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Baton relay greeted by sunshine and smiles

Baton bearer Ceileidh Mercer at Jarlshof - Photo: Austin Taylor

A TASTE of the Commonwealth Games arrived in the islands on Tuesday with the Queen’s Baton Relay stopping off in five communities on the Shetland mainland.

The islands boast a fairly good track record, albeit with exceptions, when it comes to attracting fine weather for set-piece events.

So it proved as the baton and its sizeable entourage touched down 15 minutes behind schedule to find Sumburgh Airport bathed in warm sunshine and not, thankfully, enveloped in the kind of thick fog that could have put the kibosh on proceedings.

Triathlete Lynsey Henderson, who was born in mid-air somewhere between Shetland and Aberdeen, took receipt of the baton on the runway. Her sister Vicky Smith and mother Mandy Henderson were also among 99 islanders who carried the baton.

The islands’ scenery was at its shimmering best as the baton made the short hop from the airport to Jarlshof – one of many cornerstones of the isles’ culture which organisers shoehorned into the relay’s visit.

Up the road at Sandwick, 450 pupils from schools across the south mainland lined the approach road to the school – along with Up Helly Aa guizers who heartily roared and cheered as an unsuspecting policeman passed by on his motorbike.

Much flag-waving and cheering ensued as squash player Joan Smith jogged by with the baton, handing it over to Dougie Grant for a lap around the school’s sports field.

Sandwick head teacher Stuart Clubb said it was “brilliant” to see such a great turnout as demob-happy pupils rounded off the summer term in high spirits.

Former Sandwick and Dunrossness pupil Lynda Flaws is now the country’s number two table tennis player and will represent Team Scotland in Glasgow later this month, where she’ll be joined by isles swimmers Erraid Davies and Andrea Strachan.

Clubb said the ex-pupil’s presence added “an extra air of excitement” to proceedings, while Flaws herself said it “a great way to involve everybody in the build up to the games”.

“It was even more special since it was at my old school and I got to see some of my old teachers again,” she told Shetland News.

The baton departed Sandwick carried by trap and pony in the hands of Helen Thomson, who has dedicated more than 30 years of her life to encouraging youngsters to take an interest in riding Shetland ponies.

After its first stop off in Lerwick the relay made its way over the hill to Scalloway, where a throng of schoolchildren had gathered in the village’s Fraser Park for some lively dancing, enthusiastic chanting and lots of Mexican waves.

Baton bearer Glenn Gilfillan was delighted to see that many of the young footballers he coaches were present. He is also the local park keeper and joked he was keeping a watchful eye out for any littering.

As kids swarmed around posing for photos with baton bearer Fiona Dally, Hamnavoe pupil Kayla Jackson doubtlessly spoke for many in saying it had been a “really exciting” morning.

Neil Watt of Shetland Islands Council said the “worry was always the weather”, but with the fog staying away and the sun shining brightly everyone was “really enjoying it and getting into the spirit of the event”.

Later in the day the baton took to the water, transported by lifeboat from Aith Pier to Delting Boating Club ahead of a visit to Brae, before travelling through Lerwick Harbour on Viking longboat the Dim Riv ahead of an evening of celebrations in the town.

The baton – which has visited 70 Commonwealth countries and territories in 266 days – is due to fly by helicopter to a BP platform in the Clair field around 50 miles west of Shetland tomorrow before making its return to the Scottish mainland.

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