Eshaness, Shetland: Ronnie Johnson 1948 – 2010

At the end of the road by the Eshaness lighthouse on the north-west coast of Shetland are cliffs that take the full force of Atlantic waves.  This is a spectacular coast with geos, stacks and blowholes and rocky skerries out at sea and a walk here is an amazing experience.  In summer these cliffs are the nesting sites of thousands of seabirds and you might see great skuas [known locally as bonxies] swooping over these colonies.  Nearby are the crown of rock stacks called The Drongs and the awesome Dore Holm, or drinking horse, rock arch.  You can stay at the lighthouse and get a sense of what it is like to live with no neighbours in sight.  It must be quite an experience to be here on a stormy night; even on the fine day that we visited I got a sense of how dangerous these waters are.

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The spectacular coastline at Eshaness, Shetland

This handsome weathered bench remembering Ronnie Johnson is next to the car park by the lighthouse at Eshaness.  The bench has a view that is difficult to beat over the rugged coastal scenery and tells visitors that Ronnie Johnson was a fisherman at Eshaness.  I sat and thought about Ronnie Johnson fishing out on those seas.

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In Memory of Ronnie Johnson 1948 – 2010 Fisherman of Eshaness

Shetland still has a fishing industry, although it is much smaller than it was.  At the nearby sheltered bay of Stenness there are the ruins of the 19th century haaf [deep-sea] fishing station that was run by the Cheyne family.  This sheltered beach was once the site of one of Shetland’s largest fishing stations with around 70 boats.  The wide pebbly beach would have been used for splitting, salting and laying out the fish to dry.  The boat used by haaf fishermen was the sixern, a clinker-built open boat with six oars that could cope with the rough conditions.

To find out more about fishing in this part of Shetland we visited the nearby Tangwick Haa Museum, that tells the story of the Northmavine.  The Haa is the house of the laird or landowner and the Haa at Tangwick was built in the late 17th century for the Cheyne family and would have been a fine house in its day.


Aith, Shetland: Tommy Tait 10th February 2016 & John Johnston 1913 – 1995 & Williamina Johnston 1910 – 2006

Some people will tell you there are no trees on Shetland, but take yourself to Michaelswood near Aith and you will soon realise this is not true.  Stroll among the young and vibrant woodland, with at least 60 different tree species over 12 acres and you realise that trees can grow this far north.  This woodland was planted in memory of Michael Ferrie, a young musician from Aith, who died in 1996 from cancer when he was just 21 years old.  The woodland has interesting trails and intriguing features for all ages, including a Teddy Bear’s Picnic site, a library and sun room and Daisy the cow overlooking the Loch of Vaara and the rocky outcrop of Gurwil.  

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At the top of Michaelswood near Aith

I loved exploring this woodland that is packed with love and beauty.  At the top of the wood I found this bench to Tommy Tait, facing Daisy the cow and I enjoyed the view that Tommy Tait had chosen.  I don’t know how many people decide where their memorial bench is going to sit but I certainly appreciated knowing that Tommy Tait had been involved in the decision about the location of his memorial bench.

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Tommy Tait This bench is dedicated to the memory of Tommy who was born on this croft and who died on 10th February 2016.  He personally chose this site for a bench and often sat here to enjoy the view of Gurwil and the Loch of Vaara.

Being in Michaelswood was a magical experience.  I ducked under branches, spotted woodland flowers in the shelter of the trees, read the quotes on the philosophers trail and disturbed a hedgehog trundling along one of the paths among the newer trees.

Lower down in the wood was another memorial bench with the following dedication:

In Loving Memory of John Johnston 1913 – 1995 formerly of Ayres, Aith [&] Williamina Johnston (Nee Hay) 1910 – 2006 formerly of South Gardie, Aith

Bigton, Shetland: Kester Wigram 1959 – 2010

I have posted photographs and stories on this blog about 124 benches over the years.  Many of them have had stunning views but this has to be the best panorama of any bench I have recorded.  This memorial bench overlooks St Ninian’s Isle beach along the coast of Shetland.  At low tide walking across the sands to St Ninian’s Isle and following the path around the island is a popular day out and this is exactly why we were here during our holiday on these spectacular islands.  We had chosen a day when Shetland was sparkling in the sunshine and we wandered around the cliffs enjoying the varied vistas and spotting birds and seals.

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This memorial bench remembers Kester Wigram as a “free spirit.”  He was born in New Zealand and had lived in Shetland for 10 years with his family, working as a chemical engineer in the oil industry and also as a teacher for a short time.  The local newspaper reports that he was a popular man known for his “spirit of adventure.”  Kester Wigram took a kayak from St Ninian’s Isle beach in April 2010 and when he didn’t return he was reported as missing.  A major search for the experienced kayaker followed but it was over 12 months before his body was found.

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KESTER WIGRAM 1959 – 2010 “A free spirit”

A post from Stefan Janick in the Tayside Sea Kayak Club gives a sense of Kester Wigram’s  warm personality, “For many of us, Laurna and Kester’s were the first stop when arriving in Shetland. They lived just on the hill above the ferry terminal in Lerwick.  We had many a good feed and slide show there with our Norwegian paddling pals.”

As well as a memorial service on Shetland to commemorate Kester Wigram, his family and friends in New Zealand gathered at Pukerua Bay, where he grew up, to remember him.