North Mainland Notes 08.08.08

Shetland sheep

MEMBERS of the Shetland Sheep Society, based on the UK mainland, are here for a week long visit to help celebrate 80 years of the Shetland Flock Book Trust and learn more about Shetland sheep in their native isles.

As part of the trip the group of around 30 will visit various flocks and attend workshops looking at Shetland wool, organic Shetland wool and Shetland textiles. The visits, jointly organised by Jim Nicolson, secretary of the Shetland Flock Book Trust, Marshall Watson and Rena Douglas of the Shetland Sheep Society, have been taking place since 1994.

I caught up with the group on a visit to the Doull family at Islesburgh, Sullom. Addie and Margaret Doull are keen members of the Shetland Flock Book Trust, a trust dedicated to preserving and promoting the breed of sheep native to the isles.

This year at the Royal Highland Show at Edinburgh, Addie won first prize for a Shetland fleece. This is believed to be the first time a Shetland fleece, from an animal bred in Shetland, has taken the top prize. The section was open to fleeces of all types.

Margaret is also a fantastic knitter and uses the Shetland fleece to create yarn for her garments. She also achieved a first prize at the Royal Highland Show for a beautiful lace shawl in the Shetland lace section.

I asked Rena more about the Shetland Sheep Society which has members all over mainland Britain as well as in Canada and America and why there was such worldwide interest in rearing Shetland sheep.

Firstly, Shetland sheep are noted throughout the world for the excellent quality and flavour of the meat. From a breeder’s point of view, Shetland sheep are easy to keep and require little maintenance due to their hardiness. They are also great mothers who live a long time in comparison to other breeds, but it was the fleece that attracted Rena to the Shetland breed.

Rena is a keen wool spinner and kept a flock of Jacob sheep, but in the late 1980s she became aware of the variety of natural colours available to spinners using Shetland fleeces.

Natural wool colours with such wonderful names as shaela, emskit, moorit, mioget and musket meant that in 1989 Rena bought her first Shetland sheep. This was a moorit tup from Charlie Laurenson of Voe.

Almost 20 years later Rena, like the rest of the visiting group from the Shetland Sheep Society, is very enthusiastic about the breed and about Shetland. The group is delighted with the welcome and hospitality they receive on their visits. They relish the chance to learn and network with people from within the Shetland sheep industry, many of whom Rena now describes as “old friends”.

From ewe to oo to you

Tangwick Haa in Eshaness is in the middle of a busy visitor season again this year. The haa, once the home of the Cheyne family, houses a huge variety of artefacts and information to help tell the story of past life in Northmavine.

Each winter the volunteer management committee plan and put together a themed mini-exhibition for each season to ensure that the visitor always has something new to catch their interest at Tangwick.

This year the committee have actually chosen two themes and displays have been created around these. The first mini-exhibition looks at “the wireless” through the ages. Given the remote geographical location of Shetland, the radio played a central role in relaying information from mainland Britain and beyond.

On display in the haa are radios, gramophones and tape-recorders the size of wardrobes! How things have changed in this 21st century age of the MP3 player and the ipod Nano – some no bigger than a matchbox.

The second mini-exhibition gives the visitor an insight into the amount of work required by Shetland people to gather wool from the sheep’s back, turn the fleece into yarn and finally knit the yarn to produce a garment. Photos, artefacts and text tell the story of wool production over the past 200 years.

Like most past activities there were many communal aspects. Families got together to help each other “roo” and “clip” the sheep. After this process the lasses would get together at a house in the neighbourhood to “caird” the “oo” to make it ready for spinning.

After an evening of cairding, the men would often come along with a fiddle or two and an impromptu dance would be held in the “but end”.

When the oo had been spun into a yarn, the women hand-knitted articles of clothing for the family and often exchanged hosiery for items from the general merchants. The value of the items exchanged rarely reflected the true value of the garments produced by these women.

