Ocean Kinetics - The Engineering Experts

Letters / Don’t let history repeat itself

Robina Barton in her open letter to trustees of Shetland Amenity Trust is absolutely right (The bigger picture; SN, 25/10/2017).

I fear that SAT history will repeat itself. Unique visitor experiences such as Sumburgh Lighthouse, the Crofthouse Museum and other visitor centres should not be starved of the support they need. Valuable expertise of staff within Shetland Amenity Trust should not be lost through job cuts.

Old Scatness is an extraordinarily well preserved Iron Age broch and village; it was once regarded as one of the premier archaeological sites in Europe.

When I started my tour guiding business Old Scatness was vibrant place, open six days a week with several excellent onsite guides taking visitors through the excavated broch and houses.

Also on site were living history demonstrators using local stone and other materials in reconstructed Iron Age and Pictish houses. In the small visitor centre there was demonstrations of weaving and other craft skills from our history; children could dress up and play a Viking game. It was a vibrant place with something for everyone.

When I was preparing Shetland’s Geopark application I used the Old Scatness experience as an example of how our aspiring Geopark was bringing together geology, archaeology, history and culture all on one site.

Here I could show that not only was Old Scatness popular tourism attraction, it was also a big draw for Shetland residents who were fascinated to find out how their distant ancestors lived and worked.

At its best Old Scatness was a tourism jewel in Shetland’s crown, rated by my visitors as being an even better experience than Jarlshof or Orkney’s Skara Brae.

Unfortunately, the importance and potential of Old Scatness was never appreciated by our local government or those charged with looking after our heritage.

Promote Shetland (run by SAT) never promoted it. Tour busses were always directed to Jarlshof while hardly any stopped at Old Scatness, not because it was a poorer site but because it was never promoted or supported as it should have been.

Today Jarlshof (run by Historic Environment Scotland) is bragging about record visitor numbers. After several years of closure and decay Old Scatness is partially open one day a week in the summer.

Over just a few years, starved of the investment, planning and publicity it needed, Old Scatness declined into a shadow of its former self.

Trustees of Shetland Amenity Trust closed the site and paid off staff thus losing the valuable expertise and knowledge of the site guides.

I wrote to the trustees at the time questioning their decision to close Old Scatness and was told there was no money to keep it open. There was no consultation with the tourism industry or the wider public.

Don’t let history repeat itself.

Allen Fraser