Smakrapport.

Jag kan nu meddela att ginen är mycket god. Den har inte någon särpräglad enbärssmak utan mer smak av för mig okända kryddor/växter med några citrusstänk ovanpå.

Kan rekommenderas med andra ord.

Sprit!

Nu kommer det ni alla väntat på, rapporten över alla whiskysorter Skottland och Shetland har att erbjuda!

Nä, nä, den får ni allt vänta på ett tag till.

Det är nämligen så att Shetland har inget eget whiskey bränneri.  Närmaste bränneri finns på Orkney öarna och vem vänder sig till konkurrentöarna…

Nej, detta ska handla om GIN! För gin tillverkas, om inte just här på denna ögrupp, så på fastlandet av Shetlands lokala vilda “kryddor”.

Att livet är fullt av överraskningar är så sant. Pete, en arbetskamrat från Star-Rent-A-Car tittade in på museet idag med en present. Presenten var en flaska  Blackwood´s gin

Vi hade nämligen diskuterat sprit i största allmänhet under en av våra trivsamma lunchtimmar och då hade jag fått lära mig om just denna gin.

Efter vad jag kan förstå är Blackwood´s  gin fullständigt unik och jag ska om en stund provsmaka den.

Smakrapporten kommer vid ett senare tillfälle.

Shetland Ponies…

shetlandponywinter05 …is a topic I haven’t really covered, though I have a past as a horse owner. Unlike sheep, who usually dash away when one approaches, Shetland ponies usually come towards you. They somehow think they are going to get treats or food. Taking candid pictures of them lying down or peacefully eating is difficult since their friendly curiosity draws them to you like small furry magnets.

shetlandponywinter04

I don’t like using a telephoto, but I guess I’ll have to try. Still, they see you coming, take a couple of minutes to think about what you’re planning to do, then amble towards you. Maybe they like having their picture taken?

shetlandponywinter02

Unlike the Shetland ponies I’ve had the displeasure of knowing in Sweden, often spoiled, undisciplined and wanting to bite, the ponies on Shetland are absolutely sociable and lovable.

shetlandponywinter03

They are outside all year around. Their fur becomes thick in wintertime. Some are very clean from the rain and wind and some can be very muddy and untidy with tangled manes. So, it’s exceptionally nice to find clean ponies like these.

shetlandponywinter01

Can you tell which pony is only a foal? It was a nice wintry day again and I hope you enjoy these images! Shetland’s ponies are really really …cool!

HM Royal Mail Service…

…on Shetland, or for that matter in the United Kingdom, is something that I have had to relearn to appreciate. Not that I have to relearn about the Royal Mail here, but to relearn that this service and function is available and a highly appreciated service for U.K. citizens. After living in one of many “outback” communities in Sweden, where the postal service has declined to unimaginable proportions and where politics and down-budgeting has turned postal services over to amateur grocery stores or petrol stations, I must say it is with pleasure to be able to use good-old-fashioned postal services again…than the alternative of closed post offices and unprofessional service!

Since our arrival, I have been to the Lerwick post office many times and have observed that many Shetlanders use this service. Usually with 3-4 postal assistants behind the counter windows ready to meet everyone’s needs or questions, it is commonplace that a line of patiently waiting customers is there. When really busy, as with Christmas and the festive season, the line would often go out onto the sidewalk and down along the front of the building.

royalmailcar01Photo: A bright red RM delivery in Scalloway, Shetland

Most small villages have a regular post office and normal postal service. Even if these are found in the same locality as the village shop, there still is a proper “post office” area with a proper “postmaster” to serve the public. Unfortunately, this last year has seen two small village post offices losing status and closing. Perhaps they were down-budgeted or the public didn’t use these efficiently?

The mail is flown in from the mainland in the mornings and then taken to Lerwick for sorting. From Lerwick, the post is driven out to all these smaller post offices and from there they are distributed to each house with a type of “rural mailman”. These mailmen, or women, deliver post 6 days a week, in every Shetland-type weather, right up to your front door! In some cases, if the house hasn’t any letter box, the mailman will place letters just inside the door for you. All local post offices are open 6 days a week.

Now, what other services can the Royal Mail provide? I’ve noticed that the Lerwick office has a manned currency exchange; no wonder with all the summer visitors and a shipping industry here. Not only can a person conduct many banking errands at the post office, but they can purchase pay-as-you-go mobile phone cards, buy house, car, retirement, health or personal insurances, hook-up to electricity, broadband or telephone delivery, purchase a small variety of office necessities like staplers or tape or even buy that USB memory stick they had forgotten to bring along to town. The post office is fun.

