Isles Views 09.01.09

Owld Jül survives

IT is well known and documented that the folk in Foula still celebrate Christmas in the old style, on 6th January, with the New Year a week later. The same thing happens in Clibberswick in Unst but it is perhaps less well known that Owld Jül is still recognised at the Herra in Yell.

In the Herra they see the dates as 5th January rather than the 6th but there is no real inconsistency here because all the emphases was on Jül Een. Indeed, to this day, it is Christmas Eve that is celebrated in many Scandinavian countries.

In 1964 the question of Owld Jül was put to the vote and the Herra folk decided to switch to the new dates. For one thing the younger residents who were at school in Lerwick were going back before 5th January and this meant that they were missing out on all the festive activities.

The Herra has not forgotten the old traditions and house visits take place and Owld Newerday celebrations in the hall are still fresh in the memory.

Last year a bonfire and fireworks were added and this year there will be a music night with Dodo Elphinstone and friends with raffles, soup, mutton, bannocks.

Hall committee member Judith Finnie says that, weather permitting; the bonfire will be lit at 8pm tomorrow night, the 10th being the nearest weekend night to the actual date.

Christmas Day swimmers

It takes brave and hardy folk to venture into the sea in mid winter but that is exactly what eight-year-old Sula Brookes from Baltasound and seven-year-old Sophie Holt from Uyeasound did on Christmas Day.

The Brookes family, with the two girls, took a walk to the Sandwick beach on the east side of Unst and Robert Brookes says that he did not know that the girls had swimming costumes with them or that they intended to take a dip.

They freely admitted that the North Sea was a bit on the cold side but they were in and out of the water for 35 minutes and they wonder if they were, on the day, the most northerly swimmers in Britain.

Burravoe Tar Barrel

Another very old tradition still alive and well is the annual Tar Barrel celebrations in Burravoe.

The burning of tar barrels was a widespread event in many parts of Shetland but it has largely died out and Up-Helly-A’s have taken their place.

It is said that any sort of a fire festival in Nordic places is to celebrate and welcome back the sun. In Burravoe the event is never held until after the shortest day and it began well over a hundred years ago in the 1890s.

The only breaks came during the war years and when Burravoe briefly flirted with Up-Helly-A’ in the 1920s. The barrels to be burned are rather difficult to source nowadays but the committee managed to get 10 ex-whisky barrels from Dufftown in Scotland. Ian Clark says that the one burned this year was number three so they are okay for the next seven years.

For many years the Burravoe disco committee ran the Tar Barrel and a disco was held in the hall afterwards. The barrel is mounted on a sledge and the route taken by the marchers is from the Brough Shop to the hall. In times past the route was longer and went past the hall and past the Loch of Littlester.

One rather strange custom of the Tar Barrel is the burning of caps. Men usually buy a new cap for the occasion and the women and girls will grab the old caps and throw them into the fire. Ian does not know any good reason why this is done, as far as he is concerned it is just another bit of fun.

Afterwards a certain amount of visiting is done but eventually everyone gravitates back to the hall where there are refreshments, tattie soup, reestit mutton and music by local musicians. They do not have a bill or a proclamation as Up-Helly-A’ does but they do have a billboard where the year’s happenings are recorded in a gently satirical fashion. This year the Tar Barrel was filmed and seen on television and for the last two years a fireworks display has been added to make a great event even more spectacular.

Annual tug-o-war at Cullivoe

The annual tug-o-war took place in Cullivoe on the afternoon of New Year’s Day near the Chapel Burn that marks the boundary between Uptroo and Doontroo. This is always a fierce a contest but this year there was little to choose between any of the sides in terms of pulling power.

The result of the contest is decided on the best of three pulls and in the juniors, after two pulls, they were equal and a deciding pull was required, after a tough pull the Uptroo team came out winners.

The men’s pull had 14 men on each side and it turned out exactly the same way. Referee Alex Nicholson who is an authority on the sport said that the standard of pulling and the technical skills of both sides were excellent.

In the end it was as much a test of stamina as anything else, the pulls scourged to and fro and one of them took nine gruelling minutes to complete. However it was to be an Uptroo day for the first time in three years.

After the mighty exertions both sides, and all the spectators, repaired to the nearby galley shed where the trophy was presented to the Uppies. At present there is no trophy for the juniors but one has been pledged and will be presented to the winners next year. With all the rivalry forgotten it became a very pleasant social event that brought everyone together.

Festive weather

All during the festive period the weather was amazingly good, and this in contrast to the gales and snow showers of November and early December. For anyone who looked out in the mornings there were some beautiful sunrises.

On the morning of New Year’s Eve the sunrise over Fetlar was magnificent with a riot of bright colours, red, yellow orange and green. Such brightness in the morning is said to bode ill for the day to come but this never happened, perhaps some divine exception to the rule.

The great duck race

A truly whacky event held recently was the annual duck race in the Laxo Burn. This event is very popular with bairns of all ages, it is run by the Mid Yell Boating Club and it raises money for the RNLI.

This year the weather was exceptionally kind with a mild, almost calm day, and a reasonable amount of water in the burn.

A visiting raiding party from Northmavine brought the oarmals of the Big Bannock with them to try and distract the Yell ducks.

The first race away, as always, was the race of the yellow plastic ducks of a single design. These were is slightly short supply this year but more are on order for next year’s event. As it often happens one or two ducks broke free of the gaggle and finished ahead of the rest.

The winning duck was raced by Ross Keith from Aywick. He not may be that advanced in years but he is a duck race veteran. Best placed among the under-16s was Nicole Hughso, followed by Ashley Nisbet and Dean Guthrie.

After a brief pause to catch breath it was a brisk walk back to the burn for the start of the home-made duck race. A motley selection of over 30 ducks took to the burn. Many old favourites return year after year to do battle, however, this year, the brightly coloured “Starship Dunterprize” was first to reach the final frontier near the brig, to win for the proud owners Davy Jamieson and Margaret Strachan.

First among the youngsters was Naomi Keith, followed by Sarah Drever and Ashley Nisbet. Naomi and Sarah along with Naomi’s Dad Graham, as team “Golden Ducks”, won the team race for the best team of three ducks in the home-made sector.

After all the antics and making sure that all the ducks were recovered everyone made their way back to the Mid Yell Boating Club for soup and sandwiches. This was followed by the prize giving where an additional prize for the best-made duck was presented. This year it went to John Robertson whose duck, Daffy, also managed to play a few tunes on the way.

The day was a great success and the Mid Yell Boating Club would like to thank everyone who helped raise £162 for the RNLI.

Lawrence Tulloch


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