Isles Views 16.01.09


In the new year the thoughts of many turn to the Up-Helly-A’ celebrations to come. The North Isles has three fire festivals, two in Unst at Uyeasound and Norwick, and one in Yell at Cullivoe.

Uyeasound comes first on Friday 13th February with the guizers’ hop the following evening. This year’s Guizer Jarl is a departure from the norm insofar as he lives in Edinburgh.

He is Derek Ritch, son of the late Peter Ritch, himself a staunch supporter of the Uyeasound Up-Helly-A’. Peter is also remembered as a brilliant writer of poetry and comic prose; his pen name was Mackenzie Cash.

Derek was chosen as jarl partly as a reward for the fact that he often comes home from Edinburgh for the event.

Next one in line is Cullivoe on Friday 27th February. As usual there is a concert and hop the following night. Cullivoe has been in the habit, in recent years, of holding a guizers’ return the following week. This is for the benefit of guizers who do not get the opportunity to see each other’s acts.

As well as the hall the school is also open on Up-Helly-A’ night and the squads perform there too but there is no dance in the school.

This year’s Guizer Jarl is Euan Henderson from Gloup. Euan has long wanted to be the chief guizer and this year he has fulfilled that ambition. He is one of many in Cullivoe who have come through the “jarl factory” – the Cullivoe School.

It has long been the policy of the school, especially the ex-head teacher Carol Williamson, to organise the children into quads from day one at school. They seem to get the Up-Helly-A’ bug and continue in squads for ever more.

Euan is the first Guizer Jarl to be third generation. His father, the late John Henderson, was jarl in 1965 and his grandfather, the late Willie Barclay Henderson, was Cullivoe’s first jarl in 1958.

The last of the North Isles festivals is in Norwick on Saturday 28th February and the Guizer Jarl there is Leslie Stickle.

Mid Yell bus shelter

In mid-December Yell Community Council chairman Dan Thompson and the vice-chairman met Messrs Ken Duerden and Neil Hutcheson of the SIC roads department to look at the junction where the north road, out of Mid Yell, joins the main Gutcher-Ulsta road.

Concerns have been expressed regarding the safety of the area, where children are picked up and dropped off on their way to and from school. It is seen as a dangerous place especially in the dark and when children have to cross the road. The road can be very busy and fast with traffic hurrying to catch ferries to Unst and to the Mainland.

It was agreed that a bus shelter will be placed in the car parking area and when the parking area is relocated to accommodate the new road into Mid Yell a new, safe, lay-by and lighting will be considered.

Taking Shetland Out of the Box

“The periphery will take pride of place on 7-10th May 2009 when a conference on the island experience comes to Lerwick, Shetland.” So says a leaflet printed and distributed to promote the conference.

Among the topics to be highlighted are: comparative insular traditions; insular nationalism; calendar customs; festivals; beliefs and legend; music; religion; insular cultural and economic development. All in all it is to be a mighty gathering of brainboxes While the North Isles has no special place in this conference many of the participants are visitors to the North Isles and have friends here. One of the keynote speakers is Bo Almqvist, a Swede who is widely acknowledged as one of the foremost authorities on Nordic folklore.

This will be Prof Almqvist’s third visit to Shetland and he still speaks fondly of the great kindness that he was shown in Fair Isle on his last visit.

Another participant is Terry Gunnel from the University of Iceland. Nicknamed the “guizing professor” he was in Yell among other places making an academic study of skeklers and the use of straw in guizing hats and costume.

Also taking part is Ian Russell, the head of Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen. Dr Russell, with his wife Norma, is arriving early to take in at last part of the Shetland Folk Festival as well as visiting the North Isles. He was responsible for taking the Cullivoe Fiddlers to Aberdeen, one of their first gigs outwith Shetland.

Valentina Bold is a senior lecturer at Glasgow University but she does lecture tours in America and Europe. Her expertise lies in folklore, verse and songs. Along with Michael Given she will be presenting a paper.

Dr Bold visited Shetland with her husband Dave Nicol two years ago and fell in love with the Sands of Breckon, but she had a special interest in Whalsay because of Hugh MacDairmid. Her late father stayed in Whalsay for a time when he researched his book that is regarded as the definitive biography of the poet.

There will be participants from Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, Faroe, Gotland, Åland Aero, Scilly, Isle of Man, the Hebrides and Orkney as well as Shetland itself. The convenor of the conference is Adam Grydehøj from Denmark, who spent a large slice of 2007 in Shetland during his studies.

“Identity Crisis” 100 per cent correct

Quiz nights in the North Ness Hall in West Yell started in 1996 but were only held periodically and it was in 1998 that monthly quizzes were introduced. The organisers noticed that some teams were achieving very high scores.

In 2002 a special trophy was made by Hamish Polson to be presented to any team who managed to answer every question correctly. This trophy was won for the first time in December 2008 by the team known as Identity Crisis: Davy Nicolson, Graham Stiles, Gill and Mike McDonnell.

The hall offers congratulations to this team and thanks all the teams for their continued support.

“Please keep coming,” says Ruby Polson, who stresses that new teams are welcome. Will John Anderson has been the regular quizmaster from the start and Ruby would like to thank him and those have deputised for him when he could not be present. The next quiz night is on 8th February.

Weather troubles

After waxing lyrical last week about the mild and calm weather through the festive season conditions last weekend was a rude wake-up call. Saturday was the windiest day and ferry services were quite badly affected.

On Yell Sound there was single vessel operation all day. It was never possible to get the second ferry off the lay-by berth. On Bluemull Sound sailings were suspended at 10am and disruptions were with travellers all day.

At 1pm the ferry to Skerries was cancelled and the last run to Whalsay was at 5pm from Vidlin. The only ferry to run as normal was the Bressay service.

Conditions were not helped by the high tides. The tide was never high enough to prevent a docking but at Gutcher, in the past, the highest of tides meant that the link span could not be raised far enough to allow the ferry to hook up.

In Cullivoe itself houses like Stonganess, Levie Cottage and Beach House, close to the voe, have been flooded. Mercifully this did not happen with the recent tides. However, the road alongside the voe is prone to developing potholes.

No matter how often the roadmen fill them in they seem to reappear again almost immediately and it seems that the only long term solution to this is to reroute the road to take it further away from the sea.

Herra Owld Newerday

The Owld Newerday celebrations that were to have been held in the Herra last Saturday had to be cancelled because of the weather. The wind was such that any bonfire lit would have blown away and caused all sorts of danger.

Dodo Elphinstone was coming from Unst to provide the music and with the ferries disrupted, as they were, he had to call off.

Judith Finnie says that, all being well, they will have their bonfire and music tomorrow night. At the time of writing she is hoping that Dodo is free to come and entertain them.

Valentine family social

On Saturday 14th February the Burravoe Hall is holding a Valentine charity family social.

As well as a Mr and Mrs competition with local contestants there will be games for the children, a live band for dancing and a Valentine-themed auction of items donated by local businesses in aid of the CLAN 1,2,3 appeal.

Tickets, available from hall committee members, cost £5 for adults and under-16s will be admitted free. Organiser Rosemary Johnson says that if there is sufficient demand a bus can be organised.

Lawrence Tulloch


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