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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Of Ponies & Puffins: Shetland Island

"I am Shetland McPonyface. Welcome to Shetland Island"

Boo hoo
Spot on the obligatory 7:30 AM check-in time, day packs in tow,  we arrived at the Aberdeen airport desk.

"Auch, you're too late," tsked the reservations harpy clerk.

After pointing out we were on time,  the clerks cleared us for the flight (I mean really!). We soon in a panic, sprinting - um... perhaps it wasn't as much sprinting as winded stumbling along the long corridors to airport security.

As we were in a super hurry, of course security side-lined us for full body pat downs: Ila due to her highly suspect artificial knee and me because...?  Meanwhile my backpack was inspected then deprived of a forgotten and downright dangerous jar of Apple & Ale Chutney. I am in mourning for my chutney - any sympathy cards or replacement jars appreciated.

Post security check, we continued our race along the 20 mile long serpentine route to the final gate (I might have exaggerated the distance a bit). Arriving at the gate, I, for one, was wheezy, winded and red in the face. We climbed steps, boarding the airplane. Contentment again reigned as the little prop engine plane took off, heading north for our vacation within a vacation. Our destination - Shetland island, 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland.
Approaching runway at Sumburgh Airport on Shetland Island
Sarah with some of her handiwork
Arriving at Shetland's Sumburgh airport we were greeted Sarah McBurnie, our guide for the day.

Ila found our guide by doing pre-trip homework of the sort I am generally too disorganized to do. Ila found the Shetland Island touring site on the internet and communicated with Sarah who leads tour groups and personalized tours of Shetland Island. Ila couldn't have found us a better guide.

While still in California, Sarah queried us about our interests on Shetland. We told her we wanted to see the Shetland sights in general. Plus we were both eager to see Fair Isle knitting demonstrated and for me - DUH - birds and wildlife. Sarah promised to hit all of our touring needs.

We loaded into Sarah's van, and were off. We passed a little stone-walled pasture with Shetland ponies. Shetlands were on my 'must see' list. Mind - there were loads of Shetland ponies and Shetland sheep throughout the day. But on the ponies, once upon a time the wee mites were bred for difficult & hard work in British coal mines, but these days they mostly are mostly just chubby little cuties.

Sarah drove us to the top of Sumburgh hill and once there, we got out. We skurried along a little alley in the maze of buildings, headed for the wall.
We headed down this hilltop alley for 'the wall'
There we peered over the low stone wall, and onto a b'jillion seabirds. The ragged cliffs were white washed with guano and covered over with Guillemots (called Common Murres in the States).

A sea rock covered over with Guillemots and guano
But just down about 30 or 40 feet from were we stood were PUFFINS!
A little too early in the morning for some
There were also lots of Northern Fulmars resting on the rocks.
Northern Fulmars
I could have watched the seabirds all day, but there were other sights to see and we clambered back into the van. North on the eastern coast, Sarah pointed out Mousa Island, perhaps a mile off the mainland. She was pointing out the far off structures in the photo below. The one in the foreground is Mousa Broch, an iron age tower dating back to 100 BC.  What the ancient tower was actually used for is still a subject of much argument. Is Mousa Broch a Fort? A stone star/sun position calculator? The world's fanciest barn?
The Mousa Broch Tower 
We also got a hilltop view on the eastern side of the island, down onto the largest town on the island, Scalloway.

A view of Scalloway, the largest town on Shetland Is. 

History has it Scalloway Castle was built by a genuinely evil knob, Patrick Stewart aka 'Black Patie' earl of Shetland and Orkney isles who never captained a star ship. It is said he had his castle built by enslaved Shetland Islanders circa 1599. Guilty or not, the foul man was tried and executed in 1615. That gives one something to think on when viewing the castle ruins below. 

Steward's Evil Castle
Being an island there are loads of cool views on Shetland. My favorite was Dore Holm, an arched rock. Doesn't take much imagination to see it as a sea horsie having a cold nip  of cold & salty water.
The Dore Holm
Sarah is a lady chock full of knowledge about Shetland, her home. I wish I'd taken notes or had a recorder on because I was so awed by being on Shetland and on tour of it, that little of Sarah's fascinating information actually stuck in my noggin. I can't remember and be awed, it's normally one or the other. 

