South Mainland Notebook 09.10.09

Splendid news for Sumburgh

News of a £683,000 heritage lottery grant towards the renovation and development of the lighthouse and surrounding buildings at Sumburgh Head was described as a “major step forward” by Shetland Amenity Trust deputy manager Alan Blain.

“We’ve still got a little way to go,” he said, “but we’re narrowing the funding gap”. He is keeping his fingers crossed for a similarly positive result from an application to the Scottish Rural Development programme.

“The site itself will be superb,” Mr Blain said, as he outlined plans for “a whole mix of different things” that will take place there. Better access to the RSPB will be provided by converting the principal keeper’s house into an office for them.

There will be visitor accommodation and there are hopes to put in an educational and learning room, which Mr Blain said would be “great for visiting groups”. Car parking facilities will be extended and there will be an interpretative facility.

“We’ll bring the buildings back to their former glory,” Mr Blain said. “Everything in the engine room will be shining.”

It is the intention that these measures will help to generate income, and Mr Blain described the project as having a very important role for the area.

Visit Scotland’s Shetland office manager Andy Steven was also positive about the scheme’s economic implications.

“I am delighted this project has taken a significant step forward in the ongoing development of Shetland’s tourism product,” he said. “Sumburgh is already an iconic and popular visitor attraction, however the vision to enhance the overall experience at this magical location will undoubtedly create the aspiration to visit the UK’s most northerly islands location.”

Toddler group

“It’s good for children to have their own little social life,” says Michelle Harrop, who is standing down after a year acting as secretary to the Bigton Toddler Group. “The group is also a chance for parents to get together.”

And its not just mothers who take their bairns along; grandparents and fathers also attend. The group is open to age fives and under. There is a play area for babies, and toys, puzzles and games for the older children.

“It’s an opportunity for them to make a noise and enjoy lots of space,” Michelle said. “And when they get to nursery they already know many of their fellow pupils, which means the experience is not quite so scary.”

The group runs sessions on Mondays from 10-11.30am and on Wednesdays from 1.30-3pm at Bigton Hall. The cost is £1 per family per session, which includes snacks for the children and tea and coffee for adults. New members are always welcome. For further details call Michelle on (01950) 422360.

Tales for Sandwick SWRI

Ever since she was a child, Bigton storyteller Elma Johnson has loved listening to old people.

She has always been fascinated by Shetland’s past, and has a prodigious memory for the tales they’ve told her about it, both true and mythological.

The line between the two is often somewhat blurred, however, and Elma herself admits to finding it very easy to give credence to certain pagan beliefs and superstitions.

“In the past weddings in Shetland took place in the winter,” she says. “And always on a Thursday, because of the god Thor. And during a growing moon.”

Why during a growing moon? “Your enterprises will only thrive if they are started during a growing moon.”

Elma likes to tell tales which come from the area where she is performing, and the stories she’ll be telling to Sandwick SWRI on Tuesday will be about Sandwick, a place which she says has given rise to many yarns.

When asked how you become a storyteller Elma says that its something that’s born in you. “My grandmother was a storyteller. We didn’t call her that, but she was always telling stories. Folk say I take after her.”

The Sandwick SWRI meeting takes place at 7.30pm in the meeting room of Sandwick Parish Church. All are welcome.

If you are considering joining, secretary Jean Farquhar suggests you come along to a couple of sessions and see what they do. The programme is very varied but meetings always include an optional light-hearted competition. For further details call (01950) 431363.

Men’s night at Cunningsburgh

The ladies of Cunningsburgh will be putting their feet up tomorrow, when the men take over the kitchen at the hall.

Designed to give the ladies of the village a well-deserved night off, Cunningsburgh Men’s Night is a tickets-only annual event put on by a team of men from the community, who do all the cooking, all the cleaning and run the bar.

“There are also wine waiters, usually in white shirts and bow ties,” says hall chairman Robert Halcrow. “So glasses shouldn’t be empty.”

Mr Halcrow describes his role as “just fetching, carrying and buying”, but there is some definite culinary talent behind the scenes, and all the food is sourced locally, from Cunningsburgh itself if possible.

Last year’s menu featured vegetable soup and bannocks, lamb with tatties, neeps and kale, and cranachan, a rich pud including raspberries, oats and local cream. The meal is followed by live music and dancing.

But why should such an excellent occasion be only once a year? Wouldn’t it be a good idea if the gentlemen laid on a similar spread once a week, say? Mr Halcrow laughs: “There’s no danger of that.”

Get-together for over 60s

All over 60s and those with reduced mobility are invited to come along to Levenwick hall on Tuesday, where the WRVS South Mainland Club meeting will take place from 2-4pm.

