Easter on Shetland…

…doesn’t seem that exciting. Scottish bank holidays, when stores, banks and other businesses are closed for a holiday, doesn’t include Easter on its list. Places are open this weekend.

But, Easter is a little special! Especially when it’s sunny and only a light breeze. People are out working in their gardens or some have started to prepare their boats for the coming summer. Lambing has started and small white miniature sheep on spinky, shaky little legs are being welcomed to this island. It’s an “easy” day, today, and even the seals are getting an early tan, as they sun bathe.

Wishing all our readers a HAPPY EASTER, plain and simple!


    Photo: “Easter Seals” sun bathing on the Sandwick pier


    Photo: Flower bed/garden outside the flat (Oh, No! Another flower picture!)

Shetland Birds…

…is a subject I haven’t touched upon with during this great adventure. Naturally, with many years in the Swedish sub-arctic, the environment and coastal character of Shetland, as well as being a bump along migratory routes, provides a new perspective with my ornithological hobby.

Today was one of those “dry” days allowing us to head out and get some fresh air. While Brita walked her beaches, I used binoculars and a field book to catch-up on my birds. Time to get in tune for spring and migratory birds.

maywickvy01-copyPhoto: Maywick Beach

I could easily write a list of the birds seen today, but to make this fun for readers, allow me to report on today’s birding results…in QUIZ form. Please jot down your answers with a method of your own choosing and have fun!
The answers are found at the end. This is an “open book” quiz. Good Luck!

Photo 1: Beautiful Clangula hyemalis were playing in the Atlantic, today. What are there names in English or Swedish?

    What is the English or Swedish name for the following…
    A. Bucephala clangula
    B. Anas crecca
    C. Gavia immer
    D. Anas platyrhynchos
    E. Cygnus Cygnus
    F. Haematopus ostralegus
    G. Sturnus vulgaris
    H. Phalacrocorax aristotelis
    I. Anas acuta
    J. Arenaria interpres

Photo 2: These birds can often be found on fields and are called Anser anser. What is their name in English or Swedish?

All winter we have had Vanellus vanellus and Numenius arquata, which made the months seem like spring for us. I can report that last week I saw what I think was a Sterna hirundo, but feel unsure since I didn’t have my binoculars and it may be a bit early for them. We are anxiously awaiting the return of Fratercula arctica.

a. Goldeneye/Knipa b. Teal/Kricka c. Great Northern Diver/ Islom d. Mallard/Gräsand e. Whooper Swan/Sångsvan f. Oystercatcher/Strandskata g. Starling/Stare h.Shag/Toppskarv i. Pintail/Sjärtand j.Turnstone/Roskarl photo 1: Long-tailed Duck/Alfågel photo 2: Greyleg Goose/ Grågås

As Hard As It Is…

…to imagine, we’ve been busy. The weather has sometimes whipped and beat the island, the rain has swelled the small burns and haphazard ditches; once only scratches on the crust of the ground, but rapidly becoming white and prominent with frothing water. The water reservoir for Lerwick’s drinking water was often overflowing, when we drove by to work at the museum reception or the archives.

sandart01Photo: Sand art! But, how did this happen? (answer at end)

mailbeachvyPhoto: Mail Beach

For a few weeks, now, we’ve felt the sense of spring coming nearer. Today, was an almost detectable sense of early summer. The daffodils, often found thick in gardens and yards, but even unexpectedly found in ditches or on the edge of burly fields of heather, are intensely holding their breath for the right time to explode into gold.

Even though they forgot their beach balls, blankets and parasols, the seals were the only ones sunning themselves at Reawick Beach today.sealsonbeach01

So, with a child-like feeling, we went to the beaches today. What else does one do with a hardly noticeable breeze, +10 degrees (though most likely more) and the sun shouting “Get Out! Go somewhere! Don’t sit inside!” So, that’s exactly what we did, and came home red-faced from the day’s outing.
springfeelings01Photo: Spring feelings and being a kid
spiggiebeachvyPhoto: Spiggie Beach
nestinggulls01Photo: The gulls are planning how to arrange the furniture for the soon-coming little ones

Answer: Seaweed, stuck in the sand, is blown in circles by the winds


…we’ve had three straight days of great weather. Shetlanders would use the word “gorgeous” and, in all truth to the word, that is exactly how it’s been. People have been out sledging or building snow sculpture-like projects of snowmen or small caves. Being used to the subarctic, we found no reason to be inside with this wonderful February day…and, unbelievably, it is only just that!

