The Amazing Race Scotland

Oct 13, 2014 by

Did you watch Episode 3 of this season’s The Amazing Race  Scotland on CBS last Friday night, October 10th?  The competing teams wound up on the Shetland Islands for the first time in the show’s 25 seasons.

Even if you dislike reality shows, you may enjoy this episode of The Amazing Race Scotland, entitled Get Your Sheep Together

I found it amazingly funny (pun intended).

FYI:There are NO SPOILERS in this post–just a few observations, so you can enjoy the show at your leisure. You can see the entire episode online HERE.


Upon arrival in Shetland,  the teams’ first challenge was a detour, requiring them to choose to “pony up” or “light my fire.”  Teams who elected to pony up had to cut peat and transport it to the top of a hill via awww, so adorable Shetland ponies.  The ‘light my fire” task required teams to successfully make a Viking torch like the ones used in Shetland’s famous fire festival, Up Helly Aa, a celebration of the island’s Viking history.



I would have chosen to make the Viking torch–Up Helly Aa, Y’All!!–but quite a few teams choose to cut and haul the peat.

Why?   Because those teams incorrectly thought a) the small Shetland ponies are cute (yes) and b) they must be easy to handle (not just NO, but HELL, NO!).


Ask any horse person and they’ll tell you: never underestimate the stubbornness and quick temper of a pony. Shetland Pony-tude is not just a local legend.

The Viking task turned out to be no easy feat, either.  The Guizer Jarl oversaw the creation of a Viking torch, used to set ablaze a Viking longship, in miniature, down at the local harbor. The jarl, wearing a magnificent spotted cow hide coat (want, want, want) was very picky about the wrapping of the burlap layers, causing some teams to rethink their idea of going a-Viking.

Up Helly Aa has always been on my bucket list, but after seeing all the Nordic camaraderie in Episode 3,  I want to be a Viking guizer, not just a spectator!  Not gonna happen because I’m female, but it’s certainly worth a try.


The funniest challenge for The Amazing Race Scotland required all teams to herd a group of sheep down a hill and into a pen.

If that sounds easy, you are either a border collie or have never come face to face with a herd of sheep.

Sheep bounce, you know—like wooly balls of fluff on speed–and adhere to a mob mentality of “Panic! Panic! Everybody PANIC!” when faced with loud humans running around the field.  A few teams worked out Babe’s “Baa Ram Ewe” method of herding the sheep with gentle persuasion; other teams tried creative, but ridiculous methods to pen the sheep, who were unfazed by the visitors’ silly efforts.  I was embarrassed on behalf of humans every where after one team erected a wall of clothing to guide the sheep.  You’ll have to see it for yourself to truly understand the complete lack of common sense and engineering skills that were on display to the world.

On the other hand, I was snorting and laughing so hard at one point, my dog got worried and came over to give me comfort!


 After penning the sheep, the competitors for The Amazing Race Scotland were given a penannular brooch replica and told to go to the place were the brooch was “found.”  Most teams puzzled out this clue fairly quickly and raced off to be first at the Pit Stop, the final destination for this leg of the race.  As for the teams who had trouble with directions <cough, cough…men…cough>, well, let’s just say it pays to ask the RIGHT people for the RIGHT directions. Or maybe, don’t over-think the clue.  Or how about, go to the nearby museum or local history center and ask them for help because it’s their job to know a lot about the island.

As Episode 3 shows, sometimes staying in the game comes down to survival of the mentally, not physically, fittest.

The Celtic penannular brooch was based on an early Medieval one found in 1958 on St Ninian’s Isle, a small island linked to mainland Shetland by a sandy causeway.  Teams arriving at the Pit Stop on St Ninian’s were greeted by host Phil Keoghan and a dancing Puffin Man. Do you know the Puffin Man? He’s obviously not related to the Muffin Man, but seems to be a mascot for Shetland.

Strange, because puffins do live in the Shetland Islands, but they don’t dance.  At least, I think they don’t.

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Dapper Shetland Ponies

Jun 12, 2014 by

If you asked the average person on the street to name an icon of Scotland, you can bet your bucket of oats that the Shetland pony would be in the top five.  What’s not to love?  These sturdy natives of the Scottish isle are small, cute, and cuddly looking–oh, and they wear sweaters and dance, too.

