost everything else. Long ago we were the ‘Zetland’ Isles, a little historic blip which lead to our ‘ZE’ postcodes. This name comes from an old, ancient in fact, Norse name for these great Islands. These ‘Hjaltland’ Islands.
On maps of Scotland, or the more detailed maps of the British Isles, our great Islands are put into a little box in the top right corner as covering the sea that separates us from the mainland would be a waste of paper. This leaves many unaware of how far we actually are from the Mainland, and where along the coast we lie. We an incredibly biologically diverse set of 100 islands and islets. Which apparently are a thing. It may be shocking to many of you, it probably should be actually, that the Shetland Islands actually lie in the ocean a little closer to Bergen than they do to Aberdeen. It may blow you away even more to find out that these beautiful Shetland Isles are further to the north than Moscow or even Southern Greenland. In fact, our friends in the Shetland town of Lerwick live closer to Milan than they live to London. Which explains their unique stylishness.
Am I right? You know what I’m saying Lerwickers…
These Wonderful Isles house around 23,000 people and were actually Norse for a long while up too about exactly the 8th of September 1468. On that fell date the Isles were mortgaged to Scotland! For a mere 8,000 florins we where tossed away as part of a bloody marriage deal between a young man who would go on to be James III and some bloody Princess from Denmark. That’s right. Where it not for a royal wedding almost 600 years ago we wouldn’t have to hear so much about all the bloody royal weddings happening now. Now that’s something we can all regret.
Part 1 ho!
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Here at Shetland Nature Cruises we are always on the look out for new ways that visitors can explore and experience our wonderful corner of this amazing and beautiful planet. It is simply such a beautiful place and how you travel through it powerfully effects the experience you will have. For instance…
Travelling by bike gives a unique insight into a land. When one is used to motorised transport spending an extended period of travel on a bike makes the countryside seemingly slow down around you. Landscapes change far more rarely, you become part of your surroundings, you become part of the sweep and flow of the land, and it becomes part of you. This is a beautiful thing. Cycling obviously has draw backs in a way: it is physically tiring, difficult, somewhat weather dependent, you limit the extent of area you can explore and it can be logistically challenging. However, many cyclists are of the opinion that whilst the distance of land you bear witness to may be smaller, the richness and depth of your appreciation for the land you do witness is immeasurably greater. But, if you really want to slow things down, you can always…
A man. Walking behind a thin front lit bed sheet.
Now this really is the option of the purist, for the walkers, walking is the only real way to actually travel, to actually move through a landscape, to actually be at one with the land. Like meditation, novel reading and almost anything worth doing, it takes a little work at first and may seem boring and lethargical, but after a while a little bit of magic happens, and suddenly you tune in to a different frequency, one free of smart phones and snap-chat, Skype and screens, telecommunications and television and all the distractions of modern life, you tune into a more primordial and more perhaps more human frequency of human and land, of life and liberty, of pure actual life. That is walking. It is beautiful.
Uncle Jim’s caravan. We never want to ask…
Caravans are fun, they are definitely really really fun. It is like being in a little house on wheels. In fact, that is not what it is like. That is what it is. Hmmm. It is cool, you can move around, you can sleep in a bed, you can see all of the shetlands, so yeah. Thats alright isn’t it? Great! But maybe…
Are static caravans the future? We we’re recently driving back from a trip south and saw a sign saying ‘Static Caravans for Sale“, and we wondered how one was meant to get them home, but it transpired that you don’t take them home, you buy one at the site and come and holiday there regularly, like a holiday home! So we were thinking: would that work up here in Shetland? And if so, where would we locate it? We are desperate for your ideas on this matter, as we are considering teaming up with some other local business and maybe trying to get one going. So, tell us what you think!
Shetland Nature Cruises.
Due to our position at the top edge of this great nation it is quite a journey for many to get all the way to the Shetland Islands for a holiday. This journey is a historic one no matter from whence you are coming. The vikings travelled over cold seas, the English Knights over many lands, and to this day adventurers travel from far and wide journey to see our wondrous corner of the wide world. What a corner it is!
