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Features / Meet the man documenting Shetland’s roads one video at a time

AS WE continue to get used to life under ‘lockdown’, taking our cars out for a Sunday spin or a leisurely adventure around the isles has become something of the past – for the time being, at least.

For those who are missing the open road – or at least those not on your route to the supermarket – then you might just be in luck, thanks to a Dutchman called Ernie Ramaker.

For over a year Ernie, armed with his trusty dashcam, has been videoing his drives around Shetland, and his eventual goal is to document the vast majority of the isles’ roads.

Ernie Ramaker, the man behind the wheel.

They span from the short – the Bressay lighthouse to the island’s ferry terminal, for instance – or the long, like the 37-minute Toft to Lerwick video which was the last clip he uploaded to his Driving Shetland YouTube account.

Ernie has been splitting his time between Holland and Shetland since renting a property near Voe in December 2018, and, importantly, buying a car.

He first visited Shetland on holiday and “had been dreaming of spending more time there ever since”.

“When I came to Shetland, I wanted to start exploring my new surroundings, but I’m not really an outdoors person,” Ernie says.

“I will go for a walk here and there, but the main exploring had to be done by car. I am a methodical person. The type who will mark on a map where they’ve been. And that’s how the idea came to me.

“If I’m going to be driving around in a methodical way, I might as well film it and create something like a [Google] Street View with video footage. It also gave me something to do as a hobby.”

Ernie’s first video happens to be the most viewed: an 18 minute, 36 second drive from Brae to Voe via Sullom Voe, recorded in February last year.

Since then he has uploaded nearly 100 videos, from the northern realms of Hermaness to Sumburgh in the south.

The videos don’t have any sound, as “I think the videos are best enjoyed with your own favourite music playing,” Ernie says.

“I play music in the car, but I have a peculiar taste.” That taste is Nordic folk music, if you are wondering.

Ernie keeps a map of all the areas he has documented, with most of the more commonly travelled roads covered so far.

Not every single piece of road in Shetland will be videoed, though. “I’m not sure if I’m going to cover every small street in Lerwick, and I’m also not sure if I’m going to go to the trouble of having my car shipped to Foula or Skerries,” Ernie says.

“But I want to cover as much as I can as long as I still enjoy it. And I’m actually a good part of the way there.”

Those of us who have lived in Shetland for all our lives might take some of the roads and their views for granted, but what is Ernie’s favourite stretch he has covered so far?

“The road at Heylor, looking over Ronas Voe” he replies. “That’s where I stayed when I came to Shetland for the first time and fell in love with it. Driving down Dales Lees from Mossbank to Voe is also fantastic.”

Since renting in Voe Ernie has bought a chalet in Whiteness, which acts as a “second home” whilst he flits between Shetland and Holland.

As a translator of Scandinavian languages to Dutch, he can work remotely. Handy for the current coronavirus situation, but unfortunately he was in Holland when the crisis struck, where he remains – meaning there will be no freshly recorded videos going online any time soon.

The roads Ernie has captured on video so far.

Ernie, who has lived in Amsterdam most of his life, has still had some influence on Shetland during the coronavirus outbreak, though – he offered his chalet to an NHS employee who needed to isolate because of vulnerable family members.

“At least it’s not just sitting there empty, and I was happy that I could contribute a little bit in this time of crisis.”

Ernie ponders if more local folk might watch his videos while people are asked to stay at home and not drive – “it can take your mind off the crisis for a couple of minutes” – but more generally they tend to be popular with people interested in Shetland’s landscapes.

“I have the impression that a substantial part of the audience consists of people all over the world who either dream of coming to Shetland one day, or have been to Shetland and miss it,” he says.

“In addition, you might even use the footage for practical purposes, like how to drive to a certain beach, check how accessible certain roads are, how to queue for the ferries.”

Perhaps the last word should be left with someone from Uruguay who left a comment on Ernie’s Brae to Voe video, as a man from Holland brought Shetland – and the delights of the B9076 and the A968 – to South America.

“I just stumbled upon your channel and I am delighted,” they wrote.

“I live in South America but have being fascinated by Shetland landscapes for a long time. Thank you for posting this videos. I just subscribed and I am planning to watch them all while listening to podcasts.”