Pony-inspired Shetland knitting tours planned

The Shetland ponies in jumpers who appear to have sparked interest in the Highlands and Islands. Picture: Rob McDougall
The Shetland ponies in jumpers who appear to have sparked interest in the Highlands and Islands. Picture: Rob McDougall
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THE four-legged stars of a tourism campaign – Shetland ponies sporting Fair Isle jumpers – have inspired a German company to set up knitting tours of the Northern Isles.

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Fans of woolly jumpers will be expected to pay about €2,500 (£2,140) a head for a ten-day trip to Shetland.

The tour, to be launched in the autumn, will include visits to wool traders, traditional weavers, fashion designers and current textile-producing centres and factories.

The programme being lined up will also feature a visit to museums to see some of the oldest surviving knitware equipment, shopping tours, knitting workshops and an overnight stay in remote Fair Isle, home of the famous jumpers, to hear first-hand about their production.

Catharina Ehlers, owner of the tour company Nordica Reisen, said: “We started our company last year to specialise in tours to Scotland, Iceland, Ireland and the Faroe Islands.

“We already do self-drive trips around Scotland and have developed tailormade itineraries for people who have an interest in hiking or folk music, for example. However, we have been keen to run more themed tours and guided tours.

“I saw the VisitScotland promotion with the little ponies earlier this year and thought it would be a unique and interesting place to run a tour to. Also, many of our clients are looking for something a bit special when they go on holiday, not the usual touristy things.”

Ms Ehlers said she had noticed a German group on Face-book for people who enjoy knitting. “It is really growing in popularity,” she said.

When two Shetland mares – Fivla of Finnister and Millhouse Vitamin – were dressed in buttoned-up Fair Isle cardigans and used in a photoshoot to promote the start of the Year of Natural Scotland, the images were shown around the world. The woolly-clad ponies also featured on the American television networks CNN and NBC.

Their popularity sparked renewed interest in their Fair Isle sweaters, and gave Ms Ehlers the idea to take knitting enthusiasts to Shetland to see where the knitwear originated.

“We are deliberately starting the tour in October, just after Shetland’s annual Wool Week, so if anyone is really keen they can go there early before their tour. The idea is to make the trips really exclusive, with a maximum of up to 12 people on each trip,” she said.

The “Shetland Special” trips will be run in conjunction with the Centre for Creative Industries for Shetland, which recently launched textile tours of the islands from its base on Yell.

Creative director Andy Ross said: “There has been a real increase in the textiles being produced here in the last year or so, and the advert with the ponies has been great for raising awareness of Shetland.

“It’s absolutely fantastic to hear about this new tour from Germany, which will hopefully be great business for both countries. It is a huge opportunity for Shetland.”

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “We have been absolutely delighted by the level of interest in our advert, which has not only helped make the ponies famous, but has also shown Scotland at its stunning natural best to a global audience.”

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