Not being a work day, we headed westwards with Jeppe, to a place we hadn’t been before. And, coming to a road’s end, we trudged uphill only to find a small picnic table waiting for us to use. We had a picnic and enjoyed the view…the sun…and beauty of a snowy Shetland.

foulawintervy01-copy“…The snow covered island of Foula, westwards from the mainland and alone in the Atlantic. Wonder what the people are doing out there, today?

westerwickwintervy01-copyPhoto: Wester Wick view with Foula in the background

papilcliffhillsvy01-copyPhoto: Yesterday: from Papil towards the Cliff Hills
whalewickwintervy01-copyPhoto: Whale Wick with Foula out in the Atlantic

Up Helly Aa…

…is something really different and Shetlanders can really get fired up about it. A thousand or more men loyally parade with lit torches through the streets of Lerwick, Shetland. In front of them is their appointed Jarl, a guiding light for his followers who all shout comradely cheers and sing songs of enthusiasm during this festival of fire. These rivers of men pull an effigy of a Viking ship to it final destruction by fire in the heart of the city. Up Helly Aa represents norsk tradition, fire and comradeship unlike anywhere else. Glowing…fervent…forceful and with proud intent.

uphellyaa01Photo: The Jarl parades his men through the conquered streets of Lerwick, Shetland during Up Helly Aa.

Traditionally, there is some evidence of this Shetlandic celebration that points to the early rural 19th century. A rowdy celebration was noted in 1824, by a visiting missionary where he documented that midnight brought an uproar of drums, horns, banging of pots, discharging of guns, screams and some drinking and fighting to the town. At that time, this was around Christmas Eve, during the darkest part of the year.

The celebration grew bolder during the 1840’s. Groups of masked men had formed and they ran the small cobblestone streets of Lerwick dragging barrels or tubs of burning tar in their wake. Eventually, these groups became rivals and the tradition accumulated to an annoying degree. Many complaints were heard arguing the dangers and the mess that was left in town.

Then around the latter half of the 19th century, and up to WW I, changes came about with new ideas and more structure. Here the name Up Helly Aa, apparently having Norsk origins as does Shetland, came to be used and rival gangs became coherent, working together and forming a unified group of individual squads. “Guizing” came about and the squads of men introduced elaborate disguises; not so uncommon as dressed as woman. The fire festival was moved to the end of January, traditionally the last Tuesday of the month, and a Viking theme with the squads being lead by a common leader, the Jarl, was permanently sanctioned.

uphellyaa03Photo: A firey fate awaits the Viking galley in the evening finale of Up Helly Aa celebrations.

And so it still is today. For Up Helly Aa, Shetland has a “national holiday” with schools closing and people getting free from work. Tuesday morning, the Jarl and his men parade through the streets of Lerwick, as if the town had been invaded by Vikings and the conquerors meet the conquered. During the day, the Jarl and squads pay visits to halls and organizations and, finishing off the day, a grand parade unlike one could imagine, weaves its fiery self around the streets to the final burning of a Viking galley to the awe of spectators and long distant visitors.

uphellyaa06-copyPhoto: Torches from a thousand men seal the fate of the Viking galley at Up Helly Aa, Shetland

The rest of the night is one whopping all night party. The squads visit pubs and halls and enjoy a Viking evening until the next morning. Lerwick can then rest. The squads retreat for a well deserved rest but carrying thoughts, plans and new ideas for the next coming Up Helly Aa 2010. Same month, same day; probably a little better and impressive!

With Up Helly Aa, I was impressed with the rows and rows of torches, flowing along the darkened streets of Lerwick, and the well organized day/evening events that were brought about by truly dedicated volunteers who obviously had fun doing it all. I would highly recommend a visit at least once in a lifetime…perhaps, twice or more to really enjoy Up Helly Aa and Shetland.

If the spirits of early Vikings were gathered on the hills surrounding Lerwick and watched the evening procession, I would imagine they would nod to each other, wink an eye and smile with unanimous approval!

uphellyaavy03-copyPhoto: Up Helly Aa is a midwinter Festival of Fire on Shetland

Jeppe Has Come Home!

In a recent blog, I explained how Jeppe the Jeep was re-registering to a U.K. vehicle; re-becoming a British road subject again. Refreshing memories, Jeppe was first registered into the British system and grew up in London. After tooling around this exciting city, and coming into Swedish ownership, Jeppe was an export/import item and became Swedish. Here, he handled the traffic of southern Sweden and tasted the Stockholm asphalt until his owner decided to let him go.

With our adventure plans, I purchased Jeppe and off we went to the excitement and challenges of new adventures, first in Lapland and later through Norway, the ferries and finally putting his paws on Shetland turf…uh…roads. But, foreign cars can only be kept foreign for 6 months within a 12 month period in the U.K. Jeepe was looking forward to “coming home” again! (Is there a Hamefarin for older Jeep Cherokee’s?)

jeppebritish03 “Now I’m Swedish…”

U.K. Vehicle Importation
The process requires a dedicated amount of determination to shuffle through the bureaucracy and put up with U.K. paperwork. The government department that deals with importing a vehicle is the DVLA. They take care of all procedures and are similar to those expected from Sweden’s “Vägverket”.

The basic requirements are …basic. The vehicle must show British insurance coverage for at the least “Third Party, Fire & Theft”. Comparatively, this is a sort of “halvförsäkring”. Then, a vehicle must be U.K. MOT approved, which Jeepe became after a little touch-up welding on his body. A paper from the HM Customs & Revenues must be filled in for importing vehicles. If the car is older than 10 years, customs and taxes don’t have to be paid. Finally, there is a barrage of papers to be filled in. All of these papers, with the exception of insurance, MOT and customs, can be had in a package from a DVLA office.

After filling in every necessary detail, and most likely several hours of knocking your head on the kitchen table, the vehicle registration application can be sent in. Now comes the tricky parts.

jeppebritish02“…and now I’m not!”

If the vehicle is coming from the EC and was not earlier registered in the U.K., a registration fee of £55 must be paid, together with the yearly road tax. Road tax for Jeepe, being an older car and not engaged with the new CO2 emission rates, was £185 per year. This is paid via a postal check, which costs £10 to be made out. The whole letter must be sent through registered mail, of which it takes two special registered mail envelopes costing 2 x £5 = £10. Earlier, you shelled out £53 for the MOT and, if there was complications and the vehicle had to be re-checked within the 10 working day limitation, it could be another £20 or so more.

Why 2 registered envelopes?

The DVLA requires ALL papers including ALL documents concerning the vehicle to be sent in original condition. No copies are allowed! Just originals! Together with the postal check (for those with a calculator on your desktop, you can add up the costs) you must supply DVLA with identification proving you are who you profess to be. If you don’t happen to have a U.K. paper driver’s license or similar ID, you submit your passport…in original, together with a bank statement or utility bill as proof of address.

That’s why the two registered envelopes. The whole application with papers and ID must be with registered mail, and the return of such, to safeguard not getting lost along the way. Remember…the passport…in original!

The process is fairly quick, I must say. Including mail transport, it was only 4 working days until I received the official papers. In these, is the approval of registration letter, the paid road tax decal, for the inside of the front windscreen, and an official document stating what the car’s plate number is. Actual license plates can be bought over the counter at any approved garage or parts store (£22) with the correct document and ID.

jbautoparts01Photo: British registration numbers, or license plates, can be bought over the counter at approved stores. Here- J&B Autoparts, Lerwick

britishvehiclelicense01Photo: Freshly made U.K. license plates

Back to Jeppe
Jeppe is a very happy Jeep, now! Not only did his carer do a good job with the paperwork but, since he was a British road subject before, he got his old plate number back! Isn’t that cool? Well, Jeppe thought so!

So, if you want to import a used motor vehicle from the EC to the U.K., this blog may give some pointers and good advice. At least, Jeppe hopes so. Jeppe has come home and is a happy Jeep…even if he’s limited!

Welcome back Jeppe!

jeppebritish01“Lawdy, Lawdy…I’s lookin’ gooood!”

Jeppe Is Safety Checked…

…in order to turn him back into being a British resident. Jeppe originally was British in his earlier life, while cruising the streets of London. A Swedish family had owned him, while they temporarily worked in the U.K. capital for several years, and then brought him to Sweden and registered Swedish. Because of changing circumstances, the family decided to sell Jeppe and that’s when we became owners. We needed Jeppe for our adventures on Shetland.

jeppemot_01Photo: Jeppe gets a lift at the MOT station in Lerwick, Shetland

British vehicle laws allow EU visitors to have their vehicles on English soil for maximum 6 months in a 12 month period. Jeppe now has to be “reborn” to a British subject again. To do this is a minor wall of bureaucratic procedures to contend with. Besides filling in registration papers and a custom declaration, for importing vehicles to Great Britain, Jeppe must be safety checked and approved for this country’s regulations and demands.

