Shetland Blackbirds…

…are fascinatingly stubborn. These last few days of brilliant sunny weather with only enough breeze to keep midges away, has caused some of the more “natural” residents to become stubbornly goal orientated with spring work. Apparently, these “locals” have acquired a disregard for building permission and even a nonchalance concerning other people’s property, when confronted with their hopes and plans to combat the shortage of available homes in Shetland.

jeppebirdnest01Photo: Blackbird nest building on Jeppe’s back wheel

What I am referring to, is the strong-willed native Blackbird (Turdus Merula) of Shetland. A young and romantic couple, who obviously have been struck with Cupid’s arrows, has now gone into their fourth day of stout determination to build a love nest on the back left wheel of Jeppe. Working the night shift, Jeppe has been kept awake and, I might add, has been deeply concerned that the nest building would gain an advanced state of actually developing small Blackbird eggs, with the obvious risk of mass murder of potential baby Blackbirds.

Even tempered as Jeppe is, he has patiently put up with this intrusion of his property. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to drive off on an adventure, the Blackbird’s love nest had to be removed each morning…only to be rebuilt again that evening by these annoying, but definitely wonderful, pair of squatters. What is Jeppe to do?

It has been decided that, during the evening, Jeppe will be parked in another place, away from the scene of previously destroyed bird’s nests, and hope that this will work. Shetland Blackbirds are certainly cute but, above all, bull-headed and stubborn!

Shetland Mines 01…

…Sometimes, the best place to be is in one ’s own thoughts, as long as you don’t get lost in them. Recently, I’ve contributed a small article on the mines of Shetland, and forgot that this website is a link for all who may want to know more. Thanks to a sharp Shetland Museum employee, I got the word that readers are waiting. A humble apology and many thanks for the wake-up signal!

Since this is only a blog, I don’t intend to follow research procedures in defense of content. This will come later in a peer-reviewed work. With small bits and pieces, my intentions are to excite readers about early Shetland mines, to learn a little about mining history and perhaps about their background; their own identity…their own heritage.

People ask me, “Why older mines?” I’m not really sure. I just want answers to my questions. For each question I answer, I get even more questions. And, so it keeps rolling on and on.

Shetland’s Mines
From the very first people arriving on the shores of Shetland, a need for the island’s rocks and minerals are apparent. As these people wandered over the hills and the land, they made observations of rocks and stones and skillfully learned where useful types could be found. When needed for any purpose, people went to these deposits and gathered what they needed. Rocks and stones were close by; at hand when needed.

One example of this is the need for shelter. The archeological excavation of Old Scatness is a great example of early people using Shetland rocks for dwellings. Another example is the need to keep warm. For whatever fuel was used, fires needed a spark. Shetland doesn’t have natural flint and ancient people learned that quartz could produce sparks and could start fires. And a third example is early Shetlanders needing household tools or implements for daily living.

catpundquarry02Photo: The ancient Catpund Quarry, Shetland. This is a scheduled area-please respect this.

The Catpund Quarry
Because of need and simple knowledge of rocks and geology, primitive Shetland people used what was available and knew where to find it. The Catpund Quarry is an example of where people over many years have exploited the serpentine, or soapstone, of Shetland to chisel out bowls, ladles, plates or decorative figurines for themselves or to barter and exchange with. Knowing that soapstone holds heat and is easily formed, it was a valuable commodity thousands of years ago.

At one time, this quarry was of interest for Robert Hunter Wingate Bruce up to 1924 and eventually for The Sumburgh Mining Co., apparently up to and around the early 1970’s. In accordance with the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act of 1979, the Catpund area was registered in the General Register of Sasines, counties of Orkney and Zetland October 28, 1988 (Ref. Historic Scotland) and was soon excavated afterward. (Uh oh! There I went and put in some researchy stuff! Sorry!)

Supposedly, there’s to be a book, or something, coming soon. With this, we will just have to wait and see. But, it is tempting to wonder just how many more of these ancient quarries can be found in Shetland and where?

For myself, I got an enormous thrill seeing this quarry for the first time. Having only seen mining remnants as early as the 17th century, Catpund gave the possibility of observing a quarry that is over 3000 years old and worked at different times; independent of each other.

