Friday, September 27, 2013

Farewell To Shetland

Tuesday morning Jean had to be at the airport bright and early. Airport goodbyes are always inadequate. There is the rush to get the person there on time, then the rush to get all their bags out of the vehicle, and then a quick goodbye that leaves you wishing you had time to say more.

Kath and my flight didn't go out for another four hours, and there are a number of things to see on the south end of Mainland, so we decided to take full advantage of the little time we had left. We headed up the road to Sumburgh Lighthouse, another one of the Stevenson lighthouses sprinkled across the islands. We got there just in time to witness a spectacular sunrise.

Then we made a quick stop at Old Scatness, the site of an Iron Age village.

Then it was back to the Spiggie Hotel to have a quick breakfast and get our bags. Here is the view from the dining room window at the Spiggie. This is a feature of Shetland - everywhere you look there is an incredible view.

We then hurried on to St. Ninian's Isle. It was here I learned a new word - tombolo (apparently this is a new word for my iPad too, since it just tried to auto-correct it). A tombolo is an island attached to the mainland by a spit or bar. St. Ninian's is thought to be the best tombolo in the British Isles.

We walked across the sand to the small island on the other side, taking in the beautiful views and wishing we had more time to explore.

St. Ninian's is actually a working farm, and as we were walking on the island the owners of the farm were using their working dogs to herd the sheep. I was so happy to have had a chance to witness this!

It became clear as we headed to the airport that we didn't need just a few more hours, or even days to explore all Shetland has to offer. What we really needed was a few more weeks.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Perfectly Brilliant Day

Monday morning we packed our bags and departed from Burrastow House. The weather wasn't brilliant for this, our last full day in Shetland, but the events of the day more than made up for the overcast skies, brisk wind, and rain.
Our first stop, and for Jean and I (Kath is a non-knitter), the long anticipated highlight of the trip to Shetland, was Jamieson & Smith. J&S, a shop located in Lerwick, sells yarn made from the fibre that comes from the Shetland sheep that sprinkle the islands. The building it occupies is divided into two spaces. The first holds the raw fibre, which gets sent to a mill in England to be processed.

It was incredible. The sight and smell of so much wool all gathered in one space was something I will never forget. The people working in the wool room were incredibly friendly, and let us wander around to take some pictures.

The wool sorting room was the prelude to the big moment, the one I had been dreaming about and anticipating since the moment we purchased our plane tickets to Shetland. It was time to enter the front door of Jamieson & Smith's. I think you can gauge from our smiles how excited we both were! We might just have been edging from excited to giddy.

It did not disappoint. In fact, it was even better than I had dreamt it would be. Every wall was filled with cubicles, and each cubicle was stuffed with a single colour of yarn. It was bright, and beautiful - a whole room packed with knitting potential.

I have been in many yarn stores in my knitterly life, but this was in a category of its own. As a knitter, I felt I had just reached the peak of Everest.

There was a box of knit up samples to look through, ready made sweaters to buy, and misc. items such as the brightly coloured knitting belts you can see at the bottom right of this picture.

And like every other place we had visited in Shetland, there were incredibly friendly people. I went into the store with a very vague idea that I wanted to knit a Fair Isle vest. By vague, I mean I knew I wanted to knit a vest, but hadn't chosen a pattern or what colours of yarn to use. Seeing so many colours of yarn, and having spent many hours on Ravelry unsuccessfully searching for just the right pattern, I felt completely overwhelmed. Enter lovely Ella, one of the employees at J&S. She led me over to a rack of books and seemed to know just what it was I was looking for. Then she helped me find the perfect colours to knit up the vest. Thanks so much for your help, Ella!

I also bought the yarn to knit the Scatness Tunic, a pattern that Kate Davies features in her Colours of Shetland book. I had decided before the trip that I would buy, over the counter instead of online, the yarn for one of her beautiful patterns. And there was a last minute slip when, completely overwhelmed by yarn fumes and the excitement of the moment, I also purchased the kit to knit up the peerie jumper you can see in the top left picture collage - it's the one on the right side of that picture. (By the way, the word peerie is the Shetland word for small.)

We were very happy customers.

After lunch in Lerwick we made our way south toward the Spiggie Hotel, where we would be spending our final night in Sheltand. On the way we stopped at the Shetland Crofthouse Museum, which had been on our list of "must see" attractions. We were all so glad we did!

As we entered the croft house the pleasant smell and warmth of a peat fire burning in the hearth greeted us, as did the volunteer who works there. It took our eyes a few moments to adjust to the dim light, but once they did we looked at our surroundings in amazement. It was hard to believe that the two small rooms we were looking at could hold a large family.

All of their cooking was done over that peat fire you see in the middle two pictures. It burned constantly, morning and night, spring, summer, fall and winter. In the picture at the bottom left you can see the pile of peat that supplies the museum. On the bottom right you can see a shed with an old boat being used as a roof. Apparently this was very common. The picture at the top right is one of several small bed chambers in the bedroom of the house. As far as I could make out this tradition has Norse influence, as so many things on the islands do. Perhaps most amazing of all is the fact that this house was occupied until the 1960s.

