Isles Views

Extra ferry information

Shetland Islands Council’s ferry department will soon be able to offer ferry users the service of receiving a text message or an e-mail when there is a change to the current timetabled service.

Ferry services resources manager Colin Manson said the new service will complement the service that is already provided by the information boards. Mr Manson added that this will be extremely useful to folk on any of the isles served by the ferries.


One of the most popular things to see in Unst is the Skidbladner, the full-sized Viking longship. The vessel can be found at Brookpoint in Haroldswick and the sheer size of her ensures that it is impossible to drive past and be unaware. She was built in Sweden to be the same as the famous Gokstad ship found buried in the ground at Sandar in Norway in 1880.

It is believed that the Gokstad ship was built around the year 890AD and was the warship of a mighty chief. The skeleton found inside the ship was of a male who measured 1.85 metres in height, far taller than the average height in those days. Also found were the remains of 12 horses and six dogs.

No doubt it was believed that the chief would want to hunt in the afterlife. Nowadays the Gokstad ship is housed in the museum in Oslo where, along with friends Tom Muir and Heather Yule, I had the great pleasure of seeing it when we in Norway on a storytelling trip.

The builders of the Skidbladner that we see in Unst wanted to go on long voyages as their Viking ancestors did but in the event it was abandoned in Lerwick where it was eventually bought by Shetland Amenity Trust and given to the folk of Unst.

It is a magnificent gift but what to do with it and how to use it is something of a problem. It is constructed from around 12 tonnes of solid oak and to launch it and then take it out of the water again is no easy task. There is no ready-made place to house it but everyone agrees that for it to stand out in the open for ever more would be to condemn this lovely ship to a slow lingering death.

Work has been done to it, the inside was coated with preservative and a cover was made for it to keep out the rain. There are plans for a new Viking longhouse but the need is there for a permanent home where the Skidbladner can be kept inside and be put back in to perfect order where it will continue to be a tourist attraction for the foreseeable future.

The original Skidbladner, from Norse mythology, belonged to Loki the god of nonsense, frivolity and fun. He was also said to be sneaky, silly, malicious and an arch trickster.

Rather unwisely he took a fancy to Freya, the wife of Thor, (him with the hammer). In an attempt to win her affections he gave her this magic ship the Skidbladner.

In the sea it could carry the biggest cargo in the world but, when not in use, it could be folded up and put in a pocket. It would take a mighty pocket to hold this Skidbladner!

Facing the sea

A few weeks ago Shetland had a visit from a young lady called Laura Bennison from the National Museum of Scotland.

The Chambers Street museum is, at the moment, undergoing an extensive face-lift and is largely out of action from a public point of view until the summer of next year.

The museum is to have a new gallery called Facing the Sea and Laura’s task was to collect short stories of the sea to form a “story post” that visitors to the museum can listen to. As well as Shetland Miss Bennison is visiting Orkney, the Western Isles and north-east Scotland. She also collected the beautiful fiddle that Ewan Thomson made for the museum.

The new gallery will display the museum’s Pacific Islands collection and she is interested in any links that Shetland might have with the Pacific. As a seagoing people there is, no doubt, many links. Captain Andrew Cheyne, father of Sir William Watson Cheyne, comes to mind with his trading in sandalwood and other exotic timber.

However, in modern times the late Ian Anderson of Backhouse in Cullivoe lived on the island of Funafuti in the small commonwealth country called Tuvalu (nine islands together).

Ian went there to be manager of the philatelic bureau; he was a stamp expert who had done similar work on St Vincent Island and Tristan da Cunha.

Ian married and lived there until his death a few years ago. He kept in close touch with Shetland and wrote many articles for magazines like Shetland Life and The New Shetlander. He was a fine fiddler but he could never have a fiddle in Funafuti because the heat and the humidity cause fiddles to fall apart.

Ian’s father-in-law came from Samoa, the place where the great author Robert Louis Stevenson spent the last years of his life.

Ian and his wife Fipe had four children and the oldest is called Daniel Tusitale, Daniel after Ian’s father and Tusitale after Stevenson; in Samoa this was his native name and it means teller of tales.

When asked if this was her first visit to Shetland Laura said something rather surprising. “This is the first time I have been in Lerwick but I have visited Yell.”

It turns out that she is a friend of Helen Nisbet, they did the same course at university and Laura stayed for a short time with the Nisbet family at Keldahoull in Cullivoe.

Spinning mill for Unst?

An application has been prepared for a feasibility study into establishing a spinning mill for Unst.

This is the work of the Unst Partnership but until the feasibility is completed this development can be taken no further.

This seems a logical project given that Unst has a reputation for quality yarn and knitted articles. The Heritage Centre in Haroldswick has a wonderful collection of the very fine shawls, the kind that can be drawn through a wedding ring. Spinning is nothing new to Unst, there was a mill in Baltasound after World War Two.

Up-Helly-A’s 1985

The year 1985 was the first year of Up-Helly-A’ in Norwick and the local magazine The Bluemull Triangle carried a very full account of the festival in the March issue of that year.

The galley was an old boat built by the late James Andrew Thomson of Haroldswick. It was at a time when wood was scarce and bankswid in the form of pit props were hand sawn and used.

This boat was launched the same year as the Queen Mary, in 1935, so she was given the same name. As a galley she was given a head and tail and a searchlight rigged at the masthead. In her was Guizer Jarl Michael Sinclair and a musician, the late Gordon Jamieson from Cullivoe. The Norwick Up-Helly-A’ went on to become one of Gordon’s favourite events.

Dorothy Thomson, with her accordion, joined Gordon to enhance the music. The galley was then taken on a tour of the village, stopping at numerous houses to visit the folk and have a needful dram.

While all this was going on Andrew Laurenson put on an impromptu fireworks display. After a few more stops the procession reached the burning site on the beautiful beach. Jimmy Willie Laurenson was given the honour of setting the galley on fire.

Gordon played The Up-Helly-Aa Song and around 70 spectators were awed by the magnificent sight of the brightly burning galley with the tranquil waters of Norwick Bay in the background. Afterwards everyone, including the squads, repaired to the Haroldswick Hall for a social evening where music was provided by Gordon Jamieson, Margaret Robertson, Steven Spence and American fiddler Pam Swing.

It was also a landmark year for the Cullivoe Up-Helly-A’ because it was the last time in the old Cullivoe Hall. A new hall was under construction and, of course, the festival was centred there in 1986 and since.

The Guizer Jarl was Andrew Nisbet. He was then, and still is, a pilot at Sullom Voe and the Bill was predictability full of excruciating puns and innuendos. Nowadays this fine old building that started off as a Methodist Chapel is the galley shed.

In Uyeasound the Guizer Jarl in 1985 was the late Jim Nicolson originally from Muness. The Uyeasound Up-Helly-A’ is the principal fire festival in Unst and the oldest of the Up-Helly-A’s outside Lerwick. The catchment area covers far more than just Uyeasound and many chief guizers have come from elsewhere in the isle.

Lawrence Tulloch


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