Shame that…ahem…Swedish postal services aren’t the same! And, in spite of most households on Shetland having broadband connections and email accesses, Shetlanders use their post offices. I for one will continue to enjoy the HM Royal Mail services in Shetland…while contemplating what’s happened in Sweden!

PS- Again, about Shetland weather, we discovered these “snowdrops” below coming up outside our bedroom window… in January!
snowdrops01

It May Appear…

…that we’ve been snowed-in since Halloween. Actually, we’ve been without broadband all of November and, although we have had a couple of days of gorgeous wintery Shetland weather, we will be up and running with new information and insights soon. Until then, enjoy the pictures…

Photo: Gulberwick looking eastwards towards Bressy

Photo: Walking a snowy Meal Beach

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”

How Does Shetland Salmon…

…get to my plate? A question not many of us have, as we may be seated in front of a plate of “Grilled Salmon with Hot Cheese Roulade”, “Char-broiled Salmon Steaks” or a classic “Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict. Still, having lived a landlocked life, it’s a question I’ve had in my head the many times I picked a plastic-wrapped piece of pink salmon meat out from the grocery cooler and toss it into my shopping cart.

Shetland salmon farm in North Atlantic waters

Shetland salmon farm in North Atlantic waters

Background
The world’s wild salmon supply has been slowly depreciating through the years and has necessitated an increase in salmon farming. Already in the 1960’s, salmon farming was being introduced as a new form of rural business with new employment opportunities in Scotland and saw its potential grow in the mid-eighties. Parallel to this, and most recently, salmon was being hailed as a food high in vitamins and proteins and has become a recommended food for better health.

The fish first hatch as eggs, then grow to smolts in a freshwater environment the first 10-15 months. Later, they are placed in saltwater cages another 12-18 months to grow to a desirable harvesting weight of 3-4 kg. According to the Scottish Agriculture College, Scotland produces over 130,000 tons of salmon every year at a value of an estimated £300 million.

The Shetland Salmon Farming Association started in the mid 1980’s. Statistics show a membership of 46 salmon farms and 6 smolt hatcheries directly employing over 370 people. In 2003, Shetland farms produced over 59,000 tons of salmon at a value over £90 million.

Photo: Shetland salmon awaiting harvesting in saltwater cages

A Practical Experience

But, How does salmon really get to my plate? Recently, I had a first-hand educational opportunity to meet the people, see the work involved and understand some risks taken with harvesting salmon in the North Atlantic waters of Shetland. Together with a good friend, I headed out for a “something entirely different” adventure and found out how life as a salmon farmer can really be.

After an early 25 minute boat ride, the crew came to a barge with some 10 salmon cages. The barge was like a floating factory with its own electricity, powered by diesel generators, several silos full of many tons of fish food, dressing room, kitchen and all the equipment necessary to lift, haul or repair in a self-sustainable working atmosphere. Outside the windows were the fish cages, each covered with a thin netting to keep the birds from getting in. The barge had a modern computerized feeding center.

Photo:Underwater TV monitors reveal how the fish react during feeding

Using boats for short transportation rounds, the crew prepared for a harvesting this day. One man stayed inside the barge to direct and control feeding the cages through fingers of polyethylene pipes, floating out to each cage, and to keep a safe eye over the crew working outside.

Harvesting required the crew to stretch out a skimming net in the cage collecting some of the 54,000 fish. This net is a Shetland invention and allows a natural selectivity of sizes. With this done, the harvesting ship came and, with an large hose, sucked fish into its hold, passing a computerized counter which immediately weighed, counted and tallied this information on a computer. This way, the harvester knew how many and how heavy his load would be in order to fulfill the previously agreed sales contract. In our case this day, we had to skim the cage twice to deliver the needed amount.

Photo: A special Shetland net is used for a natural selection of fish

What I learned was that, while fish are harvested, they are introduced into colder water. The ocean water had a temperature of approx. +12C but, by putting them into +5C water, the fish move around less and are easier to handle later at the fish factory. I also learned that “consumer shelf-life” for fish, starts at the moment of harvesting. So it is imperative that fish are taken to the factory, cleaned, packed and distributed as quickly as possible for consumers (me) to get them as fresh as consumer laws allow.

Everyone in the crew must have a food and hygiene certification, since they are handling a consumable foodstuff. The fish must sustain a high consumer quality. Therefore, fish farming is constantly finger sensitive to disease and parasite control and this adds a greater responsibility on the shoulders of the crew and harvester. An example of this was when crew members immediately walked through a disinfecting bath before boarding the boat in the morning.