So, this blog could cover Christmas time or New Years or there of. Instead, Jeppe has been to MOT inspection, which is basically similar to “bil besiktning” in Sweden, or safety checked.

Jeppe had a time just before Christmas. He did not pass! Apparently, two rust hole had come about underneath him and these had to be welded. So, they holes were quality welded by the fabulous Burra Motor Repairs and a new time was to be made. Unfortunately, Christmas and the festive season put a stop to Jeppe’s anxious ambitions for approval and it wasn’t until Jan. 5 that Jeppe received his approved MOT certificate.

jeppemot_02Photo: Two rust holes stopped Jeppe’s immediate MOT approval and a welding job was needed.

Now, he’s waiting to receive confirmation of British car insurance and then he’ll send in a package of papers and forms, all must be original and not copies, to the DVLA offices in Aberdeen. Hopefully, this will go quickly and we’ll keep everyone informed about Jeppe’s British return.

Have a Festive…

…season! According to my personal observations, this is the more common way of, for we who come from another English speaking culture, saying Merry Christmas on Shetland. Naturally, there are small signs that can be observed with the salutation, Merry Christmas, but the majority of written greetings use the word “festive” in it.

If I would open up the Shetland Times and glance over the advertisements from businesses, shops and council departments that announce Christmas closings and hours, I find the occasional “Merry Christmas and Happy New Years” embedded in the ads. Perhaps a British language tradition, but I feel this is slightly suspicious and originates from a dominating American influence. (Americans do have trouble feeling comfortable with other languages than their own, or…?) Ah…well!

But I became thrilled with seeing “Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year” sticking up among the advertisers. Christmas seems to mean festivities, or a fun and joyous occasion, and these words can be seen most everywhere. In newspapers, in stores, on signs…a shade more dominating than “merry” and I’ll admit, I sort of like that word. It’s wishing an actively joyous period or season, but is neutral and fits most everybody’s feelings.

Then, being from the “independent colonies of the British Empire” myself, “Merry” this and “Merry” that is a little worn to my ears and eyes. I enjoy seeing or hearing something different like “happy” and “festive”. A word that would be connected with, in this case “season”, naturally would be Holidays; like “Happy Holidays”, but to my way of thinking, this “holiday” is too connected with British vacations; “going on holiday”. And, thought I’m sure some Brits are off on “holiday” to New Zealand, Thailand or Spain, the “festive season” of the year sounds better to me.

But, however it is written or said, the hearts of those who use Christmas greetings are still one and the same. So, let me use my heart and wish everyone a Very Merry Festive Season Christmas and a Happy Prosperous New Year…from Shetland!

knittingchristmaslady01 Photo: A storefront window in Lerwick during the festive season

victoriapiervy002Photo: While Christmas shopping was going on, Victoria Pier guests gave their own festive season of lights

The Shortest Shetland Day…

…of the year and all one can write about is the weather. Must be the number one topic Shetlanders, and many more, can speak of, as the sun crosses over the islands on its lowest journey of the year.

And, yes, we did have sun today. Above 66° longitude, the day in northern Sweden is just a few hours of blue twilight before the sun tuckers out, sighs and quickly plunges deeper under the horizon. Had it even had the time to be faintly noticed by the frigid occupants of the north? Doubtful!

Yet, Shetland had clear skies this morning. The isles could wink upwards and easily break out a smile seeing that the sun was definitely in its sky. Not under the horizon. Not just a hair teasingly over the horizon. It was a good 15° or more over it and stoutly bragging its presence. The temperature was a blossoming +9° Celsius in places and the shortest day of Shetland started out beautifully…until about midday.

It was at this time that the angry, roaring and infamous Atlantic winds came in from the southeast. Like weather Orcs, the clouds streaked forward across the sky, occasionally consuming the sun and plowing out a path that the wind charged along, whipping up the ocean waves and spitting out froth in its wake.

Force 7. Then, force 8 followed with force 9. Around two in the afternoon, gusts of a possible force 10 sunk its teeth into the water due west of Hamnavoe. The waves smashed onto the outside barrier reef only to be spat across the land and waterfall downwards on the eastern bank, like a broad river of salty rapids, only to recruit again with the water in the boiling bay beyond. So quickly did the wind smash into Shetland today, that some said it was the worst of the season, as they gazed through west-facing windows in the shelter of their houses.

And, what do two north dwellers do? Do the stay home? Do they retain shelter in their “granny flat” and no brave the winds? No! They were no scared of the weather Orcs. They jumped into Jeppe and headed westwards to visit good friends and had an immensely fun day visiting Papil, giving small seasonal tidings and wishing a very Merry Christmas. A super day, as Shetlanders would describe it.

