Sunday, 31 July 2011

Spirit Dancer

The Out Skerries are 3 small islands to the north west of the Shetland Mainland. Two of the islands, which are joined by a very short bridge, are inhabited by approximately 70 people. The third is slightly further away and currently uninhabited.

I arrived in Skerries (as it's known here) on Saturday afternoon following a one and a half hour ferry journey from the northern end of Mainland. A quick drive around showed just how small these islands really are, as I'd no sooner set off when I came to the end of the road. Turn around, go the other way, same thing.

I wandered into a building that seemed to have a lot of people coming and going from it. As I peered through the glass in a door I could see a kitchen and several women bustling about preparing salads and kebabs. They waved me in and I asked about camping on the island. Basically anywhere would be ok, but by the pier could be good as there are toilets and showers there. Or I could camp by this building, which was the community centre, as they had a group of Canadian canoeists staying there and so the building would be open if I needed to get in for the toilets. The food they were preparing was for a barbecue in honour of the canoeists and I was invited.

I set up camp by the pier and just after 6pm returned to the community centre for the barbecue. Just about all of the inhabitants were there plus various weekend guests. The canoeists had a long 18 seater canoe based on native Canadian designs. Chris Cooper, his wife and a few others had brought the canoe to the UK and were spending a few summers taking it around different communities and trying to get as many people out on the water as possible. They'd had everyone from babies to 90 year olds on board.

The food was wonderful, the bar was open, the company was welcoming. After the barbecue we moved indoors to watch a slideshow, and Chris presented a specially made paddle to the community. Then the fiddles and accordians came out and the music and dancing started.

As it began to go dark the canoeists said they would need to move their canoe from the small harbour near the community centre round to the ferry pier ready for it to be loaded on to the ferry next morning so it could begin its journey to its next destination. Did anyone want to help? Of course they had plenty of offers, one of them being mine. We made our way down to the canoe, put on life jackets and slotted ourselves into position. After a quick lesson on how to paddle we were off. We closely skirted a fish farm and passed under the bridge. All too soon we were at the ferry pier. As it was getting late and I was by my tent I decided to call it a night. It had been a great evening and I loved what was essentially canoeing home from the pub.

I really have to learn to canoe or kayak and get myself one.

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