Shetland Days

In November 2019, seven months after my husband of thirty-three years died, I went to Lerwick in Shetland. I chose Shetland because I’d never been there – we’d always holidayed in the soft warmth of Devon. I hoped that Shetland in November would batter me and, in a way, punish me for not being able to save him. I also thought this might be a turning point for my recovery and a pause from life, to help me to see the new road ahead. I didn’t expect Shetland to have such a profound impact on me. During that month, the nature, the weather, the people, all worked their magic and held me tight, showing me that I can do this. I wrote an almost daily blog about my experiences – they were written from the heart with little editing, purely driven by the emotion of the moment. I hope you enjoy reading them.

Shetland Days – one

View from my bedroom window

I made it! I arrived in Shetland. I must admit that my knees were shaking so much at Aberdeen that I honestly didn’t think I’d make it on to the plane – have you seen the size of the plane that flies to Sumburgh?!

Anyway, I arrived safely despite my knees and at 4.20pm it was already almost dark and the thirty minute drive north to Lerwick was beautifully atmospheric – the sea to the right with its frothy waves and lights from dwellings twinkling in the gloom made me hanker for a comfy fireside chair. But there was no time for that. On arriving at my November home I unpacked quickly, tried to phone the lovely kids (no phone signal here – emergency calls only) so logged on to wi-fi and Facebook called. Oh! the wonders of technology!

There was only time for a quick freshen up before heading out to Mareel for 365 Stories. Such a fabulous way to start my month here – stories by Scottish poet and novelist James Robertson and music by Scottish composer and fiddler Aidan O’Rourke. James Robertson set himself a personal challenge to write a story a day for a year and each story is 365 words long. Aidan O’Rourke set himself the challenge of composing music pieces inspired by each story. The effect is magical and haunting.

I hadn’t eaten since leaving London so I bought some chips and ate them on my way home as I walked along the harbour. And then I opened my bedroom window just a tad (it’s quite chilly and windy here), and I fell asleep to the sound of the waves breaking gently on the shore.

Shetland Days – two

More writerly things today – a workshop with James Robertson, the author and poet I saw perform on Friday evening. I was tired from travelling and if I was at home I would’ve probably opted for a sofa day but I didn’t want to miss this event.

There were thirteen of us in the workshop and James ensured he included everyone in the discussions – even me, who usually just sits quietly and listens. I’m sure no-one will think I have anything interesting to say and yet he drew me out of myself and genuinely seemed to want to explore what I was thinking. Perhaps he sensed the anxiety within me. My heart was doing its crazy dance and I held my hands in my lap to try and stop them from shaking. I am learning that when I am tired, my anxiety is worse. I think it always lurks there waiting to strike when I am feeling weak and I concentrated on the room around me, the discussions, James reading out some of his work.

I wasn’t prepared for the impact a particular story would have on me: ‘My Father, Swimming’ from his book 365 Stories. James remembers how his father liked to swim in the sea and how he would swim to a pier, a mile along the coast. He says ‘he must have enjoyed the solitude and peace out there, away from the demands of family.’ The image is strong, of a family man needing some time to feel the burden of duty lift from him, to be weightless for just a little while.

His father was ill for some time before he passed away and James spoke of how this proud man needed help with the simplest of things:

‘Today he needs someone to help him into the shower, to wash his back while he grips the safety handles, to dry him off with a towel and get him dressed. It’s a long distance from now to then, much more than a mile there and a mile back. I wonder if, when he’s in the shower, he ever closes his eyes and for a moment is back in that sea, strong, alone and free, and swimming away from everything.’

How could my thoughts not drift to Lovely Hubby. Helping him to get dressed each morning – bringing out different shirts so he could choose and wedging his swollen feet into his slippers. Before he became ill he used to groan and smile at my corny jokes and now I so desparately wanted him to smile, to hear him laugh and so I would put on a show, be a clown, and something would spark in his eyes and he would move his mouth into a smile but his face didn’t light up or show joy like it used to. I would ask him (in a terrible Italian accent) if he would like a visit from Signor Dolce and Signor Gabbana, he would half smile and I would give a gentle spray of cologne that I had bought him for Christmas.

Yesterday afternoon, when I walked home from the workshop, through the blustering wind by the steel-grey sea, I missed Lovely Hubby more than anything. I’m in a place we never visited and yet the memories of our life are with me everywhere. These memories are my life, they are a part of me. I haven’t come to Shetland to run away or to try and forget – I’ve come here to try and begin to heal, to try and make sense of it all.

James Robertson’s 365 stories may appear, at first glance, to be random – whatever idea came to him at the time. And yet there is a theme that runs through his book – it is an exploration of who we are and where we fit in.

I am hopeful that I will begin to find the answer here, in Shetland.

Shetland Days – three

A well-needed day of rest – but with a difference. At home when I feel like this I’ll keep going till lunchtime then kid myself that I’ll just watch the one-o’clock news, but in reality I fall asleep as soon as I’ve eaten my lunch and dose all afternoon in front of rubbish TV.

But I’m trying to avoid the television while I’m here – I think I’ve become an addict! So I played around with some writing ideas for my novel and made a loose plan for the week ahead. The weather looks to be fine so I’m meeting the week head-on and I’m sure that by the weekend I’ll need another day to recuperate.

I’ve arranged a hire-car for three days so that I can explore Shetland a little better than on foot and by public transport. There are some trips I can make by bus and I am hoping to hire a bicycle although I’m sure I’ll be pushing it up the hills as I’m used to the relatively flat landscape of East Anglia! These days out will be saved for other fine days (fingers crossed) during the rest of my stay.

I was really pleased that I’d managed to sort out a sort-of itinerary (I don’t want to get bogged down by planning too much but on the other hand, there is such a lot to see here). Normally this would be Lovely Hubby’s job. We’d decide where we wanted to go and then he would set about planning the route and fit in lots of lovely things along the way. He’d also do all the driving. I know that I’m still relatively young (ha!) and that these things should come easily. Usually it would if I was planning a day out for myself but this feels like something really big. It sort of highlights another way of missing him – of how he showed his love by looking after me and thinking of things that would make me happy. I know he would smile and he would be egging me on – you can do this.

I spent the evening in front of the fire, listening to the radio and starting a jigsaw puzzle. And I went to bed tired but relaxed….and I actually slept through the night. I think Shetland is beginning to work its magic.

Shetland Days – four

I read somewhere that Shetland can experience every kind of weather in one day. On day four, Shetland has been kind. When I set off on my coastal walk the sun was shining but about half way in, black clouds threatened. I cursed myself for not putting my waterproof trousers in my rucksack but although the sky became dark, the wind chased the rain away. Now, I’m not a lover of wind and it’s strange that I came to Shetland which is probably the windiest place in the UK – but it’s all about being battered, in a perverse sort of way. It just feels right that I should take a beating from the elements and I’m sure a psychologist could have a field day with this sort of thinking but it is what it is. I want to be lashed by the wind and the rain.

