A Shetland Ghost Story

According to an old diary, Tomas O´Tarson* was disliked since birth. His parents abandoned him as a child and, reluctantly, the parish had to take responsibility for the lad. To pay for his upkeep, Tomas was forced to work as an apprentice grave digger at the old Kirk of Quendale in the southern part of Shetland.

The boy worked feverishly hard and developed a physical strength never before seen by Shetlanders. According to the quill-penned lines, O´Tarson became a scraggly old cuss. He was squint-eyed in as much as his cracked and salted face was drawn and pinched together even in the calmest of weather. He developed long, sinewy and jagged fingers on thick, almost deformed, veined hands from grave digging and which local residents spoke of and feared. One such testimony described an incident where Tomas was said to have grabbed a crazed runaway ram by the horns and dragged the beast down to the ground, breaking its neck. Simultaneously, witnesses could hear O´Tarson laugh in a cackling high-pitched squeal.

It seems as if Tomas O´Tarson became bitter and revengeful. He developed an uncommon passion for death and digging new graves..

As is, even Tomas O´Tarson passed away from this life. To the relief of everyone in the parish. Somehow, life became easier in the Quendale area. O´Tarson was buried in the Old Kirk’s cemetery and his remains were secured under a heavy, unmarked, stone grave cover.

Historically, the old Quendale cemetery was close to the sea. Shetland winds whipped the beachhead and, storm after storm, sand was blown farther and farther inland creating a desert of sand dunes. The cemetery itself was eaten and worn away and coffins lay open and exposed. So exposed that some cadavers were bleached by the sun and wind.

It’s said that the lairds of the time were worried and concerned with this expanse of sand as it was destroying good pasture for sheep. Crofters were made to plant grass on the sand and this successfully grew; thick and high and hiding any hint of sand. The grass grew so well and so high that no one was sure where they could walk without stumbling nor putting a foot into a rabbit hole.

Photo: With knee-high grass, it can be difficult to see where to walk at Quendale Bay

One dark, windy and rainy October evening, the Minister of Quendale Parish, who had his manse nearby the old Kirk and its cemetery, wrote of surviving a horrid incident. That night, he was on his pony riding eastwards across the grasses of Quendale bay when his pony fell from under him and he tumbled into the grass and sand.

As he tried to raise himself, he saw a skeleton hand with jagged fingers reach out from the sands and grab the back leg of his pony, breaking it with a snap. As the pony lay on the grass in pain, the skeleton hand moved slowly in the sand towards the lower leg of the pastor, grabbing it and pulling the reverend down, downwards into the sand.

The pastor tried as best he could to resist. He saw his ankle and then his lower leg disappear into the underworld of the sand. He screamed. He shouted and clawed at the grass and sand so as not to be dragged by the hand. In desperation, he reached for the cross that he carried around his neck. At that single moment, the skeleton hand with its jagged fingers let go of the leg and disappeared sinking into the sand, giving a shrill cackling high-pitched squeal of laughter that could be faintly heard in the wind.

The pastor raised himself, pulling his lower leg out of the sand and painfully made his way back to the manse.

It was said that this good pastor came back to his manse white with fear. His servants believed it was because of his accident with falling. The pony was found and put down. For several weeks, the minister had a sore leg “from the fall” and that “it all was the act of the devil”! But, the last line in the diary questioned if not the ghost of the old grave digger of Old Quendale Kirk was somewhere out in the grass and sand and was waiting to pull a new soul down into the sand and the unknown?

Photo: An old unmarked gravestone can still be found at Quendale, Shetland

This story could be true or not, but there is still one gravestone to be found on the old cemetery hill. No one knows who is buried here, but one can be tempted to think of the old grave digger and the hand of Tomas O´Tarson somewhere in the grasses of Quendale?

* The last name is an old Viking name originating from a 7th century Viking king known as “Ottar”

Shetland Weather Update…

…again! Everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. These last two weeks have been windy with gale to strong gale force winds and with a climax of “hurricane” winds. I could say, “Finally. Some decent Shetland weather.”

Photo: A tired little harbor seal resting from stormy seas

Surprisingly similar to mountain storms, there are some affects that are different. Several weeks ago, while on a very windy walk, we found a harbour seal lying on Bannaminn Beach. It was alive, but taken, and our first thoughts were that it was hurt; perhaps dying. We spoke with a local resident and, with the question of what should be done, he just said to leave it alone. We took the advice and continued.

The next morning, we went back to the beach expecting to find a seal cadaver near the water’s edge. We didn’t find it and supposed it was washed backed out to sea. But, we met the man and he explained that the seal took itself back out in the water soon after we had left it. It probably was just up on the beach to rest from the frothy windswept waters.

Since then, we’ve noticed the odd seal bobbing in high waves near beaches when it was very windy and the sea smashed against the shores. This last weekend was not exception. As we took walks, we saw the occasional seal in the surf. Just amazing how seals have adapted so well to bad weather and high waves and almost seem to have fun with this.

