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Looking Back: February 1970

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In February 1970, Andrew E Lambie wrote a diary piece for Life and Work about his experience of Shetland. In these extracts, he describes the life of a busy and metropolitan fishing port - before the oil boom a few years later.  

This Is Shetland

by Andrew E. Lambie


What brings a man to Shetland?

As a divinity student in Glasgow, what did I know of the islands? What indeed does anyone know of them who has not seen them for himself?

When I did decide to move to Lerwick, the map of which hangs in the Home Board office at ‘121’ – one of the few maps I’ve seen which shows Shetland in the proper place, and not 150 miles south where it is set in an unlikely square box – it reminded me of the stark geographical facts. It haunted my dreams. What was I going north to Shetland for?

Now, I look back on an interesting , exciting and busy five years.

Remote Shetland may be, but one could never regard it as withdrawn from the world or from reality.

There can be few busier or more cosmopolitan communities of 6000 folk than the ‘capital’ town of Lerwick, few more varied or stimulating worlds in miniature of 17,000 folk than the islands as a whole.

The Port of Lerwick is thronged, winter and summer, with men and boats of many nations. The waters round the islands are a great international fishing centre and Lerwick is its metropolis.

Some are driven in by bad weather, or to land sick or injured men or to take supplies. Others come to rest and relax after the unrelenting toil of their calling.

Icelanders and Germans, Poles and Norwegians, Russians and Faroese: these and many more throng the streets of the town. Their boats crowd the harbour.

Not only foreign boats come here. Shetland is increasingly popular for holidays. As a glance at the Kirk Visitors Book shows they join us from all over the globe.

Some will wish to see the land of their ancestors: some will want to follow a particular hobby or interest: many seek the peace and the restful atmosphere Shetland gives.

Some, indeed, settle here – refugees, perhaps, from the rat-race of the urbanised soul-less south?

Any Language Will Do

This is Shetland. A self-contained community, fiercely independent in spirit and outlook, proud of island past and present; determined to build a successful island future.

For all those who look on remote communities such as ours as a twentieth century anachronism, a visit to to Shetland should be compulsory.

Direct contract with a lively and ambitious island people soon shatters this illusion! There’s nothing narrow or introspective about our people.

A recent wedding illustrates the interesting, not to say unique, situations which can arise.

The girl was a Shetlander working as cook on a Danish fishing-boat. She met her husband-to-be, a German, when they were in Finland.

The ring was bought in Copenhagen, the engagement was made official in Swansea, and the marriage took place in Lerwick.

Just forty-eight hours before the wedding, the bridegroom’s mother, sister and family arrived unexpectedly from Germany, by way of Sweden, aboard a freight plane.

And a happy guest at a happy wedding, was the pilot of the freight plane, a Swede, who chatted freely to the company in both English and German!

That sort of thing can only happen in Shetland.

Photos by Dennis Coutts - Commercial Street, Lerwick; The village of Voe; Mouse Castle with shetland ponies; Lerwick Harbour


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