Shetland Ponies in Cardigans

Shetland Ponies in Cardigans? Life, loves and knitwear in the Shetland Islands

Frances Taylor is the author of the ‘My Shetland’ blog detailing her love of Shetland ponies and other animals.  I managed to catch up with Frances as part and ask her some questions about her life in Shetland and the famous shetland ponies in cardigans advert.
Shetland Ponies in Cardigans - Lerwick

Shetland Ponies in Cardigans – Lerwick

1. How long have you lived on Shetland for and how did you become interested in Shetland ponies?

I have lived in Shetland since 1996.  My husband, 2 infant daughters and 3 cats moved up from South London because we wanted a better place to bring up our children.

Since early childhood, I have always wanted my own pony and was never allowed.  I did, however, learn to ride.  When we finally found a house to buy in Shetland, after renting for a few months, it had 5 acres so I started to rescue old ponies that needed a retirement home.

2. What inspired you to start a blog and what is the main focus of the blog?

I predominantly wrote the blog for my two daughters, who were away at school, then university, on mainland UK so they could see what was going on at home and not feel left out. The main focus of the blog is my daily life, my thoughts/feelings and my animals.

3. Do you look after any other animals apart from Shetland ponies?

Obviously, there are the 6 Minions (my rescue Shetland ponies).  I also have a small Icelandic horse stud – we breed, ride, train and compete.  There are then 4 rescue Shetland sheep – The Boyzenberries.  They are very tame, like dogs, come when they are called and are very entertaining. 2 dogs and 1 cat plus 9 chickens!

4. How did you get involved with Visit Scotland’s Year of Natural Scotland campaign featuring the “Shetland Ponies in Cardigans”?

We had a phone call from Visit Scotland requesting if we had any ponies that could wear a Fair Isle sweater.  We are used to weird requests!  At the time we had about 30 breeding and riding Shetland ponies so we looked around and wondered who would be most amenable to this job.

The obvious choice was Fivla, a small grey mare who belonged to my youngest daughter.  Fivla had been with us since she was 6 months old and now older, was probably the easiest pony ever to work with.  She could live in your house.  She has perfect manners and the kindest temperament.
Fivla’s best friend is Vitamin, a larger black breeding mare who, although never ridden, would follow Fivla’s lead and do anything that was asked, without malice or unhelpfulness.
We were asked to measure the ponies and duly did.  The cardigans arrived and looked very odd until we tried them on their respective new owners.  They fitted perfectly and suddenly it all made perfect sense!

Visit Scotland sent up a photographer and we drove him round our area showing him a variety of potential locations, talking about the best lighting for the shots.  We did a few evening shots, worked out what helpers we would need and the next day, bright and early, we set off to create an internet sensation!


Shetland Ponies in Cardigans

Shetland Ponies in Cardigans

5. What is your favourite place on Shetland and why?

My favourite place in Shetland is a croft a few miles down the road.  Situated in a glaciated valley, this is sheltered winter accommodation for my Icelandic mares and their foals in one field full of grass as well as the Shetlnd ponies who have a larger hill field.  There is evidence of possibly a substantial Neolithic settlement and I walk my dogs, with my little ponies following, trying to imagine how folk lived in those ancient times.  It is a very good place to think, to chat with the ponies and to put the world back into perspective.

6. What are the best and worst things about living on a remote island?

The best thing about living here is the remoteness. I love that.  I love not being part of the rat-race and not being dragged along the materialistic route of life.  I didn’t want my daughters brought up like that either.

The worst thing about living here – postal charges by couriers.  It’s a rip off especially when the thing could go in an envelope with a first class stamp!

7. What are the main problems that Shetland faces, both now and in the future?

Shetland’s problems are mostly that that out-lying islands do not receive the support and funding like the main island.  Everything is in Lerwick, our capital, and outwith, you are just another forgotten annoying statistic.

Unless Shetland embraces the 21st century technology with support from those that already have this luxury, they will be left behind.  Also, our broadband is not great!
8. Have you visited any other islands around Shetland.  If so, which is your favourite and why?

Yes, I have visited some.  There are still others on my list.  My favourite one, so far, is Unst, though each one has its own merits.  Unst has some breathtaking scenery.

Shetland Ponies in Cardigans - Hermaness on Unst

Shetland Ponies in Cardigans – Hermaness on Unst

9. Do you think there has been an increase in tourism after the recent programmes about scottish islands?

Yes, I do.  It is a good thing.  Shetland is a very well kept secret and, apart from folk thinking that there are murders every week, I think our visitors are surprised at just how amazing Shetland is.

