South Mainland Notebook 25.09.09


Plans are coming on apace for the South Mainland Up-Helly-A’, which is due to take place on Friday 12th March. Subject to suitable weather, the site of the sea burning has been confirmed as St Ninian’s Isle beach. “The beauty of this location is that it gives the option of launching the galley either to the north or to the south,” says Guizer Jarl David Smith. “We are still working out the best arrangement to get the galley afloat and the torches aboard, but there are some good minds on the case.” Once all necessary permissions have been obtained, the first procession will be through the village of Bigton then down to the sands.

Hall venues have also been confirmed, and the venue for the hop on the following night. The organisers are grateful to the committees of Bigton Community Hall, Ness Boating Club, Sandwick Social Club and Quarff Hall for agreeing to host the Friday night events, and Cunningsburgh Hall for hosting the hop. There is expected to be plenty of singing and dancing.

“As far as theatre goes,” David says, “there are any number of hugely talented folk in the South Mainland, so I expect there will be some spectacular acts on the night. For feasting we will be relying on the venues to keep folk fed and watered at supper time.”

In terms of participation, with 25 squads expressing interest and three on a waiting list, the South Mainland is certainly rising to the occasion. People from across the isles are also welcome to get involved; the only local stipulation so far being that the squad leader must be resident in the South Mainland area, which is defined as stretching from Gulberwick to Fair Isle.

As well as becoming members of a squad there are many other ways to join in. Folk can help the committees at the venues, they can paint the galley or make torches. A competition to design a logo for the event will shortly be launched, so budding artists should get their creative juices flowing. And, of course, you can spend the evening at one of the halls after the procession or simply go along and view the spectacle.

“I must confess I really didn’t appreciate what I was letting myself in for,” David says. “The level of interest in the event is amazing. On a personal level I have been overwhelmed with the good wishes from all over Shetland – not just South Mainland – and we have had invaluable advice from Up-Helly-A’ committees throughout the isles.

“I am really looking forward to the occasion and am getting busy with preparations for my squad. I am sure that the level of interest will be maintained over the next few months and that people will come out in numbers and enjoy whatever part of it they participate in. I hope it will become a long-term feature in South Mainland life and that, as a family-friendly event, it gives everyone a chance to play a part.”

The festival committee will soon be holding its annual general meeting, so watch out for details. Prospective jarls from the Sandwick and Gulberwick/Quarff areas are reminded that this is their chance to be nominated to become the fourth jarl.

Anyone with painting and torch making skills who would like to lend a hand should phone Dale Smith on (01950) 431419 or email

Doreen has designs on old hat

The Gunnister Man, who died around 1700 and was found in a peat bog in 1951, is now back home for an exhibition which runs at the Shetland Museum until 1st November.

When it was known that he would be returning Carol Christiansen, the museum’s textile curator, approached Virkie knitwear designer Doreen Brown and asked her to produce copies of the man’s hat.

Dr Christiansen provided Mrs Brown with a hand-knitting pattern, but it was decided that the process would be too time-consuming. Instead Mrs Brown developed a pattern to be used with a knitting machine. This proved a complex procedure.

“The pattern would have been easy to knit by hand,” Mrs Brown explains, “but it was difficult to transfer to a machine.” A mistake made by the early 18th-century knitter also had to be scrupulously replicated.

Mrs Brown submitted sample prototypes before the final design was agreed on. Interestingly, the pattern is typical of those used at the time in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.

“Everything about it is different from a Shetland pattern,” she says, citing as an example the decrease towards the crown that makes a cross at the peak which has to be knitted by hand. “It’s a lovely feature which I would definitely use myself.”

Although the original is now a rusty brown, the copies are in the natural cream colour it is believed the hat would have been before prolonged exposure to the bog.

Music nights

If you are a player or just somebody who enjoys foot-tapping melodies, you are welcome to go along to the Ness Accordion & Fiddle Club music nights, at 8pm every Monday throughout the winter at Levenwick Hall.

The club, which despite its name includes a keyboard player and guitarists, has been running for over 20 years. Musicians of all ages and abilities attend and the atmosphere is relaxed and informal. Jigs, waltzes and medleys of favourites such as Swanee River and Pack up Your Troubles are interspersed with friendly banter.

