South Mainland Notebook

Shetland Diaries

Folk who have enjoyed watching the series of Simon King’s Shetland Diaries on BBC2 might be interested to hear about the experiences of Helen Moncrieff, RSPB warden for South Shetland, who helped Simon and his crew while they were making the programmes.

“I was involved in the project from its conception,” said Helen. “It began when the producer came up here about two years ago, and we found three different places for Simon and his wife Marguerite, and their little girl, Savannah, to stay.

“Simon has been fascinated by Shetland since he was a child, when he saw it as distant and exotic. His interest in the place was further stimulated by Hugh Miles’ wildlife documentary On The Track Of The Wild Otter, which was instrumental in causing a lot of people to come to Shetland.

“Shetland is Simon’s spiritual home, really. He is very excited about the place. He started out as a cameraman, but also appeared on screen from an early age. He’s been all over the world, filming in locations such as Kenya and Antarctica. He could have chosen anywhere, but he elected to come here.”

Once Simon and his family had arrived, Helen’s job was to alert him and his crew to anything they might want to film for the programmes.

“He had a hit list of things he wanted to get shots of,” said Helen, “and he wanted stories he could follow through. Simon is otter mad, so he was eager to film them, and he also gets fired up about divers. I called him with news about things such as guillemot jumplings too, and a peerie camera was put in a puffin’s burrow in order to get footage of a puffling.

“They did a lot of filming at Sumburgh Head and on Mousa, and one day they were actually at Sandsayre pier, about to get on the ferry to go and film storm petrels, when I phoned to say there had been a sighting of killer whales. They decided to try and film the whales instead. The whales were a distance out, but they had big fancy zoom lenses.

“Tom Jamieson dropped his passengers off on Mousa, then he picked up Simon and his crew, and I was lucky enough to get to go along as well. Tom took us out to where the whales were. There were 15 of them in all, and they came right up to the boat.

“After that we picked up the folk who’d been visiting Mousa, and on the way back to shore we saw porpoises.

“Simon was lovely to work with. I really enjoyed it, and it was fun to see the ins-and-outs of putting a programme together. One day in summer Simon was out from before dawn trying to get a shot of an otter, and didn’t give up until it started to get dark.”

Helen is convinced that the kind of national exposure which the series has given Shetland will be very positive for the isles: “It’s known as ‘the Springwatch effect’,” she said. “It helps bring people in. At the RSPB we are prepared for the programmes to have an impact this summer, and maybe in the winter too.

“I am very much in favour of anything that gets folk outside and into the landscape. My new campaign is to encourage families to share nature together. It’s good for them.”

Simon King’s Shetland Diaries will be repeated in April.

Boys’ Brigade lunch

Why not enjoy lunch out tomorrow? The Sandwick and Cunningsburgh Boys’ Brigade will be holding a soup and sweet fund-raiser in Cunningsburgh Hall from 12-2pm.

Seasonal favourites

Folk who have been enjoying the cod livers and raans that are available at the moment may be interested to hear what Charlie Simpson, the Shetland seafood expert from Cunningsburgh, has to say about them.

According to Charlie there is nowhere that uses cod livers more than Shetland, and he suggests various ways of cooking them. They can be broken up and grilled, or they can be boiled. To make a dish called stap, he says to simmer some white fish and then mash the cooked livers in with it. Mixed with oatmeal, the livers can be used to make a mealy pudding. They can also be used to stuff a fish head.

A few months ago Charlie was invited along to the Anderson High School to introduce some of the pupils there to stap. Their initial reaction to the cod livers in their raw state was not positive, but when they actually tasted the dish, all but one cleaned their plates – and that one still enjoyed the oil, though not the liver itself.

It may seem strange that livers should be seasonal, but Charlie explains that, whereas in oily fish it is distributed throughout the flesh, white fish store all their fat in their livers. As they approach the spawning period they come into peak condition, and their livers expand and are at their best. Once the fish actually start spawning they contract, and are barely visible.

It isn’t hard to see what a godsend such a rich source of nutrition would have been in the past, when at this time of year there would have been little fresh food except for piltocks and kale.

Raans too must have been greatly looked forward to. Like the livers, these can be boiled. After that you can then fry them, though Charlie advises caution, as they easily split open and explode.

Music session

The first Sandwick music session, which recently took place at Sandwick Social Club, proved such a success that there are plans to continue them on a regular basis, probably fortnightly.

“At one point we had around 50 musicians there,” said organiser Richard Wemyss, who was delighted with how well the evening had gone.

“The lounge was packed,” said Juan Brown, who played the whistle. “There were lots of fiddles, two mandolins, guitars, keyboards and a flute. The vast majority of the people there were participants, and there was a very high level of enthusiasm.