Anyway, although I certainly can’t claim to have changed my mind about the wind, today I was incredibly grateful to it for chasing those clouds away. As I’m sitting here typing, the wind is howling off the sea and whispering in through the beautiful sash windows. I’ve tried to light a fire, but I’m rubbish at it and so I’ve layered-up cosily and I’m trying to be grateful for the wind as it is what I wanted.

Today’s walk was only four miles, a bit of a stroll really, and I did take my time to watch the sea and breath in the fresh air. I met some lovely people on my way and one gentleman in particular was very kind. He paints pebbles and donates them to Cancer Research and he insisted that I should take the only one he had left in his car. He told me the best beach to find the smooth pebbles he uses and about a lady who regularly swims in the bay and was approached by a killer whale! Unperturbed, she stopped swimming and floated on her back being as still as she could and the whale swam past, ignoring her, thinking she wasn’t live food. I love to swim in the sea but I’m having a rethink about that now!

Unfortunately I forgot to bring my binoculars (Lovely Son is posting them to me) and so I couldn’t see as much as I wanted but I spotted a seal bobbing around in the sea – just around the corner from Tesco’s!

On I went to Clickimin Broch. A broch is a roundhouse dating from the Ironage and is only found in Scotland. It’s not really known what they were used for but is thought to be something like a castle. Clickimin Broch has been restored and it’s fascinating to walk around and imagine what life might have been like. I contemplated this while I found a sheltered spot from the wind and ate my lunch (a boiled egg and tatty bread) before heading back towards Lerwick town centre, and home.

Next time I need supplies, I’ll avoid going into the town centre and head along the coastal path to Tesco’s – what a lovely way to do the shopping (despite the wind!).

Shetland Days – five

What a day I’ve had. I set out fairly early, picked up a hire car and drove to North Mainland. Oh my, this is such a beautiful place. The roads are so well kept which is due to the oil industry investing in Shetland. I think I came across one pothole – and, to be honest, it was tiny so didn’t really count.

The temperature on the car said it was 4 degrees but when I stopped and got out (which I did frequently as how can you not stop to look at the views?) the cold wind ripped straight through my woolly hat, freezing my ears, and sometimes it was all I could do to hold the camera still. The thing is, apparently it’s not really windy at the moment. What a wuss I am.

North Mainland is sparsely populated and the coastline and cliffs are amazing. I wish I’d had more time as it’s probably best explored on foot – the roads just don’t reach down to the sea very often.

I then went on to West Mainland which was breath-taking. There are so many sheep that sit lazily by the road just chewing or watching – one jumped out in front of the car and trotted along the road in front of me for a little while. And the birds! Oh my, the birds. I’ve seen arctic terns and cormorants, dunlins and gannets. I’ve seen so many lapwings (how I love those little, tufted cuties) and even an oystercatcher. I’ve seen signs that announce ‘Otters Crossing’ – although I haven’t seen any yet, and I even passed a sign that said: ‘Otters Aboot’.

I spent some time looking out to St Magnus Bay. Lovely Hubby worked for a while an a project for a north sea oil rig called ‘Magnus’. I never really thought about why it was called that and in a strange way I felt a link to him. The oil rig is far out to sea and impossible to see from land. St Magnus Bay is beautiful. I know he would’ve loved it (although he didn’t care for oil rigs very much!).
On my way home (yes, I’m calling it home!) I stopped at Frankies, the most northern fish and chip shop in the UK. I had a peerie fish supper (small battered haddock and chips) with mushy peas. I’ve seen the word ‘peerie’ around a bit and so I looked it up when I got home. The dictionary defines peerie as: tiny; insubstantial. The haddock was caught this morning and the peas freshly made. I can honestly say it was the best fish supper I’ve ever had – and it was so much more than peerie. 

Shetland Days – six

The second day of having a car and, as luck would have it, there was absolutely no wind today, although I had to scrape the ice off the car windscreen (thank goodness for my Tesco Clubcard!).

I headed north to Toft (about 45 minutes) to catch the ferry to Yell (twenty minutes). I was excited but nervous – I’m driving a strange car and now had to negotiate driving onto a ferry. I needn’t have worried – everyone is so helpful and there was much jiggling around of the vehicles to make sure that everyone could get on. You wouldn’t think that the people working the ferries do this crossing many times a day as they made it feel as if each crossing was special, every passenger was important.

The countryside here makes my heart soar. Just when I think I’ve seen the most beautiful view, another vies for my attention and how I’m managing to stay on the road when there is so much to distract me is a wonder. I drove north across Yell to Gutcher to catch the next (even smaller) ferry to Unst – Britain’s most northerly isle which is as far north as southern Greenland. Here I saw so many seals I lost count and I crept along the shoreline looking for otters, but no luck for me today.

I explored a replica Viking longship and longhouse – it is believed that the Vikings probably settled on Unst before other areas of the UK. After being battered by the wind here (which is peerie – how I love that word – at the moment) I have concluded that the Vikings were made of sturdier stuff than me. How on earth they crossed that sea, I cannot even begin to imagine.

I understand now the saying that Shetland experiences all weathers in one day. The roads are beautifully made and exploring the islands to get an overview is easy. The roads climb high until you feel as if you’re in the clouds and then dip down again to the sea. I’m sure I saw snow, or perhaps it was just heavy frost, on the top of one hill and the clouds move quickly. One minute you are in rain, the next, bright sunshine. The roads change from wet to dry in a heartbeat. It doesn’t stay still – it moves as if it’s breathing. The weather is a real entity and is as breathtaking as the scenery. And then there is the surprise of rainbows – so many rainbows.

I stopped many times to get out and explore a little. I think the thing that wowed me most was the silence. As the wind had dropped, gentle waves rippled against the shore and the quiet was only broken by an occasional bird keening or a seal grunting. How often do I experience complete silence in my life? It’s not often and I’m going to try and find it when I’m back at home.

I ended my day by heading back to Yell with one more look for otters. I stopped at Sands of Breckon which is a sheltered, sandy cove. The sand was almost white and the sea a beautiful greeny-blue. How could I resist? I took off my boots, rolled up my jeans and paddled. Gosh, how that water was cold but to feel the sand between my toes and the gentle waves caressing my feet was worth it. And when I looked out to sea, a seal was bobbing up and down, not too far away, watching me.

Shetland Days – seven

The last day with my hire car and I headed south. There was too much to see in a day – as in every day so far – so I had to whittle it down to whistle-stop tours. I had a plan, an itinerary, I was organised. Or so I thought: St Ninian’s, Sumburgh Head and Scalloway.

My first stop was at St Ninian’s Isle. I’ve wanted to visit here ever since I saw a photo of a stretch of sand reaching from Mainland to a small island. The Atlantic Ocean is parted by this natural sand causeway, called a tombolo, which is the largest in the UK. Sometimes when you have an idea in your head, the anticipation outweighs the event. I was expecting that but I wasn’t prepared for how this little place would enchant me. Rain showers sprinkled my face mixing with tears that I just couldn’t hold back and the wind was rough but kind – it didn’t come at me full force. I can’t explain the emotions this place pulled from me – joy, sadness, yearning, loneliness but underlying it all, there was a sort of peace. I walked along one shore and on to St Ninian’s Isle. I watched the sheep and the birds, the huge clouds speeding overhead and the sea, calm and steady. It’s done its thing since time began and seen it all. Long after I am gone, it will continue bringing food, joy and peace. I walked back along the opposite shore, wondering about this special place and hoping I can hold on to the beauty – the beauty that is to be alive.

