For a group of islands whose inhabitants frequently grumble – with some justification – that they barely get a summer at all, Shetland boasts a pretty good track record when it comes to attracting fine weather for set-piece events.
And so it proved as the Queen’s Baton Relay touched down this morning with Sumburgh Airport bathed in warm sunshine and not, thankfully, enveloped in the kind of thick fog that could easily have put the dampers on proceedings altogether.
Triathlete Lynsey Henderson, who was born in mid-air somewhere between Shetland and Aberdeen, took receipt of the Commonwealth Games baton on the runway. The 31 year old’s sister Vicky Smith and mother Mandy Henderson were also among 99 islanders who carried the baton.
The islands’ stunning, treeless scenery was at its shimmering best as the baton made the short hop from the airport to the 4,500-year-old Jarlshof settlement at the archipelago’s southernmost tip.
The prehistoric archaeological site, containing a Viking longhouse, a Bronze Age village and an Iron Age broch, was one of many key cornerstones of the islands’ rich culture which organisers managed to shoehorn into the relay’s whistle-stop visit.
A few miles further north at Sandwick, 450 pupils from schools across the south mainland lined the approach road to the small school – along with hardy Viking guizers who roared heartily as an unsuspecting policeman passed by on his motorbike.
Much flag-waving and cheering ensued as squash player Joan Smith handed the baton 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 school 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 – not a bad contribution from the 23,000 population.
Mr Clubb said the ex-pupil’s presence added “an extra air of excitement” to proceedings, while Ms 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 said.
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 the emblematic Shetland pony.
After a first stop off in Lerwick the relay made its way over the hill to Scalloway, Shetland’s ancient capital, 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, though as the local park keeper he joked that 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 in the west to Delting Boating Club in the north, before travelling through Lerwick Harbour on Viking longboat the Dim Riv ahead of an evening of celebrations in the town.
Each of the five mainland communities the relay visited boasts its own top class leisure centre – part of the legacy the oil industry has bequeathed to the islands. Fitting, then, that the baton was this morning due to fly by helicopter to a BP platform in the Clair field around 50 miles west of Shetland before making its return to the Scottish mainland.