2 – 12 May 2020 A virtual visit to Shetland

I had my train and ferry booked, I had done my research, but the Corona Virus got in the way. I didn’t want to miss out entirely, so I decided to make the journey in my imagination, using the resources of friends, family and the online community.

Shetland is 60 degrees north and much has been made of her connection with other lands which share the same latitude: Norway, Sweden, Finland and further, St Petersburg and Greenland. In his book, Sixty Degrees North, which acknowledges this, and examines, ‘The relationships between people and place – the tension and love…’, Malachy Tallack writes that he ‘wanted to learn about where I was and what it meant to be there.’ (Both quotes are from Chapter 1, ‘Homegoing’.)

Shetland Pony. Photo Isobel Cockburn

I, too, am fascinated by ‘Home’ and ‘Belonging’. I have set out to find more about what is ‘a sense of identity’, by chatting with some Shetland women while I am ‘visiting’. I am curious to hear about their lives and what it has been like to be a Shetlander, to move away and, sometimes, to return, or to settle here on the Scottish mainland as an ‘outsider’ .

Dr Roseanne Watt is a poet, filmmaker and musician from Shetland whose work is inspired by the landscape and language of her birthplace. I reproduce her poem here because it is a long time since I first knew I wanted to come and feel what Shetland was about for myself, and she puts some of my impetus into words most eloquently.

The Slockit Light

Maybe it’s that moon in your veins;
a swell in the blood which sent you here,
or maybe you just knew this island holds
its lost things close. Whichever way,
you seem to find yourself most where the light
wrecks: sea caves, ruined houses,
you’re taken by the folksongs of their stones,
the way a voice sounds there,
against the darkest point of the dark.

Roseanne Watt from Moder Dy published by Polygon

Research and Preparation about the route I took, Shaetlan dialect, and the aims of my Sense of Belonging project

Leith to Lerwick Days 1 and 2 charting my journey northwards and visit Lerwick’s Textile Museum and Museum and Archives

Home, Belonging and a Sense of Identity

Lerwick and Northmavine days 3 and 4, in which I write about the Press Gang, visit The Old Tolbooth and view Da Lightsome Buoy, then travel to the north west to speak to Helen Robertson about her knitting projects

Walking on Shetland

Whalsay and Bressay about Sunday Teas, these 2 smaller islands, and about home and a sense of belonging.

Wildie and Lalla, an elegiac film by Catriona Macdonald, Shona Main and Angelica Kroeger

This is my review of Roseanne Watt’s volume, first published in The Wee Review.