Sunday, August 05, 2018

The latest Beatcroft Social show and some hitherto unseen pictures!

Here's the Mixcloud player for the Beatcroft Social from 4 August 2018 - and some pictures from round and about, taken this morning (early Sunday 5 August) on my 2004 Fujifilm E550 compact camera (6.3 megapixels, as you're asking). Old CCD digicams are capable of amazing results.

The badge on my hat, by the way celebrates the excellent band Aberfeldy and the Sandy Wright song they used to perform about the late, great Tom Weir. In case you were wondering.








Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Beatcroft Social, from Hillswick, Northmavine, Greater Zetlandica, 21 July 2018

Some pretty good music I think - Squeeze, Shearwater, Greta Van Fleet, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Roxy Music and a slightly more 'heritage' direction than usual... Also available with the webcam footage from Saturday night at shetlandwebcams.com 

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Going to Unst and Yell, Shetland's northern isles? Some hard-won, practical and very personal advice

Unst and Yell are two of my favourite places. In the world. Both are blessed with extraordinary coastal scenery, wildlife, heritage, craft outlets, artists, unique botany and generally fine folk;  Unst in particular is probably the best single location anywhere to see  early monastic Christian missionary and viking archaeology. Better than Orkney? Uh huh. And it is The Northernmost. The Ultimate Isle. Try the Westings, Or Lund or Norwick. It's like Game of Thrones only better. Without the bloodshed. Skye but no pesky mountains. It's got a Cold War Nuclear bunker! Maybe a spaceport in the future. There's a viking longboat and you can climb in!

In winter, things slow down in these redoubts of the dark-sky experience. And if you're a connoisseur of storms and winter wildness in a place where daylight can be the merest blink, I recommend an off-season stay. But in summer, with endless daylight and (this year) balmy weather, these islands are simply glorious places to find relaxation and stimulation.

But.

Despite Unst's perennial status as a tourist destination, you need to prepare for certain...restrictions. Getting to and from the islands can be tricky. And you need to give Yell a chance, and not rush through it on the main road, thinking 'this looks like a giant peat bog'.

As for Fetlar, I'm aware I haven't mentioned it. That's because I haven't been there in  30 years. I will rectify this in due course. Or maybe not.

Anyway let's start with ferries. There is a ferry (big) from Toft on the Shetland Mainland to Ulsta in Yell. There is a ferry (wee) from Gutcher at the top of Yell to Belmont in Unst. The Shetland Islands Council inter-island ferry service appears to be managed  with inspiration from an early episode of  Thomas the Tank Engine.

Really, if you're taking a car and unless you want to queue for ages, with increasing panic if heading out of Unst or Yell that you may be stranded, you should book, and you can do that online. The website is a shambles, recently revised and now worse and much more confusing than previously. It's a 17 mile drive through Yell to the Unst ferry. Allow plenty of time between your ferry bookings. Don't race. There are loose sheep and some local islanders are permitted to drive without ever having passed a test. In cars which don't have MOTs. In fact, take a day (or two) and explore Yell slowly. I'll come back to this.

Also, you CANNOT PAY ONLINE. You pay aboard the boat. Worse, no ferry accepts cards, digital payment services or anything but cash and something called 'a cheque', pronounced Czech. I know, it's insane. There may be a reason for it. No idea what it might be.

If you have (or haven't) booked, the queuing system is confusing at ALL the ferry piers, the lane markings obscure or erased. And be careful, at Ulsta, the vehicle marshalling area is actively dangerous for pedestrians. Oh, and there is an inexplicable nearly two-hour gap every lunchtime when there is no way into or out of Unst save levitation or swimming.

Having said all that, at the moment you pay only once, to get to Yell from the Mainland, with the onward crossing to Unst and Fetlar free. Two people and a car is £19. Ask for a receipt (they're not given automatically, and you have to hand your ticket over on the Unst/Fetlar leg).

Unst. Take a packed lunch. In fact, if you're staying in Unst, prepare to cook all your own food if you're coming in a camper van, camping or self catering (for example at the excellent Gardiesfauld hostel or rather great upmarket Belmont House - disclosure; I do PR for Belmont). Hunting, killing and roasting stray sheep is frowned upon.

There are excellent places to eat out on the island, but accessing them can be difficult or impossible. PHONE FIRST. On my recent (4 July) trip, the excellent and much anticipated Victoria's Tea Rooms was inexplicably shut at lunchtime 'for a private function.' The advertised cafe at the former RAF Saxa Vord is shut. The bar  there was shut at lunchtime. The (highly recommended) restaurant at Saxa Vord was apparently booked every night for the next two weeks, and open only at weekends in winter (bookings only). The Baltasound Hotel, the only one on the island, is either not open to non-residents or the restaurant there is fully booked. Access to it as a resident from autumn onwards is uncertain. The Final Checkout  (garage at Baltasound) was overwhelmed when I was there - good soup and toasties if you can get a seat) and we were saved by Skibhoul Stores' self-service bakery and sit-down make-your-own tea service. Good quiche.