Lovely Hubby would have loved it here. I still don’t know how I’m supposed to negotiate the rest of my life without him. But he’s here with me, in the beauty of this world and this life. I came to Shetland to try and understand my feelings and to heal, and although Shetland has been gentle with me, St Ninian’s Isle hit me with a shocking blow, showing me I have a long way to go.

I stopped at St Ninian’s much longer than planned and so I had a hurried stop at Sumburgh Head where puffins nest here in May to July. Today all I saw were gulls sheltering against the wind but to watch them skilfully land, against the gusts was inspiring. I’m finding all sorts of inspiration through watching the creatures that inhabit this land and from the landscape and seascape. It’s helping to put things in perspective.

I just had time to stop in Scalloway which looks delightful – I’m hoping I might be able to catch a bus there one day so I can spend more time. Today, I concentrated on seeing as much of the scenery as I could and so I drove on to the breath-taking isles of Trondra, West Burra and East Burra – each one connected by a bridge. I would have liked to have stayed and explored but I felt wrung out, exhausted. And besides, I needed to find a petrol station and return the car.

I walked back home in a contemplative mood and spread out the treasures I collected from my visit to St Ninian’s. I think I’m beginning to find peace.

Shetland Days – eight

A quiet day today – I’m not used to all this galavanting about. I got up later than usual and looked outside to check on the sea, as I do every morning. What joy! A seal bobbing around! Such a glorious start.

I’ve spent the day working on my novel and reading more about Shetland. Foolishly I bought a new notebook yesterday and I can feel a new story percolating…! I can’t allow myself to become distracted….well, maybe just a few notes won’t hurt.

At this point I should probably explain that I’m working with a mentor/editor on my novel and have been given ‘homework’ to do. So I’m desperate to keep on track with no distractions until this book is polished – buying a new notebook was a terrible idea!

The house is warm and the bathroom particularly delightful as it has under-floor heating! But there is something about lighting a fire on a chilly evening. I’m used to having log fires – we take trees for granted, don’t we? There are always logs and twigs to be burned. Here in Shetland trees are rare. I have seen only a handful of pine trees planted around houses which I assume is to offer protection from the wind. Here, as trees are so scarce, peat is used as fuel, and the basket next to the hearth is filled with it.

As I’ve driven around Shetland I’ve noticed areas that appear to have been ‘stepped’ – steps in the moors. They are peat banks and these ‘steps’ are where the peat has been raised. It was particularly noticeable on the isle of Yell and next to some houses there were stacks of peat piled high (as we would have logs) for their winter’s heat.

I’ve never thought about the uses for peat. I suppose that in the back of my mind I have memories of stories where peat was used for fuel in the ‘olden-days’, particularly in Ireland (I wonder if this was a Sebastian Barry novel?), and I used to buy compost containing peat but stopped because the excessive extraction of it was not sustainable. But using it for fuel, here in Shetland, is a different matter. Peat is part of the landscape, it is part of Shetland’s rich heritage and the land is respected.

I’ve had several attempts at lighting a fire here and have had only one minor success, so today I set about working with this unknown entity. With no luck, I referred to Google and took the advice of using firelighters (not so traditional, I know!). Before long, the fire blazed and once the firelighters were exhausted the peat glowed in places and tiny flames flickered. It doesn’t have the same effect as a ‘roaring’ log fire but it had a steady, gentle warmth that was comforting.

I spent time on my jigsaw puzzle, with frequent pauses to look at the sea, and I was grateful to have found this special place. How lucky am I?

Shetland Days – nine and ten

It’s been a homey sort of weekend. I’m pleased to say that I’ve actually got some work done on my novel – and it’s about time! And I’ve also been watching the sea and looking for seals (which are so lovely), done some washing and ironing (I know, but I can’t help it!) and wandered around a bit.

Yesterday I went to the cinema to watch Rigoletto on the Lake. I’ve never been to an opera before and I thought this would be a gentle introduction – it has subtitles (although I did research the story beforehand so that I’d know what’s going on). I wasn’t sure what to expect but in the spirit of trying new things (besides using the word ‘peerie’ all the time), I thought I’d give it a go. I was spellbound. The setting is amazing – a stage on Lake Constance, Bregenz, Austria, continually changes, the face forms expressions, and the fingers of the hand move. And the opera singers – oh my word. Not only were their voices beautiful, but they also had to dance and be suspended in the air by ropes, or dive into the lake. It must have been a fantastic performance to see live.

Today I went to the Shetland Arts and Crafts Fair. It was held in the leisure centre which should only be about a mile away from where I’m staying. I say ‘should’. Well, naturally I got lost. As Lovely Daughter said: ‘You would get lost on a race track, Mum!’ A little harsh, but a fairly accurate assessment. Lovely Son said: ‘You can take Jane out of Hobbycraft but you can’t take the crafts out of her!’ I’m so lucky to have such supportive kids! Anyway, after wandering up and down some very steep hills, I hate to admit it but I had to refer to Google Maps (for the second time this week!) as I ended up on the coastal walk I took last weekend – not at all intentional but very nice indeed. I saw more seals and pretty fish in the sea and the weather was glorious – no wind today. But it wasn’t getting me to the leisure centre.

The Arts and Crafts Fair is nothing like I’ve been to before. Nothing looked home-made – it was all created to a professional standard and most of the crafters I spoke to had their own business. The blurb for the event is: 

‘Inspired by Shetland’s dramatic scenery, heritage and culture, Shetland Arts and Crafts producers offer a unique range of woodcraft, knitwear and textiles.’

That’s true, but there was also chocolate, cake, pottery, candles, soap……. The unfortunate thing, is that most of the vendors accepted debit/credit cards so it took an awful lot of willpower to only use the cash I had brought with me and not have to consider remortgaging the house when I get home!

When I arrived back at my November home, the tide was going out and so I went down the steps to Bain’s Beach (the little beach featured on the television crime series ‘Shetland’ which is opposite where I’m staying). I picked up some sea glass and found some strange jellyfish on the tideline. A dogwalker arrived and we chatted about these strange creatures that looked like glass. We came to the conclusion that their tentacles had been nibbled off and we envisaged the seals delicately biting them off and having them as a special treat. I think we had a whole children’s story going there. And her dog didn’t seem to mind at all.

Disappointingly, we’ll have to review our seal story. Google (how I wish I could live without Google – do you remember those sets of encyclopaedias we used to have? Not as efficient but much more fun) told me that these disc things are actually the skeletal remains of jellyfish. I still think there could be the bones (apologies for the pun) of a story there, though.

Shetland Days – eleven

The wind was strong today and brought with it rain and a little sleet. But after a morning spent working, I needed to stretch my legs and clear my head. I had no real plan so headed to the coastal path to Clickimin (Tesco) in the vague hope that today was the day I might spot some otters.