Knitting methods progressed and in the 1950s almost every back bedroom in Shetland was home to a “makkin machine”. These were used by both men and women and the body and sleeves of a jumper were often machine-knitted, ready for a hand-knitted Fair Isle yoke to be “feenished” into the garment.

The exhibition also takes a look at sheep-skins and how a skin is transformed into a sheep-skin rug. John Williamson from the North Haa at North Roe was one of the last to cure skins on a commercial basis.

I could fill pages with the fascinating details of the mini exhibitions at Tangwick this season and I haven’t even begun to describe the examples of knitted garments on show. Why not go along to the Tangwick Haa and view the museum for yourself? It is open every day from 11am-5pm until 30th September.

Ollaberry and North Roe eela

Now that fish seem a bit more plentiful inshore, the Ollaberry and North Roe eela will take place on Sunday.
Boats should fish from 4pm-7pm and the weigh-in will take place at the Collafirth pier. A fish auction, fry up and refreshments will be available at the pier following the weigh-in.

Muckle Roe eela

The annual Muckle Roe eela competition will take place on Saturday night.

Boats should leave the Muckle Roe marina at 6pm and fish for two hours until 8pm. The weigh-in will take place at 8.30pm at the marina and fish will be available for a donation to the Muckle Roe hall.
Entry to the competition costs £5 per boat with a maximum of three persons per boat.

Kirk thanks

Following a hugely successful Sunday teas in the Ollaberry Hall on Sunday 27th July, £946.74 was raised for the Northmavine Church of Scotland.

The organisers would like to extend grateful thanks to all who baked, helped at the hall or contributed in any way – especially those who came to enjoy the teas and support the event.

Row the boat for Nesting

Even without a community yoal of their own, Nesting is becoming a force to be reckoned with at this season’s yoal races.

Both the under-16s and the under-21s are improving with each event they take part in and the women’s team is also moving up the ranks.

This season the Nesting rowers are using the spare boat from Nort, but moves are afoot to purchase their own yoal. Before this can happen, a fair amount of fundraising will have to be done by the Nesting rowing club and they hope to begin a succession of events to help raise finances when the summer season draws to a close.

Pilates at Sullom

Pilates classes for 2008 will resume on Wednesday 27th August at Sullom and Gunnister Hall from 10-11am.
The course will last seven weeks until 8th October, and costs £35. Please send payment to Hanne Irvine, Laurelbank, Exnaboe, Virkie, to ensure a place on the course.

Trowie trails at Da Bjorgs

This Sunday sees the final Trowie Trail of the season at the Bjorgs.

As Jeremy Godwin pointed out in his letter to The Shetland Times a couple of weeks ago, these creatures are very elusive and can be very difficult to “spot”.

The trail costs £20 which includes a packed lunch. To book phone Maureen on (01806) 544217.

Tangwick Mill

As you travel the road to Tangwick, why not stop just before the cattle grid and walk down to your right?

This will take you to the newly restored Tangwick Mill.

Hillswick Eshaness Area Regeneration & Development Association (HEARD) is the community regeneration group responsible for the project and is run by a volunteer committee from within Hillswick and Eshaness.

Over the past year or so HEARD has obtained consents and funding for the project. The group then appointed Alan Smiles to reconstruct the mill stonework while Clive Mowat carried out fabrication of the mill workings.

Willie Doull was contracted to construct paths, bridges, fences and route signs and the group carried out a variety of further tasks themselves.

The Tangwick Mill is an old Norse style mill used by Christopher Sandison, the 19th century school teacher and diarist. Stories are also told of Tangwick Mill and a connection with the “Sjopiltie”, a water horse which carried folk off to the water, never to be seen again.

Renovations to the fabric of the mill are now complete. The “upper hus” which houses the millstones and the happer has been reconstructed, as has the “under hus” where the water ran through to turn the “tirl” and help grind the cereals between the millstones.

HEARD has also designed interpretative boards to help tell the story of how the mill worked and the folklore surrounding this particular mill at Tangwick. The group hopes the boards will be installed soon and, along with solar lighting, this will signify the final piece in the jigsaw.


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