Please give this place a visit or two. If traveling out of Lerwick, south on A970 and having passed through Cunningsburgh, estimate about 1 kilometer from the point of leaving Cunnigsburgh. On your right, you should see the “old” asphalted road. Park here and near the burn/bridge that can be found. Follow the burn immediately up the hill from your parked car, respecting the fencing and minding your step. About 250 meters, and along the burn, you should see a small fenced-off area. This is the Catpund Quarry. (Ordnance Survey Map 466- maps are fun) Clothes and shoes appropriate for the outdoors.

REMEMBER: This is a protected and scheduled area. Do Not Disturb…anything! Treat it like a crime scene. Much more must be learned from it. Just observe and enjoy.

For fun, ask yourselves these questions…

    How much of the stone has been removed out of the earth over the years?
    How big of an area all around was used?
    What tools did people use to chisel out bowls, plates etc.?
    How many unfinished implements can still be found waiting for its owner to return?
    What was the work like? Did they work in groups? Alone? Were children along?
    What have I learned from my visit? Did I enjoy it? Will I have use of this knowledge someday in the future?

Whew! Now, a couple of pictures from Catpund Quarry…for the less energetic!
catpundminevy05-copyPhoto: Panoramic view of Catpund Quarry area. In foreground dwellings possibly from Middle Ages
catpundquarry01Photo: Thousands of years ago, people chiseled out useful implements leaving shadows of these in the soapstone at Catpund Quarry

Nya små liv.

Så här såg gårdagen ut på den strand där vi åt lunch, strosade och njöt av det fina vädret.quendalebeach15

På vägen dit såg vi att hagarna börjar fyllas med nya små liv. Officiellt har inte lamningen kommit igång men vissa får tjuvstartar! De allra tidigaste lammen kom faktiskt för flera veckor sedan. Det är inte alls önskvärt har vi förstått för de föds ju och vistas utomhus och vädret kan ju lämna en del att önska. Lamningen kommer att dra igång för fullt om ca två veckor och då kommer hagarna att vara fulla med dessa fantastiskt söta lamm.


På vägen hem såg vi kor och några ganska nya kalvar i en hage. När vi stannade för att titta och fotografera såg vi att en ko rörde sig lite oroligt. Närmare inspektion genom kikaren avslöjade att hon höll på att föda. Två små klövar stack ut. Vi väntade och såg mer och mer av frambenen komma fram och till sist huvudet. När huvudet väl var framme gick resten ganska fort. Vips låg kalven på gräset.


En fantastisk avslutning på en härlig dag.

When Dad Died…

…a couple of years ago, I was home for his last week in this life. He had lived alone for a year and did a commendable job with clearing-out Mom’s things; she having passed away a year before. Having always said he loved life, it was now Dad’s turn to leave us. I think, as circumstances were, he was confused, sad, frustrated and scared that last week.

Once, the minister was there doing his job; seeing if he could be of help. I overheard him saying that things will be all right and Dad replying in a very horse voice, “I truly hope so”.

Thinking back, Dad had lived a hard life. Beaten as a child by a dominant father, struggling as a boy through the Great Depression and being bullied, having barely gotten through school. The last year, as I would call him every week, he would talk about things. Things that was personal and fond to him. Like being on the Gerber Farm.

Dad talked about being at the Gerber Farm and how much he enjoyed it. John and Ida Gerber owned the farm and had one son, Frank. The farm was somewhere near Alliance, Oh. Dad was there between 12 and 16 years of age (during the 1930’s) and would live several weeks during the year with the Gerbers, sort of to ease the situation at his own home. As he talked, he seemed to think of them as second parents. He was just like a member of the family, went to church with them, had dinners and it was a get-away for him and, perhaps, a pleasant alternative from his life with his real family.

Sometimes, he would be with them even on holidays and school breaks but most of the time it was summers and as a helper. He would take a trolley or train from Massillon to Alliance or that Dad’s father, Albertum (Burt), would arrange alternate ways.

As he spoke of the Gerbers, he had a nice sparkle in his eye, one of remembrance. He said he would really want to go back up there to see what the place looked like, just one more time.