We stopped at several small knitting studios as we journeyed along, and one of these stops turned out to be an unforgettable and quite unexpected experience. Unbeknownst to us we had landed in the studio of the lady who knit the sweaters for the two Shetland ponies used in pictures to promote tourism in Shetland! As we browsed around her studio admiring her work, she casually mentioned she was The Lady, Doreen Brown. Then she invited us into her home, sat on the couch in her living room and gave us a demonstration of how to use a knitting belt.

I especially loved the next bit. She then escorted us into her design studio - the very room where she knit the pony sweaters on her knitting machine - and asked if we would like to see swatches from some of her designs. She pulled out a drawer and we were met with this feast for the eyes.

Imagine our shock when she opened not one, not two, not three, not four, but five more drawers filled with gorgeous designs!

Our last evening in Shetland was spent in the dining room of the Spiggie Hotel, where we laughed, and knit a little (it seemed important somehow to pull out our socks and at least do a couple of rows together), and talked about what had turned out to be a perfectly brilliant day. I think we were all a bit sad to see the end of our time together come to a close. Jean was a wonderful travel companion, and she had Kath and I laughing on numerous occasions. It was a privilege to get to spend this time with her, and, who knows, there could be a next time. After all, we still need to see Fair Isle.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Unst Bound

Here I am for a final guest blog. Hope you enjoy! Kath

The inter ferry system on Shetland makes island hopping a Shetland breeze! We easily travelled from the Mainland to the island of Yell and then to the northern most Island in Britain, Unst.

Experiences along the way included crab catches, ancient Viking life, lovely Shetland lace, and island hospitality at its best!

One of the strangest island customs seems to be decorating a bus stop. This season finds it with a wool theme. The locals dress it up for travellers to enjoy while waiting for the next island bus. Jean added some stitches to the community knitting bin and Kath looked at pictures of previous themes. Kristie snapped pictures for all of you!

Peerie Shetland ponies and sheep dot the lush hillsides and skinny roadways. More than once while driving the single track roads we missed the unassuming cud chewing sheep by inches. We wondered how often they ended up as mutton on the farmer's table that night because of road kill.

After a full day of island hopping, we rushed to the last ferry and made it on by a Scot's whisker. We motored home on the now familiar Shetland roads to our home away from home, Burrastow House. Waiting for us the last couple of nights has been a feast of Shetland culinary delights. The smells of peat burning in the fireplace called us down each evening to the sitting room for a nice drink before dinner. And then into the lovely dining room we proceeded for such foods as seafood soup, braised lamb, buttered skate, cinnamon and garlic summer squash, roasted turnips, scalloped potatoes, potatoes with their jackets on, pickled cabbage, garlic buttered herring, steamed celery, garden salad, chocolate mousse, and homemade vanilla ice-cream with fruit. Two nights of this fare & we were quite spoiled for months.

This was the end of a contented day 2 in Shetland.


Saturday, September 21, 2013


After months of planning, dreaming, and wondering if such a thing could ever really happen, Kath, Jean and I boarded our flight to Shetland.

An hour later we had landed and began the search for our rental car. This might sound strange for anyone who hasn't been to Shetland. The procedure here is a bit different than most places. When I phoned to book the car they said they didn't have an office at the airport. I asked how we would then be able to get our car, and they said not to worry. They would have someone drop it off at the airport and it would be waiting for us. When I asked how we would get the key I was again told not to worry. They would leave the car unlocked, and the key under the floor mat.

We drove into Lerwick, the main city in Shetland. We walked around, looking at some shops and stopping at the very helpful tourist information centre. After a wonderful dinner at the restaurant at the museum we headed off to Burrastow House, the guesthouse we have booked for the first three nights of our stay.

This turned out to be quite the adventure. Burrastow is located about 30 miles out of Lerwick, and by the time we left the restaurant it was dark. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but I was driving on the left side of the road for the first time in my life, we had very vague directions as to how to get there, and got a nasty surprise for the last few miles as the road turned to a single track.

It was an amazing experience to wake up the next morning and be greeted by this scene.

I love this picture of Jean modelling her Relax sweater. The colours in the sweater blend in perfectly with the background.

After breakfast we drove back to Lerwick and had a terrific day. We went to the museum, where we were greeted by staff wearing four different styles of vests, all incorporating the same Fair Isle design.

They were incredibly friendly, and the lady on the right took us on a tour of the textile portion of the museum. Here's Jean examining some Shetland lace.

We looked in shops, made a few purchases, had a terrific lunch, visited the Bod of Gremista, and looked around the harbour area.

This time the drive to the Burrastow seemed much shorter. Being able to see where we were going really helped. Just before we got to the guesthouse we encountered these sheep on the road.

Kath and I decided we had time to go out for a walk before dinner. The telephone booth out in the middle of nowhere had us laughing.

The French couple who own the guesthouse prepared a delicious dinner.

It was the perfect finish to a perfect day.