The tombolo to St.Ninian’s Isle, Shetland
A few notes on a recent visit to Shetland: There were no flights the day before or after, due to fog. But we were lucky – and so began our first trip to these magical islands last week. Approaching the Arctic circle, with most of its territory above 60 degrees North, we flew from a sunny 30C in Lewes to a bracing 11C or so. After that exhilarating feeling of being out in a wild landscape, with the sea always near at hand, we retreated each evening to the Northern Lights Holistic Spa – an absolute delight to stay in, with incredible food and a whole range of treatments available, from lying in a flotation tank to steaming in an aromatherapy box.
In the south of the island (where you drive across the airport runway!) there is an extraordinary site – Jarlshof – where 4,000 years of human habitation can be seen – from neolithic houses to the ruins of the 17th century laird’s house. The earliest ones were inhabited for 2,000 years – the entire stretch of modern history that has seen so many changes. Unlike Skara Brae on Orkney, which is more well-known, Jarlshof is remarkable for its overlapping examples of housing from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pictish, Norse and Medieval eras, right the way through to the 1600s.
A little further North, on the western coast, is the site of St.Ninian’s chapel, reached across a bar of sand known as a tombolo. Although St.Ninian never actually visited the chapel, its setting is glorious. There is a real sense of peace here.
We were warned that the best food might be found in the harbour vending machines, but this is not true: if you eat at the Scalloway Hotel, Northern Lights Spa on Bressay, or in the very smart-looking Shetland Museum in Lerwick you’ll be eating some of the best meals you’ve ever tasted.
A Taatit rug from Shetland
And the great find for us? Taatit blankets and rugs, and their story. Have a look at the examples here and at these two blogs if you want to read more about them: Woolwinding and Donna Smith Designs. The photos are from their blogs.
Taatit rugs are unique to Shetland, but all across the Nordic world and Ireland you can find their relatives. Taatits were placed faced down on the bed (which was often in a wooden box to keep out draughts) to hold in the warmth, and to protect the sleeper from the dangers of bad spirits, such as mischievous trows and maras (hags) who could sit on your chest and suffocate you. These blankets were often given as gifts to newly-weds and were then handed down as heirlooms. They were made in two sections, which were unstitched to wash, then re-stitched, which accounts for the misalignment you see in some examples. Later, people starting making rugs with similar designs as the bedcovers. Nobody seems to be making taatits any more, which is a great shame.
A Taatit blanket from Shetland
Detail of a Taatit rug from Shetland on display at the Shetland Museum
Bressay is a populated island in the Shetland Islands of Scotland.
Geography and geology
Bressay lies due south of Whalsay, west of Noss, and north of Mousa. At 11 square miles (28 km2), it is the fifth largest island in Shetland. The population is around 360 people, concentrated in the middle of the west coast, around Glebe and Fullaburn.
The island is made up of Old Red Sandstone with some basaltic intrusions. Bressay was quarried extensively for building materials, used all over Shetland, especially in nearby Lerwick. There are a number of sea caves and arches. The largest of eleven lochs on the island are the Loch of Grimsetter in the east, and the Loch of Brough.
Bressay has a large number of migrant birds, especially in the east. The Loch of Grimsetter is a haven for waders and whooper swans. In the far south, there is a colony of Arctic skuas.
The name of the island may have been recorded in 1263 as 'Breiðoy' (Old Norse "broad island"). In 1490 the island is referred to as "Brusoy" - "Brusi's island".
The Bressay Stone is an outstanding example of Pictish art.
- a slab of chloriteslate, about 16 inches wide at the top, tapering to less than a foot at the bottom.
The slender sides are engraved with ogham, and the two faces with various examples of knotwork, and imagery. The top of each face has a cross. On one side, there is an engraving of two men with crosiers, as well as various animals including horses, pigs, and what appears to be someone in the process of being swallowed by two sea monsters. It has been suggested that this is Jonah.
During World War I and II gun emplacements were built to guard Bressay Sound.
Attractions on the island include Bressay Lighthouse. At Maryfield there is a heritage centre, a hotel and the old laird's mansion, Gardie House, built in 1724. The Northern Lights Spa Hotel at Uphouse is Britain's most northerly spa.
Frequent car ferries sail from Maryfield to Lerwick on the Shetland Mainland. During the summer months, a passenger ferry service links the east coast of Bressay with the nature reserve island of Noss.
Lerwick and Bressay Parish Church (of the Church of Scotland) has three places of worship. The Bressay Church building is located close to the Marina, near the centre of the west coast of the island.
- Images of Bressay
Full-rigged ship Maella, of Oslo, in Bressay Sound circa 1922
The Pictish Bressay Stone
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Coordinates: 60°09′N1°05′W / 60.150°N 1.083°W / 60.150; -1.083