Once I left the shelter of my neighbourhood, the wind hit me with force. The very strength and iciness of it was almost suffocating and soon my cheeks were stinging. As I reached the sea, the wind sprinkled me with salt water which grew in intensity and I realised it was now rain. Gulls cried out and soared overhead, the waves lashed at the shore and I concentrated on moving ahead, just walking and scanning the rocks for otters.

I passed Tesco and carried on for perhaps another mile where the path ends. I wanted to go on, just to keep walking. I was toasty-warm except for my face and legs (I should’ve worn my waterproof trousers) and I had found a strange sort of rhythm, adjusting to the gusts, feeling at one with the gulls above me that rocked gently on the thermals waiting for their moment to dive and soar. Reaching your destination in this sort of weather is a tricky business, but it’s possible.

I think I’m beginning to understand why I was drawn to Shetland at this time of year. I would have relied on Lovely Hubby so much to take care of me and to make all the ‘big’ decisions. But here, it’s up to me. I have no-one to fall back on. I’ve found I’m talking to myself sometimes – it helps me plan out routes on the map (I’m a terrible map-reader with no sense of direction), or work out ferry timetables, and time and distances without all the challenges of everyday life. I suppose that I’m starting to feel not quite so useless, that although the biggest and best part of me has been taken away, I am still me, it’s just that I have to work out how the empty part works now. Sometimes it seems the rest of me ignores the empty part and compensates for the loss, but at other times it’s all I can do to put one foot in front of another to negotiate around, but often find myself lost, in the emptiness.

Shetland is showing me that this big, stark landscape may at first appear to be empty at this time of year. There are no wildflowers, no puffins, no boat trips to see orcas and porpoises. But there are still signs of life: the seals, the gulls, cormorants, shags…. Even at the bleakest of times, there is still beauty. I think that this is the thing to hold on to. And as the seasons change, the weather becomes kinder and the sea gentle, perhaps, too, my heart will be soothed by the beauty. The empty part of me will always be there (how could it not? and besides, to fill it up would mean to forget him) but I hope that it will be surrounded by love, peace, beauty….and acceptance.

Shetland Days – twelve and thirteen

After the excitement of Monday (day eleven), I spent day twelve at my November home. The wind was up and I enjoyed watching it whip up the waves as much as it can in this sheltered place. The water I look at isn’t open sea, it’s sandwiched between Lerwick and the island of Bressay (which is reached by a seven-minute ferry ride), and provides a natural harbour. That said, when the wind picks up I sometimes wonder if the house will be blown away, Wizard of Oz style. I can’t imagine how life must be in a hillside croft overlooking the sea.

It was tempting to have another day inside, but today the wind had dropped, so I forced myself to go outside into the bracing cold and have a wander around Commercial Street, or as the locals call it, Da Street. I’ve got into the habit of looking over the wall at Bain’s Beach when I come in and out of the house and this morning the tide was on its way out. I couldn’t see any seals but a shag was swimming close to the shore and kept diving into a clump of seaweed below. The water is so clear here and I spent a long time watching this bird swim underwater. It was beautiful – I felt as if I was in my own nature documentary.

Where I live, we have more mud than sand and so the water looks dirty – although it’s the mud that gives it that colour. In fact, there is so much mud that there is even an annual event to celebrate it: The Maldon Mud Race. I have to smile, because the name Lerwick is Old Norse meaning ‘muddy bay’. I wonder if there was mud here then? I can’t see any now but only a sea as clear as glass and sand as fine as caster sugar. 

Once I set off, I didn’t stop at any of the shops on Da Street but headed to Fort Charlotte where I admired the views. I didn’t want to stop walking, the air wasso fresh and my cheeks felt delightfully cold. The weather here can’t help but make you feel alive. So I carried on through the industrial area, following the coast, to the Bod of Gremista. (How I love that name!) This building is certainly not pretty, but Arthur Anderson was born here (he was a great philanthropist and founded the P&O shipping line), and it was a fishing station (or, bod) in the 18th century. I was disappointed at first that it wasn’t nestled in some far away pretty spot on the moors overlooking the sea (my imagination has a lot to answer for) but that it was now in the midst of a busy industrial area. But as I got to thinking about this, while watching the rain clouds move in from Bressay, I realised that this is appropriate. The Bod wasn’t meant to be picturesque when it was built. It had a purpose, it was a place of industry. So isn’t it right that it sits now, by the water, still looking out to sea and housing the Shetland Textile Working Museum? It feels as if the Bod is a central cog in the wheel of industry here. It’s now retired but still has an important place. I’m sure the units all around won’t survive as long and that the buildings will come and go, but the Bod will remain, solid and regal, its history part of the very fabric of Shetland. 

I made my way back to Da Street (and stopped for some noodles on the way to warm up – there are quite a few Chinese restaurants here). Amazingly, I didn’t get wet; I seemed to be following the clouds as the pavements were wet before me. When I got to Da Street I got caught in shower of sleet or hail (I’m not sure what to call it as it seems very different from where I live: tiny bright-white ice crystals) and I lifted my face up to the sky feeling physically tired but mentally refreshed and alive. Oh, the magic of these islands.

Shetland Days – fourteen, fifteen, and a bit of sixteen

I’m half-way through my trip now. This time in two weeks, I’ll be making my way to Sumburgh airport and looking forward to going home. I know I’ll miss this place, but I miss Lovely Daughter and Lovely Son, and I miss friends. I know that on the 30th November, I’ll be ready to return.

On Thursday I visited the Shetland Museum and Archives – I think it’s the only museum here that’s open all year round. This is such an interesting place and I’ll definitely go back as there’s so much to take in, in just one visit (and it’s free, which is lovely – although of course I gave a donation). The museum trail takes you on a walk through time, from how the island were formed, to the people that settled here, and the rich wildlife these islands and their waters attract.

As luck would have it, there is a Grayson Perry exhibition on at the moment. It was really interesting and there will be a few informative sessions to learn more about the artist; I’ll try to get there for one of them.

The museum is located at Hay’s Dock which is the last remaining original waterfront in Lerwick. It’s beautiful, and a café/restaurant at the museum overlooks it, so I may treat myself one of these days.

Outside the museum, there are several ‘dishes’, called Shetland Receivers. Recordings of Shetland life are broadcast from them (both historical and contemporary) which change with the wind. If there is a breeze, whole stories can be heard, but as the wind changes or becomes stronger, the stories speed up and intertwine or change completely. I love how life in Shetland is an experience linked to the past, the present, the weather, the sea, the landscape; and these Sound Receivers capture this beautifully. When I visited, the wind was soft, so I could hear the stories well. I think I’d like to return on a blustery day to hear how the recordings clip and jar on the cutting, rushing wind.

Mareel is just next door and I had a ticket for an intriguing event called ‘Soup and a Show’. For £7 you have a cup of soup (lentil or reestit mutton – I had no idea what ‘reestit’ was and the lovely lady explained it’s a traditional way of salting mutton. I chose the lentil!), a bannock (which I’d never had before – a sort of flat bread/roll which was delicious), tea/coffee, and entertainment from two stand-up comedians. It was great fun and such a novel way to spend a lunchbreak.

