South Mainland Notebook 12.07.09

Fund-raising gig at Sandwick

It all started with a surprise party in 1995. Back then Niall Cruickshank and Alan Jamieson were working in the Sumburgh Airport fire service. When a couple of their mates were about to retire, it seemed like a good idea to include live music in the farewell bash. Niall and Alan started to rehearse together and, according to Niall: “I never had so much fun in my life.”

After Alan left to live in Renfrew the pair kept in touch, and whenever Alan returns to Shetland they meet up to perform favourites such as Country Roads, Mr Tambourine Man, Da Sang O Da Delting Lass and Killiecrankie.

Although the gigs may not exactly be the Main Stage at Glasto – Niall recalls narrowly avoiding frostbite on a raw March night, at an outdoor celebration to mark the opening of a new sheep shed – the two always enjoy “making a noise together” as Niall puts it.

In the spring of this year the duo recorded a keepsake CD called Kindred Spirits. Not, as Niall originally mooted, in somebody’s spare room or garden shed, but in a professional studio in Paisley. The idea was to sell copies in aid of Mind Your Head, the Shetland mental health charity that is close to both their hearts.
The folk and country songs off this new album are what Alan and Niall will be performing at their gig at Sandwick Social Club tomorrow. But the aim of the event isn’t simply to raise money. It’s also to raise people’s awareness that, if they’ve got problems, the help they need is out there.

“If we can convince just one individual that they needn’t suffer in silence,” Alan says, “then it will all have been worthwhile.”

The concert starts at 10pm and goes on till late. Entry is free but you are invited to make donations to Mind Your Head or to buy Niall and Alan’s CD, which costs £8.

The CD is also available at all local shops and hotels from Cunningsburgh south, or direct from Alan. Phone him on 07962 576629.

For more information about the help that is available for mental health problems in Shetland visit the Mind Your Head website at

Mill remains popular

Every year since it opened as a visitor attraction in 1993, tourists from as far afield as Adelaide and Anchorage have been coming to the Quendale Water Mill, Dunrossness.

Many Shetlanders, however, have yet to discover the unique piece of island heritage.

“Quendale Mill is, quite simply, the last historical industrial site in Shetland,” explains mill custodian and archaeologist Sharron Dickson. “There isn’t another like it.”

Built in 1867 and up and running until just after the Second World War, the mill was vital to the life of South Mainland and – with the advent of motor transport – areas beyond. Capable of producing better, finer meal, more quickly and efficiently than the domestic mills, Quendale, as custodian Geordie Black says, “provided food for an awful lot of people”. Bannocks made from Quendale beremeal and a drink of whey would have been many a fisherman’s sole sustenance during long periods at sea.

A short film, shown at the beginning of your visit, takes you through the whole milling process from grain to flour, and provides fascinating insights into the skill of the miller, who could even tell whether the grain had been dried for long enough by testing it with his teeth. After that you move from room to room, following the various stages of production.

And whether it’s a flail, a tusker or a hand quern, you are very much encouraged to touch what you see, making Quendale an ideal outing for bairns. Also greatly appealing to peerie visitors, according to Geordie Black, are the nooks, crannies and dark places, its different levels, and the hand-made chain which was used for hefting 140lb sacks from one floor to another.

For six to eight and nine to 12-year-olds there are quiz sheets, which prove both fun and educational. “Although the children think of it as a game,” says Ms Dickson, “they are actually noticing things about the Mill, which makes them go on to ask ‘What was that for?’”

Displays and artefacts vividly evoke 19th-century crofting life, and the ingenuity that Shetlanders needed to survive. You can sit in a homemade wooden seat by the reconstructed hearthstone and see the brandiron for baking bread, and the singing iron you would have heated in the fire in order to make holes in wood or leather. You can turn the handle of a machine built out of driftwood that was used to make heather and seaweed into rope.

“Recycling isn’t new to us,” adds Mr Black.