But, afterwards, when the winds were at their worst, what did our two north dwellers do? Did they frantically head back to the flat and its dry comfort? Absolutely not! They headed for their wonderful Meal Beach and went down to the shoreline, now completely covered with waves. Almost grasping for handholds, so as not to be blown backwards from the wind and swept across the mud of the hillsides or roll across the grassy fields (as one or two sheep had observantly done) they reached the frothy beach and… searched…for a piece… of weathered rope!

Because of the wind and the cutting rain, no photographic documentation can reveal the adventures these two north dwellers had on “shortest day of the year”. They almost giggled with glee. Good day! Great friends! And, unusually stormy afternoon winds to playfully go to the beach in! Ah, well…who would’ve thought?

PS- Five minutes ago as of this writing, we had thunder and lightning in the Shetland skies. Cool?

Talking about Shetland climate…

Photo: Although not connected with the text, an example of a Shetland garden and it’s green state for December…
…and the garden can still boast of a few roses still

A Potpourri of Shetland Events…

…since we’ve been without broadband for several weeks. This problem was self-inflicted and not due to any weather conditions.

Shetland Wool
Over the last several years, quality control has become an expected and commonplace routine for producers. Shetland wool goes through a rigid quality control in its own special way when, each year with local agriculture shows, inspections and grading of wool are carried out and the results exhibited for the public. But, afterwards, when the wool is going to be used to produce sweaters or the intricate Shetland shawls, how do these things get the seal of approval?

The best way found over the years is to have the knitters themselves gather together and judge knitted products. Each year, a solemn meeting is held in Shetland where knitters, through an organization called The Shetland Knitters, Spinners, Weavers and Dyers Guild, meet and take out their enlarging glasses to do a thorough inspection of sweaters, shawls and other hand-knitted products to judge if these are to the standards and expectations set up from hundreds of years of knitting.

So it was again this year. After each participating example is put under the enlarging glass and critically scrutinized by the guild, the public is then allowed to see for themselves the superb and awesome quality of knitted Shetland handcraft. This system of self-examination seems to strengthen knitting handcraft for generations to come.

Eco-Wool Producers
When confronted with a choice of “organic” or “non-organic” food and products, it is often a puzzle and search between an array of different symbols and markings describing different degrees of environmentally sound/unsound products. But, one thing that can be easy to identify with Shetland products is the almost total organic lifestyle Shetland has.

The last five months have shown that sheep, a base product of Shetland where for every Shetlander there are 13 sheep, peacefully roam the grassy crofts at will and eat grass that more or less is never plowed, seeded nor fertilized. So, the lambs that are sold or the wool fleece that one buys are free of any additives that would be expected for…hmmm…other parts of the European Union. You can probably trust that any Shetland home grown product is “chemical free” and you purchase a superb quality that would make…hmmm…Bryssels jealous.

Photo:Shetland Organic Producers’ Group exhibition at wool and knitting awards

One particular group that is representative for organically grown Shetland wool is Shetland Organic Producers’ Group and who have an official EU stamp of approval for their products and methods of production. This is great and I can highly recommend them. If you’re not “sheepish”, contact ’em and they probably can ship genuine organic Shetland wool or yarn to ya. If you’re a great knitter, why settle with something less than Shetland wool?

Personally, I cannot understand why Sweden, or any other Nordic country, would want to import other lamb meat than Shetland lamb; closer with shipping and organically raised. So, allow me to coin a new marketing phrase… Shetland croft products are organic…by nature! (Gotta get me a bumper sticker with this.)

Halloween in Shetland

Yes, All Saints Day came to Shetland. We loved it! The pumpkins were carved, sweets were in supply and small ghosts, goblins and other strange creatures or princesses came to our (former) place of domicile. There were no special times to do “Trick or Treating”. The night was beautifully…Halloweenish. It was “horridly” great fun. Judge yourself by these photos…

Photo: The Great Pumpkin of Shetland

Photo: Really scary visitors!

…and, a few more from Shetland…
Photo 1: Lerwick “Skyline” Pan

Photo 2: Lerwick Downtown- Market Cross Pan with snow

Photo 3:Lerwick looking east with Clickimin Leisure Center to right

Photo 4: A wintery Scalloway, Shetland

Photo 5: Northlink Ferries and Holmsgarth Ferry Terminal- Lerwick, Shetland