With all the loveliness of Thursday, yesterday came as a surprise. I awoke feeling exhausted and drained. I tried my best to shake it by getting outside and I walked to the post office but my mind wouldn’t work, it was fogged. Ah, the grief-fog was back. The fog that held me prisoner in those early days, that slowed down my limbs and my brain. I needed to hide, to wait for it to pass. I needed to slow my heartbeat and stop my hands from shaking. I retreated to my November home and rested. I let the memories take over. Not the lovely memories that bring me peace, they were far out of reach, but the horrid once that have been troubling my dreams and giving me nightmares for the last three nights. Like an abscess that needs to be lanced, I had to let all the bad stuff out. 

So now here I am on day sixteen. I slept better last night – no bad dreams. I looked out of the window this morning and the sea was as smooth as glass. I haven’t seen it like that before and I raced outside to take a photo, but I was too late, a gentle breeze now flitted across the water and brought with it sprinkles of rain. The tide was going out and, at 7.30am, the sun had yet to rise. The place felt magical and I had an urge to walk on Bain’s Beach, to be the first person to leave their footprints today.

The sun is now shining in a pale-blue sky and the sea is still calm. I think today will be a good day.

Shetland Days – seventeen and eighteen

Yesterday (day seventeen) I had a craving for Sunday roast. There’s a hotel opposite me which has views right on the water but they’ve stopped serving food for the season. Mr Google couldn’t seem to find anywhere else to go, so after a morning spent writing, I set off into the rain on the coastal walk to Tesco. It felt good to be outside after a couple of days of self-induced imprisonment, to shake off the sadness and just breathe again.

There’s something almost primitive about setting out on foot, along the coast to hunt the shelves of Tesco for food. The walk is only about a-mile-and-a-half but with the hills and the wind, it can be quite an adventure! As ever, I looked for otters and orcas and porpoises but had no luck. In fact, I only saw one seal, but it was worth it as I watched him swimming in the clear sea. This really is the most perfect place for feeling alive.

Food caught (thanks to the hunting implement: debit card) I set off on the journey back, my backpack heavy but my mouth watering at the feast I would have. I was back before dark and set about lighting the oven and the fire and for the thousandth time since I’ve been here, I reflected on how lucky I am.

Today I visited the library (which is a converted church) as I had some work to print out and then on to meet a new Twitter friend who arrived in Shetland yesterday. She’s bravely staying in a far more rural place than me which is about a half-hour bus ride away. We had a fab time and we did the coastal Tesco walk – how I’m going to miss that! And it got me thinking that I’ve only been here for eighteen days and yet I feel so relaxed and at home. After Tesco, she caught her bus home and I took the coastal path, even though it was now dark and I realised I’m learning to let go of some of my fears:

Walking around in the dark.

Staying at a strange place and not being afraid.

Worrying about the house burning down.

Getting lost.

Losing my key/getting locked out.

Having a car accident

Standing out – people noticing me.

Dark Seekers / the Devil / poltergeists.

That I don’t have a place in this world / I’m insignificant.

Before Lovely Hubby became ill, and right up until I came to Shetland, worrying had taken over my life. I worried about the weather, about money, about what people thought of me, what we’d have for dinner, what time to walk the dog……. I was afraid of almost everything. But all that worrying didn’t stop the worst thing happening. All that worrying couldn’t protect him and save him.

At last, here in Shetland, I’m finding myself. I’m learning to just be me and to let go of all these fears. I didn’t get murdered on my way home in the dark, I didn’t get lost, lose my key, meet the devil or fall off a cliff. Maybe these things will happen to me, I don’t know. But I do know that I enjoyed that walk in the dark (I only looked behind a couple of times to make sure that the Dark Seekers weren’t following me) and my heart feels light.

Shetland Days – nineteen

Time’s flying by now and there still seems to be so much I want to see and do. But I have to remember, I don’t have the energy I used to do – grief does that to you. It sucks you dry and some days it’s all you can do to remember to breathe. So yesterday I spent the day at my November home and worked on my book (I’ve promised to get a substantial piece of work to my mentor on Sunday so I need to knuckle down!). But I did go outside to look for sea glass on Bain’s Beach and I felt like a local as I left my coat inside. The air is calm and mild at the moment. I hadn’t noticed, which shows how much I’m already taking some of this life for granted. But as I lay in bed last night, the wind picked up and I fell asleep listening to the waves swish against the sand.

Word is out that we might catch a glimpse of the mirrie dancers (Northern Lights/Aurora) from midnight Wednesday until the early hours of Thursday. In a vague way I’d hoped to see them but knew it wasn’t likely – it’s still not, as today is cloudy and grey and unless the cloud lifts, there’s no chance. But I’m going to give it a try.

I’m writing this blog in the café in Mareel, looking out onto Hay’s Dock. I just looked up and two seals were so close, they looked they were playing, just bobbing around and I swear they were smiling at me.

It doesn’t matter if I don’t see the mirrie dancers, or killer whales, or porpoises, or sea otters……almost every day here I’ve seen seals and each sighting has made my heart soar.

Shetland Days – twenty

It’s with relief that I can report there were no sightings of the mirrie dancers last night. Why relief? Well, the thing about seeing them is that there are so many factors you have to get right: the time (which is never certain until it’s almost happening, apparently), the cloud cover, the light pollution….

Original forecasts were that the Aurora would be active from midnight yesterday. So, lovely new Twitter friend and I decided to team up to find them – although I’m becoming much more brave, the idea of traipsing around in the dark and standing around for a couple of hours looking at the sky, on my own, did seem a bit daunting, lonely, boring and scary.

So I cooked us a chilli so we could be nice and warm before going outside. The plan was to walk a couple of miles (near Clickimin Broch) up quite a steep hill so we’d have a good chance of seeing the Lights. Now, in daylight hours this seemed quite a feasible thing to do, but in the cosy kitchen, listening to the wind bashing the house, neither of us liked to admit it, but the shine was rubbing off (just a tad!).

Anyway, we checked the website for updates about the Aurora and, would you believe it, estimates were now that it was running six hours late. That’s not quite how they put it, obviously, as it’s all very technical stuff about solar winds and lots of numbers. Well, we’d stayed up this late and as we’re new to this we thought: ‘what if there is still a chance of seeing them?’ So we wrapped up warmly and went out onto Bain’s Beach – not the best place to see them but the thought of hiking up that hill was making me feel exhausted. The tide was out but coming in fast, so we were able to get on the little slice of sand where two cats were playing, bizarrely (have you ever seen cats on a beach?).

Of course we didn’t see the mirrie dancers, but the sea was beautifully clear and the sky, oh my goodness. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars before. And then lovely friend spotted a flash of green! Green! (I feel a bit like Lord Percy in Blackadder when he discovered the stuff.) For some strange reason, the hotel adjacent to the beach (The Queen’s Hotel) had a green light on in one of its windows. It’s the closest we got to seeing any strange light activity, and although it wasn’t what we’d wanted, at least we could laugh.