Then, I experienced and understood the risks involved for the crew. Immediately before leaving shore, life jackets and wet weather clothing were downed and kept on. With this particular cage, the crew worked on two polyethylene pipes about 80 cm apart and, with only one mistake, could slip into the ocean. I can personally guarantee that walking on this made me very very nervous. Especially knowing that the water was cold, 30 meters deep and risk of getting caught in netting seemed apparent.

Photo: A piece of kelp, poor boots or a wrong step working hurriedly can quickly put a worker into the sea

Fish feeding must be done daily and in all weather. One of the crew warned of the weather conditions. Once, when he was working another cage, a large ocean swell came from behind and hit him waist high. He held onto the cage for dear life so as not to be swept away. Thinking of the notorious Shetland gales, these men were becoming my saltwater heroes.

Summarizing, I learned a lot about how my salmon gets to my plate. I thoroughly enjoyed being with the crew that day and I have gained great respect for them working cages, the risks they take and their unique knowledge and experience. My experience was so positive and the crew members so Shetland friendly that I could think of going back and helping another day. An experience that will be considered every time I buy salmon at the groceries!

Photo: As I hang onto the cage, the harvester ship sails away with its load

My Saami Walking Stick…

…was a subject for comment today, as we were preparing to jump into Jeppe and take a walk on Houss, the southern point of East Burra, Shetland. A local resident came by and, as I was putting my walking stick in the vehicle, the person said something like, “Well, ya taking your spear with ya?” My first thought was, “Spear? What spear?”, but understanding that he didn’t know about it, I quickly mentioned it was a Saami style walking stick.

Afterwards, I felt it was high-time I wrote about a Saami walking stick. Perhaps other Shetlanders, who see me walking around with it in my hand on walks, or a portion of Swedish or international readers, would find this topic interesting. The walking stick and its use has been superbly developed by the Saami for thousands of years. So, let’s take time to explore the wonders of, what I call, the Saami walking stick.

Photo: In the Swedish mountains, the Saami walking stick means safety and friendship when alone

Photo: In the Swedish mountains, the Saami walking stick means safety and friendship when alone

Construction and Use
Basically, the material is birch. Birch has the qualities of an intertwining fiber, making it exceptionally strong, and considerably lightweight when dried. When choosing a stick, one wants a young tree specimen, as uniform in thickness along its length as possible, but thick enough to support the weight of its user plus the weight of a backpack. It should be as straight as possible with few branches, so it isn’t so knotty or rough. When these ingredients are had, the total length defined should be at least a little more than the length of its user.

Since birch is abundant in northern Sweden, it can be smart to choose several walking stick specimens until you understand and recognize what is best for you. If needed, ask permission from the landowner.

Once chosen, you will shave the birch bark off the stick. This helps with the drying process. A new green walking stick will be soft and flexible. After removing the bark, it will dry and become stiffer and harder during the summer. Also, cut and smooth away the branch parts. This should leave the stick smooth and allow your hands to glide along the length of it.

Once made, the Saami Walking stick is to be carried, either in a hand or cradled like a rifle, and used to give support to the upper weight of the user with a backpack or when wading across deep rushing streams, which is why it should be a little longer than the user. The thicker end of the stick points downwards as you use it. This allows for a more gentle swing, weight at bottom, with a back to front movement. It is to be used to keep balance on stones or uneven ground to prevent slipping or twisting an ankle, which can be a life or death situation when in the Swedish mountains.

The stick is not supposed to be used as an “elbow warmer”. In other words, it isn’t supposed to be held upright in your hand and mark-off every other step as you’re walking/hiking. You can shift hands or positions while hiking. Should you twist an ankle, the walking stick can be your “third leg” to safety. So, take care of it as a good friend.

On Shetland
Now, Why did I take a Saami walking stick to Shetland? Well, there are a few good reasons.

Shetland doesn’t have any trees and there isn’t anything natural around to lean up against. My Saami walking stick allows me something to lean and rest on at shoulder height. It often helps me keep balance as I walk the countryside, since I look around a lot and not pay attention to the ground. Shetland is littered with hundreds of rabbit holes half-hidden in the grass. I also have use for it as a portable monopod when I use my binoculars or camera instead of finding a suitable rock to crouch down at. My walking stick is 2 mt and I can use it as a measuring tool.

Photo: Whale Wick, with its cliffs and jagged rocks, is one example of Shetland's coastline

Photo: Whale Wick, with its cliffs and jagged rocks, is one example of Shetland's coastline

And finally, I knew that Shetland has a shoreline of rocky cliffs with strong winds. So, besides the function of making walks or climbing easier, I wanted the safety of a three-point base when near the edge of Shetland cliffs during wet windy weather. Don’t want an unnecessary newspaper article, do we? .

