Tuesday, 25 February 2014

feeling at home in the shetland isles

Like a large proportion of New Zealander's I have always known I have some Scottish  ancestry. Coming from a young country means that most people search for a link to somewhere else, and end up saying that they are "Scottish" or "English" or "French" even if they have no current connection to that country. 

Harbour in Lerwick

For a long time I have had an interest in my family history. Some of it has been mapped out for me. I know some of my ancestors arrived in New Zealand from Cornwall on the 6th February 1840, the day the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, to settle in Petone. Another part of my family came from France at some stage, changing their name slightly to fit in. However, I have always known my most recent ancestors to arrive in New Zealand came from Scotland, and have felt the closest connection to this country. 

Sign by the harbour

In the late 1920s my Great Grandparents moved from Unst, the northern most island of the Shetland Isles, to Paihiatua with 3 children in tow. They had 3 more children in New Zealand, including my grandfather and never came back to Scotland. 

None of their children made the journey either until 2004 when my Dad surprised my Poppie with a trip to Scotland to see where his parents had come from. I'll never forget him opening that card with the suitcase on it to see what his 70th birthday present was. 

Harbour in Lerwick

When I moved to Scotland it was always in my mind that I would go to Shetland, but I thought I would end up doing it on my own in the warmer weather. I had a change of heart and decided that we should go as a family, because it would mean so much more to go with my Dad, even if it was at the coldest time of year!

Sailing away from Aberdeen on a calm night

So in January we headed up on the train to Aberdeen, and  took the Northlink Ferry overnight to Lerwick. The ferry wasn't busy this time of year and we had a pretty calm crossing. You can book just seats or a cabin which is definitely worth it since they also have a little en suite with a shower. When the ferry docks at Lerwick you can stay on it for a couple of hours to have breakfast and get your things together.

Our 4 bed cabin, with two beds that fold down

The sun coming up after docking at Lerwick

H M V Rossey

We walked from the ferry terminal to our accommodations at the Fort Charlotte Guest House, highly recommended!!!. Lynne and Jim  were so lovely and helpful and gave us a lot of tips about things to do, letting us use their phone and giving us maps and everything when we needed them. Jim also runs the fish and chip shop across the road...SO GOOD. 

We had a look around Lerwick, taking in the Shetland Museum (free to visit!), and having  my first try of restit mutton soup, which is basically dried salted mutton and potato soup. Delicious! 

Walking around the Lerwick coastline

Square in Lerwick

Example of Shetland boat design in the museum

Restit mutton and tattie soup

Walking around Lerwick

Mum at the entrance to Fort Charlotte

Cannon on Fort Charlotte
Restit mutton hanging in the butchers window

Later on picked up our hire car from Bolts before heading to an event by the Shetland Fiddle & Accordion Club. I couldn't get over how these young people were so musically talented and could modernise the fiddle and accordion, instruments that can be perceived as past their prime. I have also never seen so many accordions in my life!

Sunset over Lerwick

Lerwick Harbour

At the club

There were even more accordions than this...

The next day saw us out on our first exploration outside of Lerwick. The Shetland Isles are a group of islands that have had settlements on them for thousands of years. They have not always been a part of Scotland, but were for a long time part of Scandinavia, since they are actually closer to Norway. The Shetlands are also remarkable in that there are hardly any trees at all. When I say hardly any trees I literally mean pretty much none. A tree is an oddity to be pointed out when seen. 

Beautiful landscape

Shetland coast

Shetland is also the land of abandoned buildings, in particular stone croft houses. Everywhere you look there are stone ruins of homes and walls that give a fascinating insight into what life was like on the islands in the past.

More stunning landscape

Old preserved croft house

Shetland ponies!!!

As luck would have it, when we drove to Scalloway the next morning we came across another of the Shetland traditions. During the early months of the year there  are different Viking fire festivals held all over the islands. The most well known of these is Up Helly Aa which takes place in Lerwick on the last Tuesday of January. It was actually lucky we weren't there for that because accommodation books out up to a year in advance. Instead we happened to catch the Scalloway fire festival. The men (and in some cases women) who are part of the squad dress up as Vikings for the day. One man is appointed and the Guizer Jarl (pronounced Yarl) for that year, and leads the Jarl squad for the day. It is a huge privilege to be the Jarl and sometimes a man can wait years and years for his turn. The squad does things throughout the day like visiting schools and taking official photos. That evening they march through the town and set a viking boat on fire. We happened to come across the Scalloway squad having their photos taken by the waterfront. 

Looking down on Scalloway

Scalloway Jarl Squad

Sun coming up over Scalloway harbour

Beach on the way down to the southern mainland

After stopping to observe for awhile we headed down to the bottom on the mainland to a place call Jarlshof. Jarlshof is absolutely fascinating in that it has been the home of different people since 2500 BC, starting with settlers on the Bronze Age right through to the ruins of a 17th century castle. 

