Isles Views 31.12.08

Mid Yell Hall

FOR many years now large crowds have attended the Mid Yell Hall for the New Year celebrations. This year the bands playing are the Stallions of the Highway and The Revellers. They will kick off around 10pm on Friday 2nd January.

The hall committee would like to stress that no one under 14 years old will be admitted and a parent or guardian must accompany 14-15 year olds who wish to attend. Proof of age will also be required at the door for service at the bar.

Fetlar transport

In Fetlar there is a dial-a-ride system, which provides a service connecting with the ferry from Hamars Ness. A similar system operates around the East side of Yell; when it started users simply phoned the operator and made the booking. That was discontinued and bookings have to be made through an office in Lerwick.

This clumsy and cumbersome way of doing things did not work very well and some folk, who had booked the bus, were left waiting at the roadside for transport that never arrived because the booking had been swallowed up by the system.

Fetlar too has problems with the booking procedure and the clerk of the Community Council is taking the matter up with Emma Perring of the SIC transport department and passing on the correspondence exchanged with her predecessor Ian Bruce.

Another transport issue for Fetlar is the connection of the school bus from Lerwick to Fetlar. The bus leaves Lerwick at 4pm and this results in a two-hour wait at Gutcher for the 6.50pm ferry to Fetlar.

It has been pointed out if the bus left Lerwick 15 minutes earlier then it would connect with the 5.10 pm ferry from Gutcher which runs whenever the weather allows. If Fetlar had its long awaited breakwater then the weather would be less of a factor in the provision of ferry services.

Christmas – then and now

In the days when many folk, especially men, worked away from home the most important thing was to be home for Christmas. Christmas was never Christmas if a loved one was stuck in some faraway place. Nowadays this is very much reversed with more and more families going away for the festive season.

In my lightkeeping days I was away from home at Christmas and New Year time – in the lighthouse service the lights had to be shown to maximum efficiency at all times. Otherwise we have always celebrated Christmas at home. This year, however, we joined the throng of folk who spend Christmas out of Shetland.

We did not go very far, only to Orkney. We have many friends there who showed us wonderful hospitality, the weather was lovely, we avoided the Ba’ game in Kirkwall and we enjoyed ourselves hugely. The only blip was the fact that our flight home was delayed by the best part of three hours.

During the wait in Kirkwall airport I pick up a copy of The Orcadian and my eye fell on an article about the Yule customs that had died out in Stromness. I immediately thought of the customs that had died out in my own part of Shetland.

When I was a boy large numbers of men and boys gathered at the Kirk Loch, in Cullivoe, to sail model yachts and compete for cups trophies and prizes. Boys, like me, were sent to the east side of the loch to field the yachts and put them on the other tack. They all came ashore in different places and it could be hard work and there were no thanks for being slow in reaching a yacht that had come ashore.

Those races took place every Christmas day and every New Years day with the prizes handed out at the New Year concert. This concert does not take place any more although one was held to celebrate the new millennium.

Another word used in The Orcadian that sparked off memories was “knotty”. In North Yell there were no silent Ks and to “draw knotty” was the way they used to decide who had won the toss at the start of a football match. In Stromness it means something quite different.

Football matches, of a sort, were played on Christmas days but with very different rules. In Cullivoe they “played da Ba’” on the Villings, at flat sandy area not too far away from the Sands of Breckon. The football was homemade; the quarters were made of cured hide with a pig’s bladder inside to hold the air.

Among the young men there was competition to see who could blow the ball hardest. That done they would draw knotty and one, from the side that won, would kick the ball as high as he could straight up in the air and the game was on.

Defensive players were referred to as blockers and forwards were called rushers. It never seemed to matter much who won and it is entirely possible that sometimes no-one knew who had, in fact, won. The only festive competition taking place nowadays is the New Year’s Day tug o’ war between the uppies and doonies.

Looking back – looking forward

Like every other year 2008 has had its ups and downs, highs and lows for individuals and for communities. Early in the year we reported that Hjaltland Housing was to build new houses in Cullivoe.

Yell is very short of houses and this was hailed as good news indeed. They were due to be completed and allocated by the spring of 2009 but no building work ever started and in July it was announced that a shortage of money had put the scheme on hold and we do not know whether they will ever be built.

On the other hand the Uyeasound harbour development did start on time, work is progressing well and it is hoped that the job will be completed on time in the spring.

Also in Unst the Baltasound Hotel was sold in April and the new owners have made a solid start and they are, like everyone else, looking forward to a busy tourist season in 2009.

Less welcome news came to Unst when Frank Strang announced that he had decided to sell the former RAF camp, Saxa Vord. The loss to the Island was acutely felt when the RAF pulled out in 2006 and Mr Strang’s ownership and development of the complex was seen as something that would go a long way to fill the vacuum.

In October the extension of the shop, the Final Checkout, was completed and with it the opening of the new toilets. The lack of toilets in the middle and north of Unst was an issue that had been in the minds of many for a long time.

March saw the opening of the Northern Lights Café in Haroldswick – it was a grand occasion that was somewhat spoilt by the snow and blizzard conditions outside.

In August the Hnefatafl World Championship was staged in Fetlar. It had to be postponed because of bereavement but it was, nonetheless, an unqualified success and Grand Master Peter Kelly has since been contacted by folk all over the world who are interested in this ancient board game.

The event is all set to be bigger next year.

Also in Fetlar a café was opened last summer as a welcome service and a visitor attraction. The Fetlar school pupils may be few in number but they, with the help of teachers, punch well above their weight in what they achieve.

An issue that may well affect all of the isles is the Blueprint for Education. It is intended as a consultation process to decide what is the best way forward for education in Shetland as a whole.

A main part of the process is a questionnaire that everyone is encouraged to fill in but it is very hard indeed to find anyone in the North Isles who has a good word to say about it. Nonetheless it seems a certainty that the powers that be will use the feedback it provides to help make important decisions.

In Yell and Unst the main fears are for the future of schools in Uyeasound, Cullivoe and Burravoe. The closure of those schools would be a hammer blow to the communities that they serve; a school is a vital component of any rural community.


Last week when I reported the fund-raising effort for the Baltasound nursery I said that Carol Smith had won the “guess the price of the jewellery competition”. I must have been suffering from something akin to festive jet lag because I was entirely wrong.

It was, in fact Carol Sutherland from Uyeasound who made the guess nearest to the actual price. Sorry to the two Carols and thanks to Catherine Gibb for putting me right.

Back to normal

Next week, with the festive season done and dusted deadlines will be back to normal. I wish everyone a very Happy New Year.


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