I arrived in Fetlar on Tuesday evening and pitched my tent in the boggy field that is the official campsite. Apart from a Dutch family on the far side of the field, I was the only person there. The wind was getting up, but the light was beautiful so I had a stroll along the road taking photos of the amazing coastline, before settling in for the night.
Wednesday was a beautiful day. I started by going to the museum. As I drove up a boy was doing cartwheels in the car park, obviously really enjoying the sun. He turned out to be the curator and tourist info guy. When I turned into the car park he went back inside and stood behind the counter and was very professional.
The museum had lots of local history, geology, etc. There was a big display on William Watson Cheyne who had a house in Fetlar. There were lots of connections with places I’ve been so I was quite interested. He was born on his father’s ship just off Tasmania and christened in the Scottish church in Hobart. He’d worked in King’s College Hospital. His family were from Tangwick Haa.
I spoke to C (the young curator) and an older woman who came in. She was a trustee of the museum. The curator had left suddenly and they had a new one starting in another week or so. The new one was a lady from the Isle of Sheppey. As the museum was currently curatorless the trustees had been opening it up and working in it voluntarily. They’d also got the island’s teenagers to get involved and do shifts. C was one of those. He was 14 years old and originally from Warrington. He’d moved to Fetlar with his younger sister 18 months ago when his mum got the district nurse job. C was a student at the Anderson, the main high school for Shetland's children of secondary school age. He’d started at the high school in Unst but didn’t like the travelling and having to get up at 6am and not getting home till 5pm. He was really happy at the Anderson, living in the hostel. He said everyone, kids and teachers, had made him feel part of things from the start. He felt they got a lot a more freedom then he had in Warrington too. There are no school uniforms in Shetland schools, but he said it gets a bit boring wearing your own clothes as then you have nothing different to wear in your own time.
He told me there were nine children currently on Fetlar, but a family with two more, including a girl his age, were due to arrive on Friday. It seemed that life on Fetlar is ‘moving up’ – families are moving in and the primary school which has been closed for a couple of years as there were no children that age, is about to re-open as there are now two children to go to it. The previous teacher is coming back.
It seems a good thing to do to get the teenagers involved in the museum as not only do they get to know about their island, it’s great work experience. Where else would a 14 year old be doing shifts in a museum by himself, dealing with tourist info queries, both in person as the museum doubles as the tourist info office, and fielding overflow calls from the main Lerwick tourist office?
The woman trustee showed me some old photos including one of her and her friends standing outside the Anderson hostel back in their school days there. There was a woman visitor in the museum who said she had also been a pupil at the Anderson. She is now a teacher, though not there. I don’t think she lives in Shetland. Three generations of Anderson students together – this must be quite normal here, where everyone will have these connections and links.
The woman also showed me a photo of the old church. This has now been rebuilt as the modern community centre and the only original part seems to be the internal roof. All dark wood. She was the last person to get married in this church back in 1969. As there weren’t the ferry links then it was a massive task to get all the food and guest together. Fetlar weddings she said, at least back then, can go on for days.
Fetlar is hoping to get good enough internet connections that people on the island can start working from home doing council jobs and so on. Teleworking. This would be good in further encouraging people to move to Fetlar. There are about 70 people at the moment.
I left the museum still giggling at the thought of the museum curator doing cartwheels in the car park. It kept me amused all day.
Before going to the museum I’d called in at the well-stocked shop to pay for camping. I spoke to the woman who had moved up from the Midlands a year or two ago to take over the shop. She told me about riots that have been happening in cities in England, including Manchester. Apparently police had shot someone in London and a demonstration about this had turned into a riot that had spread around the country. It seemed to be more an opportunity for thugs and looters to have a field day than anything political though. I love that I can be in a place in the UK and yet not know about something as major as this happening. It really is like a different world. She also told me that because of the film that’s currently being shot in Shetland, The One Show had been up and done some of their own filming. The shop woman had been interviewed, but she wasn’t sure when it was going to be on.I next went to the community centre where there is the Fetlar Café. I had a Panini and coffee – a cafetiere of very good strong coffee and then followed it with a homemade golden bay flavour icecream. The cook in the café used to be the school cook until the school closed down. The café job is part-time so she’s thinking about selling her ice-cream commercially. A small tub with a simple ‘Fetlar ice cream’ label was £1.80. Most of the ingredients she sources locally, but obviously some she can’t. Golden Bay has the cream flavoured with bay leaves and then it’s sweetened with golden syrup instead of sugar. The homemade cakes looked good too.
Leaving the café I drove the short distance to Funzie Loch (Funzie is pronounced Finney) I watched two red-throated divers on the loch for a while and then walked to the hide where I sat for over an hour looking for exciting wildlife. I saw a rabbit. The Dutch family were also at the hide but didn’t stay very long. When I left the hide I walked up across a boggy, burn criss-crossed moor to the old derelict coast guard station. There were quite a few bonxies about , but they were enjoying flying about and not at all interested in me. I then walked round the headland taking photos and stopping to admire the views. It was late when I got back to my car and I didn't get back to my tent till about 8pm. It's wonderful having such long days, even at this time it was still broad daylight.
The following morning I had a bit of a lazy start. I had a shower and got packed up and then went back to the café for lunch and a gooseberry and elderflower ice cream. More gooseberry taste than elderflower, but delicious all the same.
I left the car back at the campsite and waked down to Tresta beach. I intended walking along the beach and then following a path to the high point of the cliffs above. I had a quick look at the church – lots of memorials to various locals of bygone times - and then made my way to the beach. I got interested in the rocks and shells and spent my time walking up and down and collecting some of them instead of going up onto the hill. I only left when it was time to collect my car for the drive to the pier to catch the 4.45pm ferry.