Month: July 2016



Alex Garrick-Wright reports on Project Octagon. You can read Alex’s personal reflections on the experience in August’s Shetland Life, and see more of Calum Toogood’s stunning photographs too.

In May 2016, myself and dozens of other men were brought into Project Octagon; a dynamic arts/ theatre project that commemorated the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, designed by conceptual artist Jeremy Deller.


1500 men were involved as soldiers across the UK. Each was assigned a soldier who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and given a replica of his uniform that was as historically accurate as possible (the uniforms were specially made in Poland and are to be kept as a set, and rented out for film use).


The vision was for these men to appear in locations around the UK and simply… be there, in that moment. Not to speak or really interact, only to hand out a card with their soldier’s name, details, death and a social media hashtag on it.

Above all was the need for secrecy- the project relied upon people not knowing what was going on, and talking about it on social media using the hashtag #wearehere, which was printed on each of the soldiers’ card. By lunchtime, it had reached the top trending on Twitter and been shared over 100,000 times.


The details of the project- who these men were and what was going on- was only revealed at 7pm, in a BBC interview with Jeremy Deller. By that time, millions of people across the UK had heard of, seen, or had a personal experience of these soldiers.

In addition to involving 1500 uniformed men, a whole network of organisers across the UK would need to be involved.

The Scottish side of Project Octagon was being managed by the National Theatre for Scotland- covering Glasgow and Shetland. The Shetland side was managed by Associate Director Chris Grant, who had the unenviable job of not only finding dozens of able-bodied, military age men willing to take part, but also keeping it secret in Shetland.

Preparation for the 1st July took weeks. Workshop Facilitator Chris Wright trained participants in the formations and movements they would be performing. Costume Supervisor Cara McDiarmid measured and organised the uniforms and props. Stage Manager Lisa Ward liaised and organised with Octagon down south.

Research Facilitator Lauren Doughton looked into our soldiers’ stories, and researched any WWI family connections we may have. In the course of doing so, she discovered two of the Shetland group- myself included- may be related to two of the assigned soldiers.

In addition to this were a whole cast of Costume Assistants, Stage Managers, caterers PR people, and the staff of the National Theatre of Scotland.


The public only saw the soldiers, and that is how it was intended.

The ultimate wild camping experience

Guest blogger Andy Howard shares his tips on successful wild camping in Shetland.


Photo: Andy Howard

In my life as a professional wildlife photographer I spend most of my time in the great outdoors. To me my job is anything but a job, it’s a privilege, so to be able to conduct my ‘work’ in a place as beautiful as Shetland makes it extra special. It’s the abundance of wildlife that lures me back year-after-year. When I describe Shetland to people I tell them ‘there literally is wildlife everywhere. Where else in the world could you have a real possibility to see orca from a supermarket’s car park?


Photo: Andy Howard

By far the best way to get close to this abundance of wildlife is to wild camp. This is a great way to do be in the right place at the right time, and this is fundamental to a wildlife photographer as nature doesn’t work to a 9-to-5 timetable, the best way to capture really good images is to be out there with your camera either very early in the morning or late in the day.

Being relatively unpopulated as it is Shetland is an ideal location for wild camping. With miles upon miles of coastline and well grazed grassy slopes there are oodles of potential wild camp sites available. For those of you that have never wild camped before I’m going to share my ‘top 10’ hints and tips to making your experience a memorable one for all the right reasons.


Photo: Andy Howard

  1. Invest in a good tent; remember that the weather this far north can be ‘unpredictable’ to say the least.  A good small or medium dome or tunnel style tent is best, something that won’t catch the wind. A good tip is to upgrade the standard pegs for dedicated storm pegs.
  2. Make your sleeping quarters as comfortable as you can, we use a double inflatable mattress and goose down duvet and pillows. I didn’t say wild camping couldn’t be glamorous, did I?
  3. Choose your pitch well, be respectful of the locals and don’t pitch up close to someone’s home, also be aware of any potential ground nesting birds. As a rule of thumb if there are birds wheeling around and screaming at you, move on!
  4. Never pitch your tent in a hollow, next to a stream or on a low lying headland that is if you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of water lapping around you.
  5. In Shetland you’re never far away from a community centre, and at most of them you can pay a nominal fee to use their shower facilities. Visit Shetland Island Council’s website for details.
  6. Buy groceries often and in small amounts, this way you’ll cut down of wastage and you’ll be supporting local shops and in turn the local economy.
  7. All of the ferry terminals on Shetland have toilets and Wi-Fi, and some even have vending machines, that come in handy if you are a chocoholic like me and need a quick ‘fix’.
  8. Plan your menus so that you can cook meals using just one pan, as this saves time, fuel and washing up (never a bad thing!).
  9. Make things as comfortable as you can. Folding chairs and tables are a good idea, and it’s really up to you to decide the level of comfort you want.
  10. Relax and enjoy. There is no better way to enjoy the gifts of nature than to sit inside the open door of your tent whilst observing the antics of otters playing on a nearby beach or to drift off to sleep to the soundtrack of a Shetland summer’s evening, the haunting call of the red-throated diver or golden plover, the drumming of a snipe or the call of a whimbrel. Nights like this will live in your memory for ever.

Photo: Andy Howard

Last but by no means least, leave only footprints!

Any tips you’d like to add? Feel free to post your comments below.