But the Victorian era was very much a time of change, and Quendale’s large collection of agricultural machinery, and the massive metal workings of the mill itself, are a reminder that this is a period that bore witness to a revolution which caused many of the old ways to vanish forever.

With a view to preserving and recording local history and culture, the South Mainland Community History Group, which operates the mill, is always eager to hear from people with stories about Shetland’s past, especially ones concerning their own family.

All are welcome to attend the group’s meetings, which take place at the mill at 7.30 on Thursday evenings throughout the year, or people can pass on comments and questions through the custodians. For more information, call the mill on (01950) 460969.

The name “Quendale” is thought to derive from “kvern dalr”, the Old Norse for “mill valley”, so meal was obviously being ground on the site long before the present mill was built, and quite possibly for the same reasons.

“A mill,” Mr Black says, “is a function of the landscape and the water source. That’s why no two are alike.”

It is hard to imagine that a building so central to its community wasn’t the setting for a lively exchange of gossip, and visitors still enjoy staying around for a coffee and a chat after they have finished exploring. The mill shop sells local crafts, gifts, books, and items related to all aspects of Shetland’s culture and wildlife, including folk music CDs and a new DVD showing images of Quendale Mill and of the islands’ landscape, flora and fauna.

Shetland is rightly proud that it can trace its human history back millennia. It would be a shame though to miss out on this, its more recent, industrial, heritage.
The mill is open daily from 10am to 5pm until 11th October. Admission is £2 for adults, £1 for senior citizens and 50p for children.

Boating club supper night

Why not hang up your pinny tomorrow night and let someone else do the catering?

Ness Boating Club is having a supper night from 5pm to 7.30pm. On the eat-in or take-away menu is: fish supper, sweet and sour chicken, beefburger and chips, and sausage supper. Phone in your orders on (01950) 460712 from 3pm. The bar is open from 5pm.

RSPB open day

Expect to see puffins, fulmars, shags, guillemot chicks and possibly even the odd sea mammal at the RSPB’s open day at Sumburgh Head tomorrow from 11am to 4pm.

Throughout the day the RSPB’s expert staff and volunteers will be on hand to guide you round and answer questions.

At 11.30am there is a walk with activities for children. Then at 3pm budding David Attenboroughs can join Mike Dilger from BBC’s The One Show for a special

“How to be a wildlife television presenter” look at seabirds.

Bring along your own camera and meet a man who has explored “the lowest, wettest and scariest places in Britain”, speaks Vietnamese, Spanish and Swahili, and has cheerfully survived a stomach-churning array of tropical diseases

For further information call (01950) 460800.

Record takings for teas

The staff, children and parents of Dunrossness Primary School are enjoying a well-earned rest, after a term culminating in a sun-drenched sports day and Sunday teas which raised the staggering sum of £1,028.

“It’s the most they’ve ever made,” said head teacher Lesley Simpson. “But then we have a massive fund-raising job to do if we are to fulfil our bairns’ wishes.”
What the pupils want to do is change an unusable piece of boggy land in the school grounds into a play area, garden and wildlife habitat. This is going to be a challenging task, so all offers of help are more than welcome.

If you would like to contribute to the fund, or if you can do earth-moving, provide plants or donate building materials, contact Mrs Simpson on (01950) 460488 during term time, or email her at

Fun run in the sun

Some ran and some walked. They were all shapes, sizes and ages. But everybody who took part in the gloriously sunny Bigton Fun Run, in aid of the hall funds, had a wonderful day out on Saturday 27th June.

The route – from Bigton Hall to Maywick and back – was just under five miles, and participants were provided with abundant bottles of water to keep them hydrated. There were medals for everybody and burgers, steak rolls and hot dogs at a barbecue afterwards.

“Folk sat out till late,” said organiser Mary Andreas. “It was such a lovely night nobody wanted to go home.”

Another fund-raising event at Bigton Hall takes place this Sunday. Teas will be served from 2.30pm to 5.30pm. Lots of Bigton’s very highly-rated homebakes are promised, and there will also be a raffle and tombola.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.