Quest for Fiber: Picky about my Hentilagets on Bressay

Quest for Fiber:
Picky about my Hentilagets on Bressay

I had a day on Tuesday so overwhelmingly wonderful, that I had to take time to get a blog post out finally! I have actually had several of these kinds of days since I left home, but just have not gotten around to sharing about them. This one was really special because it combined my thrill of actually being in the Shetland Islands, my love of fiber and creating things from it, and hiking in beautiful locations.

Field of Sheep

I have been on the “Mainland” of Shetland for almost a week now. I think they will have to eventually kick me off. The beauty of this kind of “slow” travel is that you can change plans on the fly—leaving someplace you don’t care for sooner than planned, or remaining in place as you catch up and REALLY meet mingle with the locals and bask in the culture. The latter can be emotionally overwhelming at times and I sometimes get a sense of disbelief in the life I am living.

So on with the “Hentilagets” story…

I am a follower of an inspiring woman named Debbie Zawinski, who wrote the visually captivating In the Footsteps of Sheep. She is a Welsh woman who lives in Scotland.  She sometimes walks through the countryside, gathering the tufts of fleece that come off the animals in the field. They are so prevalent that there is a local name for them: “Hentilagets.”  

In the Footsteps of Sheep Book cover

Debbie is known for spinning these as she walks using drop spindles she creates from sticks. She sometimes even dyes the yarn in a billycan with moss and lichens in her camp in the long summer evening daylight.

Since I first read about this Feral Spinner, as Debbie calls herself, I longed to walk in her “footsteps.” I am not near as tough (I am not camping out—yet!) , but yesterday, I got a taste of collecting and spinning wool in the wild.

A very short ferry ride from Lerwick, Shetland is the Isle of Bressay, where I ventured to take a walk to the top of the Ward of Bressay and then down to the lighthouse at Kirkabister Ness. On the way up, I started my collection of wool bits.

At first, you might be forgiven if you think these are hentilagets. They are wild sedges or bog cotton which grow in abundance on these acidic peat soils. Up close, they look like a fiber, but it seems fruitless to try spinning them! They have been used historically for candle-wicks, pillows, and wound dressings.

Cotton Sedge field on Bressay Island

THESE are hentilagets. You find them where sheep have rubbed up against walls or fences, but the best pieces for spinning are on the ground. I found that most hentilagets are rubbish. They have been weathered too much and are slightly felted, or they have a lot of kemp (short brittle pieces of fibers that reduce the quality of the yarn.)


I made a collection in my front pocket as I walked. Part of the way up was pretty steep, but well worth the effort when you get to the top.

The wind here can be biting—even now in July, but I found a cozy place sheltered from the wind to eat a snack and examine my “loot.” First, pull out all the foreign matter. Then, lining up the locks parallel to one another, pinch/scrape off the bottoms and tops to get an easy-to-spin-from-the-tips fiber.

Harvested Hentilagets

Before long, I had almost 10 yards of single-ply Shetland yarn. It will go into the Traveling Scarf!

Walking down toward the lighthouse was a bit more involved than climbing up. There is no trail…just make your way down the tussocky peat bogs. Luckily there had been little rain lately, so it was dry; but it felt like I was walking on pillows!

Peat Bog on Bressay Island in the Shetland Islands

There were a couple fences to cross and gates to go through (always leaving gates as they were—very important since the farmers allow you to walk across their land!). I made it to the bottom and the lighthouse—but it took a while. 

After a well-deserved lunch break, I headed back by an easy road.

Lighthouse on Bressay Island in the Shetland Islands

Dry stone wall on Bressay Island in the Shetland Islands
Dry stone walls (no motar) like these on Bressay Island, are found all over the United Kingdom.

The three-mile walk back to the ferry dock was fairly uneventful, except the wind was getting stronger and cooler. I was glad it did not rain and that I had several layers to don, including this cute Shetland perrie  hat that was given to me by a new Shetland friend—too keep my ears warm, she said!

Photo of Cathy wearing a Shetland Peerie cap

And here is a short little video of the trip.


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3 thoughts on “Quest for Fiber: Picky about my Hentilagets on Bressay”

  1. Oh, Cathy, this post was beautiful. Hentiligets, a new word I hope to remember. I know nothing of the Shetland islands except what I have learned from Ann Cleeves and her Shetland island mystery novels which, actually give me quite a sensory picture.

  2. Hi,

    I’m so happy I’ve come across this site, am so impressed with how you live. It’s how I want to travel when I retire (to be honest, it’s the only way that I can afford it)….I did go to Italy for one month solo this past summer and I loved it, loved doing what I wanted when I wanted…I walked/hiked 8-12 miles a day in the city and countryside! My husband doesn’t like to travel as much as I do, but he’d like to return to the Shetland Islands some day as he spent a year there in the US Coastguard back in the 70’s. I’d love to go as well, I’d love to walk all over!….I haven’t started researching this trip as I only plan for us to do it when I retire in 2024, but I’m writing to see if you’d share with me where you stayed when you went….thank you so much! I’ll be reading all of your posts etc. in the days/weeks/months to come! Thank you, Sandy Martin in Maine

    1. Sandy…welcome! Glad to have you visiting my site. Yes, I love the Shetlands and hope to go back next summer. I stayed in the Islesburg House Hostel in Lerwick. One thing I did not do when I was there that I hope to do next time is to have a car. It is challenging to get to the trailheads without a car. Or you probably could hitchhike easily. The people there are so friendly. There is a bus that goes all the way to Unst and meets each of the ferries on the way up. If you want to do a lot of walking, I suggest you plan to stay there quite a while, so you can watch the weather and go out when it is not raining. I got drenched several times there in July even. The museum in Lerwick is very interesting…plan to stay there all day–maybe on one of those rainy days.

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