But really. On 4 July? On the island recognised as one of Europe's top tourist destinations? Yes, we could have visited the distillery, the brewery, the wonderful Heritage Centre, the stunning Boat Haven, walked to Hermaness, gazed at Edmiston's Chickweed, seen some otters. But come on. I NEED A CUP OF TEA! AND CAKE!

I must point out that during the terrific UnstFest later this month, at least one community hall will offer food every night for the assembled celebrants. and there are regular visits from the Lerwick Chinese Takeaway, operating from one of the local halls.

There are marvellous, welcoming B and Bs on the island but you'll have to arrange evening meals in advance. Self catering? Not so much of a problem.  Don't expect to eat out or plan months in advance. There are three shops, a really fine bakery and a post office; all of them very good and quite distinctive in their own way. The Final Checkout has the best selection of rare malt whiskies in Shetland. But bring particular perishable groceries, craft beers and fine wines with you. Access to fresh fruit and veg can be a problem. Mangos are scarce. As an old friend of mine from Unst told me, "until I was 14, I thought bananas were black." You ain't in Kansas anymore. Or Lerwick.

Now, Yell. Yell, I have to say, has flowered over the last couple of years like a rose, or a chickweed, or an oyster plant. At least you can get a pizza or a burger or a scone or breakfast OR DINNER in Mid Yell, at the highly recommended LJ's Diner in the old school. There are some of the greatest shops on the planet. A bakery. The Gutcher Cafe and shop has now reopened  as Geoffrey's so there is the possibility of coffee or lunch while you wait for the ferry to start running again. You can access bar services at weekends via the Mid Yell Boating Club or various  halls (I think). The superb Shetland Gallery at Sellafirth has a Nespresso machine (but you may have to buy something!). And there is the Old Haa at Burravoe.

You'll need to check opening times, but the Old Haa is one of the jewels in Shetland's crown. An art gallery with a programme of interesting exhibitions. A craft shop. A fine community museum and a beautiful garden.  But crucially, a fantastic tearoom with the best homebakes you can imagine, soup, sandwiches at lunchtime and proper strong Shetland tea.

And to get there, you need to take The Mystery Road from either the ferry at Ulsta or Mid Yell. There are other amazing byways in Yell, which open up some extraordinary beaches (notably beyond Cullivoe at the Sands of Breckon), cliffs, and overwhelmingly moving pieces of history, as at Gloup. It's virtually impossible not to have a good time in Yell, in my experience. But remember - there are no public bars, and no hotels. I travel with a sleeping bag, a tent, a Trangia stove, some truffles, a Stinking Bishop cheese and a case of good  Claret AT ALL TIMES. And usually a dog.

I may add to this post as other things occur to me, or as the flak descends. But I suppose it can all be summed up in one line.

Go to Yell and Unst. They're great. Check ahead. Book. Plan. Prepare. Take your own teabags.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Beatcroft Social, from Glasgow and Shetland, 26 May 2018 - technical details follow (and music!)

This was an experiment, or I should say yet another experiment in the continuing saga of experimentation which is The Beatcroft Social.

We have the shetlandwebcams.com site up and running, and thanks so much to all of those who pledged cash to support the development of our coastal webcams project. Your merchandise is on its way! New hardware has been purchased and camera installation will be underway soon.

This week, though, and for the next few weeks, the audio (ie, me and my choice of music) has to come from Glasgow, where I am engaged in some building work...so with me using some dodgy west end of Glasgow wifi, a Macbook Pro, an AKG D230 microphone, an old Logitech camera, the iRigPre interface and a set of Koss PortaPro headphones, we set to work. I normally use DJ Pro to play out the music (which can come from lots of places - iTunes, Spotify, downloads, Mp3s, CDs, vinyl, cassette, Soundcloud) and using the virtual desktop app Teamviewer I was able to control, with almost no time delay, the Mac Mini with DJ Pro on it in Shetland. To connect my voice, grizzled countenance and occasionally my dog Dexter to our Tricaster system and assorted gubbins so we can vision mix all the webcams and relay them to our various worldwide servers, it was just the simple online web service VMix, accessed through the Chrome browser.  This requires no extra software or hardware.  It's like Skype.

To our astonishment, it all worked. Sometimes not brilliantly well, and there were a few glitches and dropouts. You'll hear all this on the Mixcloud audio. We're working to improve the sound of my voice, but the hospitals are all booked up...different microphone and possible 4G instead of BT wifi next week.

Meanwhile, The live video went out smoothly, for the most part, and Andy went walkabout in Lerwick with his iPhone to see if we could send in remote video and audio. That worked too. Next week we're really stretching the boundaries, but my lips are sealed...

Meanwhile, here is the link to the full video-and-audio show at shetlandwebcams. com, the 60N Radio tab.

And here's the Mixcloud audio: