South Mainland Notebook 14.08.09

Take a tour of Mousa

Before the summer is out make sure to take a guided walk around Mousa, where it is proving a bumper year for seabird numbers.

Thanks to an abundance of sand eels and mackerel, around a thousand pairs of Arctic terns have bred and nested there, 600 more than last year. Attracted by their presence, eight pairs of Arctic skuas are there too.

Arctic skuas are kleptoparasites, which means they nick other birds’ food, so watch out for some spectacular aerial dogfights between them and the terns. The large food stocks have also attracted gannets and bonxies.

“It’s an easy-going walk that takes in the wildlife and the broch, and suits all-comers, including families with children,” says tour guide Howard Towll, who works for the Shetland Amenity Trust ranger service. “Just bring sensible footwear.”

When he’s not conducting tours of Mousa, Howard, who has a postgraduate degree in ecology, produces interpretative material on Shetland’s natural history and cultural heritage, making him the ideal person to show you round.

“The birds on Mousa are habituated to humans,” he says. “That means you can get up close to them. You are also likely to have good sightings of grey and common seals.”

Hnefatafl boards

The winners of the recent Hnefatafl world championships received their own, hand-made board from New Scatness Carvings, a South Mainland cottage industry run by Theresa New with her husband George.

Working from a shed facing West Voe Beach, with views that she describes as “awesome, particularly in winter; a place where ideas just start flowing”, Theresa fashions her boards surrounded by tools and tomato plants, in the company of her mother’s cat.

First she rubs down slate tiles until they are smooth, then she finishes them off with lacquer to make them shine. “We get the tiles off old roofs or purchase them on Shetland,” Theresa says. “We try to source everything up here.”

Next she draws the design in pencil and engraves it with a tool that looks and sounds like a dentist’s drill. “I don’t use bone or horn,” she says, “because then it smells like a dentist’s too.” The engraving is filled with gold leaf enamel.

George makes the game pieces out of light wood and gold plate wire. They are either rubbed with linseed oil or painted with gold or gold-flecked rust paint. The pieces come in wooden boxes, or in pouches made out of a recycled leather jacket.

New Scatness Carvings has a website to illustrate the kind of thing that is on offer but Theresa is always open to ideas. “One customer wanted me to make him clay pieces in the shapes of brochs and galleys,” she recalls. “The brochs were okay, but the galleys were a nightmare. At night I had galleys in front of my eyes!” She recently developed tiny galley moulds which should stop that being a problem in the future.

Hnefatafl is growing in popularity around the world, and Theresa gets a lot of orders from overseas, America in particular. The boards are made on commission.

Watch the plinth

Don’t forget that you can watch Quarff resident Stuart Hubbard on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square on webcam tomorrow.

Stuart, who is taking part in sculptor Antony Gormley’s latest project, will be in place from 3pm to 4pm. To find out what he does visit the website at

Fascinating films for seniors

Senior citizens can look forward to a unique insight into the past at Bigton Hall on Wednesday, with the showing of a selection of archive films, including The Rugged Island which was filmed in Shetland in 1933 by Jenny Gilbertson.

Ms Gilbertson, who was born in Glasgow in 1902, trained as a teacher and started out making films for schools. She first came to Shetland in 1931. The Rugged Island, one of several works she shot here, is what we would now call a dramatised documentary. It employs the very modern technique of using real crofters as actors, in order to tell the story of the day-to-day lives of members of the Shetland community at that time.

Ms Gilbertson went on to settle in Shetland, where she taught in a school and wrote for radio. She also continued to work in film, and at the age of 76 spent a year with the Inuit people, making a documentary entitled Arctic Diary. Ms Gilbertson died in Shetland in 1990, where she is still fondly remembered.

The event is run by the South Mainland Community Association and starts at 7.30pm. All are welcome and door-to-door transport is laid on where possible. For further details phone (01950) 460297.

Ness flower show

The annual Dunrossness Flower Show takes place in Dunrossness Hall on Sunday. It is one of three events organised yearly by the South Mainland Cancer Support Group, which was founded in 1980 by Margaret Duncan and Laureen Robertson (then, Mouat).

Since that time the group has never looked back. To date it has given out over £62,000 to Cancer Research and other cancer-related charities. It also responds to the immediate needs of cancer sufferers and their families.

This year, as always, the group is hoping for a large number of entries, and with a wide range of categories on offer from floral art and table decoration to pot plants, single species and cut flowers, as well as junior and senior photography sections. Anybody with even a slightly green thumb should be able to find a class in which they can participate. There are 34 trophies and five points shields to be won by adults, and three trophies and four shields for children.

In addition to admiring the flowers and photographs, visitors can enjoy teas, sandwiches and fancies. There is also a sale table, for which donations of plants, roots, cuttings and homebakes are requested.

Entries should be delivered to the hall on Saturday between 4.15pm and 7.30pm, and should each be accompanied by a 30p entry fee and the exhibitor’s name, address and telephone number in a sealed envelope, on which is written the class that is being entered. Leaflets giving details of all classes can be found in local shops or phone (01950) 460821.

The show takes place from 2.30pm to 5.15pm on Sunday. The official opening and prizegiving are at 3pm. Admission is £1 for adults and 50p for children.

Successful day at Sumburgh

Not only did the hoped for puffins make a showing at the RSPB’s Puffin Party on Saturday, but a minke whale put in an appearance as well, to the great delight of visitors. Folk viewed a kittiwake fledgling through a telescope, and a fulmar chick was perched near to the cliff top.

It was hard to believe that almost 70 years ago to the day, a Zeppelin was flying over this peaceful spot on a spying mission. Archaeologist and historian Chris Dyer told a fascinated crowd about Sumburgh’s crucial role during World War Two while bairns made puffins out of painted pebbles.

Beach goes missing

There’s not a lot to be said in favour of a gale, but that is what is needed if Gulberwick is to get its beach back.

For some reason the sand there has recently washed away and formed an island offshore, leaving behind nothing but rocks and shingle.

This is of particular concern to the community action group Gulberwick Together, whose annual picnic later in the month traditionally includes a very popular sand castle competition.

When the same phenomenon has occurred in the past, it has taken a strong wind to rectify the situation, though opinion is divided as to which direction the wind needs to come from. In the meantime Gulberwick residents have no choice but to admire their new island, while awaiting the return of their old beach.

Cathy Feeny


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