I finally got into bed at about 1.30am but I kept thinking about this six hour delay. In theory, then, we might get a glimpse at 6am. I awoke at 3am, 4am and 5am. No sign. I made a cup of tea at 6am – still no sign. And then I checked the website, thinking I’d see lots of lovely photos………apparently the mirrie dancers passed us by last night.

But at least we saw some green.

Shetland Days – twenty-one

I spent the morning working but my brain couldn’t quite get into a rhythm and so I was constantly drawn to the sea outside. I watched the ferry go back and forth from Lerwick to Bressay, someone went past in a small sailing boat, a couple of seals bobbed around and a seagull landed on Bain’s Beach with a starfish. This is the second time it’s happened, and to be honest, I’m going off seagulls! It’s a tricky one, I love the nature here – but only the nice bits.

The seagull became interested in an orange creature that was delivered onto the sand by a gentle wave. The creature squared up to the gull, body held upright on strong legs. The gull backed away but was interested and the little dance carried on for quite a while. A wave would pick up the creature and the seagull would follow, wading into the water but then the creature would return. The gull didn’t touch it, but just seemed interested.

Well, all ideas of editing now forgotten, I grabbed my camera and went out to investigate. Because the house is warm and toasty, going into the wind is always a bit of a shock, especially when I thought – I don’t need my coat and hat, I’m only popping across the road. Anyway, the tide was coming in so I had to time it right to jump from the step onto the sand without getting wet, which was quite exciting. And then I went to investigate, just like the seagull (except I don’t eat starfish, thank you very much).

The creature was a most beautiful crab (a kindly friend has said it looks like a spider crab). And he did his little mouth thing at me as if telling me to get lost and he stood up on his legs and really was quite magnificent. I didn’t want to upset him, after all, he’d been gawked at and heckled by a gull and now this mad woman in a bright pink jumper was squatting down and talking to it. So I took a couple of photos and said goodbye. It’s a good job really, because the tide was coming in quite fast but luckily I made it and wasn’t dragged out to sea (did you know that I’ve quite a vivid imagination?).

Late in the afternoon I met Jilly (my new friend from Cornwall) who was meeting a friend (Briony) she had made from a Facebook page that welcomes new people to Shetland and helps them to settle in. I have no shame and so when I was invited (out of politeness, I’m sure) I jumped on it. An evening out! Wow-weee!

We met in a trendy, Scandi-style café/bar and I felt very swish. We had a booth looking out onto the water and, well, we didn’t stop talking and laughing and crying. But best of all, Briony introduced us to Reel gin (made in Shetland) – the seaweed flavour which makes it very dry and soooo yummy. Why have I been here three weeks and not tried it? And it has to be healthy if it’s got seaweed in it – and they added frozen raspberries. I had two of my five-a-day right there.

After seeing Jilly safely on the bus, I wandered along the dock and made my way to Bain’s Beach. The tide was out, the crab was gone and I looked up at all the stars in the big, big sky. If Lovely Hubby were here we would have kept walking or gazed for a long time at the stars, or best of all, walked on the beach and watched the waves. I can still do these things and usually they sooth my heart. But last night, I just wanted to hold his hand and stand on the sand and let the magic of this place hold us tight.

God, how I miss that man.

Shetland Days – twenty-two and twenty-three

I spent Friday working on my book but by three o’clock daylight was fading and I had a need to stretch my legs. The weather’s mild at the moment but the air here is so fresh that I can’t help but feel my spirits start to lift after only a few steps.

I’m so glad I ventured out. To be honest, the thought of walking up the hill to the library was quite off-putting but I wanted to print out my draft so I could work on it the next morning. It is a very steep hill! And I did my usual thing of stopping half-way and pretending to look at the view. I don’t think anyone I’ve met has been fooled by this but I smile weakly and try to give the impression that I’m having a good time.

Anyway, when I got to the library, the stained glass windows were illuminated beautifully and it was all worth it. I forgot about my aching thighs and pounding chest, and I stood, thinking how lucky I am to be here for a month.

Yesterday afternoon I attended a creative writing workshop with Jilly. I am blown away by the arts programme here – this was a two-hour free workshop looking at different forms of poetry. The workshop was held at the Shetland Museum and Archives by Mark Ryan Smith and was linked to the Grayson Perry exhibit. We brought along an item that had meaning for us and used this as our starting point to brainstorm and think creatively. Mark is a wonderful teacher and he was incredibly patient and encouraging. Afterwards we were given a free talk by a museum curator about the Grayson Perry pots exhibition. The museum had closed for the day and yet the curator was so generous of her time – this wasn’t part of the workshop, and I am so grateful. I’d been to see the exhibition, but now it means so much more. I shall definitely return to the museum before I go home.

Afterwards Jilly and I headed to the Mareel cafe/bar which was buzzing. And then we made our way to the home of our new friend, Briony and her husband Rik, for dinner. We’d expected soup (reetsit mutton, which was glorious) and tatty bread (my fave) but that was just for starters. The table was weighed down by cheeses, oatcakes, smoked salmon and haddock, peppers, potatas bravas, tortilla……oh my! We rounded the evening off with the citrus flavour of Shetland Reel Gin – garnished with raspberries and a sprig of rosemary. Drinking gin here really does feel like it’s an occasion.

During my time here I am surprised again and again by the warmth, kindness and generosity that has been shown to me. Lerwick’s population is around 7,500 and Shetland receives over 70,000 visitors each year (most of them making a stop in Lerwick). This is a phenomenal amount of people and I would’ve thought that perhaps the residents of Lerwick would tire of strangers wandering around. But it seems to be the opposite. Wherever I have gone and whoever I have spoken to, I’ve been made to feel at home and some people have even asked me if I live here. I love that! Perhaps I’m starting to fit in already – I feel as if I am. I can feel this place coursing through my veins. This Shetland magic.

Shetland Days – twenty-four and twenty-five

The edge of the world

I spent yesterday working and getting an early night as I knew today was going to be a full one. But, where to start? Lovely new friend Briony had a day off work and drove Jilly and me to Unst (the UK’s most northerly inhabited island with a population of around 700). It’s not like hopping on the M25, I’d done this trip before. But this time I was content to be a passenger and look at the scenery. We drove north on Mainland for about 45 minutes to Toft where we took the ferry to Yell. We had quite a wait as our timing was off but were rewarded by seeing seals playing about in the harbour. At one point I counted seven of them!

As we waited for the ferry, Briony spotted an otter creep from the bank and sit under the car in front for a few moments before trotting over to the next bank and into the water. At last I’ve seen an otter in the wild! It was amazing – so beautiful (but perhaps not as pretty as the seals who I’ve grown so fond of).

