Da Gairdins i Sand, Shetland

Alan Inkster 1942-2009
A tribute to a dedicated and enthusiastic ambassador - orbituary bu Maurice Mullay

Shetland lost a very dedicated and enthusiastic ambassador and advo­cate when Alan Rognvald Inkster passed away at 67 years of age at the Gilbert Bain Hospital on Tuesday 1st December.
Alan was an enthusiast for almost everything associated with Shetland, but especially the environment, cul­ture, geology, wildlife and nature. Of Shetland stock and living in Kincardineshire in his early years, he took every opportunity to visit Shetland and explore every corner of the islands.
Not only did Alan become an en­thu­siast for nature and the environ­ment, he became knowledgeable on a range of Shetland specialities. His interest in geology resulted in him being known widely as “The Staney Man” because of the establishment of the company Hjaltasteyn which was established in conjunction with his wife, Ruby. Alan was perhaps the first to cut and polish a wide range of Shetland stones and set them into silver and gold fittings to create a very popular and highly esteemed range of Shetland jewellery. The collection was recognised as diverse and high quality and soon Hjalta­steyn was expanded to meet the de­mand for their products from through­out Scotland and Scandin­avia.
People were delighted to be the recipient of a gift of locally hand-crafted Hjaltasteyn jewellery.
Hjaltasteyn soon became a reg­ular and popular stop for tour coaches and, while Alan demon­strated stone cutting and polishing to the enthralled tourists, Ruby was look­ing after them with tea, coffee and homemade bannocks, scones and cakes. Alan’s interest was infectious and he was only too keen to explain all the production pro­cesses to the visitors who were keen to buy the hand produced articles.
During his busy time at Hjalta­steyn, Alan was also chairman of Shetland Tourist Organisation at the time it was actively developing the tourism industry in the islands. Alan’s tenure as chairman saw the greatest ever increase in tourism into the islands, not only from the UK but during the heydays of Smyril Line from Faroe, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and beyond. Alan never took “no” for an answer from auth­ority (and especially external tour­ism agencies) when a project or promotion would be beneficial to Shetland.
The Shetland flag was a project which came into being as a result of the enthusiasm of the tourist board’s chairman for a clearly identifiable symbol for Shetland. Despite every hurdle and handicap put in the way by the local authority at the time, Alan was determined that this tour­ism project was going to succeed – as indeed it did. Heraldic and civic authorities met their match with the determination of the tourist board and the people of Shetland in support of the now established and widely recognised Shetland flag.
Always looking for a new chal­lenge, this multi-talented and deter­mined individual taught himself to play the fiddle at the age of 40 and was a stalwart of the Shetland Fid­dlers for a good many years as they entertained visitors weekly at Isles­burgh and sometimes toured this country and abroad spreading the delights of traditional Shetland music.
Being community minded, he served 27 years as a member and chairman of the Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale Community Council at a time when many developments in roads and housing in particular were taking place in the community. He was always a fair and determined leader who would leave no stone unturned if there was a benefit to his community.
For several years he also served on the SIC environmental committee in recognition of his experience and enthusiasm for the subject.
Always generous with his time to help people and organisations, Alan and Ruby were strong supporters of the Islesburgh Drama Group where they not only performed a wide range of parts on stage, but would dedicate long hours to producing and painting the props for the performance as well.
And whenever a concert, social evening, wedding or other event needed co-ordination and a steady hand, Alan was the obvious and natural choice to keep the event on course.
After Ruby inherited three crofts on the West Side, Alan set his formidable mind to creating a haven for wildlife at Da Gairdins i Sand. Over a period of about 20 years, they worked extremely hard and trans­formed the crofts into “oasis of life” habitats including woodland, wild­flower meadows, original grassland, native planting, southern hemisphere collections and freshwater ponds. Over 30,000 trees, shrubs and flowers have been planted to provide shelterbelts and avenues of trees which one would never expect in Shetland’s harsh environment.
Da Gairdins is a living legacy to an individual with a strength of character and determination which is becoming unusual in society today. Visit this unique place. Take a walk past the three wildlife ponds, through Da Mödoo and Da Willow­erie to marvel at the dedication and determination of this exceptional individual who always challenged convention and fought a terminal illness for five years, to achieve his dream.
One of Alan’s last public duties was to receive one of the 2009 environmental awards from Shetland Amenity Trust and Keep Scotland Beautiful for Da Gairdins. This was a fitting tribute to someone who richly deserved this honour for his vision and dedication. Alan has left behind a great many memories and is held in the highest esteem by everyone who knew him. He also leaves behind a tremendous legacy to Shetland and the many future visitors to Da Gairdins i Sand.

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