Wednesday, 11 May 2016

An Island Parish - Unst

An Island Parish is a more-or-less annual TV series on BBC 2 that reveals the community life of remote islands around the coast of Britain, and sometimes further away. In the past the series has covered places I've yearned to see for myself, like Barra in the Outer Hebrides, and the Falkland Islands. This year it was Unst, the most northern of the Shetland islands. I've just finished watching every episode on the BBC iPlayer. The series ended on 25th April, but three of the episodes are still available to watch.

I acknowledge at once that last year's Falklands series was a very hard one to follow, and initially I thought the series about Unst a bit 'ordinary' in comparison, but the lure and fascination of the place shone through, and I became hooked, enjoying all the episodes.

Of course I was half-hooked already. Readers who dip into my posts about where I'd like to visit on holiday will know that I've had Shetland in my sights - as a practical possibility - for a couple of years now. And a trip to Shetland must include a day on Unst, or the whole thing is off. An Island Parish has now supplied a couple more reasons to take Fiona to Britain's northernmost outpost, blitzing the place with my camera as I'm driving around, mooching on beaches and headlands, or popping in for refreshments and making a little local contact here and there. I'd hope to have several memorable conversations, not only with the locals, but with others like me who have come from far away to experience this special place. Unst would absolutely be the jewel in the crown, so far as my Shetland trip were concerned.

The 'Parish' in the name of the series suggests a strong religious element, and indeed the local minister, whatever denomination he may be, is certainly one of the 'anchors' to whom the cameras return to again and again. Attention is indeed drawn to all matters spiritual, but not just those in the hands of the main incumbent. I was intrigued to learn that Unst has its own very likeable Eastern Orthodox nun, Mother Mary, and the cameras follow her progress in creating a sanctuary - complete with a room specially set aside, full of icons and candles so that visitors can quietly attend to their devotions. She does this by applying her many DIY skills. I salute her, and respect her, and would enjoy meeting her, even though I do not have her beliefs.

But most of the footage is devoted to ordinary community happenings, and individual personalities - particularly the people running businesses typical of the place. You get a good feel for what goes on. You also get a good feeling for the openness and friendliness (and occasional shyness) of the inhabitants. It's easy to get seduced, and to want to live there. Viewers are introduced to couples who have come on holiday and then stayed. The peace and tranquillity is emphasised again and again: and for those trapped in the rat race, Unst and places like it must have a siren appeal. The official Unst website recognises this wish to make a completely new life on the island, or to retire there, and has a section on it containing advice - see There is of course the Unst winter to endure!

Well, I mean simply to visit. But I have my maps ready:

Just at the moment the catchy 'An Island Parish' theme tune by Howard Goodall keeps going around my head. You can get the mp3 track for 79p from Amazon:

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