Photo: Playing tag with the waves at St. Ninians Beach

But, Shetland had heavy winds this last weekend. Seals or no seals, the waves were impressing and winds blew a body around as they pleased. These last few days, Shetland’s harbors have been full of safety seeking ships and boats sitting patiently for the winds to blow over and to return to their work. The winds created problems with a short power outage and boats have needed assistance. Vehicles had difficulties with staying on the roads. (see- Shetland News)

The wind has now died down to a normalcy. The weather is recruiting new surprises and it is expected to snow tonight. Ah…a new Shetland experience! (see- Shetland Weather Forecast)

Photo 1: Eshaness shoreline on Tuesday, as winds become angrier.

Photo 2: A Shetland pony asking us how we’re doing with the winds.

Photo 3: Ships finding shelter in the harbor at Symbister, Whalsay

Ull och garn, fika och choklad.

Här finns en mycket anrik förening – The Shetland Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers – alltså en förening för de som spinner, stickar, väver och färgar och numera är även jag medlem i denna lugubra samling av mycket duktiga spinnerskor och stickerskor. I vissa hänseenden ligger jag ljusår efter dom,  i andra hänseenden platsar jag åtminstone lite grann.

I söndags var det dags för den månatliga träffen som denna gång bestod av lite mer än bara att träffas. Det var utställning av ull som bedömdes av en mycket noggrann domare och priser delades ut. Dessutom ställdes  stickat, virkat och vävt ut i olika klasser och även dessa alster bedömdes och priser delades ut. När allt detta var klart öppnades utställningen för allmänheten.  Nu utökad med alster som inte deltagit i bedömningen.

När ni ser detta så förstår ni varför jag skriver ljusår efter…

Schalarna i spetsmönster är alltså handstickade! Så även de mönsterstickade tröjorna naturligtvis.

Bilderna har tagits av vår goda granne efter vägen, Wilma Johnson som tillsammans med sin man blivit våra goda vänner.  Tim blev så upptagen att fotograferandet blev satt på undantag…

Det var en mycket trevlig dag, trevliga människor, gott fika med massor av gott fikabröd som Tim också missade eftersom han ju satt fast i en spinnrock. Dagen avslutades med dragning av lotteriet och undertecknad vann en stor ask choklad, huvvaligen för dieten.

Another Shetland Beach…

…that gives a long lasting impression to the islands is found at Quendale. On the southern mainland coastline, and not at all far from Sumburgh Airport, this gem of sandy beach stretches over an English mile (1.6 km) across the Bay of Quendale and is easliy accessed, not by the footpaths from A 970 nor the village of Hestingott, but via a short distance south of the quaint Quendale Mill Musuem.

Photo: The Quendale Beach stretches a mile along the bay

Historically, Quendale Beach wasn’t always as it looks like today. Over two hundred years ago, there is documentation of a sandy Sahara-like landscape that progressively fingered itself more and more inland each year. Due to the southerly Shetland winds, the sand covered good pasture land, making this area useless. There are accounts of how this “desert” was ruining the Quendale Kirk and its nearby graveyard. But, more about this later.

Apparently, the lairds at the time realized that, if nothing was to be done about the problem, they would have less and less land for pasture for their sheep. Greedily, they had grass planted and tended to for years in a successful attempt with stopping the sand from going further and saving precious pasturage for themselves.

Photo: Before planting grass, Quendale Beach stretched inland giving an impression of a desert

Today, the area behind Quendale Beach still show the scars of sand dunes, now covered with grass, and gives a small reflection to how the area may have been like years ago. The beach is delightful and this, as well as the Quendale Mill Museum, is a recommended place to visit when in Shetland.

Photo: Quendale Beach


Ikväll blev det snabbmat, fish and chips för första gången sen vi kom hit. Orsaken till det var en liten affisch på anslagstavlan i affären i Hamnavoe dit vi for i morse för att köpa tidningen och posta några brev. Måltiden såldes som “take out” från en pytteliten fritidsanläggning bara fem minuter med bil från oss. Döm om vår förvåning när vi kom dit och en av våra grannar uppefter vägen paketerade och tog betalt. Vi tror att inkomsterna går till något speciellt och vi ska fråga nästa gång vi träffar grannen.

Vid fritöserna stod dessutom enbart killar så vi misstänker  ett manligt  ändamål, kanske båtklubben eller liknade…

I Lerwick finns naturligtvis flera fish and chips ställen men däremot finns varken McDonalds eller Burger King och jag kan ju inte med bästa vilja i världen säga att jag saknar dem. Därmed vill jag inte påstå att man äter nyttigare här. Iförrgår, på jobbet, såg jag en ganska rundnätt dam pilla i sig tre chipspåsar och en Cola. Till hennes försvar få jag väl säga att påsarna var av den mindre sorten.

Annars äter vi mycket gott och nyttigt här, en del fisk, lite kött och mycket grönsaker så undertecknad har faktiskt minskat lite i omfång.

Till råga på allt har vi ju börjat träna, förutom att vi promenerar mest varje dag.

Till slut, kvällens snabbmat smakade härligt!