On the ferry to Yell we met Chris of Chris Walks the UK Coastline. Chris is walking the whole of the UK coastline with his dog (who is sooo cute). He set off from Wales in August, 2017 and is raising money for SSAFA (the armed forces charity). So far he has raised almost £100,000 which was his original goal and is now aiming for £200,000. We offered him a lift across Yell but he refused, despite the wind and the rain, as he said that would be cheating. I really hope Chris and his dog are warm and dry now. I hope to catch up with him when he reaches the East Anglian coastline which should be a lot easier than this tricky Shetland one.

We travelled across Yell, heading further north. The clouds were low, the moors disappearing into them and the day really didn’t seem to get any light at all. Finally we caught the next ferry and arrived on Unst. Briony took us to her favourite place and we marvelled at the stones and at the beauty and quiet of the place. We kept going north and stopped at Norwick which is just 300km from Norway and is where the oceanic and continental plates met 420 million years ago. The sea is split by an outcrop of rock creating two beaches – the waves of the sea and the sand different on each. The sea was beautifully clear. Seals played in the waves on one side, and on the other, the sea seemed as if it might stop abruptly at the horizon, which didn’t seem so far away. I understand now why people say they feel as if they are at the end of the world. It was exhilarating to think that maybe the edge was so close, that this world, like life, isn’t so big after all and at any moment we could be carried away, over the edge.

I missed Lovely Hubby, there. To feel so vibrant and so alive was frightening – how to go back? How to travel slowly south, away from the edge? I know that the world isn’t flat, that he didn’t fall off the edge and yet, I can’t explain it. Before I came here, I wanted to tip off the edge. I wanted to fall and not take the new path that life had given me. Being so close to the ‘edge’ in a strange sort of way has changed that. I’m ready to take the road south and bring Lovely Hubby with me (he is so close, I can feel it). I miss my children and friends; I miss my dog and my home. I miss trees and walking through the crunchy leaves. I miss the saltmarshes and that wide East Anglian sky.

But I know that I will miss this place, too. That Shetland will stay in my bones. And that I will return.

Shetland Days – twenty-six

I had it on good authority that the best place to see otters is at sunrise between The Knab and Tesco’s (my coastal walk to forage for food!). So I set off this morning at 7.15am. Dawn was scheduled for 7.35am and sunrise about an hour later. That’s a huge benefit of shorter days – not having to get up at a ridiculously early hour. A few people were out and about and there was drizzle in the air and I set off, full of hope. By the time I reached the coastal path, I left humanity behind and looked in awe at the rocks and the sea. Lights twinkled in the murky sky and as I walked along, the mist turned to rain, the wind picked up and I breathed in deeply. This is why I came here – to be lashed and battered.

I hadn’t intended to go as far as Tesco’s but I’d seen a couple of seals and I still might find otters, so I carried on, following the sea. By now, daytime had arrived but the sky was grey and the hills disappeared into mist. Lights shone from windows and twinkled from the boats at sea. The wind grew stronger and the rain turned to needles, biting at my face.

I looked out to sea. Perhaps I might catch a glimpse of a whale or a dolphin. But I couldn’t even see a seal out there. Even the gulls were taking shelter today with only a few out, keening on the wind.

Yet again, I’d forgotten to pack my waterproof trousers and my legs were numb with cold so I set off back. I didn’t hurry but kept a close eye out for anything at all. Nothing larger than birds! I arrived back at my November home, drenched and cold but my mind was clear and I was at peace.

Late this afternoon I popped to the shops for some last minute things to take home. I bought a peerie fish supper (my justification being that I’d burnt off so many calories through walking and shivering) and went into the wine shop. The gentleman who owns it is so helpful – no, I haven’t bought loads of wine but have had a couple of bottles and some things to take home (as gifts!). I said goodbye to him and I told him I’d been looking for otters and how drenched I’d got. He said, trying to be helpful, that the place to see them is near Tesco’s. When I told him that’s where I’d been he laughed and laughed. And I couldn’t help but join in, too.

And so I returned to my temporary home, lit the fire, poured a glass of wine and opened up my peerie fish supper. The thing about much of this trip is that it’s not necessarily that I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do, it’s been all about enjoying the day, going with the flow and……remembering to breathe. (And the odd glass of wine and fish supper have helped!)

Shetland Days – twenty-seven

The weather forecast says that at the moment it’s:

Temperature: 6 degrees C (dropping to 3 tonight)

Wind: 22 KMPH

Precipitation: 80%

Humidity: 92%

It doesn’t sound too bad, to be honest. But I look at the figures and then I look out the window. The rain and wind have not stopped all day. The sea is thrusting against the little sandy beach, there are few birds around (I saw a shag floating and diving earlier and a gull flying, but that’s it), the rain is coming in through one of the windows, and the wind is gusting. It’s lovely. And that’s probably because I’ve been tucked up inside all day. I had planned to go out but after yesterday (and forgetting my waterproof trousers) I decided that actually, staying inside would be just as productive as going out.

And it has been. I’ve worked on my book (lovely mentor sent back feedback on so many reasons where I’m going wrong!), a flash fiction piece, my journal, tidying up the house in readiness for leaving on Saturday (which included destroying the jigsaw puzzle that took me so long to complete) and looking at a book I bought a couple of days ago that I wish I’d purchased on day one.

It’s a handy little thing called ‘Mirds o Wirds’ and explains an awful lot about Shetland. The locals here speak a language that’s a mix of Scots and Norse and it can be a bit tricky to follow sometimes (although I’m doing my best and I don’t think I’ve been rude to anyone).

There’s a shop down the road that I thought was a butcher’s as it’s called: Faerdie Maets – turns out it’s a take-away. Faerdie maets translates as food to be eaten on a journey!

Now, I know that a bairn is a child and that peerie means small and that a neep is a turnip; but I didn’t know that if I’m tristy it means I’m thirsty, that dimriv is dawn or that a scaar is a small amount. There is so much to learn and I only wish that I’d bought this book before I came here.

Language is wonderful, isn’t it? I love language and accents and the way that each is particular to its region. There’s a movement in Scotland to bring the language of Scots into schools (the way that Wales does) and I hope there’s the same initiative here to protect Shetland (I’m not sure if that’s the correct name for the language, so please forgive me if it’s not). Our heritage is important. We all come from a particular region and it’s wonderful to embrace that.

I remember when Lovely Hubby first came to Scunthorpe (my birth town) and I said: ‘We’ll just go down the ten-foot.’ (A sort of alley between the back gardens of rows of houses, that is ten-feet wide.) He’d never heard of a ten-foot before and he was intrigued. Some time later when we visited again he said: ‘Let’s go down the six-by.’ He couldn’t remember the name but his train of thought was there! Forever after we referred to it as a six-by!

And so I sit here, anting the brimtud in this vaelensi, wearing smucks and a gansey, happy to be on this mold.

(Which I hope translates as: And so I sit here, listening to the waves break on the shore in this very stormy weather, wearing slippers and a thick jumper, happy to be on this earth.)

Shetland Days – twenty-eight

Today, it’s eight months since Lovely Hubby died. I tried to ignore it, I’m trying to get away from these ‘anniversaries’ but they seem to be branded onto my heart and each one thrusts its way upwards and out, like a snake shedding its skin.

