Isles Views 13.06.08

Hermaness car park

EACH year around 7,000 visitors make their way to the world-renowned bird sanctuary at Hermaness in north Unst.

This, however, can only be an estimate because in the past there was no mechanism in place to count heads. For large numbers of people the access to the sanctuary and the car park itself was entirely inadequate.

Such was the state of the track leading to the small car park that last spring the grazing committee felt the need to restrict access and they put up a gate across the road. At the same time they worked very hard to address the problem and raise the money to make it a visitor friendly place and at the same time safeguard the interests of the shareholders who own sheep pens on the same site.

Among other things, a new junction was needed as a link to the road leading to the former Muckle Flugga shore station. Grazing clerk Duncan Gray said it was a big relief and a happy day to see the new road and car park completed.

Other shareholders were full of praise for Mr Gray who made a huge effort, along with other committee members, to get all the stakeholders on board.

In the end the money required, some £60,000, came from several sources. Scottish Natural Heritage, SIC and Highland and Islands Enterprise all made contributions.

Yell contractors Victor Jamieson carried out the work to a very high standard. All concerned were pleased when Jamieson was given the contract because it has a reputation for quality and there was little or no need to supervise progress when the work was on going.

Mr Gray said he was “very impressed”. Not only does the new parking area have room for a large number of cars but there is a turning point for coaches.

The two Victor Jamieson men who did most of the work were Ian Keith and David Towriess. Ian is someone with a huge range of skills who used to be a builder of houses. For David this was something of a homecoming because although he has lived in Yell for many years he came from Burrafirth originally and, as it happens, Mr Gray and his family live the same house that he used to live in.

Fetlar cafe

The Fetlar Hall has opened a cafe from noon until 4pm seven days a week until 31st August. There will be two short breaks for weddings during that time.

On offer are soup, freshly made sandwiches, bacon rolls, tea, coffee, hot chocolate and home bakes, with vegetarian options also available.

An innovative new service offers customers the opportunity to hire a Thermos flask for a refundable deposit. It can then be filled with the hot drink of the customer’s choice.

The cafe also offers Sunday lunches but they have to be booked the Friday before.

Bookings are taken at the Fetlar Interpretive Centre on (01957) 733206, Monday to Friday 1pm till 3pm and at weekends from 1pm till 4pm.

Separate heads

The controversial arrangement allowing the Cullivoe and Mid Yell schools to share a head teacher is to end after the two-year pilot.

That was the recommendation in Jim Reyner’s report to SIC head of education Helen Budge.

Mr Reyner said that if the respective communities had been of one mind then his recommendation might have been different. But given the strength of feeling the sensible course of action was to appoint a new head teacher for Cullivoe.

Shared headship to continue

A recent report by Jerry Edwards of the SIC education service has recommended that the arrangement whereby Baltasound and Fetlar share a head teacher continue for another two years.

This means that Fetlar will be linked to Baltasound until the last Fetlar pupil leaves the school.

It is a sad fact that unless something unforeseen happens there will be no primary children in Fetlar beyond 2010.

Care for Unst

Nordalea Care Centre is too small. The demand for beds has overwhelmed the capacity and the same folk who so vigorously campaigned for a care centre 15 years ago are now campaigning for a new wing to be added. Some rooms within the building have been adapted and are available for residents. At present there are seven rooms plus one respite room but this is nothing like enough.

Campaign committee secretary Joan Ritch feels that the minimum requirement is 15 beds. She said: “We like our care centre. It is well run and well kept and the staff do a great job. But the place is, quite simply, too peerie.”

There was a disappointing turnout at a recent meeting to discuss the problem. There were 16 Unst folk on the original committee but now there is a great need for more people to become involved.

Another meeting has been called for Tuesday 24th June at Nordalea and the organisers hope for a better attendance and for more folk to join the campaign.

Alex o’ Breckon retires

One of the best-known men in Yell has decided to retire.

Alex Nicholson, or Alex o’ Breckon as he is better known, says he has worked too hard for too long so he has retired from his job of being the senior of the two gravediggers who serve Yell, Unst and Fetlar.

He says that from now on he will take life a little easier. Having recently celebrated his 63rd birthday he might have been thinking of retirement in any event but his decision was taken on medical advice – his back gives him a lot of trouble and the kind of work he was doing had become very difficult.

It was in February 1976 that Alex took over from the late Tom Tulloch as the gravedigger and caretaker in Cullivoe. Tom had done the job for 39 years and to Alex this looked like a lifetime but he says that he now finds it hard to believe that he has been doing it for 32 years.

Tom probably knew more about the graveyard than any other person and he passed on his knowledge of the unmarked graves to Alex. At that time grave digging was not a job as such and bereaved families paid the gravedigger for doing the necessary work. The gravedigger also cut the grass and up-righted grave stones which had fallen over or taken a list and this on a volunteer basis.

It was in 1999 that Steve Albut became Alex’s right hand man and the two of them were employed to look after all the cemeteries in the three North Isles. Since then they have done a lot of work in improving the appearance of the sites, often doing work that was over and beyond their remit, and their work is a credit to them.

One person said that Alex had “served the islands well”, and another was impressed by his environmental awareness – when cutting the grass he had avoided cutting down the rare orchids.

Alex should have retired last year but he was determined to continue until he had completed a number of projects that needed doing.

To say that Alex has retired is pitching it a bit strong. He will continue as burial grounds officer and he will also continue his committee work. He is secretary of Cullivoe Up-Helly-A’, a kirk elder and much more.

For most of his life agriculture has given Alex his main income and he has no intention of turning his back on it now. However, his son James and daughter Johnina have taken over the farming side of things and Alex is looking forward to having spare time which he will use to visit the places that he has always wanted to see but never had the time.

Spirit of Adventure

The cruise ship the Spirit of Adventure visited Shetland last week.

On Tuesday Unst played host to the 250 passengers who came ashore in Baltasound. The ship arrived around 6am and later in the morning the opportunity to explore Unst was offered.

Unst is very active in archaeology at the moment so sites like Underhoull, Belmont and Hamar were visited.

The Unst Heritage Centre and the Boat Haven were both greatly admired by the visitors and the Haroldswick Hall was open to provide a tea and coffee break.

Pat Burns, who is a coach operator in Unst, said they had had a good day but three hours was hardly long enough to show off all of the island.

Both days were somewhat marred by poor visibility and some of the five coaches being used did not go to the top of Saxa Vord because the chances of seeing Mukle Flugga were so slim.

Cancer shop sale

The Cancer Research UK shop in Yell is having a sale this month. All mens’ wear, children’s wear and bric-a-brac is half price.

The dates are Saturdays 14th and 21st June and Thursdays 19th and 26th June, 1pm to 5pm.

The total raised from February to the end of May was £3,043.29 but manageress Penny Williams says that they still need volunteers.

Lawrence Tulloch


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