I couldn't get over how much detail they could discern from this site about the people who lived there, and what remains. The bronze age settlers left evidence of oval houses, with rubbish pits that showed their diet included shellfish. They have actually worked out that one of the structures was the workplace of a smithy who was trained in the Irish style. 

Standing in the Bronze age settlement looking towards the castle ruins

Used to mill flour

In the Iron Age a broch was built on the site, which is a hollowed wall round structure found only in Scotland. Next to this are Pict wheel houses that are different to those in the rest of Scotland, in that they seem to have been built from the ground and covered, rather than dug into the ground. It is surreal to be standing in what was someone's house over a thousand years ago. 

Courtney and Dad standing in the wall of the Broch

Example of what the Broch would have looked like

Dad standing inside the wall

Outside the entrance to a pict wheelhouse

Inside the pict wheelhouse

Looking down on the pict wheelhouses

The next stage of settlement is shown through a large amount of Norse longhouses which cover much of the site, although they were not all inhabited at the same time. This is the most extensive site of Viking remains in Britain. 

Looking down on the Viking ruins from the top of the  castle
Standing at one end of a viking longhouse

The last major structure on the site is a castle from the Scottish period. It was a medieval farmhouse that was converted after Scotland took over Shetland. 

That evening we returned to Scalloway to see the parade and burning of the Viking boat, which is unique in Scalloway in that the boat is pushed out into the harbour. 

Torch parade coming down the main street of Scalloway

Parade as it curved around the harbour

The boat burning in the harbour after all the torches were thrown in it

Dad and I went to one of the local halls, which is the next part of the celebration. Different squads travel around halls in and nearby the town to perform acts for entertainment, including the Viking squad. In between these a band plays and everyone dances traditional dances, which they all know!

Jarl squad in the local hall

The next day saw us take the journey up to Unst, the northern most populated island in the UK and where my family is from. We spent the day in Haroldswick catching up with relatives Mum and Dad had first met 9 years previously. At the height of the fishing industry time Unst had a population of 10,000, whereas now it is just 650. 

Arrival in Unst (Photo Credit)
Dad arriving in Unst in 2004 (Photo Credit)

Old stone walled road near Haroldswick

Viking boat sailed from Norway, intended to sail on to USA but left in Haroldwick...

Sunrise over Haroldswick

The view froom Mullapund

Luck was on our side the following day with the sun coming out while we explored Unst. The first thing we did was go to Mullapund, which is the house my great grandparents lived in before they went to New Zealand. They lived in the small house with a lot of people. It  is a croft house that had 2 small rooms downstairs, with an additional 2 rooms later added upstairs and a bathroom built on to the front. It was inhabited by family up until the 1980s but has been in ruin since. 

Mullapund with the sun rising over the hills

Dad, Courtney and Mum outside Mullapund

The animal area attached to the croft house

Dad outside his grandparents old house

Me outside the back of Mullapund, built into the hill

Dad, Courtney and I outside

Inside the kitchen/dining area (Photo Credit)

Nana, Poppie and Dad outside Mullapund in 2004 (Photo Credit)
Dad, Courtney and I outside in 2014

Outside Mullapund in 2014
Ruins of my great great grandparents house

Standing on the ruins of my great great grandparents house, just up from Mullapund

Ruins of an old church with Mullapund in the distance

Mullapund, with peat on the hills in the distance where the family would walk to collect it

We drove up to the northern most house in the UK and to the old WWII bunkers that are at the top of the island, before driving over to see the Muckle Flugga lighthouse. We also went to see the standing stones and Muness Castle

Most northern house in Britain

The sea near Mullapund

Dad overlooking a valley in Unst

Me with Muckle Flugga in the background

Peat where you can see it has been cut in the past

Bobbys bus shelter, changed every year to reflect what is happening in Bobbys life

Largest standing stone

Standing stone near Muness Castle

My Poppie at a standing stone in 2004 (Photo Credit)

That evening it was back to Lerwick, which involves taking a ferry, driving all the way down Yell, and taking another ferry before driving down to Lerwick. It's not too bad if you time them right!

On our last day we drove around the mainland a bit more, taking in the Eshaness coastline, and area made famous by the Shetland pony dancing in the 3 phone commercials.

Explanation of how the coastline was formed

Rugged coastline

Dad at Eshaness

Abandoned fishing village

The journey back was a bit rougher than the one over, but we made it back to Aberdeen the next morning in time for our train back to Edinburgh and it was back to work for me!

Going to Shetland has long been a dream of mine, and it definitely lived up to, if not surpassed my expectations. I would love to head back up there and spend some more time exploring and even just relaxing and taking in the different atmosphere. Definitely still on the list!


(Photo credits to Yvonne and Gary Thomson)

1 comment:

  1. I love it!! We were very lucky, it turned out to be the perfect time to be there. Can't believe our luck and we had the best time! Love it that we were there as a Family and shared that experience and now have lovely memories. Love that we caught up with Relly's again too. You got great photos and the 'Pony dance' is fun :) LOVE