Paddling into the mists of time

Latest stop for local guide, Shetland Islands, home of the Vikings

Latest stop of Spirit Dancer was Shetland Islands

Step on to the wind-worn shores of the wild North Atlantic and it’s easy to imagine ships looming out of the mists and Vikings jumping on to Britain’s shores to plunder and pillage.

It’s a past that still lives a millennium afterwards, in the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland, Chris Cooper discovered this summer.

“They actually call themselves Shetlanders. There’s more of a connection to Norway than Scotland.”

Cooper, a Pitt Meadows adventurer, has led a four-year canoeing voyage around the British Isles. It started in May 2008 on England’s south coast, where the Canadian team, many from First Nations, brought their 42-foot Montreal voyageur canoe, Spirit Dancer, to the coast and charmed the locals.

Steadily, different crews, including the locals, worked their way around Land’s End and up the west coast to Scotland and as of last July, reached the Shetland Islands, 475 kilometres north of Scotland.

The crew likes to paddle as much as possible, but had to skip the stretch from the Orkney Islands to the Shetlands.

“You’re taking a chance doing that,” he said.

Based on the sound advice of the coast guard, they loaded their canoe on to a ship.

“We did not cross. We were warned by the coast guard.”

Their arrival in the Shetlands in the middle of a tall ships festival wasn’t a disappointment.

“Low and behold, I met about 25 Vikings, all dressed in full regalia, with armour and spears and shields. So they came out in the canoe with me. And that was my first day.”

Cooper spent July and August there and made some connections that will result in a youth cultural/educational exchange between Shetlanders and First Nations bands in B.C. The first will take place this coming July when members of the Kwantlen, Cowichan and Penticton First Nations spend the month there.

Some time this fall, a dozen Shetlanders will visit Penticton.

Asked what Shetlanders have in common with First Nations people and Cooper quickly responded. “Isolation – is the key word.

“Shetland Island is very isolated and so are many of our communities on the coast of B.C.

“They’ve very enthusiastic. I guess maybe part of that, is they are isolated and they look forward to doing things.

“You’ve just got to watch yourself in the streets of Lerwick because you never know when a Viking will step out in front of you.”

He doesn’t know if the Norwegians, just across the stretch of water, go to the same extent of extolling their past.

“All I know is these guys take it very seriously.”

Cooper agreed that he’d like to get bands in more remote B.C. places, such as Bella Bella or Hartley Bay involved in future exchanges.

While most in the U.K. didn’t recognize a  voyageur canoe (it carried furs from northern Ontario to Montreal) “it’s absolutely breathtaking to see the response from people.

“Shetland itself has been a marvellous experience.

“You’d love to take everybody. It does have a big impact – on anybody that goes.”

Cooper, who was born in the U.K., originally planned to circumnavigate Britain. But he’s been making his way around for four years now and only managed to reach Scotland and doubts he’ll continue down the east coast.

“That five seasons in Britain, is enough.”

After this summer, Cooper likely will pursue a more hospitable location, in Costa Rica where he’s already received an invitation to bring down the big Spirit Dancer.

• More pictures are at: spiritdancercanoejourneys.ca.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

TIME IS RUNNING OUT: Readers invited to share wildlife photographs

Aim, snap, shoot, and share your pictures of wildlife in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows to win!

LETTER: All Washington plate owners can’t be Canadian residents

A Maple Ridge man questions presence of U.S. vehicles in the Canada, despite closed borders

Residential real estate market rebounding well: long-time realtor

House prices, sales, and listings in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are moving on an upward trajectory

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are prepared for high Fraser River levels

Peak numbers are expected to be below trigger levels for both cities

‘Protect our jobs,” say laid-off hotel workers to MLA Lisa Beare

Delegation delivered a petition to Maple Ridge MLA office on Friday

QUIZ: A celebration of dogs

These are the dog days of summer. How much do you know about dogs?

Semi and BMW collide on South Surrey highway

At least one person to hospital, both vehicles sustained significant damage

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

Langley vigil demands justice for Ontario animal activist killed protesting slaughterhouse

More than two dozen people gathered at Britco Pork to remember Regan Russell, and fight Bill 156

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, advocates say

There are provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest

Most Read