All aboard the MV Hjaltland

Lerwick harbour

Shetland may have the unwelcome distinction of being the archipelago most likely to be parked off Aberdeen on ill-mannered maps but during the year they are the centre of the universe for many, first in Shetland Wool Week, then Taste of Shetland in October.

A regular traveller on Northlink, it was with great pleasure we were their guests on our way to and from Taste of Shetland… and invited to The Bridge. No not that one with the murders, a much more interesting one on board MV Hjaltland, with Second Officer Lindsay Johnstone. Once clear of Lerwick harbour, we reported to Reception before going for a meal until the Bridge was ready to receive visitors. 

Northlink take pride in using island produce and I can recommend the beef bourguignon made with local beef, while Bosse tucked into haddock and chips. When Debbie Garson, the Purser, came to collect us, she chuckled that she hoped it would stay down. I hoped it would too! The staff are cheery, the service prompt and the tables spotless – there were even place mats ensuring my dish stayed on the table as a windy crossing was forecast. 

Second Officer Lindsay Johnstone

Debbie guided us past the officers’ control room, upwards through coded doors and security locks until finally we slipped through black drapes into what seemed pitch black until our night sight settled…then what a sight: a moonlit horizon and a dozen large illuminated dials. We could see Sumburgh airport, and a lighthouse far to the south. With not a light other than the dials, it was amazing how our eyes adapted and panoramic views emerged. It was mesmerising. Second Officer Lindsay’s calm expertise and enthusiasm ensured all 300 souls were in safe hands, alongside the Captain and other Officers. 

Cooking Native Shetland lamb on stage

Taste of Shetland has become an established and highly regarded event on the foodie calendar. This year featured Coinneach Macleod, The Hebridean Baker along with Peter McQueen, author of The Art of Hutting, who both enriched the event with their stories and songs, recipes and warm humour.  We met travellers from far and wide with an avid interest in all things Shetland, alongside locals keen to see their distinctive heritage continued and appreciated… for these islands are indeed truly unique.

Ronnie Eunson at Uradale with Shetland Kye

Thanks to Shetlanders like the Isbisters of Burland Croft and the Eunsons of Uradale (main photo) rare breeds have been saved and reared, bred and brought to market, ensuring their existence for future generations. All are exceptionally rare and a dozen Shetland species and varietals are recognised on Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste, including birds, cattle, sheep and vegetables. That’s more than any other region in the British Isles and quite an accolade as the criteria set down for the Ark of Taste exceeds any other European accreditation. Some are endangered and unobtainable but there are many other delicious local foods that are easy to access such as Shetland Black tatties and wet salt-cured ling.

Jakob with his champion sassermaet cup at Taste of Shetland

It’s always a pleasure to cook on stage as I did with such wonderful Ark ingredients including Uradale Native Shetland lamb and (homegrown) Shetland Kale with Bere Berries from Barony Mill . In addition to their Native Shetland Lamb, the Eunsons rear Shetland Kye and make Reestit Mutton and Sassermaet. Here’s Jakob Eunson winning the cup for his Champion Sassermaet. The flavours of these pure-bred heritage breeds, born and raised on heath-clad hills, are second to none. Breed and feed should never be underestimated, and frankly, if it can be done on wild and windswept Shetland, there are opportunities for other indigenous breeds to thrive elsewhere in Scotland – better for our health, our environment and our food tourism.

With today’s environmental and ethical concerns, it is also more relevant than ever to value natural fibres such as Shetland wool and nowhere is this more apparent than at the Eunson’s where age-old traditions of Shetland knitters continue alongside inspiring new creations from Ronnie’s partner, Viveka, who works her magic with their exquisite Uradale Yarns in every natural hue.

Her expertise is beyond words and the finished articles are works of art. No wonder folk travel thousands of miles to visit their home and dive into their imaginative wool emporium, like kids in a sweetie shop, examining multiple shades of pure joy. They also kindly hold a stock of our book. It was such a pleasure to spend time with the Eunson family and to share great food and conversation.

Scotland is blessed with such natural beauty and Shetland certainly has it in spades. Thanks to Ann Cleeves’ novels, Shetland is popular elsewhere too and appears on several European channels – indeed many of our Swedish friends follow it avidly and comment the murders almost rival that of Midsomer! That apart, the scenery is spectacular, the ancient and modern history unique and the food culture incredible. 

Tasty hake @No88

All too soon it was time to head home to Fife but not until we had shared a delightful seafood meal of scallops followed by hake at Shetland’s excellent No88 in Lerwick; been invited to tea and fruit cake with the lovely Isbisters, and nipped into the charming Harbour Knitwear in Scalloway where I purchased a hand-knitted satchel (below). I couldn’t resist and, unlike Viveka, my skills don’t stretch that far.

A ferry is so much more fun than a plane and we could bring up a case of our books for the Shetland Times Bookshop. You can also take home goodies – we have a car fridge so not only did we return with Shetland knits and Uradale yarns but also a whole Organic Native Shetland Uradale lamb and a selection of Shetland Kye cuts, all immaculately butchered by Jakob and oven-ready. We shall be able to recall those happy hours spent on Shetland as we savour the marvellous produce and look forward to our next visit. 

Bosse & Wendy with Karen from Shetland Times Bookshop


Scottish Bread Championship (all information on the link) is on Friday 23rd February (the judging hall is closed to visitors) and the following day, on Saturday 24thFebruary is the Scottish Festival of Real Bread that is open to the all and not to be missed at Bowhouse in Fife (programme below). The Championship winners will be announced, alongside stalls including Scotland The Bread  Cairn O’Mohr Something Corny , Meet the Baker, heritage grains, workshops and talksA big thank you to Edinburgh Bakers Trust for their support with the Championship and to Andrew Whitley and his STB team for working miracles for the Festival. Besides free entry with lots to see and do, there are also ticketed specials so don’t miss out as they’ll fill up fast. Book them on the link. I’d like to thank all the fabulous volunteers we have lined up to help make this happen – their enthusiasm and support is greatly appreciated.



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