He had a good relationship with these people, except Frank who would play tricks on this “helper”. John and Ida would give Dad clothes to wear and, as Dad said, they took the time to teach him important things, both with being a farm helper and about life in general. Dad was responsible with keeping the barn clean and keeping things straight. John had often told Dad that he did a good job and was a very good worker.

Once, when Dad arrived to the farm, John Gerber had bought 100 baby chicks, or “peeps” for one dollar. He gave these to Dad to do with, as he wanted. Well, Dad liked the peeps and had no idea about what to do with them. People nearby knew about his peeps and asked Dad what he was going to do with them? Dad didn’t know other than that he had to take care of them, and that’s what he was going to do.

Because of his other chores, Ida said she could take care of them for Dad but would want pay for her work. Dad said that was O.K. and laughed at this, because he didn’t have any money and so the deal wouldn’t be any problem.

Ida took care of the chicks as they grew. She fed them. After a time, when the chicks were older, she killed them, picked the feathers off, sold some but prepared the rest as meals for themselves. She sat down with Dad and, in black and white, showed him all the costs. She tallied the initial investment, her labour, the cost of feed and a pen for them as well as what she had sold. Dad got a very good lesson in business economy from this.

When it was all counted up after expenditures, Dad had made a profit of four and a half dollars. Dad smiled and said, “it was a chunk of money for those times.”

dad_img-copyAs a father with a family, Dad always had his heart “ out in the country”. Whether it was the houses we lived in, the baling of hay as boys at “the old farmhouse”, Kidron auctions, tomato gardens, new mown hay or smell of manure being spread on the fields at springtime, the country never left Dad. It was that single sparkle that fathers keep in their shirt pockets, when real life can be cruel; when life doesn’t turn out like one wishes.

For myself, I miss Dad! I miss chatting with him over the phone. I miss listening to him reminisce. I miss his subtle humor. I miss his postcards; his Christmas cards, his letters, his bundles of paper, his awkward handwriting. I miss…

He’s resting with Mom at Stanwood cemetery now. But, more so, I truly hope things “became all right” for him and he’s elsewhere…on a farm…enjoying it…and finally living his dream.

PS– Written because we watched a cow give birth to its calf on a farm in Quendale today! The familiar smell of spring work in the air, too.

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!)

Det blommar igen…

Mitt i Lerwick finns en liten park som just nu blommar för fullt. Hur många lökar det finns där vet jag inte men det måste vara tusentals. Allt från små blå pärlhyacinter till fullstora hyacinter i alla möjliga färger.flowers06

flowers08Här finns naturligtvis påskliljor och andra blommor och buskar.


Efter promenaden i det otroligt färgglada blomhavet i parken gick vi ner till centrum till ett av våra favorit “hang outs” Karibuni. Karibuni är ett litet mat/kaffe ställe med Shetlands bästa kaffe.


Väl hemma i Gulberwick igen lade vi märke till att en del påskliljor är så trångbodda att de försöker smita ut.


Med andra ord, våren har kommit till Shetland med stormsteg… Men vädret är lika opålitligt som vanligt, en solig dag följs av en blåsig, regnig eller dimmig. Men när solen skiner är det jättehärligt!

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

Det blommar!

Påskliljor verkar vara Shetlands nationalblomma. De finns överallt;  i trädgårdar, längs vägar, bredvid busskurer,  i buskar m fl ställen.  Det lyser gult överallt! För en annan som endast sett enstaka påskliljor i bukett form på Konsum är det ganska häftigt.




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


stonewallwinter01_45Detta är väggen på ett mer eller mindre raserat hus. Dessa väggar finns överallt här på Shetland tillsammans med kilometervisa murar. De är så otroligt vackra och man kan inte låta bli att tänka på all den kraft som gick åt för dessa byggnationer. Inte nog med att det skulle byggas, stenen  skulle brytas och fraktas också.


Dessa väggar och murar skiftar i alla möjliga färger beroende på stenen, ålder, lavar och ljusets skiftningar m.m.

stonewallwinter03_45Man kan inte annat än imponeras och förundras!