Isles Views

A look back at 2009

One of the most popular and remarkable photos to appear in the Isles Views column during 2009 was taken on Christmas Day 2008. It was of two young girls, Sula Brookes and Sophie Holt, who were brave enough to swim in the North Sea from the beach at the Easting in Unst. They did admit that the water was on the cold side but they were in no way deterred.

An annual mid-winter event is held in Burravoe. It is the tar barrel and one of the unwritten rules is that it is never held until after the shortest day. Last year was the first time that it was filmed for TV.

All during the festive season of 2008/09 the weather was more like summer but a violent wakeup call came on Saturday 10th when storm force winds and high tides caused major disruption to the ferries. Houses near to the sea around Cullivoe were in great danger of flooding.

In the North Isles February is the season of Up-Helly-A’s. In Norwick Leslie Stickle was the Guizer Jarl. In Uyeasound it was Derek Ritch. And Unst man Steven Mouat was the Guizer Jarl in Lerwick. Meanwhile in Cullivoe Euan Henderson was the Chief Guizer. Jarl Euan is the first man in Cullivoe to be a third generation of Jarls.

In March the Connecting Classrooms project linking Shetland with Ghana and Kenya came to the North Isles. The party of Africans saw Shetland in all its guises and varieties. They experienced stronger winds than any at home and they were delighted to see snow but above all they sampled Shetland food. They also played cricket matches against the local schools.

April the 25th was a hugely important day in Uyeasound. It was the day that the new harbour works and pier was opened. The local community had campaigned since 1947 and the day was one of out and out celebration with folk of all ages involved.

Uyeasound is a centre for the salmon farming industry and, before the new harbour was built it was extremely difficult and dangerous for the men employed in fish farming to do their work safely.

In Whalsay the Symbister Hall committee was able to announce satisfactory progress in their efforts to modernise and improve the building and they made plans for the use of the hall throughout the summer.

In Yell the Old Haa held a Bobby Tulloch Week. Had he still been alive he would have been 80 years old. Another landmark was the 21st birthday of the company Island Holidays that he set up with his business partner Libby Weir-Breen.

Ms Weir-Breen chartered a Russian cruise liner the Professor Mulytanovskiy to make the event special. It called in at Burravoe and among the passengers was Hugh Miles, and he was able to lead and show folk the place near the mouth of Bastavoe where he made his famous film The Track of the Wild Otter.

In June Claire Lawson was appointed head teacher of the Cullivoe Primary School. She succeeded her husband, Mark, who, for a time had controversially been head of both Cullivoe and Mid Yell.

A very familiar landmark disappeared from South Unst when the historic house of Lund was demolished and the stones used for bottoming in the new Mid Yell bypass. The walls of the old house had become unsafe and there was never any question of restoration.

The death occurred of Lell Robertson from the Herra in Yell. He was much loved and admired by all who knew him. He was great fiddle player but, above all, he was a gentleman and role model who is much missed.

On August 1st the World Hnefatafl Championship was held in Fetlar and the main prizes were won by competitors from Somerset in England. July and August sees a great many summer annual events.

Fiddle Frenzy, as we still call it, came to Whalsay and Fetlar in August. There was a mighty invasion of Fetlar for the day but, without doubt, the highlight for many was the playing of Fetlar fiddle veteran Joe Jamieson. His friend and relation Maurice Henderson took him to the hall in the afternoon, and evening, and Joe played beautifully.

Late August and early September is the season of the agricultural shows. In Haroldswick there was a great turnout but the weather was somewhat indifferent. In Yell the following week the show was equally successful. Organisers expressed delight at the number of children and young folk who were not only there but participating in every way.

The Initiative at the Edge status for the North Isles finished on October 1st and has been replaced by the Bluemull Development Company. The new company is mainly concerned with the development of Yell and Unst.

Fetlar has employed Robert Thomson to be its own development officer. He is enjoying the challenge, he said that he would never have accepted the job if he did not believe that he could be successful.

November 13th was the birthday of Yell’s oldest resident, Helen Jamieson from Gossabrough. She is 102 and keeps remarkably well and entirely alert enjoying her many visitors in Isleshaven where she now lives.

Jül then and now In the late 1940s and 50s when I was growing up each and every kirk had a large congregation. There was a minister in each parish and there were two kirk services every Sunday. Going back from that the kirk sessions were the guardians of moral standards and individuals were required to appear before them to answer for their sins.

For example, any unmarried girl who became pregnant was required to submit herself to a severe interrogation. She would be questioned as to who was the father of her unborn child and where the anti-nuptial fornication took place; this was the ugly phrase used in the minutes of session meetings.

Not only was Sunday the Lord’s Day when no work and no enjoyment was allowed, but there were fast days declared. They were always on a Thursday and they were treated as extra Sundays. Although little was said those days were unpopular even with the religious community because, in the summer, every potential working day was precious.

There was a case of one man who was summonsed to appear before the session because he had been seen on the beach on a fast Thursday. He protested that he was out for a walk and that was just about acceptable but it was an onshore wind, a banks eart, and he was accused of looking for driftwood. That was totally unacceptable.

I mention all this because it seems that powerful and influential as they were the kirk and the kirk session played little or no part in the way that ordinary folk celebrated Christmas. There were no kirk services on Christmas Day and people visited each other and men would take part in various sporting contests like football or sailing model yachts and a great deal of drinking went on.

However the one concession made was that Christmas Day was never celebrated on a Sunday, it was always switched to the Saturday before so that Sunday was not broken. It rather suggests a sharp distinction between the Sabbath of the Presbyterian Church and the much older Jül time.

Different places had their different customs and I remember my late friend Arthur Williamson of Skerries telling me about Jül when he was a boy and a young man. All the men folk would go from house to house on Jül day and they paid no heed to time.

They ate Christmas dinner in whatever house they happened to be in at the time. He said that everyone had the same dinner, kale soup boiled on a grice head and there was always plenty for everyone. Yum yum!

Finally I would like to round off this year, 2009, by saying a sincere thanks to all of you folk who have supplied me with news. I will not name names but you all know who you are and this column would never happen without those valuable contributions.

To all the contributors and all my readers, I wish you all a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2010 and, of course, that includes the editor and staff of The Shetland Times.

Lawrence Tulloch


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