Isles Views 14.08.09

Island Man is back

Andy Strangeways from Yorkshire has earned himself the nickname of “Island Man” because he set himself the quest of sleeping a night on each of the 164 Scottish islands over 40 acres in area.

Now he has gone further, his next task being to visit the extremities of Scotland. He has been to the most southerly place, the Mull of Galloway, and the furthest west place, Soay, one of the islands that make up the St Kilda group.

That leaves the furthest east and the furthest north places and they are both in Shetland, the Bound Skerry and Out Stack respectively. Andy is full of praise for the wonderful hospitality of the Skerries folk. He said that if he had stayed much longer in Skerries he would turn fat.

The trip off north Unst was arranged through Edmund Nicolson and Andy was lucky that the sea was slight enough that boatman Brian Edwardson was able to land him on the Out Stack without too much difficulty. This furthest flung scrap of the British Isles is a place where very few humans have set foot.

When Sir John Franklin disappeared while looking for the Northwest Passage, his wife, Lady Franklin, came north and landed on the Out Stack. She looked out to sea, as a token gesture, as part of the search for her husband.

Andy Strangeways is a man with an insatiable appetite for islands and one unfulfilled and burning ambition is to land on Rockall, which he hopes to do next summer.

Celebration of Shetland

Unst based artist Nicholas Barnham currently has an exhibition of his work in the Shetland Museum entitled A Celebration of Shetland. For half a century he has been inspired by the Shetland landscape and people and his work reflects this “love at first sight” experience.

Originally from the town of Wells-next-the-Sea in north Norfolk, Nick came to Shetland and to Yell as an art teacher. For some years he and his family lived in Gutcher and he worked as an itinerant teacher going from island to island.

It has to be remembered that in the late 1950s and early 1960s travelling was not nearly as easy as it is nowadays. There were no roll-on roll-off ferries and their home in Yell had neither mains water nor electricity. Nick never had any difficulty in slotting into the community and made lasting friends with all the neighbours.

In terms of art Nick gave many folk, especially youngsters, an understanding and an appreciation of art that they never had before. At that time, as a young man himself, he was experimenting with techniques that he has developed to produce the superb work of the mature artist.

However, no matter which period of his career it comes from a Nicholas Barnham piece is instantly recognisable. He specialises in watercolours and lino prints and he is one of the very few artists who have mastered, in art form, the Shetland Model boat. His paintings of boats look exactly right.

The exhibition will run until 6th September and not since the Adam Robson exhibition of some time ago has there been anything on show that was of more interest to North Isles folk.

Da Seilkie Boy o’ Breckon

Da Seilkie Boy o’ Breckon is a folk tale that comes in many different versions and it is known worldwide. The version from North Yell concerns a young girl who fell asleep at the shore and was impregnated by a seal.

She had a son who was half boy and half seal; she was thrown out of the house by her father and was destitute. She had a dream that if she went to the place where she fell asleep by the shore, and scraped in the sand, she would find silver.

The silver was for the boy and his well being and when he went to the sea for good the girl was still as poor as ever but she never again found any silver no matter how much she scraped; but the geo, to this day, is known as Silver Geo.

This story, the North Yell version, has been translated in to Slovenian and entered into a competition there. The translation is the work of Katarina Juvancic, a young Slovenian who is a regular visitor to Shetland.

Kat, as she is known to her friends, has been studying the Shetland and other folk festivals and she will get from it, all being well, a PhD. She is very well known in Shetland and such are her linguistic abilities that, as well as having perfect English, she speaks Shetland dialect better than a great many Shetlanders.

Next year the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, is Unesco’s world capital of books and as well as the written word there is a place for storytelling. Kat is currently working on a project that might take three Scottish storytellers to Slovenia next summer.

Good year for families

This has been a really good year for families to visit the Unst Heritage Centre and the Unst Boat Haven. The heritage centre has done a lot of features aimed at children. They can dress up, play at being a museum detective and, new this year, there is a pony to ride on.

At the boat haven the temptation for young ones to climb into the boats is intense but, of course, that cannot be allowed for all sorts of reasons. Curator Robert Hughson has solved the problem by building a small boat for the children to play in.

Rhoda Hughson from the heritage centre says that although it is August there is still plenty of time to visit both places and bring the children along.

Fiddle Frenzy

Last Wednesday was the day Fiddle Frenzy came to Whalsay and like every other day of the week the weather was superb.

Sheer numbers put something of a strain on the ferries. A total of 107 folk – tutors, students, storytellers, organisers, partners and friends – assembled at Laxo ferry terminal to board the Hendra. That meant that not everyone could be accommodated and the less essential personnel were left behind to travel on a later sailing but with the warm sunshine this was no great hassle.

In Whalsay everyone was greeted with wonderful hospitality and the whole day went by in a flash. As well as the classes outside excursions were organised. Guide Andy Sandison showed a party around Symbister House and the Middin Courts and the view from up there was beautiful. Next stop was the harbour area and a visit to the Hanseatic booth which has been restored and tells the story of the trade with the league which started in medieval times.

After a soup and sandwich lunch in the boating club it was out and about again with a visit to Sodom where the poet Hugh MacDiarmid lived and worked. Everyone enjoyed the drive to Skaw and the afternoon tea served with salt beef bannocks and home bakes.

It never seemed long between meals and it was back to the boating club for dinner, delicious baked Whalsay fish with shappit tatties, carrots and peas.

It was clear that a great many folk gave up their spare time to make the day in Whalsay such an enjoyable experience and there has to be a special word for coach driver Lee Jamieson. No journey was too long or too short and nothing was a trouble to him; he did a great job.

Yell Show

The Yell Show is on Saturday 5th September. The first Saturday in September has been the date for the show for many years and it has great advantage in that everyone knows exactly when it is without having to wait and see notices.

The show ground and pens are adjacent to the East Yell Hall and over the years the committee has built up impressive infrastructure, consisting of sheds and pens, not only for the livestock and exhibits but for those who wish to sell products and craftwork. A number of the stalls will be manned by volunteers raising money for charities, the Aith Lifeboat being a prime example.

Entries for livestock should be in by now but show secretary Johnina Henderson on 07721 866353 or Jennifer Odie on (01957) 722756 can be contacted if there are queries. The baking, horticultural, arts and crafts sections need no entry forms. Entries are accepted on the Friday before the show and on the Saturday morning before 9am.

Lawrence Tulloch


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