So, anybody out there wondering why I carry a “spear” around with me, it’s O.K! I understand. I just know that I’m in safer hands with my Saami walking stick than if I was without, and I’m glad that the chances of getting hurt or falling while walking alone are less when I carry it with me.

On Shetland,…

…having a good time and enjoying a bit of fun has different meanings from different areas of the islands. We’ve already learned that agricultural fairs are popular and are established forms of wholesome family outings. On the other hand, piano bashing events seem to be a new development in island entertainment.

So, it was with curious anticipation and adventuresome smiles that we accepted an invitation from our neighbors to head up north for another Shetland “happening”. As advertised in the Shetland Times, “Yis, it’s time fir all da usual onkerry” at DA BIG BANNOCK in North Roe, Northmavin. With this, How could we not pile ourselves into Jeppe for a new experience?

As a background, it was told that North Roe’s yearly Bannock was an idea born around 1998 by a small group of, at that time, young men who apparently had been partying and wanted to do something different. So, they decided to bake a large “bannock”, or type of traditional scone, and generally have fun. This idea exploded into North Roe’s traditional yearly entertainment and great fun, though the men are a little older now.

Literally busloads of people came to enjoy Da Big Bannock in North Roe, Shetland

Literally bus loads of people came to enjoy Da Big Bannock in North Roe, Shetland

On arrival, it was difficult to pin-point exactly what the Bannock was. Personally, I would describe it as a large group of people standing around waiting for something to happen. The organizers knew what they were doing. Bus loads of others were just enjoying good company and chit-chatting with a beer in their hand. Apparently, this year’s theme was “The Old West”, as organizers and some participants were dressed as cowboys or Indians. Actually, other theme costumes could be seen worn during the event. (was it my imagination, or did I see Elvis there?)

There was a kiddies tent, with games and the like as well as a locomotive ride. There were grilled styles of food, from sausage hamburgers to fried herring or scallops, available for purchase behind or inside the community building, raffles, lotteries and the commonly expected beer tent for the thirsty.

A big bannock is taken out of the oven for comsumption

A big bannock is taken out of the oven for comsumption

Butter churning contest

Butter churning contest

There were contests and games, of sorts! Two teams contended in a competition to see who could churn the most butter in the shortest time. Uh, not the most usual contest, but a heck of a lot of fun for the watching crowd. In a nearby field, there was the Grand Roto-Tiller Race (jordfräs), where contestants would race around a track fighting obstacles from the local fire department, who were hosing and soaking them down in water. Noted, too, was the halfway point on the track, where each contestant downed a large beer. Seemingly, a sort of spitting contest was to commence, but we regretfully had to return home and even missed the big tent dance later that evening.

Roto-Tiller race Nr. 1

Roto-Tiller race Nr. 1

Roto-Tiller race Nr. 2

Roto-Tiller race Nr. 2

Next year’s Big Bannock? Well, if you’re on Shetland, definitely make a point not to miss it! The bannock is an impressive example of enormous community effort, superb teamwork by volunteers. hard work and all the proceeds go to charity. Through the years, Big Bannock has raised more than £70,000 for different charities. This year, cancer charity CLAN is targeted as the recipient. Super fun with a good purpose in mind!

PS– Next weekend…The Burra Regatta!

I\'m looking forward to next year\'s Big Bannock!

I'm looking forward to next year's Big Bannock!

Jeppe, the Jeep…

…was again feeling a little under the weather. Last Friday, Jeppe cracked his right-front brake pads and needed immediate attention. Some Jeeps can be such big babies when sick! But, when in another country, Where does one find a reliable Jeep doctor to take care of a loved vehicle?

Burra Isle, on central mainland Shetland, has a small auto service shop and filling station. So, I took Jeppe to the emergency ward at BURRA MOTOR REPAIRS and had Jim take a look at the broken pads Monday morning. Jim started right in with repairing and ordering the necessary parts. This would take a couple of days, since Jim had a Citroen, in the bed next to Jeppe, who also needed attention.

Photo: Jeppe is really happy with Burra Motor Repairs, Shetland

In the meantime, I was allowed to use a small Fiat until Jeppe was well again. This morning, I picked up Jeppe, who was very happy to see me and all anxious to head out on an adventure. The surgery went very well and both Jeppe and I are enormously pleased with Burra Motor Repairs and Jim’s capable hands and professional service. ( I never had another car service provide me with a reserve car for the price of the gas I used…and repair costs were very very reasonable comparatively)

So, if you’re driving on Shetland and your car needs care, I want to recommend Jim and Burra Motor Repairs for great personal service and competent care. Jeppe can only agree with me!

PS– The sign is missing the letter “s” in repairs