People really struggle to imagine what living in Shetland is like. Trying to explain it can be quite tricky when people have this image in their head of this barren, windswept island with nothing but sheep and Shetland ponies and, sometimes, I can’t blame them. Google image Shetland and that’s what you’ll get. Watch a documentary and all you’ll see is otters and puffins populating our islands. Even the Shetland crime drama (as good as it is) paints Shetland as this bleak, crime-ridden town where everyone speaks pure Glaswegian.
But what about the real Shetland? It’s rarely captured. Our festivals, our heritage, our sense of community… that’s what makes living here so special. Yes, the ponies are cute and I never take our wildlife for granted, but when you actually live here, there is so much more to Shetland.
Take Saturday for example. I woke up to a blustery day. One which you could be tempted to stay under the duvet for. In the city, days like that are for nothing more than staying home or taking shelter in a café. But for me, I had an opportunity to get out to the wilds and grasp what the day had to offer. It was cold, so after years of experiencing the northerly winds here I wrapped up warm resembling the Michelin man in my three layers of thermals and woollens.
A 37 mile drive, 45 minutes later we arrived in Eshaness. The sheer cliffs engulfed with raging, foaming sea so white you could see it in the distance as we approached. I shrieked and both Maurice and I couldn’t believe how spectacular the sight was.
The Eshaness cliffs are probably the most famous cliffs in Shetland because they are the most accessible. Towering 160 feet above the sea below, the Eshaness cliffs are a geologist’s dream. Coming to an abrupt end on the earth you are suddenly very small on the edge of the island standing looking out to the masses of Atlantic Ocean. “The spectacular cliffs you see today cut right through the flank of what was the Eshaness volcano. It has been described as ‘the best section through the flank of a volcano in the British Isles” – Shetland Heritage Culture
I’ve been to Eshaness many times before, but never on a day like this. This was something extraordinary. Gusting 50 knots, smashing the waves onto the cliff sides creating the frothiest sea I’d ever seen, yet the sky was bright blue and calm. The sun at times was warm, yet the sea was raging. The thing is, we are often battered with storms here in Shetland, but usually that brings dark, heavy skies and poor visibility. But this day was a beautiful storm. The sky was bright blue, the sea was a gorgeous deep turquoise and the sun was shining though the storm. Now I want you to imagine this scene, but with howling winds taking your breath away and the sound of massive crashes and smashes as the Atlantic Ocean flung itself full force into the cliff side and rumbled into the many caves and subterranean passages below. Summer and winter were happening all at once.
Completely swathed, only my cheeks were exposed. I could feel the sea salt sting my skin as the cold gale attacked me. Constantly being drenched in sea spray from the waves and sometimes losing my breath to the howling wind, this was an experience you had to take responsibility in. Having grown up in Shetland it’s been drilled into me from a young age how dangerous the coast can be, so I’m well aware of my boundaries and I’m always cautious and sensible. I grew up playing on the banks or down at the beach, so I have a bit of wit and knowledge about me regarding these situations, but please don’t underestimate the dangers to consider if you are in Shetland exploring.
Five hours were well spent enjoying the different viewpoints around Eshaness. At the lighthouse the blow hole was firing up the sea every few waves. The wind was strong, so I wedged myself between two rocks to gain some stability to capture some photos, although at times it was impossible to hold the camera up let alone still enough to take a decent shot. I didn’t seem to care that I was soaking wet with sea spray, I couldn’t believe how beautiful this show was, then, as if by magic in the heart of this craziness, a rainbow appeared in Calder’s Geo…
We moved along, down onto Stenness beach where we took shelter in the ruins of the old fishing böd to make a quick cup of tea before wandering along to the piece de la resistance of Eshaness. Crouched among the rocks for protection, we took our time admiring the Dore Holm in all its glory standing strong in the ocean as the sea charged at it over and over again.
One thousand shots later we headed out to the quirky bench which overlooks the Isle of Stenness, the headland is 90 feet that the waves were breaking over. Although it was freezing the adrenalin was enough to allow us to sit and enjoy this moment in which we were joined by an otter who popped up from the cliff side to see who was crazy enough to be out there on a day like this!
Eventually after gasping over and over again at a million waves, never getting bored of the sight and somehow never feeling the cold, we called it a day because I had to get back into town for an event I’d been invited to. With wind burnt cheeks, clothes thick with sea salt, cameras loaded with spectacular footage we headed back into town and with a quick turnaround I joined my friends at The String for a completely contrasting evening of fine food and wine.