10. How do you see life for yourself in the next 5-10 years and do you foresee any major changes on Shetland?

I don’t see myself moving from Shetland. I really cannot imagine myself living anywhere else, to be honest.  There is a magic and I feel it every time I return from south.  When the little plane lands on the runway into the sea, I am so happy to be home.  Everything feels right again.

11. Where can I find out more information about your blog and is it possible to visit you?

My blog is called My Shetland.  My contact details are there.  If you want to visit, give me a shout. I always enjoy introducing folk to my animal family.

Shetland Ponies in Cardigans - Frances Taylor

Shetland Ponies in Cardigans – Frances Taylor

Lost sense of Community -Isle of Canna Community Shop and Waiting Room

Lost sense of Community

One of the main attractions to visiting (and indeed living) on a Scottish island is the sense of community. Whenever I am asked why I love visiting Scottish islands so much, I explain about how I constantly witness a sense of community that seems lost on the mainland. I also explain that this is not just on the smaller islands, where everyone knows each other, but also on larger islands such as mainland Shetland. this is compared to mainland UK where these seems to be a definite lost sense of community.

Below are some examples of community spirit that I have certainly never seen or been involved in on the mainland.  They highlight that among the islands, community spirit is still alive and kicking.

On my first visit to Shetland, I stayed at a B& B on the outskirts of Lerwick.  As the owner showed me around she said (and I’ll always remember it), “there is a bar in the lounge.  If you want a drink, there is a price list on the wall, just put the money in the Honesty Box”.  This was the first time that I had ever heard the term ‘Honesty Box’.  After the short tour of the house, I reflected on the Honesty Box conversation.  I could not imagine this happening in many other places around the UK and showed to me that not everyone needs to be treated as a potential criminal.  This is not the only place where I have seen Honesty Boxes around the islands.  The last time was at ‘The Green Shed’ on Muck and at the Canna Community Shop.

Lost sense of Community - Isle of Muck The Green Shed

Lost sense of Community – Isle of Muck The Green Shed


Another example that relates to me is when I was on the Isle of Mull, waiting for the ferry back to Oban.  There is a payphone near to the Tourist Information Centre at Craignure.  Being the conscientious employee that I am, I rang work to see if everything was OK. My wife had loads of change in her purse, so I took this in with me. We then boarded the ferry and set off back to the mainland.  After about 15 minutes, my wife asked for her purse back.  Panic ensued when I realised that I had left it in the phone box. My wife went and spoke to one of the crew members.  They then radioed through to the Tourist Information Centre and asked them to send it over on the next Ferry.  Which they duly did!  Also on Mull, but the first time I had visited, I went to catch the Bus from Craignure to Fionnphort, to catch the ferry to Iona, as we had booked accommodation for the night.  I distinctly remember asking the Bus Driver how much the fare was and he said, “Don’t worry about it, just pay me when you get off”.  Again, a new experience for me!

When I was staying at the Pierowall Hotel on Westray, one of the Orkney islands, there was also another example of community spirit.  The bus that took me to the Ferry made a special detour to pick up an elderly resident on the outskirts of Westray.  The bus struggled to get to the house as the roads were quite narrow. However, the passenger was able to board with help and our journey continued.  However, after about 10 minutes the passenger realised that he had forgotten his wallet (which he obviously really needed).  He informed the Bus Driver who then proceeded to return to his house for it. The bus was going to be late for the ferry, but when we got there, the ferry was waiting for us and everyone descended the bus and onto the ferry without any recriminations or scowling face from the ferry staff.

One final example is when I was travelling by bus from Lerwick to Levenwick on mainland Shetland.  One of the passengers on the bus burst into tears.  A lady who was sat a couple of rows back, immediately went to comfort the lady and calm her down.  Other passengers approached the passenger and checked that she was alright. At Levenwick, I was staying at a Bed and Breakfast that I had stayed at the previous Saturday.  I asked the owner if I needed to be back at the accommodation for a specific time.  She explained that she was going out for the afternoon on the day of my arrival, but that she would leave the door unlocked and to make myself at home!  For someone who is used to locking every door in their house and being very wary of strangers, this was quite an eye-opener.

Lost sense of Community - Mainland Shetland Levenwick

Lost sense of Community – Mainland Shetland Levenwick


On the negative side, there are occasional stories in the press of incomers to small island communities who find it very difficult to integrate with the other islanders and eventually they leave to try elsewhere.  The culture shock of having everyone know your business, must be very difficult to overcome and for some people may prove to be insurmountable.

