Walking on Shetland

Today, I am focusing on the natural landscape and walking in Shetland, together with some more about the local dialect. Once I have walked off the busyness of my mind, my body starts to relax and I start to be filled up again with the scent of the hawthorn and the surround-sound of the birds. Nature is my inspiration, endlessly fascinating whatever the season, especially in out-of-the-way places. And now, as I walk, I can hear the lilt of Shetland women speaking to me about home and a sense of belonging to their Islands, and find there is something reassuring and soft about it.

I am pleased to be sharing Shetland with Leah’s blog on the Clift Hills. This range runs north / south on the west edge of the Mainland beside the Clift Sound which divides them from the islands of East Burra and Houss Ness.

Setting off on the Blett Road at 11am. Photo Leah

You will see that the snow is on the ground in this photo, but in fact today in Shetland we have 11 degrees and it’s really quite sunny – no white to be seen! Although not munros, the hills she climbs afford magnificent views: from Scroo (248m) and Holm Field (290) she could see the islands of Mousa, Bressay, Whalsay and Skerries to the east, while South Havra, Foula, Burra, Trondra, Scalloway, Tingwall (inland), Westerwick (near Skeld) and Ronas Hill on Northmavine are on the west. What sights!

Marram grass

Here’s a pointer towards some of the vocabulary she uses:

  • paet – peat, the springy turf-plus-earth which Shetland women traditionally carried on their backs in a…
  • kishie – a straw basket or creel which can be made from marram (photo above) or oats, which Ewen Balfour (wovencommunities.org) uses to make them nowadays
  • ganzies (or ganseys) – jerseys or jumpers
  • a guttery mess, a purt – anything metaphorically messy. It can be used to describe gossip: purt o clash, for example
  • toorie – a woollen cap
  • cairn – there’s a photo in Leah’s blog! it means a pile of stanes – stones as a memorial or landmark. Often we will pick one up at the start of our jouney and carry it to the top to add to the little tower that’s already there
  • bux – I am not sure, but I am guessing from the context that it means something like walk or make ‘our way down’ the hill. If you know, please do leave the correct meaning in a comment below.

Note: there’s a lovely old photo of a woman carrying a kishie on wovencommunities.org

A typical peat bog, Orkney.

Again, Leah’s blog is here (with permission).

‘…when you are stood 953 feet above the world and the islands are literally shining with pride all around you; the clean, beautiful air so pure and unspoiled;….It is then that Shetland reminds you JUST how lucky you are to be stood on its incomparable land

Leah

Shetland For Wirds promotes the Shetland dialect – history, poetry, prose, drama and a dictionary, to name just some of what they offer.

A tiny photo of women carrying kishies (baskets usually carrying peat) 1900-1910. Image: Shetland Museum and rchives

Other walking links:

Shetland.org walking page ‘The walker has the rare opportunity to discover ancient historical sites dating back to Neolithic times…’

The incomparable Walk Highlands website on Shetland. ‘Although the highest point is only 450m, Shetland is magnificent terrain for walkers, especially those who wish to explore away from the beaten track. The islands offer much of the best UK coastal walking…’

Shetland Amenity.org ‘There has been a traditional freedom of access across the isles with many places suitable to walk’, but I have read that there is so much protected wildlife on the isles that you are recommended to follow marked paths or even consult a guide, so that you don’t disturb the birds.

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