This recently started club is eager to become established, and will give a warm welcome to anyone who fancies getting together for a chat and refreshments on a regular basis, and taking the opportunity to bump into old friends and make new ones.

If you need transport to attend, contact the WRVS on (01595) 743915 and they will do their best to arrange it for you.

The club would also like to hear from volunteers to help to run it or provide transport.

Becoming energy efficient

Today was the last day to return the Home Energy questionnaires that you should have received from Energy Saving Scotland and Carbon Reduction Shetland.

If you have missed the deadline, however, you can still contact them on 0800 512 012, or alternatively complete the form online at You can also pick up a copy at Boddam Hall on Wednesday, where the organisations will be holding a free advice session on everything to do with energy saving, starting at 7.30pm.

The organisers are hoping for a good response to their questionnaires because the aim is to collate the results and produce a wider report on energy use in South Mainland, which could then be used to stimulate further action. A high return rate may also lead to additional leverage when seeking additional grant funding for insulation measures.

The ongoing events are there to highlight how you can help the planet and save yourself money, but they are also part of a long-term strategy, and both organisations are eager to give assistance and advice at any time.

Either call the number above or contact the carbon reduction officer at the Shetland Amenity Trust on (01595) 694688.

Windfarm meeting

Dunrossness Hall was full for last week’s meeting, at which folk were invited to voice their feelings about the Viking windfarm proposals. A wide range of views and concerns were put forward and some central ones were reiterated by person after person.

The size of the proposed windfarm was clearly uppermost in many people’s minds. “It’s totally disproportionate to Shetland’s landmass,” argued one participant, while another said that for anybody to build anything of that size in that location would be “absolute lunacy”.

Related to that were worries about the visual impact of the windfarm and what effect this would have on people’s attitude to Shetland.

Describing it as “view pollution” a German resident added: “I don’t think people will come to live here when the windmills are built.”

Another resident, who came to Shetland on a three-year contract and is still here 31 years later, said that he felt privileged to live in the isles but feared that the “horrendous” visual impact of the windfarm would drive people to leave.

“I would hate to see the hills desecrated,” said a member of a large Shetland family.

Those in favour of the project tended to take the line that these objections were standing in the way of progress.

“It’s the best thing I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said a 78-year-old man, who believed the windfarm would bring immense advantages and should be built in South Mainland.

“Yes, it will be a blight on the landscape but we’ve got to put up with it,” said another.

“We should use the wind,” argued a 16-year-old girl, drawing parallels with hydro-electric and solar power, while another participant described Shetland’s winds as “an undeniable resource”. Central to this stance was a conviction that the windfarm would be good for Shetland economically, and that it would create employment and bring in money.

This was denied by people who were against it. One of those opposing maintained that large projects of this kind tend not to bring employment, and that jobs are created instead by smaller schemes which fit into an area.

Concerns were raised that the sums didn’t add up, that there was no guarantee the project would make money and that the financial risks were “astronomical” and could result in Shetland going bankrupt. “There are too many unanswered questions,” said one woman.

Some of these related to the technology itself. One man wondered how the windfarm could possibly be commercially competitive, given the enormous cost of the under sea interconnector, and challenged the notion that it is so much windier here than on the west coast of mainland Scotland, where an interconnector would not be necessary.

Another feared that the interconnector would do away with the need for Shetland to have its own power station and leave us “entirely dependent on this long, thin umbilical cord”.

What will happen if the project fails, others asked? Or, if it does succeed, what happens when the machinery becomes defunct? There was debate about whether or not the windfarm would reduce Shetland’s carbon footprint.

The impact on the environment was another major concern. People spoke of their fears that the windfarm would affect breeding birds and fish migration, worry was voiced about its consequences for the archaeology of the area. Other issues raised included the possibility that the windfarm would pave the way for a future nuclear power station.

Despite the differences of opinion, however, there appeared to be a general consensus that alternative sources of energy are going to have to be used in the future. It was the form they should take that was a matter of contention.

The waves and the tides could be used, it was suggested, and some of those against the windfarm proposal as it stands were nevertheless sympathetic to the idea of a smaller, less obtrusive version.

“Shetland should not be afraid of standing on its own feet,” argued a man who advocated creating a windfarm purely for the use of the isles. The idea was also put forward that Shetland should continue to rely on oil and gas while at the same time looking for renewables that would really work.

At the end of the evening a vote showed 14 in favour of the windfarm, 60 against and four undecided. All the South Mainland councillors were present, and an appeal that they should represent the views of the electorate when the topic is debated in the chamber was strongly backed.

Windfarms are a contentious issue around the planet and part of the Ness meeting was filmed for Japanese television. Clearly, decisions made here are going to have wide ranging consequences. The eyes of the world are on Shetland.

Cathy Feeny


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