I just got back from 8 wonderful days on Shetland Island. Amber and I had been before (we just wrote a book about it!) and I was excited to go back as its one of my favorite places I've visited. We were invited to take part in a special industry tour with Maryjane Mucklestone and Gudrun Johnston who offer knitting tours to the public as well. I had the pleasure of hanging out and travelling with designers, yarn producers, and industry friends on this trip and it was so much fun.
During my week in Shetland we stayed at the lovely Burrastow guesthouse on a remote cove on the west side of the island. We went on many hikes, took tours of two mills and one farm, visited two museums, traveled to the northerly most island of Unst and of course, there was a lot of knitting!
Shetland is a stunning and remote place to visit. It is hard to get to, but worth it. During the summer, this island in the North Sea stays light almost continuously. We took advantage of this for many after-dinner hikes around the island.
Shetland is full of birds including Puffins, Gannets and many types of sea birds. It is also full of two of my favorite things: ponies and sheep. Because there are no natural predators, sheep roam and graze free on the island and can be seen everywhere. Shetland sheep are perfectly adapted to the harsh climate of Shetland and can survive on the limited vegetation of heather, seaweed and grass that is available. Shetland sheep are a primitive sheep breed developed from sheep that Vikings would have brought to the island. They still "roo" or naturally shed their fleece which will be caught on vegetation in the landscape and is called "hentilags". The sheep come in a variety of colors so you can get a range of naturally colored fleeces (and yarn!)
During my trip I got to go to Unst - the northernmost island of the UK. From mainland Shetland it is about a 1- 2 hour drive and 2 ferries to get to Unst and I would highly recommend it! Unst is a magical world of cliffs, beaches, sheep and not too many humans. There are a ton of viking ruins as well as neolithic sites. We got to visit a reproduction viking longhouse and viking ship. The rich viking legacy on Unst gives it an otherworldly quality. It is also beautiful. We hiked up to the cliffs at Hermaness to looks at birds and sheep and stunning views. There is a small heritage center on Unst that has a great exhibit on lace knitting. Knitting fine lace shawls was a big part of the way that women could make money for their families. There were no photos allowed in the center, but it is worth a stop if you make it up there. I learned that lace shawls were whitened by smoking them over sulfur smoke!
Shetland is known for its traditions of stranded color work (fair isle) and lace which I will be discussing more this week. Also stay tuned for tours of both Jamieson's and Jamiesons and Smith, Uradale Organic farm, and much more!