I was kept awake for much of last night by the wind gusting against the house. It was so violent I dreamed that the windows shattered and glass was strewn all over. Finally, at 3 am I had to get up to make sure all was safe and I made a cup of tea, resigning myself to the fact that the day had begun. I hadn’t yet consciously registered that today is an ‘anniversary’.

The wind calmed down a little and the rain turned to showers so I wrapped up and went outside. Wow! I felt as if I had come full circle. The wind was biting and sleet/hail stung my cheeks. This was what it was like when I first arrived and spent three days exploring the islands by car. I’ve grown soft over the last couple of weeks thanks to the mild weather. This was a return to the real Shetland stuff and it took my breath away – the weather, the clouds, the rainbows.

I’m so excited to be returning home but it dawned on me today that Lovely Hubby won’t be there. I wonder if I’ve been kidding myself on the reasons why I came to Shetland. Was I simply running away and pretending that this year hasn’t happened? I don’t think so. I’ve stood at the edge of the world and challenged the horizon. I made the decision that this isn’t the end, it’s not my time yet. When I came here I wanted my life to end but now I can see the next few steps – not the future, that’s too scary – but I’m finding my way. If I’d simply been running away, then surely I would be no further on.

At the edge of the world something moved me. I felt that I could’ve walked into the sea and let the tide carry me away. Or I could stay. I weighed up what I wanted (given the circumstances, of course) and I realised that I want to live. So I wrapped Lovely Hubby in my heart in readiness to take the road south again. That’s not running away.

Anyway, how can he be waiting at home when he’s always with me?

Shetland Days – twenty-nine

I’d intended my last day to be quiet and calm. I would pack in a leisurely way, I had a trip to the post office to make, and I would work on my novel. At 5pm I was to meet my lovely new friends at the Scandi-style bar for a farewell G&T.

It sounds like my kind of day but when I woke I changed my mind. I would catch the ferry across the water to Bressay (just a seven minute journey) and then walk 3.5 miles to the lighthouse. The forecast was for moderate wind, sunshine, possible sleet and 2C. Great walking weather and being outside in the elements was what I came here for.

I often watch the ferry going back and forth from Lerwick to Bressay, and so as soon as I saw it leave the island opposite, I walked quickly to the dock. Now I know that it’s a five minute walk – I had two minutes to spare!

The sea was beautifully calm and with the sun shining, my spirits were already lifted. Once on land I set off towards the lighthouse, stopping to look at some seals basking in the marina and seeing my coastal Tesco walk from the other side of the water.

The lighthouse was closed and the dwellings around it are used for holiday lettings but I had a good look around, and then headed along the coast – over a stile, through some boggy bits and upwards. The wind was wild but the view spectacular. I decided that I would climb to the summit (making sure to keep well away from the cliffs as it was difficult to maintain my balance in the stronger gusts). I don’t really like walking up hills (I’m famous for it my family!) and so it says something about my mood that I would consider it. Off I set, being careful of the uneven ground. I watched bad weather across the water on mainland Shetland engulf a tanker as it headed out to sea. Ha! I thought. This is wonderful. I was so busy watching the storm moving across the water that I was unprepared for the sudden burst of wind bringing snow from behind me. It was impossible to see. My ears and eyes froze. Thank goodness I remembered to bring my waterproof trousers.

I hunkered down into a sort of boggy ridge trying to get shelter, and set about trying to put the damned things on.The wind tried to snatch them away and they flapped around like washing on a line. And standing on one leg was an impossible task. There was nothing else for it – my legs were covered in snow, I had to get them on fast – but to sit on the boggy ridge and slip the trousers on. Now my legs would be dry – but, well, I’d sat on a boggy ridge.

The snow must have only lasted ten minutes or so but I decided to abandon my trip to the summit. I couldn’t even see the top, let alone the cliff edge. So with my head down and a hand shielding my eyes I began the walk back. Before I reached the lighthouse it had stopped but I kept my trousers on as they kept out the wind and I was gradually getting feeling back in my legs (and it’s quite difficult to walk when your legs are numb, as I’ve learned on several occasions here).

Happy that I’d survived (it sounds dramatic but well, who knows what could have happened?). I sashayed along the road and marvelled at a rainbow. Oh Shetland, I thought, how I love you. At which point I got attacked by needles of hail that stung my face like crazy (and, of course, more wind). The only way I could keep moving forward was to turn around and walk backwards – I simply couldn’t stand the hail on my face and in my eyes. It was brutal.

Finally I arrived back at the ferry terminal – but I didn’t rejoice until I was back on mainland. It seemed to me that if I started being thankful the boat might sink and although it’s not far to swim – it was jolly cold.

I met my two new friends as planned, with complete ease. There were no hurdles (the only one being should we have gin or wine?) and we laughed and joked as if we’ve known each other for years.

Shetland. Thank you. My last day here was wonderful. You threw everything at me and I made it through smiling (although there was a bit of swearing when I couldn’t get my trousers on) – you even showed me a rainbow.

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t seen otters (well, there was that one that ran across the road) or the mirrie dancers, or whales or dolphins or puffins. I’ve made new friends, found a strength that I never knew I had, but best of all, I’ve learned to appreciate all that I have. This truly is a wonderful world.

Shetland Days – thirty

Farewell, my November home


I left Shetland at eight o’clock on Saturday morning and my lovely new friend gave me a lift to the airport. The day was bright and, as always, the scenery was stunning. It felt strange to leave my November home as I had found it – welcoming but not personal to me. During the month it felt like my home – my laptop, books, maps, notebooks, slippers in the living room; my coat, boots and scarf hanging on the hook by the door. Now all this was packed into my suitcase and rucksack and I was leaving as I had arrived – well, almost, now I was in a better place, mentally. No longer anxious and scared of my shadow, but confident and at peace. I can’t remember the last time my heart raced so hard it woke me in the night.

Thankfully the flight to Glasgow was smooth – no wind! Hurrah! And when we were leaving the plane, we were all given a little bag of tablet (like a sort of fudge) to celebrate St Andrew’s Day. I love Logan Air – I just wish their planes were a bit bigger!

Finally I arrived at Heathrow at a little after four o’clock where three beaming faces greeted me and enveloped me in hugs: Lovely Son, Lovely Daughter and Lovely SIL (son-in-law). On the journey home I tried to persuade them to move to Shetland but they’re not convinced – perhaps they need a holiday there to change their minds!

Once home, Molly greeted me in her usual stand-offish way but once I gave her a doggy treat she seemed to remember me! And what a welcome I had. A wreath on the door, balloons, chocolates, flowers, a hand-made banner – but most of all, all that love.

Shetland has been good for me. But I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and friends. You’ve all been there for me, willing me on and cheering me up when I’ve felt down. You celebrated when I didn’t get lost in the snow and found humour in my love for seals. I’ve made two lovely new friends and met so many wonderful people (let alone the seals).

There is that saying: home is where the heart is. It’s true. Shetland felt like home for a month but my heart has always been with my little family.

I am so lucky to have so much and so many truly wonderful people in my life. Thank you for cheering me on and following my Shetland Days.

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