Ponies Fivla and Vitamin in their custom made Shetland wool cardigans

Ponies Fivla and Vitamin in their custom made Shetland wool cardigans Source:


Visit Scotland made international stars of two Shetland ponies in 2013 when the national tourism group used Fivla and Vitamin in an ad campaign. The oversized jumpers, or sweaters as we call them here in the US, were handcrafted by Shetland knitter Doreen Brown and made of Shetland wool sheared from Shetland sheep.  The equine ambassadors from Scotland even attracted the attention of television news network CNN:


As if the idea of Scottish ponies in sweaters wasn’t charming enough, a London ad agency took it to the next level by creating a 2013 video ad  for a UK mobile phone company, starring a dancing Shetland pony:


In describing the feel-good ad, the agency notes:

Shot against the dramatic backdrop of the Shetland Islands, the :60 spot follows the story of a stocky little pony. But this is no ordinary Shetland pony. With the scrape of a hoof and a flick of his Tina Turner-esque mane, he effortlessly moonwalks along to the sound of ‘Everywhere’ by Fleetwood Mac.


Needless to say, the prancing Shetland pony went viral and has, to date, over nine million views on YouTube.



Scottish tourism officials are always working on new campaigns, but I’m not sure the Shetland ponies can be topped–unless someone can dress a Clydesdale in a kilt.


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Celtic–and Viking–Blood Runs in My Veins

Nov 14, 2013 by

Viking Jarl Squad at 2013 Up Helly Aa fest in Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland-(Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)

Viking Jarl Squad at 2013 Up Helly Aa fest in Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland-(Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)

I like Vikings. They haven’t always placed nice with us Celts, but they have certainly left their mark(and their DNA fingerprints) on Celtic life, history and culture. As many of you know, every Thursday(Thorsday), I try to post something about the Vikings. Why? Because of the connection between Vikings and Celts. Yes, there IS one, and I’ve talked about it many times since I began blogging about the Celtic nations.


Some confusion remains, however, about the Viking-Celt link, so here are some basic truths as I see them:

1) Vikings had a significant physical, historical, and cultural effect on the Celtic nations, especially in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man(IOM), but to some degree in the other nations as well. Read back through my numerous posts here and on Facebook about this issue or google it, and you’ll get a wealth of info about the many ways our two cultures are linked.

2) The Celts existed BEFORE Viking invasions of the Celtic lands, thus we, as Celts, do NOT originate from the Scandinavian lands–we are of Indo-European origin.

3) As will happen when two cultures come in contact, Viking boy meets Celtic girl(or vice versa), willingly or not sometimes, and BAM! Lars yer uncle and CeltoVike tyke is born! He/she grows up in Scotland, Ireland, IOM or some other Celtic country and passes down that genetic heritage to YOU, beautiful Celtic people.

In modern terms, you MAY have DNA that connects you to both Celtic and Viking ancestors. Many of you have told me of just such DNA evidence in your family trees, which is consistent with what genetic researchers have found. Not everyone has Scandinavian DNA, but many do, including myself–I’m basically 3/4 Celt, 1/4 Viking, to put it in VERY simple terms. Again, read my previous blog or Facebook posts.

Viking Voyages and Territories in the Celtic Realm

Viking Voyages and Territories in the Celtic Realm

This map shows where the Northmen established solid control of certain territories(those areas are in bright green)–in Ireland, particularly around Dublin, in northern Scotland, in Shetland, Orkney and in Celtic France, near Normandy. The entire Isle of Man was ruled by Vikings for several hundred years, before being handed over to Scotland–IOM is too small to see clearly on the map.

The blue lines indicate known Viking voyages and trading routes–you can see that EVERY Celtic country was raided/visited/traded with by Vikings to some degree.

So, in light of the above, and because I am the monarch of this page(what do you mean, nobody told you?! It says it right up there, in the royal edicts) and because VIKINGS ARE AWESOME, I will continue to share my Viking fascination with you, fellow Celts. Even better, you can now impress friends and relatives with your knowledge about the Celtic-Viking connection, a bit of our rich heritage with which relatively few Celts are familiar. In return, they can toast you with a big horn of mead.

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Viking Scotland–Jarlshof on Shetland

Feb 8, 2013 by

Ruins at Jarlshof: A path runs past the ruins of the old Viking settlement at Jarlshof in the Shetland Islands, Scotland. Vikings from Norway settled at Jarlshof in the 9th century. (Photo Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/CORBIS)

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Feb 7, 2013 by

Jarlshof , Shetland Islands, Scotland- The Norse settlement (Viking) The Vikings left their mark at Jarlshof with extensive remains at the northern half of the site. The Norse settlement covers a period from about 800 to 1200 AD.

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