Huge crowd turns out for Olympic torch
More than 2,500 people turned out today to see the Olympic torch on its most northerly journey around Lerwick today.
Sunshine greeted the spectators, most of whom were gathered at Clickimin, as the flame was taken around the town by a succession of proud torchbearers.
The most spectacular part of the torch procession was when it was taken from Clickimin Broch across the loch in the sixareen Vaila Mae by Matthew Cox.
For Unst Leisure Centre manager Matthew the “kiss”, the term used by organisers for the passing of the flame, had added romantic meaning because he handed over to his fiancee, aerobics instructor Faye Richardson, who carried it to a stage and lit the Olympic Cauldron. The pair are to marry in August next year.
The event wasn’t entirely without incident for Matthew. The time it took the sixareen to get across the loch was longer than the anticipated “burn-time” on the torch, which meant Olympic officials had to offer him a spare torch to which the flame could be transferred.
“The amount of burn-time they have on the torch meant the time coming across the loch was just too much. They had spare torches ready so they were able to light one.”
Despite the minor hiccup, Matthew insisted the experience had been well worth it.
“It’s been absolutely amazing. I can’t believe the number of people cheering. It’s been a great day with a bit of Shetland culture, and the Olympics are coming, so what more could you ask for?”
Before climbing aboard the sixareen, Matthew ran with the torch to the Clickimin Broch, where he was welcomed by members of the Guizer Jarl Squad – minus Jarl David Nicolson, who had himself taken part in the event.
“They gave me a guard of honour going into the Broch, but I wasn’t expecting them to be at this [Clickimin] side as well, so that was even better.”
For Faye – who was nominated for her dedication to athletics and her work as a lifeguard – the day was just as rewarding, although she was initially concerned the cauldron might not light.
“I was a bit worried for a moment that it wasn’t going to light, but then it did, and seeing everybody looking at it made it just amazing to be a part of something so big.”
She said she was delighted to have taken the torch from Matthew.
“It was really good because we were worried we were going to miss each other.”
Asked how she felt about being nominated, she said: “It’s very humbling, I think, because there are 8,000 torchbearers across the whole of the UK. I think Shetland could have filled 8,000 spaces. I was really lucky to get nominated.”
Earlier, retired SIC councillor John Nicolson from Trondra started off the Lerwick leg of the relay outside the Clickimin.
Mr Nicolson played a key role during his time in public life in getting Shetland’s sporting facilities, including the Clickimin, up and running.
He almost had to pull out after suffering flu symptoms just days before the relay. He pulled through, however, and kicked off the relay with large crowds cheering him on.
“I felt surprised to be honest. I just did not expect it to be the moment that it turned out to be. With the number of folk around, I found it quite emotional.
“I had the flu on Wednesday, and on Thursday I thought I would have to pull out, but it was surely my destiny to be here.”
Maggie Adamson from Fladdabister is best known as one of Shetland’s most acclaimed young fiddlers.
However swapping her strings for a torch had surpassed all her expectations.
“I had been speaking to people who have already done it on Facebook and they were saying how you can’t describe it.”
Maggie, a former Young Fiddler of the Year, is actually one of the lucky few who secured tickets to go to the Olympics.
However she has already had to sacrifice her ticket to play at the Proms instead.
“I got tickets but unfortunately I’m actually playing at the Proms at the same time. The Scottish Youth Orchestra is going down and I got a part in that. It’s been an unbelievable year so far.”
Mark Wylie had to endure the steepest part of the whole town, but said he was none the worse for his experience.
“It was unbelievable. The weather stayed fine and I can’t get over the amount of people who came out to watch everyone. It’s been fantastic.
“I had the steepest part of the town at Gressy Loan … I walked up the first part and then ran up the second piece.”
Mark will enjoy at least a part of the London Olympics himself, when he turns out to see the gymnastics final, where he hopes his friend Beth Tweddle will be competing.
David Nicolson looked somewhat out of place in his official white shell suit, while his fellow Jarl Squad members were in full Viking regalia.
“It’s another page in the year of the life of a Jarl and it’s unbelievable. You’re here as Jarl, and you have to do a lot of public speaking and attend public events, so you get used to it. But nothing prepares you for this.
“It’s a fantastic experience, and it’s good to see the flame come to Shetland. Shetland always gets missed out or put in a box by Aberdeen. But the MET officers that have been up have been bowled over by the place.”
Zoe Buchanan won a gold medal for badminton and four other medals at the British Transplant Games in Belfast last year, just 17 months after having a kidney transplant operation, with the new organ being donated by her mother.
She described the experience of carrying the torch as “phenomenal”.
“I am still shaking. It’s a huge honour, and when we did the torchbearer kiss the sun came out. I thought that was brilliant, and I love the fact the weather stayed dry for us.”
After the ceremony the flame was taken to Sumburgh by the coastguard helicopter to be flown south again by Loganair.