Isles Views 06.03.09

Old friends meet again

A big day of yarning took place last Wednesday when Sonny Williamson and Davie Clark made their way to Andersville in Cullivoe to see Andrew Anderson.

All three of them were whaling men in the Antarctic in the 1950s and 60s. Sonny and Andrew were together on the factory ship the Southern Harvester and Davie and Andrew were together on the Southern Garden.

Those ships belonged to the company Salvesens and they were only three of a great many Shetlanders to be employed in the whaling industry. Andrew is now 91 years old, Sonny is 88 and Davie is the baby of the three at a mere 73.

Sonny Williamson is married to a Ruby, a Yell lass, and they live in Ollaberry. Ollaberry and North Yell are places not that far apart but the fact is that Sonny and Andrew had not seen each other for many years. It is thanks to Davie that the meeting took place. He is also a Yell man but he has lived in Brae for many years.

All three enjoyed their day together. Andrew says that if there was something that one of them could not remember the other two could always fill in the gaps. Andrew, looking back at a lifetime at sea, recalls his whaling days with some pleasure.

He started there as a group 11 boy, the lowest of the low, but finished as first mate with a master’s ticket and later went on to be the master of some of the biggest oil tankers afloat. Right now he is possibly the oldest ex-whaler.

Andrew’s reminisces include the war years when the whaling was suspended and he worked for other shipping companies. He can enthral listeners for hours and his stories of those days could run into many volumes if they were ever written down.

Bluemull ferries remain free

As reported in last week’s Shetland Times, at a recent meeting of the SIC Ferries Board it was decided that travel on the Bluemull Sound ferries is to stay free of charge.

This has been the case for some time now but always the question was revisited on a six monthly basis. What is different this time is that the present policy is to remain for the lifetime of the present council, i.e. a minimum of three years.

Councillor Robert Henderson, the ferries board chairman, said he was pleased with this decision on a numbers of fronts. It gives folk in the North Isles, especially Unst and Fetlar, the security of knowing where they stand in the medium term, allowing them to plan accordingly.

With the need of everyone to go to Lerwick from time to time it takes away the anomaly of Unst and Fetlar folk being the only people in Shetland having to pay two ferry fares. In making this important decision the ferries board had a number of issues to consider during their deliberations.

The cost of collecting fares might well mean that there would be little or no gain to the public purse. For a start it would mean the employment of extra sea staff on each ferry shift. With no fares being collected at present there are no accurate figures available to show exactly how many passengers use the service.

Another factor is that it could be that fewer folk would travel on the route if they had to pay. In the North Isles it is very much welcomed as a common sense decision.

Ferry fares in general

On the wider issue of internal ferry fares a delegation from the Scottish government, who are looking into ferry operations, visited Shetland last week. They met local transport operators, local politicians and community councillors to discuss ferry issues.

From the word go Robert Henderson has argued and campaigned for ferry fares within Shetland to be abolished. He is well aware that this cannot be done at local level; it has to be financed by the government.

However, a strong case can be made. If the government can afford to forego the huge sums of money collected on the toll bridges in Scotland then surely they can afford to write off the relatively modest sum of money collected on ferries.

At a meeting on 26th February these points were put most strongly to the visitors from Edinburgh. Mr Henderson said it was the first time that the opportunity had come when the case could be made directly. A report will be produced by the end of the year and maybe, just maybe, it might have some good news for us.

Belmont House restoration

The internal restoration of Belmont House started at the end of last year. This involves putting the interior back to the same state as it was when the house was built in 1775, but modern facilities are being added. It will have a kitchen, two bathrooms and a cloakroom/shower room.

The house is getting electricity for the first time as well as plenty of hot water. At the moment the plumber is in fitting pipes for the heating, hot and cold water and a fire sprinkler system. The electrician is working there too. The Belmont Trust is busy sorting out fittings, paint colours, lists of furniture and fittings as well as continuing to fund raise.

The garden is part of phase three but the trust has some money to take their proposals ahead for the time being. More money is needed to carry out all the plans but the trust is pleased that things are moving forward.

The trust also has plans for the grounds. The house itself will have the forecourt all to itself and for the exclusive use by folk occupying the house; in front of that the three walled gardens will be a public community asset.

The trust would like to see these being used by the public as a place to have sheltered picnics, school visits, or just to wander through and contemplate the house and the wonderful views. Even as a place to take wedding photos with Belmont in the background.

The gardens that exist are as they were in 1775 but they are obviously decayed. Already restored and repaired are several of the original garden features like the entrance gateways into the west and east gardens; the walls too have been repaired.

The trust proposes that, for the east garden, a mixture of native and hardy trees will be planted. The middle garden, in front of the house, will be a managed meadow with the existing paths mowed during the summer. The meadow is already full of wild flowers in the summer and by careful management more will regenerate.

The west garden, the Hamilton garden, is going to be more densely planted. It will be laid out with the original quadrant paths and there will be four smaller gardens inside, surrounded by wooden fencing. These will be planted with hardy trees and some sturdy herbaceous plants and also have grass and sculptures.

There is evidence of a ruined curved feature, probably sheltering a seat, at the west end and this will be reinstated. All the walls will be planted with a mix of honeysuckle and other hardy plants like fuchsia.

In the garden there will be seats and sheltered enclosures. There will be an entrance pavilion with some interpretive information. The project is very much tying in with other initiatives like Viking Unst and it will be another thing for visitors to do and see.

This year new garden gates will be made using, as a pattern, an original gate that was found on the site. It is an authentic Georgian pattern designed to keep rabbits out of the planted areas. The original paths layout can still be seen despite the fact that they are overgrown.

The paths are lined with very old daffodils and this summer a working day will be organised for volunteers to help dig up and thin the daffodils and plant them all along the paths to fill in the gaps.

First “Viking” at 101

The residents and staff at Isleshaven Care Centre in Mid Yell hugely enjoyed the visit of Guizer Jarl Euan Henderson and his squad of Vikings. For many years the care centre has been near the top of the “must visit” list of all jarls.

The Jarl’s official musicians, Johnny Clark, Richard Grains, Ryan Wright and Dodo Elphinstone, were there too and with so many good singers in the squad they put on a delightful cameo of music and song that was much appreciated.

Noreen Clark, on behalf of all the residents, staff and Isleshaven visitors, would like to say a sincere thanks to Euan and his men. The oldest resident in Isleshaven is Helen Jamieson. Now in her 102nd year, she said it was the first time she had ever seen Vikings.

Lawrence Tulloch


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