“One good thing was that there was an extremely diverse range of expertise, with beginners playing alongside accomplished musicians. We played traditional Shetland stuff, and some country and western. There was also singing.

“The evening was really brilliant. It is nice to have something like this starting in Sandwick. Full credit to Richard and to Eunice Henderson for setting it up.” The next music session takes place this evening at Sandwick Social Club, starting at around 8pm. All are welcome, and if you don’t play an instrument you can simply go along to listen. To keep up to date with future plans, check out Sandwick Sessions on Facebook.

WRVS welcome

The new WRVS club at Levenwick Hall meets every second Tuesday from 2-4pm. For the cost of 60p senior citizens get a chance to enjoy a chat, along with biscuits and a cuppa. Various talks, and entertainments such as music and bingo, are laid on as well.

Last week members were fascinated to hear Vikki Macdonald speaking about quilts, and to see the colourful examples she had brought to show them.

The WRVS is eager to welcome more members to its Levenwick club, and would like to remind people wishing to attend that they can provide transport to and from the hall for just £1.20. If there is sufficient interest, the plan is to make it into a lunch club, like the ones the WRVS runs in Sandwick and Cunningsburgh.

Volunteers are always welcome too. If you can spare some time to help, or if you would like to attend the club call Indyia Bradley on (01595) 743914.

Another squad

Another squad has been invited to participate in this year’s South Mainland Up-Helly-A’.

“Without the help of the Lerwick torch boys the South Mainland Up-Helly-A’ wouldn’t have got off the ground,” said Guizer Jarl David Smith. “Their support, knowledge and enthusiasm have been invaluable.

“We’ve had torch-making workshops at the galley shed in Lerwick which have always proved to be most enjoyable. They are lending us their containers for torch-steeping, and have even offered to provide marshals for the occasion.

“The committee felt that the least we could do was ask them if they would like to enter a squad. We are delighted that they have agreed, and look forward to seeing their act. It now looks like the final squad total will be 22, and with five halls open we feel the balance should be just about right.

“We would like to offer special thanks as well to Richard Wemyss for donating the torch shed, and to Ness Boating Club for donating the galley shed.”

The South Mainland Up-Helly-A’ programme will be on sale at Sumburgh Airport, Goudie’s, Mainlands, Midway Stores, Bigton Stores & Post Office, Sandwick Baking Company, North Bridge Stores, Conochies’, Sandwick Social Club and the Isleburgh Community Centre.

Concert for pier

Folk may recall reading about the restoration work due be done on Sandsayre Pier this summer, and the immense amount of local effort that has gone into raising funds for the project.

Now the Pier Trust, under the auspices of the Sandwick Social and Economic Development Company, which has led the project, is making a final push to achieve its £30,000 target.

Several events are in the pipeline for the spring and summer, including a film show and exhibition on the theme of “Weddings in Sandwick”, which will be held in Hoswick Visitor Centre in April.

On Friday 26th February a grand variety concert, including supper and dancing, will take place at Sandwick Social Club. An excellent and varied programme is promised, with a line-up of talented musicians and a few surprises.

Everyone is welcome to attend what should prove a highly enjoyable evening of entertainment. Doors will open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start. Admission is £6 for adults and £3 for children.

Bairns enjoy cookery demo

The bairns in Cunningsburgh School’s Nursery class are currently studying food around the world, and members of their families have been visiting the school to show them how to make dishes from different countries.

“Food is a wonderful way to bring people together,” said teacher Joyce Fowler. “Learning about where ingredients originate from leads to a greater understanding of different places. It’s great as well to have people come and give the pupils real life experiences.”

A demonstration of Italian cooking proved a great success. “The children just loved making and eating their own pizzas,” said Joyce. Not all were quite so sure about Indian cuisine. “They were very good at trying the dishes, though,” said Joyce. “And as long as they are willing to give it a go that’s what matters.”

Last week Maria Bain, who has lived in Cunningsburgh for 38 years, but is originally from Argentina, showed the bairns how to make empanadas, a kind of Latin American pasty. Maria’s grandson Dougray is a member of the class, and he was sporting the Argentine football strip in honour of the occasion.

Maria explained that empanadas are a very popular street food in Argentina, and like our pasty can be either sweet or savoury. They were eaten by the gauchos on their long cattle drives, when they would be fried in beef fat. Maria prefers to bake hers, and the ones she made for the bairns were filled with apples that had been boiled with sugar.

After they had washed their hands, Maria got the children buttering trays and filling the empanadas. They then brushed the empanadas with beaten egg and scattered them with brown sugar, before they went into an oven for 20 minutes.

Throughout Maria was immensely encouraging, and the pupils clearly loved helping her.

“They learn manual skills, and how to listen to instructions,” said Joyce. “But even better, they get to eat what they have produced!”

Cathy Feeny


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