When writing my blogs and detailing my life in Shetland wool and my work involving crofters and farmers, I found myself travelling back in time, in some cases over half a century! In this very sad and scary time which we are living in I have found myself again looking back through my photo collection- which reminds me of happier times- walking the hills of Shetland with my wife, Catherine. I would like to share some of these memories with you through my blogs.
I will start fairly close to home in the hills above Gremista farm in Lerwick. We were on the lookout for hares when we came across a random bus sign in amongst the heather on one of the hills. This brought back memories to us both, of when I used to deliver parcels of yarn to country buses which were to be found at the Viking car park in Lerwick still used at present, but alas no parcels of yarn to deliver. Most or nearly all the hauliers have now long gone, however the sign reminded me of all the rural districts in Shetland I used to send yarn to, as well as my work handling the crofter’s wool from that area.
The next set of images is from Unst- the most northernmost island of the Shetland Islands. It is more fertile than its neighbour the Island of Yell, which is mainly heather and moorland. Unst has spectacular sea cliffs which include the magnificent Hermaness; a national nature reserve and home to thousands of seabirds, including the Gannet and puffin. I recall a visit Catherine and I paid to the reserve in the mid- 1990s to observe a very rare black-browed albatross, called Albert, who had been blown off course from its natural home in the southern hemisphere. The island has especially fond memories for me as we had a family holiday there in 1981, and discovered many of Unst’s idyllic hidden gems such as its sandy beaches and crystal clear waters.
Talking to the locals we found Unst had been a very progressive island in the early 1900s there had been a thriving herring industry, chromate quarries- which even had their own railway, and in the 1930s a wool mill operated for a short time. Unst has a very strong Norse presence with the remains of several Viking longhouses as well as a 16th century castle in the south of the isle. We discovered they appeared to have more amenities than other islands in Shetland. This was mainly due to it being the home of RAF Saxa Ford, a radar station which is located on the highest hill in Unst (Saxa Ford). I came to know an elderly crofter who lived at the base of the hill; he told me it could be a very fierce and windy place to croft. One extremely cold winter he ventured out onto the hill to check on his sheep. He was caught out in a blizzard, above the roar of the gale he became aware of his dog barking. He came upon the dog which was standing barking at a “ fann”, a drift of snow up against a peat bank. As he came closer he could make out not what he was expecting a snowed in sheep, but the figure of a man partially covered. He set about getting the individual to his feet and supported him back down to the croft house, where eventually the man was able to talk. It transpired the serviceman was part of an exercise in carrying out a mock attack to test out the security further up the hill at the radar station. The crofter maintained they did not need much security in such an inhospitable place, nature took care of that! Many years later I had the good fortune to visit that area when a local crofter asked me to conduct a grading and fleece handling presentation to the local crofters. When I mentioned the story the old man had told me about the hill I was informed that indeed it could be a very inhospitable place- the highest wind speed in the U.K. had been recorded here!
Although the radar station is no longer fully manned and all the service personal have left Unst the community continues to be positive and looking at new ventures. The former station staff accommodation have been changed into tourist lets, Unst has its own distillery and has a fledging space station, which will bring much needed employment to these remote islands.
The voe (inlet) of Burrafirth lies beneath Saxa Ford and at the head of the voe is a beautiful beach and flat grassy links, I recall playing football here in the mid- sixties, and if my memory is correct it was also the location of a small golf course. Situated further out the voe along the foreshore are a group of buildings which serviced Muckle Flugga lighthouse the furthest north part of the U.K.