Club secretary Maurice Smith has amusing and interesting stories to tell about many of the tunes. You’re guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face.

Games at Gulberwick

Gulberwick folk can enjoy a Chinese meal followed by pool, darts, dominoes, cards and Wii games at Gulberwick Hall tomorrow. Or, if they prefer, just have a natter and a drink at the bar with their neighbours. Takeaways can be ordered from 4pm by calling (01595) 693293. Meals are served at the venue from 6pm, and faster service and more staff than last year are promised. The hall will stay open until 11pm.

Over-60s tea and chat

The talk on Fair Trade which Jean Marwick was due to give to the WRVS South Mainland Club for senior citizens on 15th September had to be postponed. It will now take place at Bigton Hall from 2-4pm on Tuesday.

If you would like to attend but don’t have transport phone (01595) 743915 and they will do their best to arrange it for you.

Cunningsburgh car boots

Tomorrow and Sunday from 2.30pm to 5.30pm there is an indoor car boot sale and tea and cakes at Cunningsburgh Hall, organised by Maria Bain.

Three years ago Maria attended a lecture on the plight of South American orphans which, she says, “broke my heart” and made her determined to do whatever she could to help them. The proceeds of the event will go to that cause. For more information phone Maria on (01950) 477231.

Windfarm consultation

A public meeting will take place at Dunrossness Hall at 6.30pm on Wednesday, in order to for people to register their views on the windfarm proposals.

The views will form part of Shetland Island Council’s deliberations on its response to the Energy Consents Unit. All are invited to attend.

Vision for education

The uncertain economic future loomed large over last Saturday’s South Vision meeting on education and learning, both in terms of how to ensure that likely budget cuts do not affect the standard of what is on offer, and in the views expressed as to what an education needs to provide.

“Employability skills should be key,” stated Matthew Moss, quality improvement manager for education in Shetland.

George Smith, director of Shetland College, agreed and added that these must be instilled early in a child’s life. Motivation, team spirit, organisation and responsibility are, he said, what employers want.

In terms of what’s on offer, the trend is towards more part-time and work-based courses, which supplement what people are learning in the workplace, and he is looking into “potential growth areas” such as hospitality and tourism.

Although both men addressed issues concerning young people, their focus went beyond any single age group or way of learning.

Mr Smith is eager to expand online teaching and video conferences, and he is concerned that venues such as Ness Learning Centre, which offers Shetland College courses, can easily be overlooked. “One of my aims is to make sure anybody and everybody knows exactly what Shetland College can offer.”

As well as talking about nursery provision and initiatives to make subjects such as music and art equally available to all primary schools throughout Shetland, Mr Moss talked of the broader support required by those with special needs, not just educational but social and emotional as well.

When the discussion was thrown open to the room, however, it focused mainly on education at school and pre-school levels, and on the present and the immediate future rather than long-term aspirations.

Dunrossness Primary was cited as a watchword for excellence, and reassurance was requested that it will not be subject to any changes. The speakers were asked about possible school closures and teacher cuts. “Will the funding,” asked one member of the audience, “be there for the vision?”

These questions proved difficult to answer. With cuts expected in public spending, it appears impossible to predict what the future will bring. Education would have to be looked at along with all the other services, taking into account priorities, and what can and has to be delivered, said councillor Rick Nickerson. “At the end of the day the buck stops in the council chamber.”

Nevertheless, the session ended on a positive note, with Shirley Jones of Ness Learning Centre reminding everyone “how much can be achieved once you have got people through the door and made them aware that fun can come from learning”. Whatever challenges lie ahead, there are clearly many dedicated folk determined to do their best for South Mainland.

Planning for spring

The members of Bigton Youth Club are thinking ahead. Tonight from 6.30pm to 7.30pm, weather permitting, they are having a daffodil planting night at Bigton play park.

The plan is to plant 100 of these cheerful flowers, which are such a feature of the Shetland spring, around the edges of the park. “They help to brighten things up,” says organiser Janette Budge.

As many parent helpers as possible are asked to come along, and folk should bring a shovel, fork or bulb planter if they can. The bulbs are provided and there will be refreshments. For further details call Janette on (01950) 422452.

Concert cancelled

The musical evening due to take place at Dunrossness School tomorrow, and mentioned in last week’s column, has unfortunately had to be cancelled.

Cathy Feeny


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.