It wasn’t too easy to get from trains to busses to boats with all the gear and bags we had accumulated in the 6 months of travel. It didn’t help that the baggage handlers had ripped a handle off a bag we had just bought. Luckily it didn’t spill any of our things out on the baggage conveyer at the airport. It did make it harder to carry though. We had arrived in Scotland! I had been to England in 1999 but this was the first time in the UK for Christine, and the first time I had been north of London. We caught a bus from the airport to the train station, a train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, a boat from Aberdeen to Lerwick, Shetland and then a car to the settlement of Mossbank, our home for the next week. What an awesome trip it was over on the boat! The night before we’d only had about 4 or 5 hours sleep and left for the airport at 5 in the morning so we were quite tired anyway, but the boat was an unexpected luxury. It’s more of a ship than a boat. It’s set up for overnight passage from Scotland to Orkney and Shetland. The crossing was smooth enough, just a nice gentle rocking that put me to sleep at 8 pm and I didn’t wake up until the announcement at 7 am that we were about to arrive in Shetland.
We met my Mum and Dad at the wharf who had arrived in Shetland a day earlier and were going to show us around. Shetland is where Dad’s family come from. Grandad and Grandma were born and raised in Shetland and we still have a lot of family on the islands although a lot have moved away for work and to follow other family members (to places like New Zealand). We stayed with my Dad’s cousins Alastair and Doreen who have a lovely house on what they call a croft on the northern part of the ‘mainland’. A croft is a small holding of land that was intended to provide everything the family could want to survive. Now days they are often combined or leased to farmers who run a commercial quantity of stock like any farm but there are still a few around that are run the old way and provide year-round food for the one extended family.
Shetland is the most northern part of the UK and is governed as part of Scotland. They are however quite independent and have a bit of a different culture to the rest of the UK. For a long time, the islanders were very isolated due to the rough north seas and the roaring 60’s (being on the 60 north parallel) The total land area is under 1500 km2 and the total population is less than 24,000 people. The islands have been inhabited for a long time... A very long time. The first people to settle the area did so around 6000 years ago! The more recent history (1000’s to 1500’s) revolves around the settlement of Scandinavian Vikings but it wasn’t until the 15th century that the islands became part of Scotland and a more detailed history can be traced. Like a lot of the British Isles, Shetland has a very rich history and the Shetland islands motto is Með lögum skal land byggja, an Icelandic phrase taken from the Danish 1241 Basic Law, Codex Holmiensis, (and is also mentioned in Njáls saga,) and means "By law shall land be built". One thing that the island is lacking in is trees! In the time we have been here I have only seen a few small stands of trees. This is in part due to the fact that during winter the wind can blow so hard that it often sends salt spray right over the highest part of the island and will kill the hardiest garden, lawn or trees. The trees did die out naturally around the time the climate changed several thousand years ago. Contrary to popular opinion they were not all cut down for timber by the locals, they were already gone when the locals arrived!
Back in my grandfather’s day, Shetland only really offered a few choices for work. The sea or the land. My grandfather had 2 big decisions in his early life. The first was who to marry, the second was what to do for work. (Maybe not in that order) It appears he made good choices all round. He found my Grandma and decided to go to sea, not as a fisherman but as a seaman on a cargo vessel. Later he ended up in New Zealand as a captain of a coastal freighter. Now the islanders have a lot of choice for work just like anywhere but a lot of them still move away to start great things that are far from the fishing and crofting. I think everyone will have heard of P&O Shipping Line, started in Shetland. One of the founders of Anchor Butter in New Zealand was a Shetland Islander. My own cousin is a scientist now living in Brisbane and at the forefront of her field and has recently made a breakthrough that could benefit millions of people who have arthritis, gout, type-two diabetes, Alzheimer’s, asthma and Parkinson’s. (Yes, that’s you Avril). One of the largest income earner is still the ocean and fishing with salmon and mussel farming the big industries. The oil industry employs a lot of locals but no refining is done in Shetland. It is piped to shore in Shetland and then loaded onto ships to refinery’s elsewhere.
So, anyway, here we are in this faraway place. My relations and cousins from New Zealand have been visiting Shetland ever since my grandad left the place in 1928. I feel quite lucky to be here and to see the places that they lived and worked. We went to see where my grandma was born and grew up. We were able to go to the house that is still much as it was in her day. The house now has power and water connected but otherwise it’s just the same. We could see where the well for water was (and still is) and where the outhouse was next to the shed. It was like a living history lesson from my family. We also visited the house near where my grandfather was born in 1884. This house is STILL in the family and is currently being renovated by Andy who will live in it with his partner Tanya when she finishes her midwife training in Scotland. I don’t know of anyone else that can say they have seen where their family grew up over 100 years ago pretty much as it was then. A slice of the family history that has been waiting for me to discover, it’s been great! Even my old childhood areas in Auckland have been changed so much it’s not recognisable now!
We have been to see Eddie and Betsy at Fetlar, Linda and David at Eshaness, Kay, Iain and Frances came to visit us and we had dinner with Caryl and Graham (a 6 course meal cooked by Doreen, great fun night). We went to see Angus and Jessamine for lunch. They live just above the old house that Granddad lived in and the same place Doreen grew up in! We went to Mary-Jean’s shop for a visit, but she had so many people in the store so we had to leave. Andy and Angus came for tea too, so it’s been a busy visit. It was great to talk with Eddie who is a retired seaman. Now days he does a lot of beach combing and has an amazing collection of items that have been washed ashore near his holiday home. I did a bit of beachcombing myself when we went to see Linda and David and I found a real life message in a bottle. Looks like it has come from Canada but it had no contact details for me to reply to the message. Of course seeing the people has been the highlight but Shetland has really surprised us with the beauty and history it has to offer. It has helped that the weather has been a lot warmer than normal meaning we have been able to do some great walks too. A highlight was heading to the top of Ronas Hill which is the highest peak on Shetland. There is even a Neolithic chambered cairn near the summit! Neolithic is as old as! We visited a site that has ‘ruins’ that date back 4000 years! Quite fascinating to see.
Today is the last day here on the Island and tonight we head back to Scotland by ferry and pick up a car to drive right down to the midlands to attend the Adventure Overland Show. It’s the official start of the next phase of our holiday where we get mobile and start to travel by car. We are excited and sure are looking forward to being able to organise ourselves again although we will now have to part with some serious cash! I don’t like the idea of seeing the bank balance disappear but that’s what going on holiday is all about I guess. As with every part of this holiday, Shetland has been excellent, especially for me as it has filled in a lot of blank spaces from my family heritage. I’d like to make a special mention to Alistair and Doreen for looking after us while we have been here and providing a car and feeding us really well. Thank you and of course we would like to repay this whenever you are in New Zealand again. Thanks also to Mum and Dad for being here with us and being the tour guides. None of this would have been possible without you both. Thanks again!
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!