Kate Wills has lived on the island of Bressay nearly all her life, and recently became the Event Director of Bressay parkrun. The 29-year-old married mother of two, who works as a Social Worker and Retained Fire Fighter, tells us what it was like to set up one of the most remote parkruns in the world on an island that has no official parks.
I love living in Shetland and feel that the quality of life we have is hard to beat – except for our cold windy climate perhaps! My paternal grandmother was from here, as were her 49 first cousins, so we have a lot of links to Shetland. Life is interesting here. As the most Northerly part of the British isles, we are exposed to the elements and quite isolated. You can experience four seasons in one day. The scenery can be very dramatic and is quite unlike that of mainland Scotland – having very few trees for a start. There are more than 100 islands of which 15 are inhabited. We have a population of about 23,000 and roughly half the population, including me, live in the main town of Lerwick.
We enjoy all manner of outdoor activities, watching the wide variety of wildlife (birds, seals, whales, ponies) and attending many community events. The winter storms curb some of this outdoor activity but fortunately Shetland has a strong sense of community, vibrant music scene and the locals enjoy any excuse for a get together. It’s a great place to bring up children and ranks as being one of the best places to live in the UK.
We experienced parkrun as a family during 2016 when we swapped lives with an Australian family in Newcastle, NSW, as part of a teacher exchange my husband Kevin was doing. We tried a few parkruns and loved them, especially because it was something for the whole family to enjoy and helped us meet lots of other young families just like ours. We had heard of it before but didn’t realise how much fun it could be until the beautiful Aussie climate spurred us on to give it a go. My husband and I took it in turns to either run it or jog/walk it with our double buggy and two children. The kids got really into shouting encouragement to the crowds and offering a high five to the passers by.
I’ll be honest and say that as a non-athlete type person, my favourite bit about our parkrun routine was sitting down as a family with our parkrun friends at our regular cafe to have a well-earned breakfast! A great start to the weekend. The thought of missing out on our family parkrun routine entirely due to the isolated nature of moving back to a remote island was not appealing so I decided to do something about it. I decided I wasn’t going to let our less appealing weather stop me enjoying what I had enjoyed in Australia and therefore began the process of starting the Bressay parkrun.
I feel very nostalgic about Bressay. I grew up there and owe a lot of my happy childhood memories to that lovely community. Unfortunately, Bressay has taken a few knocks in recent years with the closure of our primary school and our spa and a general lack of investment in the isle. Starting a parkrun there seemed a great way of getting people thinking positively about the place again and helping regenerate it.
Bressay has a lot to offer and we chose a route that takes in as many amenities as we could manage – the heritage centre, the hotel/pub, the marina, the church, the shop, parts of the ship wrecks/rescues tour, the playpark, the football pitch, the hall, the cafe and of course the beautiful coastal scenery. The funding came mostly from the Bressay Community Council but also from the Tesco Bags of Help bid. The Shetland Islands Council have been supportive of the parkrun plan throughout and gave us permission to use the route. The course is on tarmac and is fairly flat with two slight inclines. The community generally are really keen to get Bressay parkrun going – especially our flourishing running community.
Bressay is a lovely small community of less than 400 people – it is about 11 square miles. Everyone knows everyone and growing up there felt really safe and secure. You learned to be tolerant of those different to you because you really couldn’t escape them and quite often depended upon them – for example when the ferry stopped running or the power went out in wild weather. I made lifelong friends with lots of people in Bressay and continue to see them regularly even though I moved to the town. The idea of parkrun is a new phenomenon for Shetland and generally people hadn’t heard of it in Bressay until I started banging on about us needing to start one so I will be interested to see what they think! I can’t imagine that they won’t love it.
Whilst living in Australia, I fell in with an all female running group called the Night Striders set up on the basis of women running together for safety in numbers when its dark. It proved to be the best and most supportive group of running friends I could have hoped for, and those women are to thank for spurring on my parkrun plans as they were already organising a few of the parkruns I went to and gave me plenty of encouragement. I hope some of them make it across the pond to try the Bressay parkrun. We can’t wait to meet parkrun enthusiasts from the rest of the world, and hope that you’ll consider making the trip to Shetland one day.
If you do think about coming, you need to prepare yourself for the fact that getting to Shetland, whether by the Northlink boat or by our two airlines, can be a bit expensive. It’s 100% worth the money though! Once you get here and find the main town of Lerwick, then Bressay is just a seven minute ferry ride from the centre of town and then you are pretty much at the parkrun start line.
As far as what you can see whilst here: amazing beaches, cliffs, lighthouses, archaeological sites, geology, wildlife – the list is endless! If you’re not a cold climate/stormy weather fan, definitely avoid coming in winter. We do winter quite sensationally up here! As for what to bring – waterproofs and warm clothing all year round. Maybe a survival suit and some binoculars. And definitely pack your sense of humour.
As we don’t have any official ‘parks’ (because Shetland is basically a park in itself) there’s a fair bit of work that goes into setting up a parkrun, but now that the people of Shetland can see it’s possible I hope that future Shetland parkruns will follow. I’m not sure how chuffed I’ll be if they steal our ‘Most Northerly UK parkrun’ status though!
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