Continuing my blog series of life on a Shetland croft, unfortunately due to the continuing Covid outbreak I am unable to travel to the north isles, therefor I am very grateful for the help given to me by the Guddon crofters, our daughter, her partner and our grandson Aidan who have provided me with images and their comments on crofting in these winter months.
Our daughter sums up life on the croft in the winter so far – “It’s a very long winter. It’s been particularly hard as our son Aidan is at high school on the mainland of Shetland all week. We both work full time so the animals need fed early morning before we leave and checked when there’s daylight at my break time”
“The parks are in better condition due to ongoing drainage works to improve them. Also we reduced our stock quantities and now have 40 head including 9 lambs kept. A mixture of Shetland, Shetland Cross, and Texel cross Shetland, pure bred Cheviot and also Romney Katmogit cross lambs
“The weather has been remarkably good for a few weeks and Aidan is home as the schools are shut due to Covid so things are a bit easier as we have more hands on deck. We also baled haylage rather than silage and are finding much less wastage and the bales are so much easier to handle. The tups are inside now after having done their work for the year. ‘Monarch’ and ‘Reel’ both are very able and very well behaved and get a rich tea biscuit every day!”
“We have never had much snow in Shetland for years and the cold snap is much appreciated as it helps kill off any unwanted bugs in the ground or indeed on the stock! The days will be getting longer and lighter soon and although there’s a long winter ahead yet, springtime doesn’t feel just too far away. We look forward to our lambing which starts around the middle of April. We have some lambs wintering in as one broker her leg in storm Aiden a few months ago so has required monthly bandage changes which had proved successful and she is back to weight bearing and has good use of it, they will remain in now until spring.”
A summary of winter life on the croft so far, an additional problem this winter has been the national bird flu epidemic which has meant providing secure accommodation for the Guddon hens. There was also an unwelcome visitor which appeared amongst the Guddon flock, a stray unmarked Black ram which Aidan had to catch it with help from his dog Gody.
One thing I can relate to with Aidan’s schooling is the fact I also had to travel from my home isle of Burra to Scalloway and on by bus to Lerwick. Unlike the super ferries of today our ferry was much smaller, our Sunday night trip to the mainland was in a small wooden vessel that could perhaps carry a dozen people crammed into a small cabin very close to the water line with only one entry and exit point. The ferry the White Launch left from a small jetty called the Nurse’s pier, in the south of the isle very close to the Methodist chapel making it easier to convey the preacher back to the mainland. One indelible trip that is imprinted on my mind never to be forgotten, us children were always seated before the preacher came he was always last aboard. I recall the boat sinking lower in the water which signified the boarding of the main passenger the minister. The little daylight that filtered into the cabin was blotted out by this giant of a man, he declined the offer of a seat and retained his position and immediately began to preach to us, after all he had a captive audience there was no escape! He began his sermon which was quite appropriate considering our surroundings the story from the bible of Jonah and the whale, a tale I knew quite well from Sunday school. He proceeded to start at the beginning and continued in great detail how Jonah had not listened to God and had been punished by almost drowning and being swallowed by a huge fish which after three days on God’s command vomited Jonah on to dry land. By the time the minister came to the conclusion of the story we were on the rougher stretch of water between Burra and the mainland. At the best of times I struggled to overcome sea sickness and just managed to push past the preacher and on to the deck before emptying the contents of my evening tea over the side of the boat.
Our daughter’s partner is a ferry man as well as part time lobster fisherman so I suppose one could class him as a fisherman crofter following on in the footsteps of my ancestors and many Shetlanders. During the recent fine weather they took the opportunity to supplement their diet by catching fresh fish, with a trip to the most Northerly outcrop of the U.K. mainland Muckle Flugga and the Ootstack. In days gone by this was part of the fabric of the crofting fishing way of life sadly becoming a distant memory.
This trip was a welcome change to the daily chores on the croft and not only that a successful fishing also an opportunity to cleanse and enrich one’s soul and to absorb the natural beauty of our island’s and our unspoilt environment. One can only hope this fine weather remains but I fear in my next Guddon visit we will encounter our customary gales and rain.
Thank you to the Guddon folk for their comments and their photos much appreciated.