Sessions and Sail Shetland 2023
APRIL 24 - APRIL 28
Price: £945 per person
The beautifully restored herring drifter 'Swan' will be your home for five days as we step aboard in Lerwick and head up the coast. The ship will be your base for a voyage of exploration and music with sessions, workshops, sailing and more.
Tunes, songs and stories that give a vivid picture of Shetland past and present will accompany our voyage.
Sail the waters of Shetland, where orcas, otters, and humpback whales are often spotted; and seals and seabirds are guaranteed.
You will learn tunes and join sessions under the guidance of Shetland musicians; as the Shetland Folk Festival approaches the excitement will grow and our musical may be able to go together to one of the Festival’s world famous concerts on the Thursday night. Should you choose to stay in the islands for the Folk Festival, it will all be ramping up by the time we sail back in to Lerwick Harbour on Friday.
Throughout the trip we will enjoy good food, locally sourced where possible, prepared by our on-board chef.
Some of our likely destinations are outlined below.
We look forward to having you join us!
We will join the ship in Lerwick, the main town in Shetland. A town of 7,000 inhabitants, Lerwick will be gearing up to host musicians from all over the world as the Shetland Folk Festival approaches.
Journeying north, we may make a stop at a village on the island of Yell, such as Burravoe.
With a strong and thriving musical tradition, Yell has produced many many well-known musicians, from guitarist Peerie Willie Johnson to the Cullivoe Fiddlers, and many more.
Swan is a ‘Fifie’, a herring drifter launched in May 1900 at Hay and Company’s yard in Lerwick. Built from larch on oak, she was regarded at the time as “one of the finest fishing boats afloat in the North of Scotland”. She went on to have a long fishing career, before being converted to a houseboat and eventually falling into neglect in Hartlepool in the 1980s.
Swan was brought back to Shetland in the early 1990s, and following an extensive restoration was relaunched as a sail training and charter vessel in 1996.
She is 20.4 metres overall length and is rigged with two masts as a gaff ketch.
To learn more about the history, restoration and present day activities of the Swan, visit www.swantrust.com
Accommodation on board
You will be assigned a bunk, and a place to store your bag on arrival on the Swan. Your bunk will be the fishing-boat style ‘hole-in-the-wall’; these are comfortable with a padded mattress, a curtain for privacy and a reading light; you will have to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow. There are no individual cabins, and the accommodation is therefore usually mixed.
Forward of the main saloon is the galley to port and two toilets with wash hand basins and a shower to starboard. In the forepeak is a workplace/stowage area. The sink and wash hand basins have pressurised hot and cold water.
A 240v electrical system is onboard so you can charge camera batteries and portable music players etc whilst the generator is running.
Meals are prepared in the galley – preparation may need to spread out into the lower saloon. Food will be of an excellent standard and prepared by our own chef. Meals, tea and coffee are included in the price of the trip.
A hand is always appreciated with meal preparation and clearing up, so don’t be afraid to offer!
Alcoholic drinks will be on a bring-your-own basis; there are shops in Lerwick and in several of the more rural villages where you will be able to buy your preferred choice of drinks.
Who is this trip aimed at?
If you are a keen musician playing at any level - whether beginner, intermediate or expert - with an interest in the traditions and folk music of Scotland or Shetland, this trip is for you. The session experience may include tunes, songs and stories with a local emphasis.
No sailing experience is necessary, but those keen to participate will be encouraged to join in the sailing of the ship, whether steering, keeping watch or helping set and trim the sails.
The accommodation arrangements aboard the Swan are a little more rugged, offering less privacy than that of the other ship we use, the Lady of Avenel; we would therefore recommend this trip to those with a better level of mobility (it can be a bit of a clamber to get in or out of the bunks).
The following itinerary is a suggestion of how the trip may take form; all destinations are subject to change, are weather dependant and are at the discretion of the Captain.
You meet the ‘Swan’ alongside the pier in Lewick, where the crew welcome you aboard; you are given a tour of the ship and a briefing.
We leave the harbour and set the sails, heading north out the ‘north mooth’ of Lerwick Harbour. A three hour sail takes us to the sheltered anchorage at Brough, near the village of Nesting.
There may be time for a walk ashore, or some seal or otter spotting from the rocks; then, after a warm dinner aboard the Swan, we get to know each other with a music session in the cosy saloon.
We leave our anchorage in the morning, sailing north towards the island of Yell. You will be encouraged to join in as we set sails and manoeuvre the ship guided by the professional crew. Expect a good workout if you find yourself on one of the Swan's mainsail haliards!
Haliard work is voluntary and some may prefer to sit back and watch the action, or steer the ship while the crew do the heavier work.
Tying up in the afternoon at the Burravoe pier, we go ashore to the local Hall for a workshop/tune learning session with the first of our local tutors.
We have an early dinner onboard before heading back to the hall for an evening playing tunes with local musicians and meeting the wider community.
From Burravoe we sail west into Yell Sound, a hotspot for spotting otters.
Orcas are also regularly seen in Yell Sound; we cannot promise sightings but there is one pod that almost permanently cruises Shetland waters. Other pods, along with humpback whales, minkes and other cetaceans are often seen in this area.
We sail up the Sound to North Roe, in the Northmavine area of Shetland. Anchoring here, we go ashore and join the local community for another great night of music.
With the Shetland Folk Festival beginning today, we manoeuvre the Swan out of the bay at North Roe and set the sails headed for the concert. If the weather is good, we may play some tunes on deck as we sail along, or we may just keep an eye out for wildlife as we sail past the islands of Yell Sound, also passing Lunna House, site of the ‘Shetland Bus’ Norwegian resistance effort during world war 2.
We anchor at Vidlin Voe and are taken by minibus to a village hall where the first of the several rural concerts will be held. There we hear a selection of the world-class music the Folk Festival committee have brought to Shetland in 2023.
We travel back to the Swan after the concert where we wind down with a few more tunes before calling it a night,
With our ears still full of the music from the night before, and no doubt still debating what was the highlight of the concert, we sail down the coast and back towards Lerwick, arriving in the afternoon into a town filled with musicians and festival-goers.
In 2022 we did this with sails set and fiddles in full-tilt on the deck of the Swan, a great way to announce our arrival!
In Lerwick we say our farewells to the Swan and our newly forged crew; however, for those of us staying around for the rest of the folk festival, we will probably bump in to each other frequently over the coming days.
You will need to bring the following:
- Your instrument - A Sleeping Bag
- A Pillow - Warm jumper/fleece
- Long trousers - Boots/waterproof footwear
- Sufficient cash to last the week - A soft bag (no suitcases please!)
- Towel - Proof of identification
- Thermal layers - Waterproof jacket and trousers (Oilskins can be provided onboard).
- Thick socks - a waterproof cover/case for your instrument
Optionally you may also like to bring:
- Sunglasses - Binoculars
- Sun cream - RYA logbook if you have one
Air: There are daily Loganair flights landing at Sumburgh, on the south tip of Shetland, from Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Kirkwall; flights have been added more recently from London City and Manchester. www.loganair.co.uk
Ferry: There is a nightly overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick (calling into Orkney four nights a week), run by Northlink. www.northlinkferries.co.uk
We recommend confirming travel arrangements as early as possible to avoid price rises and availability problems.
We would also recommend arranging accommodation in Lerwick as soon as possible if you plan to stay for the Folk Festival – hotels, B+Bs and hostels will book out well in advance.