As an outsider, I found all these examples of positive community spirit were unusual to me and they very rarely, if ever, happen where I live.  Apart from the fantastic scenery and pace of life, the great sense of community is another great reason to visit the Scottish islands.






Scottish Island Museums

There are many excellent Scottish Island Museums.  Whenever I visit the islands, I always head for the nearest Museum to find out about the history of the island. Here are just a small selection of my favourites:


Easdale Folk Museum – located on the tiny island of Easdale, one of the Slate islands, near Oban on the west coast of Scotland.  This is my favourite Museum, although it is probably the smallest Museum I have visited.  It may be small in stature, but it more than makes up for it with the artefacts on display and the incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff. There are some excellent relics from slate quarrying and some fascinating stories and information detailing this dangerous occupation. This Museum is especially good if you bring the kids as there is a Treasure Hunt for them to complete. My kids loved it!


Easdale Folk Museum

Easdale Folk Museum


Fetlar Interpretive Centre – again quite a small Museum, the Interpretive Centre is in the village of Houbie on the beautiful Shetland island of Fetlar. The Museum includes a Steatite Bowl found during a Time Team dig in 2002. It is the largest single object ever excavated by the Time Team, and probably the largest bowl of its kind in the country. Also, there is video footage from nearby Brough Lodge.  I sat and watched these videos for quite a while as I had just visited Brough Lodge, before visiting the Museum. There is also interesting information on Sir William Watson Cheyne who lived at nearby Leogarth House.

Fetlar Interpretive Centre

Fetlar Interpretive Centre


Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum – this is possibly the largest Museum I have visited. The Visitors Centre tells the story of Scapa Flow and Lyness (mainly through the First and Second World Wars). There are excellent exhibits (such as mines and torpedoes as well as informative information boards) and a short film outlining the major role of Scapa Flow in both World Wars. I found the Museum to be fascinating and incredibly it was FREE! It´s a definite ´must see`on any visit to Orkney and Hoy in particular.


Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum


Gearrannan Blackhouse Village – located on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The Village was occupied until the early 1970s when the last few elderly residents moved to new accommodation. It is interesting to see how the people here once lived and also to watch traditional activities such as weaving Harris Tweed.  It is also possible to stay in the Village.  There is a wide range of accommodation, ranging from 2 star group accommodation sleeping 16, to 4 star family cottages.


Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village


Museum of Island Life – this Museum is very close to the northern-most coast of the Isle of Skye. It is located a few miles from the village of Uig, which is the main port on Skye for the Outer Hebrides. The Museum is in a very exposed position overlooking the Minch and was opened way back in 1965.  This Museum gives you an amazing insight into life on Skye and across the highlands in the 19th century. The Museum has seven thatched cottages, of which four are furnished and equipped as they would have been originally.


Skye - Museum of Island Life


Gaelic Heritage Centre – on the Isle of Lismore.  Slightly different to the other Museums I have visited. This ecologically friendly building was opened in 2007 and houses a Museum charting island life throughout the ages. There is also a special Genealogy section, where you can trace any relatives from Lismore. Although the Museum is quite small, there are some very interesting photo’s and documents that chart Lismore throughout the ages.  Next to the Heritage Centre is a fully restored 19th century ‘Cottars’ Cottage. There is also a fantastic cafe with fantastic views.


Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre

Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre


These Museums are my personal favourites, but there are many other Museums that I have visited over the years that deserve a mention.

Shetland – Tangwick Haa on mainland Shetland, Heritage Centre on Bressay, Unst Boat Haven and Unst Heritage Centre, Whalsay Heritage and Community Centre

Orkney – Orkney Museum and Skaill House on mainland Orkney, The Heritage Centre on Shapinsay, Holland House on Papa Westray and the Heritage Centre on Rousay

Outer Hebrides – Blackhouse Museum and Calanais Visitors Centre both on the Isle of Lewis

Inner Hebrides – Museum of Islay Life on Islay, Mull Museum on Mull, Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum on Tiree and The Boat House on Ulva

Skye and around – Dairy Shed Heritage Centre on Canna, Visitor Centre on Rum, Community Centre on Muck, Dunvegan Castle and the Aros Experience on Skye


Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum - Tiree
Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum - Tiree
Boat Haven - Unst
Boat Haven - Unst
Hanseatic Bod - Whalsay
Hanseatic Bod - Whalsay
Tangwick Haa - Mainland Shetland
Tangwick Haa - Mainland Shetland
Shapinsay Heritage Centre (The Smiddy) - Shapinsay
Shapinsay Heritage Centre (The Smiddy) - Shapinsay
Heritage Centre - Rousay
Heritage Centre - Rousay
Holland Farm and Bothy museum - Papa Westray
Holland Farm and Bothy museum - Papa Westray
Dunvegan Castle - Skye
Dunvegan Castle - Skye


Of course, there are many more Museums that I have yet to visit and some big one’s at that.  I still need to visit the New Shetland Museum and Archive and also I turned up an hour early for the Kildonan Museum on South Uist, so I still need to visit there as well.  Also, for some reason, I haven’t visited any Museums on Arran, Bute or Cumbrae, so I aim to remedy that in the near future. 

I always try to visit any Museums or Heritage Centre’s when I visit the islands.  They give a fascinating insight into the past (and sometimes the present) on the island.   I shall definitely keep on visiting as many Scottish Island Museum’s as I can, which gives me another reason to visit the beautiful islands of Scotland.  Not that I need another reason …

Sea Kayak Shetland

10 questions with Sea Kayak Shetland

Sea Kayak Shetland

Sea Kayak Shetland

Sea Kayak Shetland are based in the middle of mainland Shetland, right in the middle of Lerwick and Scalloway.  They offer Kayaking around the coastline of Shetland for everyone – from beginners to experts.  I managed to catch up with Angus and ask him 10 questions about Sea Kayak Shetland and his life in Shetland.


1 – How and when was Sea Kayak Shetland started (and by whom)?

Sea Kayak Shetland was started by Tom Smith around 2004. When he and his wife moved to Scotland I took over the business.


2 – What tours do you offer and when are the tours available?

Tours are available all year round but are weather and sea-state dependent. We tend to be very busy during May – August but can go any time the weather and sea are okay. All tours are around the coast of Mainland Shetland. The islands are bigger than visitors tend to think, so it’s not practical to leave Mainland for a day trip.


3 – What wildlife could be seen on your tours?

We see all sorts of sea birds; paddling around a gannet colony is breath-taking. We see rafts of guillemots as well as puffins, terns, scarfs and so on. If we are paddling quietly it is not unusual to see otters and, of course, we can admire underwater sea life as our waters are so clear. We sometimes see neesiks (dolphins) and very occasionally we have seen basking sharks and even killer whales!


4 – What is your favourite place on Shetland and why?

That’s a very hard question to answer! As far as paddling is concerned there are many stunning places to paddle. I love showing paddlers the amazing coastline we have here, full of caves, arches and wildlife.


5 – What are the best things about living on a remote island?

It’s a brilliant place to bring up children as they have so much freedom here and so much to explore – and the sea is always close by (no-where in Shetland is more than 3 miles from the sea) and always changing.


Sea Kayak Shetland

Sea Kayak Shetland


6 – Have you visited any other islands around Shetland or Scotland? If so, which was your favourite and why?

I haven’t spent much time on other Scottish Islands; there’s so much to see here! Sorry, I don’t have a favourite.


7 – How do you see the next 5-10 years for yourselves on the island?

Hopefully very similar to the past 5 – 10 years. We meet so many interesting people and enjoy their appreciation of paddling the Shetland coastline.


8 – When is the best time to visit Shetland?

Depends what you are looking for. In winter there are the fire festivals, wild seas and beautiful frosty flat calm weather for walking in. Spring is lovely with the lengthening days and migrating birds passing through. Summer is renowned for its Simmer Dim – a period around mid summer when it never really gets dark, and Autumn has some warmer days. Never expect terribly warm weather in Shetland though. At 60 degrees north we enjoy cooler summer weather!


9 – Has there been an increase in tourism as a result of recent TV programmes about Shetland and books such as Between Weathers?

Not so sure about the impact books have, but certainly a lot of our visitors mention seeing Shetland on TV.


10 – Where can I find out more information about Sea Kayak Shetland?

Our website address is and we also have a FaceBook page Sea Kayak Shetland.

Unst - Baltasound Hotel

Unst – Baltasound Hotel

Unst - baltasound hotel logo

I visited the Baltasound Hotel on my last trip to Unst and I always wanted to find out how challenging it is to run the northern-most Hotel in the UK.  The hotel is only a few hundred yards from Baltasound Pier and Marina and makes an excellent base to explore Unst and the northern isles of Shetland.  I managed to catch up with Steve, the manager at the Hotel and ask him 10 questions.