On the North Mavine peninsula we were high up on the western shore, where we saw the Esha Ness Lighthouse. Nicest name of any lighthouse I've ever seen.
The auld Esha Ness Lighthouse

Looking from the lighthouse towards the cliffs
The auld cliffs beyond 

Some rocks around the lighthouse were strangely square.

Sarah stopped to take us for an early lunch at the Braewick Cafe which was stoic on the outside...

... windowed and showy on the inside.

Over lunch we chatted & Sarah showed us archaeological pictures on her laptop
Ila and myself wolfed down our lunches so we could have time to look over some fiber art work on display in a cabinet. I wish I'd stood back and photographed the whole cabinet. Here are snippets of it. There were many of Shetland's world famous Fair Isle knit goods. Fair Isle knitting is beautifuly colorful... more on it later. The natural hand dying work is what tempted me to part with my Scottish currency.
Lots of Shetland's world famous Fair Isle knitthandiworks were on sale and display
Hand Dyed Skeins of wool
Ila skipped off with the frameable art to the left,
I skipped off with the frameable artwork on the right. Score!
Later in the afternoon, Sarah took us to visit a a stop on the the Craft Trail - I mean, how cool!

There were loads of Fair Isle knitting in hats, caps, gloves and the like. The shop lady said no surprise, the young women on the island are less and less inclined to learn the Fair Isle knitting so it is rather an endangered art. I hope at some point a young person breathes new life into the art of Fair Isle knitting in the manner of what Mabel McCay did for California Pomo basket weaving. There was also a lot of yarn and hand dyed fiber. For me, the various spinning wheels, some old some... uh, well some older, were beautiful.

And for even older spinning there were drop spindles collected from around the world. I thought I'd never forget which were Russian, which were African, which were Bulgarian and of course, I forgot it all right quick.

A clay bottomed drop spindle 

An all wooden drop spindle, nestled on a Fair Isle work-in-progress

The ladies having a lively chat
 Fair Isle knitting belt 
The belt strap warps around the waist so the padded bit with holes centered where a belt buckle sits. Knitting needles go into whichever holes work best... Ack! Why explain when this lovely lady was more than happy to give a demo you can watch below. All yee knitters, be ready to be awed!

Now have I yet mentioned the many Shetland Sheepies we saw in the course of our day? They're the ones supplying all the fair Isle wool

A lovely, albeit goggle-eyed Shetland sheep.

And the birds! I saw so many birds throughout the day. It was wonderful not having to drive, so I could stare out the window and watch for them. And it always seemed as though Sarah could read my mind, suddenly stopping so I could have a go at grabbing some shots photos. 
Whooper Swan looking all Elegant
Whooper Swans
Greyleg Geese were strewn about the island
As were European Oystercatchers, always paired up
My favorite - a solitary Northern Lapwing
Our last stop of the day was a unique spot and outdoor cultural site. There, 7 different cultures over the four thousand years, settled. The site is Jarlshof located on a bit of land that juts out on a bay. There, Bronze Age people built round houses, on top of which Iron age people later built their homes. On the ruins of the previous, Vikings built longhouses. On the ruins of the Viking era, British lords built a grand manor. All choice the site with an eye on the Bay.

Walking long a stone wall to Jarlshof entrance building
Making our way through the information packed visitor center
Below is where the earliest house ruins sit - they are Neolithic roundhouses.

Walking alongside broch ruins, and below manor house ruins

Ila, disappearing after Sarah, into a 'wheel house' doorway that leads down into...
How the round or 'wheel' house looks today
How a wheel house would have looked in use
View of area where Viking Long Houses sat
Cutaway of how Viking Long Houses would have looked 
The visit at Jarlshof was the last event of the day. There are loads more spots we visited that aren't covered in this post but it shows the highlights. Overall the day on Shetland was a fun and informative day. I think I can say for myself and Ila that we feel as though we have a friend on Shetland.

Here I intended to post a short video I took of adorable Puffins. But 'twix then and now I ran across videos by a young lady on Shetland who shares her island life on her YouTube channel.

Here is the girl telling how gossip goes on Shetland. I love this as it gives a wee Shetland geography lesson and the common folk's names - on the side.

Still on for my short vid of puffins then? Go here... Scottish Puffins.

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