A letter from Shetland
More than 6 million people watched the BBC drama SHETLAND, broadcast at the beginning of March. For some viewers this was perhaps their first insight into life on the islands. But a two hour detective story can only give a flavour of the landscape and its people - there is a murderer to catch after all - so here's a diary of my last few days here, to give the perspective of a regular visitor.
We arrived into Lerwick on the overnight boat from Aberdeen and a hire car was waiting for us at the terminal. No fuss or form filling - because we've hired before, the keys were left at the ferry desk. Then a drive north to Brae for breakfast with our friends Ingirid and Jim. Porridge and butteries and a stunning view across the voe towards the open sea. Ingirid is a member of the women's rowing team in Whiteness and I went with her to help move the yoals - the traditional boats used for racing here. One of the hulls was damaged during the celebration to show the Olympic torch to Shetlanders and there was a complicated operation to turn it upside down for repair and painting.
The reason for our visit north was the hame-fairin' of Steven Robertson and his new wife Charlotte. Steven is the actor who played Sandy Wilson in SHETLAND and he's a native of Vidlin. It's the custom in the islands that if a wedding takes place in the south, the couple come home for a party. The bride wears the wedding dress and the guests are all in their finery, there's a bar, a band and dancing. This was a great night, with traditional food - soup, bannocks and mutton and salt beef, followed by homebakes - and a fearsome eightsome reel.
Sunday was still and sunny. Ingirid and I walked from Brae to Muckle Roe, an island attached to Shetland mainland by a short bridge. Communities raise funds by providing afternoon tea in their local halls. Sunday tea in Muckle Roe was great on cakes (OK, so there might be a food motif running through this post...) and coincided with the bulb show; there was a smell of baking and coffee and hyacinths. We got back to Brae to find that Jim had slow roasted some Mousa lamb for supper.
This morning we drove into Lerwick, the main town in the islands. I met up with some friends in Mareel, the new arts' centre that stands right on the water. Good coffee and more cake. Some big conference was going on and I bumped into MSP Tavish Scott. He told me that the Jarl's Squad from Up Helly Aa (you might have seen them in SHETLAND - they're the Vikings who set fire to the galley) are planning to go to New York for the tartan parade there. If you're in 6th Avenue during the parade look out for them. They WON'T be wearing tartan or playing bagpipes. But they'll probably look very well-fed.