The String is a new venue in Lerwick. Originally dreamt up (now I say dreamt up because at the start with literally no finances and just sheer determination, I don’t think any of these guys ever imagined this would become what it is today), a group of friends had this vision ‘The String’ a restaurant, bar and venue all in one. So they made it happen…
The String was established and opened its doors in August 2018. It is a modern restaurant, bar and venue that places strong emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and produce, relying heavily on the bountiful seafood, meat and vegetables supplied by isles producers for fresh seasonal food menus. All with an ethical responsibility to provide a welcoming venue to everyone through their suspended coffee and soup initiative:suspendedcoffees.com
As a regular frequenter, a massive fan of the food Head Chef Akshay produces, and someone who is partial to a good wine I was thrilled to be invited to their wine tasting event in partnership with Great Grog wines. Akshay and his team had prepared a five course tasting menu which had been paired with wines to suit.
When I first moved back to Shetland after experiencing life in Edinburgh, Lerwick didn’t have much of the cosmopolitan vibe I’d become accustomed to. So if you’d said to me a few years back that one day I’d be having a Edinburgh standard five course meal in Lerwick with some wine tasting I’d definitely have laughed in your face!
Luckily for me (and many others) following the opening of Mareel, Fjara, The Dowry and The String. Lerwick can offer that much more modern environment. I can now wear my city heels out in town… life in Lerwick has changed considerably since I first moved back.
So back to dinner… I was starving after being exposed to salty sea air all day. Course one was a chunk of homely baked rosemary bread which I layered in the creamy Shetland butter. Paired with an Albarino Alba Vega, Clare from Great Grog explained this pairing was to awaken your taste buds and to start your mouth watering and heck it did!
Luckily, hot off the pan came Cajun-style Shetland lamb & panko bon bons with a beetroot & parmesan risotto paired with a soft and beautiful Paparuda Pinot Noir. This was exceptional. Afterwards Chef Akshay explained the process of preparing the local lamb which had taken hours to flavour and cook. The thought and effort that had gone into this dish delivered because it was bursting with essence and substance. It was the winner for me!
In between courses Clare discussed the wines, where they were from, the grapes used and why. It was really interesting to know about the wines and why she’d paired them with these particular dishes. It’s also refreshing that The String have put effort into sourcing wines that will complement their menu and give customers the best experience.
Then came the scallops. As a massive seafood fan, scallops are always a sure hit for me. Presented in a tadka dal sauce this combination worked beautifully. I’d never had curried scallops before, but it worked very well. The local scallops were fat and fleshy along with the thick, but smooth curry sauce was delicious. Washed down with a St Martin Chardonnay I was officially in heaven. But there was more…
The last of the savoury options was Garths Croft Bressay pork, celeriac veloute, Shetland mussels with picked apples and curry oil paired with a Tabali Pedregoso Gran Reserva Viognier. Is your mouth watering yet? This menu was bursting with local produce of such excellent quality, I can’t imagine why you’d want to eat anywhere that doesn’t offer that on these Isles? Once again, another tasty course.
Then the finale, I’d have thought by this point I’d have no room for pudding, but there is always room when food tastes this good. A classic lemon tart, so light it almost floated off my plate, with whipped crème fraiche paired with a sweet desert wine, Trentham Noble Taminga, to complement the tangy lemon. A super match to conclude what had been the best evening one could hope for following a day of adventures.
After dinner was finished I was invited to join a table upstairs for a dram -that’s completely normal in Shetland, there is always someone you can join so I did. Upstairs is the quaint bar where a very well-known folk musician and his pals were enjoying a little impromptu jam session. After doing the rounds for a little while catching up and chatting to a few familiar faces I called it a night and wandered home. Could an ordinary Saturday be any better?
What a treat to be able to indulge in what Shetland has to offer. From crashing waves and dramatic cliffs by day to fine dining utilising the best of local produce by night. This is what living in Shetland is really like for me…
You can find out more about The String on their website or call to make a reservation on 01595 694921 If you’d like to get in touch their email is firstname.lastname@example.org you can also find them on Facebook and Instagram.
If you are planning on visiting Shetland do not leave without visiting The String. It showcases everything Shetland has to offer.
As mentioned, The String is also a venue which hosts a multitude of different offerings. You can see what’s on via their ‘Events’ page. There really is something for everyone from beer tasting to yoga. Open mic to comedy. Local and visiting musicians. Check it out and never be bored for something to do.
A huge thank you to Mother Nature for a spectacular day and a massive thank you to everyone at The String for what was a wonderful evening.