South Mainland Notebook

Sandwick pigs

Folk who have noticed the two very pink pigs who recently arrived in Sandwick might be interested to hear about their origins.

They belong to John Flaws who lives in Swinister. His father kept pigs, so John got used to having them around while he was growing up and he had been thinking for a long time about keeping some again.

They are Gloucester Old Spot and Middle White crosses. Both are rare breeds, now enjoying a resurgence in popularity for several reasons. The increased demand for meat that has been reared humanely has led to more pigs being raised outdoors, something to which the hardy old breeds are well-suited.

The flavour of such varieties as Old Spot and Middle White is now beginning to be valued again. And the docile nature which the two breeds share make them ideal for small-scale farming. Bred in Orkney, John’s pigs were brought to Shetland by ferry, and emerged unscathed from a rough crossing. They are about a year old and are expecting piglets in three to five months. The plan is to keep the sows for breeding, while the young will be raised for eating.

John is expecting them to produce six to eight piglets each in their first litters. “I’d be surprised at more and disappointed at less,” he says. It can be anticipated that they will be excellent mothers, as both breeds have a reputation for being extremely devoted to their offspring.

Turnips and barley which John grows will be used to feed the pigs, making them cost-effective. They are also, as an added bonus, breaking up the soil in the field they currently live in. Once they have completed the job John will sow grass in it and move them elsewhere. Other than doing that, their main pleasures, like many another species, are eating and sleeping.

Interesting find

Shaun Theobald, a keen birder who teaches at the University of Kent, has contacted me about a find he made in a charity shop in Canterbury.

Shaun came to Shetland for the first time last Easter, and stayed in South Mainland. As well as enjoying bird-watching at Mousa and Sumburgh Head he fell in love with the scenery, which is perhaps why the book of photographs of old postcards from Shetland caught his eye.

“I’ve no idea why it landed up in Canterbury,” Shaun writes. “I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to browsing around charity bookshops, but it’s something I enjoy, and it sometimes turns up real treasures such as this.”

Among other things, Shaun was fascinated to see an image of Levenwick graveyard and to note that it was referred to as “ancient”, suggesting that the belief that it might have been the site of a Viking ship burial could perhaps be true.

Another picture which Shaun says “resonates in my mind” is one of a young woman bowed down by the weight of the peat she is carrying in the kishie on her back.

“She’s looking at the camera. A half-smile plays across her face, and she’s knitting,” Shaun writes. “Although she is stilled by the camera, the imagination nonetheless instantly sees the rapid movement of her fingers and the steady forward progression of her heavily laden strides.

“It’s a wonderful image, haunting. Evidence of the ability to multitask long before the word entered the language. And more than this it’s testimony to a creativity rooted in the rhythms and routines of everyday life. She’s making beautiful objects, at once uniquely individual and part of a collective social structure.”

While staying in South Mainland Shaun also visited the Shetland Museum in Lerwick, where he was “fascinated by virtually everything”, but was particularly taken by an intricate and richly coloured pair of gloves.

“If I was whimsically inclined,” he writes, “I’d say the peat-carrier was making the gloves that ended up in the museum, but whimsy is a sentiment utterly alien to the values of a community bound together by the rigours of climate and geography. It would be a poor tribute to the art and spirit of Shetland.”

Changes to bus service

In November of last year certain changes to the No 6 Lerwick to Sumburgh bus timetable were suggested, and the public was asked to comment on them. The following changes have now been implemented.

In the Sumburgh to Lerwick direction the Monday to Saturday 10.50am departure has changed to 11am. The Saturday 3.15pm departure has changed to 3.40pm, and the Sunday 10.50am departure has changed to 11.35am.

In the Lerwick to Sumburgh direction the Saturday 7.30am departure from Viking Bus Station has changed to 6am. On Sunday the midday departure has changed to 12.45pm and the 3.15pm departure to 3pm.

An express service will depart from Sumburgh Airport at 3.30pm Monday to Friday.

Pier restoration ready to go ahead

After 10 years of planning and fund-raising the restoration of Sandsayre Pier is ready to take place this summer. Historic Scotland has given its consent, and just £2,000 of the £800,000 total still needs to be raised.

The pier is over 150 years old, work on its construction having been completed in May 1855. It wasn’t until 2001, however, that research relating to the restoration project revealed that it was designed by David and Thomas Stevenson, members of the family of lighthouse engineers. This fact, and the pier’s unusual design and construction, have led to it being listed.

At the time it was built the pier was used by fishermen and fishing and packet boats, and also for exporting ore from the Sandlodge copper mine. Today it is a vital facility, both for the surrounding community and for Shetland’s tourist industry. It is the departure point for the Mousa ferry, which gives access to the world famous broch and the RSPB reserve. It is also used by shell-fishermen, schools, a large number of local groups, and for the transportation of Mousa farm stock.

Problems with the pier first emerged back in the 1970s when it began to suffer from the results of neglect, and boats were unable to reach it at low water due to the basin where it is situated having silted up.

Repair work undertaken at that period included dredging the basin. Three years later, though, part of the pier collapsed, and it was discovered that the pier had been built on a bed of clay, not bedrock, and the dredging had made this unstable. The condition has been deteriorating ever since.

Given the uniqueness and scope of the job, and the pier’s vital importance in terms of Shetland’s worldwide reputation, it is not hard to see that this summer’s restoration project represents good value for money.

It will begin with a massive piece of engineering work, during which a cofferdam will be constructed to keep the sea out, and the area around the pier pumped dry. The pier will then be taken apart, stone by stone, and a note made of where each one is situated.

After this the clay will be removed down to the bedrock, whose depth ranges from 15 centimetres to one and a half metres. A concrete foundation will then be put in place, and the entire structure rebuilt.

The project is testament to a truly extraordinary amount of community effort. Fund-raising has been done by the Pier Trust, under the auspices of the Sandwick Social and Economic Development Company (SSEDC), which has led the project.

A variety of local events have raised the stunning total of £30,000. SSEDC and the trust also greatly appreciate the input they have had from MPs Alistair Carmichael and Tavish Scott, consultant engineer George Anderson of Mott MacDonald and all the other folk who have helped to bring the project to fruition.

A lively programme of events is planned in order to raise the £2,000 still needed to complete the funding, including Sunday teas, a photo exhibition and a variety concert.

For the sum of £20 or more people can also sponsor one of the stones that make up the pier. Sponsors will receive a certificate, and their names will be displayed on a plaque in the Sandsayre waiting room. For further information contact Tom Jamieson on (01950) 431367.

The Mousa ferry will not be able to use the pier while work is going on, so this summer it will operate from Cunningsburgh instead, with a timetable that takes into account the slightly increased length of the journey. The interpretive centre will remain open.

Hall events

The weekly toddlers’ group at the Bruce Memorial Hall, which takes place from 10.30am to noon on Tuesdays, has now started up again, as has the Thursday youth club from 6-8pm. The senior citizens’ lunch club also takes place every Thursday.

Darts tournament

The first rounds of the annual Mousa Shield darts tournament take place at Sandwick Social Club tomorrow. Around 12 teams of four, from throughout South Mainland, will be competing to go through to next week’s final, won last year by the Sandwick Arrows.

Members and their guests are welcome to attend and the competition starts at 8pm.

Cathy Feeny


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