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A hidden gem - Michaelswood

I have been so busy for the last 4 weeks that I have not managed to write a blog, but this short introduction to one of my favourite places to visit will hopefully make up for it.

On Tuesday I was at Michaelswood with a lovely family from Germany. They were doing one of our short tours to the wonderful Westside of Shetland. I love strolling in Michaelswood and visitors are always surprised to find just how peaceful and inspiring it is.

It's all the idea and hard work of Ray and Betty Ferrie from Aith. Their son Michael unfortunately passed away in 1996 aged just 21 and they have developed the woodlands in his memory. But it's far more than just a memorial garden.

At the lower levels by the car park, the trees are now well established and produce a real haven for wildlife. There is a bird hide with lots of books and binoculars as well as a small pond. I spotted frogs there lazing in the sun. As you meander up the hillside through the trees, the views over the surrounding hills open up as the trees are less established and at the top of the hill there is a large flatter area planted with younger trees. No matter what time of year you visit, there is always something interesting to see and it is lovely to go regularly to see how it changes through the seasons.

Ray and Betty have taken care to encourage all age groups to visit. There's a dinosaur trail, teddy bear's picnic, toy car track and pirate ship for the younger visitors. For the young at heart there's a Philosopher's Trail with many pearls of wisdom as you wander through the trees - my favourite was.....'The truth is still the truth even if no one believes it. A lie is still a lie even if everyone believes it.' Not sure who it is attributable to though.

Michael Ferrie was a superb musician - fiddle, mandolin and banjo player and a writer of traditional tunes. There is a lovely short piece about him in the bird hide describing his sense of humour and quick wit - he certainly certainly would have appreciated The Philosopher's Trail.

When you have finished strolling, there are picnic tables and several seating areas where you can sit out in the sun or just enjoy the tranquility of some shade. They have even installed a Polycrub with indoor seating for those inclement days. A Polycrub is a Shetland-proof polytunnel - usually used to grow fruit and vegetables, but here it makes a perfect retreat from the wind and rain.

Most visitors to Shetland are unaware of Michaelswood and even many locals have never visited, but it's a real gem out on the Westside. Ray and Betty are delighted to welcome everyone - please sign the visitor's book in the bird hide. There is no charge to visit, but there is a donation box for anyone who would like to contribute. You can find out much more about the woodland from their website, but the best idea is to just pop along.

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