1 What brought you to Unst originally?

Having looked at various hotels to purchase throughout the country, the outstanding location of the hotel just a few hundred yards from the sea swung it for us. And the genuine willingness to help in any way they could by the people we met on our buying research visits.


2 How is the Hotel integrated into the local community on Unst?

With Unst being a very tight knit community most of the parties and celebrations are held in one of the community halls because of the numbers invited. For smaller groups we are very much the place everyone uses. Last year we were a finalist in The Highlands and Islands Restaurant of the Year so we are definitely the go to place for any special family meals. There is a winter darts competitions with visiting teams from other islands. It is also used for most of the club presentation nights.


3 What is unique about the Baltasound Hotel?

We are Britain’s Most Northerly Hotel. No other hotel can say that.


4 What is your favourite place on Unst and why?

The area around Burrafirth and Scotland. You have the Loch of Cliff on your left and as the name suggests Burrafirth on your right hand side. I have not found a spot to compete with it.


5 What are the best and worst things about living on a remote island?

They are one and the same. Being away from it all with the peace and tranquility. And being away from it all and not being able to pop into KFC or grab a game of poker at the casino.


Unst - Baltasound Hotel

Unst – Baltasound Hotel


6 Have you visited any other islands around Shetland or Scotland? If so, which was your favourite and why?

As a child with my school I visited Rothesay on Bute. Arran and Millport on Cumbrae. I cannot remember much about them to say but here in Shetland, my favourite island is Bressay. It has lots of rolling green hillside compared to most of the rest of the Shetland Isles which are filled with rocks or peat bogs.


7 How do you see the next 5-10 years for yourselves and your business on the island?

Its the challenge that drives us. We only came here with a 5 year plan to turn around a failing hotel. We have done that and had intended to have moved on by now but have actually bought other businesses locally so I guess that plan is out he window and we might very well be around for the next 10.


8 When is the best time to visit Unst?

It depends on what you are looking for. The summertime brings you beautiful landscapes with teeming wildlife and migratory birds. And winter brings you the chance to see the even more beautiful Northern Lights. And in fact, Unst is being billed as one of the best places to see the total eclipse in middle March 2015.


9 Has there been an increase in tourism as a result of recent TV programmes about Shetland and books such as Between Weathers?

Other people on Unst believe so, but it is hard for us to gauge as we have done a massive marketing campaign with a whole range of tour groups from different countries around the world. We have seen a healthy increase in bookings but how much of it is a result of our hard work and how much is down to the current Shetland television and book hype we just don’t know. Other business around us tell us that they have seen an increase, so I suppose it has definitely helped.


10 Where can I find out more information about the Baltasound Hotel?

On our website or read our reviews on Trip Advisor


Unst - Muckle Flugga

Unst – Muckle Flugga



Local Guides

Local Guides on Scottish Islands


After my recent trip to Orkney, it has re-enforced my belief that when visiting, if possible, it it is always best to hire local guides on scottish islands. I often fly to islands and until recently I didn’t drive a car, so I usually try to find a local guide or local tour company who offer tours of the island.


In Orkney for example, I was able to complete the special Lighthouse tour on North Ronaldsay, the Rousay tour, the Peedie Island Tour on Papa Westray and Westraak on Westray.


Local Guides on Scottish Islands - Rousay Tours

Local Guides on Scottish Islands – Rousay Tours


Having been on quite a few of these tours on other islands too, it is amazing the knowledge that the guides have. They are always friendly and eager to answer any questions. I always come away from the tour with a good knowledge of each island and a feeling that my time on the island has not been wasted.


I’ve been on a few islands with my motorbike and whilst it’s great to just ‘have a look’, in my opinion it’s far better to learn all you can about the island and try and soak up some of it’s culture. It’s amazing on these tours how many local people you meet. On the tour of Papa Westray, I ended up going to the auction at Holland House, where virtually the whole island turned up, so I got to meet lots of islanders, as well as have a look round Holland House that was normally closed to the public.


Another good reason to hire a local guide or undertake a local tour is that you are contributing to the local economy. These tours often include lunch at a local cafe or hotel. I remember going to Whalsay with Laurence Tulloch (as part of a tour I had arranged with Sarah McBurnie from SeeShetland Tours) and he had pre-arranged for us to have lunch at the Oot Ower Lounge. What he didn’t know was that there was a funeral on at the same time! However, although very embarrassed, everyone was very nice and we were able to eat our lunch without feeling too ‘in the way’!


There are guides or tours on virtually every island. All it takes is a little digging and you’ll find them. Believe me, you’ll be glad that you did!