First Impressions.


Norrie and I spent the weekend exploring. After three hours of using our B&B skills to clean the Studio and move in, we started by driving to Lerwick and visiting the museum. There is so much to see there that we were full after an hour and decided the collection held enough interest to demand a second visit. There is a contemporary gallery running adjacent to the culture, history, geology and archeology displays and the exhibition was a wonderful compliment. The work was by artist Lois Walpole, a textile artist who collects polypropylene waste from the fishing industry, ghost gear, found washed up on the beach and woven into modern objects. This was displayed as an installation which provokes a subtle commentary on the heritage of Shetland. Amongst other things there were beads spun from unraveled rope reminding me to fishing floats, place mats laid on a table to demonstrate how many people lived in a small croft and baskets woven into sculptural forms which made reference to the baskets used to carry peat away from the cuttings on the hill.


I used the geological display to research interesting places. Places that drew my curiosity and might prove to become subjects in some way.

Living in the Highlands as we do, it is interesting to compare the similarity and the divergence of how life was lived in the past. Shetland is more different that I had imagined. With ancient trading links to Northern Europe it feels like another world and the language is different too.

The following day we decided to investigate one peninsula which looked remote but not too far or inaccessible. The geology is red sandstone and so the topography has a subtle difference. More intimate in scale with a dramatic coastline, it helped me realise that there are two types of coast on Shetland. The dramatic and ferocious outer rim and the flooded valleys or Voes of the interior after the melting of the ice age. I thought I was looking for drama, steep precipitous cliffs, arches and stacks. Having found just such a place I realised that on my own I would not feel safe and Norrie became concerned that if I slipped no one would know who I was or where to find me. So I agreed to look for safer places and as I get vertigo it wasn’t a hard promise to make because I am actually too frightened to look over the edge!


Before Norrie returned to the mainland we had time to explore Jarlshof, an archeological site run by Historic Scotland near the southern tip of the islands. Revealed by a storm at the end of the nineteenth century it proved to be not only the best ancient site on Shetland but to demonstrate human habitation for four thousand years. The structures were built one on top of the other. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the building which seemed so organic and yet so sophisticated. There was something haunting about the similarity with the workings of bees in a hive and the way the wheelhouses were designed as circular structures reminding me that humans and nature are one and the same and that it is only recently that we have lost a connection with the natural rhythms that once ruled our lives.

Already we have seen several places where there are double beaches or Tombolo, one facing west and one facing east. This was true for Jarlshof too. If the wind and sea were too rough and strong from the west, ancient man could go east to fish and find food. Shetland is also an isolated archipelago and as such has developed alone. People, plants and animals have had time to develop away from other influence and with the extension of the gulf stream it is warmer here than similar places on the same latitude like Anchorage in Alaska.

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