Living in Shetland

Jun 21, 2024

Reflections of 20 Years Living in Shetland

I first came to visit Shetland in 1999 on a school exchange trip. Even though I had grown up in the Czech Republic, I felt welcome here straight away—like I was already part of this unique island family. My first memories of Shetland were at the most breathtaking spots on long coastal hikes, being shown around by my host family. Through their generosity, I fell in love with the place.

I was also intrigued by the culture, curious about the intertwining of Scottish and Scandinavian traditions. Like a magnet, a certain place keeps drawing you back, again and again. That’s how Shetland felt to me.

After a couple of summers working in one of the local hotels, I fell in love with a local. And I knew I had to move here for good. These wide-open spaces leave you heady from all that fresh air. But the winters can be hard. Living here isn’t for everyone. But these isles are a rugged treasure, a fleck of gold in the open ocean. It’s a world to be experienced, a landscape that urges you to wander and wonder.

I landed in Shetland with no experience – just a dream and lots of determination!

Starting with no experience or capital, just my head, hands, and a huge amount of determination, I moved to Shetland and faced a steep learning curve. It was harsh but worthwhile. I now feel brave, confident, and proud, with much to show for my 20 years here. The fear of not being good enough has diminished, replaced by a sense of accomplishment and pride. My approach has always been to take a deep breath and face challenges head-on. This has worked and brought me to where I am now, ready to step back a little and enjoy the ride. I want to slow down and craft things, rather than always rushing to the next task or goal.

As I reflect on 20 years since my graduation and moving to Shetland, I wonder where all those years have gone. Most importantly, I have no regrets. If I were to start again, I would do it all over, perhaps savouring the journey more and cutting down on the fear of the unknown.

Since living here, I’m proud to have worked with many fantastic organisations. I’ve contributed to the successes of a destination marketing body Promote Shetland and Shetland Wool Week. I also worked for the national marketing body VisitScotland. These experiences have allowed me to deepen my understanding of Shetland and its heritage, as well as sustainable destination management.

Living in Shetland inspired me to share this special place with the rest of the world

I wanted others to experience Shetland’s specialness too. I’m so very proud of myself for taking the leap—leaving a traditional 9-5 job—and following my passion. And so Shetland Wool Adventures was born: the best way for guests to explore this beautiful place… through unique and highly personal knitting holidays—like a local, with the locals.

Reflecting on my journey over the past 8 years since I set up Shetland Wool Adventures, I remember the countless hours and immense effort it took to reach this point. From the early days of managing everything myself—running around with bags full of home-baked cakes, flowers from the garden, and workshop handouts, and working 15-hour days—to now being able to share tasks and trust my team, it’s been a remarkable transformation.

Running these tours has been a labour of love, something I set up alongside my full-time job for the first two years. Balancing both was challenging but incredibly rewarding. It taught me the importance of time management and the value of perseverance. Eventually, I decided to spread my wings and focus solely on the tours, a decision that allowed the business to grow and flourish.

Woman teaching people how to knit during a Shetland Knitting Tour

Honouring the spirit of living in Shetland

What fuels me every single day is my passion for Shetland, the people, the wool, and the landscape. And I wanted others to feel as inspired by Shetland as I am.

One of my guests wrote: “I think Misa’s biggest asset is Misa. Honestly, I think her biggest selling point is herself. She’s just a remarkable person. She’s a very giving person. A very warm person. She has made friends with or is involved with a lot of the people in Shetland that you want to hear from or learn from. And so she can put those types of educational opportunities together. And they are opportunities that you cannot find anywhere else. That’s a huge strength I think.” This makes me feel so humbled and grateful.

Exploring Shetland with Shetland Wool Adventures allows our guests to become more connected to the yarn and where it comes from as it moves through their fingers. There are few places in Britain where you can see the whole garment-making process and learn to do that yourself within a 35-mile radius. The tours are our invitation to connect with the crofters and knitters involved at every stage and experience Shetland through our eyes.

A woman climbing over a fence as she looks directly towards the camera. She is wearing a Fair Isle Knitted Pull over. This is meant to create a sense of what it's like to live in Shetland

An unexpected detour led to some new ideas – the Shetland Wool Adventures Journals

When COVID hit, the hopes for our 2020 tours unravelled in a matter of days. Not just here in Shetland, but all around the world, connections were suddenly cut. Communities were tested. I wanted to continue to share the beauty of these islands with others who couldn’t get here quite yet. This was the start of the Shetland Wool Adventures Journal which was created so people could still get an authentic sense of place, and experience Shetland from the comfort and safety of their homes.

I’m learning to appreciate that things are different now—not better or worse, just different. A lot has changed in the past few years. Something I’m really proud of is that I now have my own creative space in the centre of Lerwick historic lanes. This has evolved from renting to finally buying last year. Another thing I’m immensely proud of is creating and producing nine publications since 2020, with the latest one—Shetland: Your Essential Travel Guide—coming out later this summer.

An open page of the Shetland Wool Adventures showing one of the best walks in Shetland

Keeping busy outside of work – living in Shetland is anything but boring

Besides my work, my favourite Shetland pastimes are hiking, photography, gardening, and cooking. My gardening beginnings in Shetland were interesting. I had grown up in a block of flats in the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia then) and having a small garden had always been my dream. When I moved to Shetland and my garden wishes came true, I quickly realised that because of the climate, it wasn’t going to be as simple as I had thought. I went from elation to despair. Would anything actually grow here? Everything I planted would get battered by the wind or fail to ripen—we have such a short growing season, on average 100 days less than on the UK mainland. Eventually, after a lot of trial and error, small successes came and little by little I learned what was worth putting effort into.

My passion for growing vegetables and cooking resulted in writing a cookbook called A Year in My Shetland Garden, which is a collection of my favourite recipes using produce that can be grown in Shetland. My Shetland garden is the place where I go in midsummer to breathe and find respite after a busy day at work. It is the place that gives us abundant gifts, such as fragrant rhubarb in early May, when you crave something fresh and zesty after a long Shetland winter. It’s also the home of the most beautiful feeling on a still winter’s day, when we light a fire in the firepit and gather with friends to enjoy a glass of mulled wine and a tasty bite to eat.

Shetland inspires me every day and I love living here. Some days are harder than others but overall it’s been a wonderful base to settle down, work, and bring up a family. Shetland has given me so much and I feel indebted to this beautiful place. It is deep in my heart and under my skin too. Shetland—the land that we call home and that keeps calling us back.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this journey. Here’s to many more wondereful Shetland years ahead, creating unforgettable memories and continuing to explore, grow and evolve.

  1. Jackie Kirkham says:

    Bravo dear Misa – your achievements are exemplary! Thank you for being such a fantastic ambassador for wonderful Shetland. Do please keep doing what you do – you do it all so well. X


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