Here at Shetland Cruises we’ve realised that for many wanting to visit the Shetland Islands the issue they have to confront is the distance they have to travel to get here. Do they bite the bullet and travel in one big go? A journey which for some while take them through day and night? Or do they stop off for a night on the way? Maybe check in to some boring travel lodge or something, just sacrifice a night to boring hotels that could be anywhere in the world and feel far too much like work, like normality, like boredom. Well we say no! Don’t do that! That doesn’t sound like fun at all! We say that you should plan your trip and try to take in some more of Scotland. Use your journey. You’re not passing through a wasteland you know, you’re passing through the most beautiful country in the world (if we do say so ourselves. Which we clearly do. As we just said it.) so make the most of it!
If your travelling up you are almost certainly going to be passing through the heart of Scotland, so why not pass through its biggest city! With all its museums and art galleries, theatres and concert venues, curry houses and pubs, Glasgow is more than worth a visit. Check out http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/ for lots of information on what’s going on in the fine city. You won’t regret it!
Above Glasgow on your way up to the Shetland Islands you will pass through the beautiful area of Perthshire, with some of the most beautiful landscapes in this great nation. Perthshire is full of history and wonder. So why not spend a few days there? Get out into the country and rent a cottage for a few days with the family. It’s a fantastic get away and there are now newly refurbished cottages throughout the region (check out http://www.highlandheatherlodges.co.uk for some great options). We thoroughly recommend this idea having been told by guests and friends that they’ve gone on some great escapes down there.
These are just two ideas of what other experiences you can incorporate into your journey up to us here in the Shetland Islands. If you have any ideas please post them bellow! A Shetland Nature Cruise is a great experience on its own, but as part of a wider Scottish adventure it can only get better!
These ancient isles upon which we Shetland dwellers dwell,
Where the sun can bring you heaven and the wind can bring you hell,
Where the winter runs long and the furred cows do yell,
Where we await boats from the mainland with their withered wares to sell.
Here we sit and suffer, sit in joy, sit with friends,
Huddle round the fire till the bitter winter ends,
Sit and watch the wind as it curls around the fens,
Try and spot the otters in their hidden otter dens,
This is the life that the Viking and the ancient man chooses,
This is the life that the city dweller and the modern man looses,
This is the life that you can have if you can get through this,
This is the dream that you can live with Shetland Nature Cruises.
‘Ancient isles’ By Local Poet Paddy McPaddy McGee
Shetland is rich in prehistoric archeological sights. It is considered by many to be one of the most amazing locations in the world for digging up history as the feirce weather of the area meant that structures had to be built from firm rock and built to last. Which they have. This practice, of building such structures, dates back at the very least to the early Neolithic period which is quite a long time if you go by standards like, oh I don’t know, the history of the human race. There are over 5,000 archaeological sights on the Shetland Islands, not a bad rate for a small place!
Mesolithic and Neolithic Periods.
Over on the south coast of the Shetland Mainland there is the fabulous Midden sight, just a hop, skip and a jump away from West Voe. This amazing sight is dated to around 4320-4030 BC, and has been used to verify some of the earliest Mesolithic existence of human communities on the Shetland Islands. Also at this sight evidence has been found for very early Neolithic human influence at the great Scord of Brouster near to the small town of Walls. The sights here have been dated back to 3400 BC. Thats pretty Old! This sight has the great accolade of being the sight of the oldest hoe-blades found in all of Scotland! Take that Aberdeen! You can also visit the world famous Funzie Girt, a mind blowing dividing wall that at one point ran for the entire 2.5 mile diameter of the Island of Fetlar. If you visit it, remember the old Shetland folk Limerick:
Have you seen the Funzie Girt?
The south end is covered in dirt,
They say it was made,
By the lone Fetlar maid,
To keep lads from under her skirt.
There so much more!
There are a lot of amazing sights of prehistoric interest around all of the Shetland islands, which we have only been able to touch on here. So keep you eyes peeled for our next edition, as we take you on a ‘cruise’ through the history of our beautiful Shetland Islands!