On 2nd May, I was supposed to be making my first visit to Shetland – by train and ferry, from capital to capital, via Aberdeen. However, with the restrictions on travel and interpersonal contact imposed as a result of Covid-19 virus still in place in the UK, I cannot go until the lockdown has been lifted. My visit will now be virtual.
From Leith to Lerwick
During my initial research, I discovered that when, in 1836 the Aberdeen, Leith and Clyde Shipping Company extended a route from Leith Docks to Lerwick, Shetlanders started using it to trade wool, lace and knitted items for the markets down south. I have lived in or very close to Leith for many years and this started me thinking – perhaps I could also make a return trip, but in reverse, and maybe I would find out what it was and is like to cross 216 miles of North Sea. It must have been a real culture shock, coming from a rural crofting community to a noisy city. I remembered how hard the lads from Fife farms had found it when they started dance college in London – many returned within the first term.
I have thought a great deal about home and belonging over the years. I am English, born a ‘Kentish Maiden (KM)’ south of London. (It depends which side of the River Medway you were born as to whether you are a KM or a ‘Maid of Kent’). Also referred to as the ‘Garden of England’, Kent is where I am staying at the moment, with my mum. I left home when I was 18 years old, spent some time in Wales in my 20s, and moved to Edinburgh where I have lived for 30 years. In 2016, I began a new phase: six months of each year travelling in Europe, and six at home. I feel comfortable when I am away, I am not homesick and my and others’ relationship to their homeland is something I want to continue to try and understand more through this trip.
Walking and talking with women about home
I was hoping to invite women to walk with me when I was there, and talk about their home on Shetland as well as what it is like to leave, live elsewhere, and then go back. I am interested in what brings about a sense of belonging. The act of walking is one which can ground us, ease the flow of conversation, and connect with what can be called ‘home’, the earth. As I walk where I am and they walk where they are, I hope we can have a fruitful chat about this subject.
While I cannot go in person, I can identify some benefits in making an imaginery journey. As an inveterate walker, I had planned to explore as much of the mainland as possible on foot. I knew I would start in Lerwick for practical reasons, but from there it would depend on invitations received and what turned up, caught my interest. Now that I will be travelling virtually and ‘meeting’ folk on the phone or Zoom, I can zip backwards and forwards from Bressay in the east to Papa Stour in the west, from Unst in the north to Sumburgh on the southern tip without having to worry about ferry or bus connections. Although I would prefer to smell the real scent of the Loch of Spiggie and hear the actual squawks of the skua on the Noss coastal path, it will be quicker to get around!
Here is Christine De Luca speaking in Shetlandic, the dialect of the archipelago, sometimes called auld or broad Shetland / Shaetlan. Recorded by Wikitongues.
‘I wis boarn and bred in Shetland an maist o mi childhood wis spent in Waas….. – it means ‘Inlets o da sea’, an hit hed a fundamental effect on me, bein browt up in a croftin/ fishin community aa mi childhood. Whin I cam awa tae Edinburgh whaar I bide noo, an I’ve bidden for 50 year, hit wis redder awe-inspirin an scary.’Direct from Christine De Luca recorded by Wikitongues
I recently lead a walk in Leith focused on some of the women who lived there in the past (Walking Between Worlds) although I was unable to find much information about women from Shetland. I am on the look-out for stories about women from these far-flung northern Isles, accounts of the sea trip (the route has been discontinued), or people who have passed-down tales from friends and relations.
- Get a female perspective of the Isles – now and in the past
- Look at the topic of ‘home’: leaving home, returning, living and working there and away, in general
- Start to understand a particularly female viewpoint of home and belonging, specifically the northernmost islands which have a chequered relationship with Scotland and Scandinavia.
Thanks to Isobel Cockburn for the title photo of a loom in the Textiles Museum, Lerwick