“This is yourrr Captain speaking. We’re about to descend into Sumburgh. But dinnae panic if I ascend again. I mey need to circle severrral times depending on grrround conditions.”
Get a seat on the left, Alison had advised. The view flying into Shetland is lovely.
Window seat 14A, second to last row, behind a wing I cannot see and hope has not fallen off. Isn’t the way rain blasts onto the tiny double windows then threads its way across the pane before hurtling into a foggy cosmos mesmerising? I look for the sick bag hoping that despite airline’s market niche, they won’t be listed on the Refreshments Card, one for 50 p, three for a pound.
Norse gods be praised! Only one attempt required and there was my ever sunny friend Alison, Shetland born and bred, waiting for me on the “Mainland”. We had rented Barry’s renovated croft for a week, a two hour drive and one ferry trip north on the island of Yell, population 996, average daily temperature 12 degrees. These islands, part of Scotland’s sub-arctic archipelago, lie parallel to Bergen in Norway. Indeed, the islands used to be Norwegian but in 1470 defaulted to King James III, when King Christian reneged on his daughter Margaret’s promised dowry.
If landscape can be wild and gentle at the same time, treeless Yell in summer may lay claim to be both. The ever-present sea is a pale green warp to the sky’s pale blue weft. Its topography is mapped by pink meadows and bog-cotton moors but it is the sky which weaves the drama. Cobwebbed mists felt into clouds, clouds into ephemeral bolts of silver rain. In the fields buttercups, clover and sea pinks plié with the gusts. The inspiration (and need) for their famous knitting is obvious.
Lerwick Museum’s collection of fair isle knitwear is gorgeous, and includes yards and yards of Victorian knitted lace, the kind that threads magically through gold wedding bands. Women in the 1800s were poorly compensated for their skill and indeed were only allowed barter their creations at prices set by shopkeepers.
I experienced a moment of nostalgia when I came across the Everest Jumper; soft, virtually seamless, designed and knitted from Shetland wool for Sir Edmund Hillary and his 1953 ascent. At the Auckland Museum, I guided tours for three years past his handsome, heroic and distinctively New Zealand portrait. Later in our lovely week, Alison and I indulged in our day of proudly producing, with the help of GlobalYell’s textile designer Kirsty, our own patch of meadow and moor.
If there was one experience I was keener on than all others, it was to see a puffin. Puffins bred every summer along the islands’ towering sea cliffs. Reunited pairs raise one chick in burrows self-made or temporarily leased from indignant bunnies. We hoped to spy them on Britain’s most northerly inhabited isle, Unst, a ten minute ferry ride across the sound. I am now officially puffin-in-love! The birds are as fun as you think they’ll be, waddling and clowning about in their penguin suits and disco beaks. This beak is a Mother Nature masterpiece of stack-&-store efficiency. Sand eels, herrings, and capelins are slotted into separately hinged compartments along the beak like eggs in a carton eliminating the need for multiple seafaring trips. The hatched puffin is rarely seen, fledgling at night to avoid predators. The rest of the year puffins bob out at sea, molting their fluoro beak and eye-piece until next year.
There is one other memory that will live long in my heart; swimming at Breckon Beach (channeling my inner Merrill) on a day the brochures did not promise. Photoshop a palm tree and it could have been Barbados. A toe in the water confirmed the water is part of the North Sea and I nearly changed my mind. But the way my skin and the rise in my bravery index felt hours later? Exquisite.
Away in Shetland, I missed the height of Foxtwist’s summer – two days over 25 degrees fell between July 19-21. On my return Worcestershire’s extensive hops, draped along Sky-high trellises had suddenly reached full height (16-20 ft). The coming shorter days will trigger the plant to “burr” fragrant papery cones and in another week or so harvesting will begin.
Making hay is also well underway – thank goodness. To get to our local, the hop-bedecked Bell, we have to wade through whippy grass up to our waist. It’s now done by machine of course but the old fashioned method of mowing a meadow was an art form. The cutters with their scythes lined up, fastest cutter first and proceeded in staggered formation so as not to slice a fellow worker’s ankles. The nursery rhyme
One man went to mow,
Went to mow a meadow;
One man and his dog
Went to mow a meadow.
Two men went to mow, …..
was actually a health and safety aid, heralding the next cutter onto the field well spaced from the one in front. Less romantically, Alistair, my farming neighbor, starts by ensuring the moles are unearthed from his fields before reaping. A sliced up, rotting mole amongst the silage and the horses won’t eat it.
In decades to come when Nurse Ratched’s great grand-daughter is reading me this post, I will remember, despite my dementia that at this time I experienced a momentous piece of history. (Indeed Nurse R-GGD may have written her Arts degree dissertation on Referendums – When they work, When the don’t before switching to nursing when she couldn’t get an EU funded job). Actually it was the day after the referendum (24/06) when I woke up holidaying in a French farmhouse to John’s “Good morning Miss Brexit”. That’s all I need to write Nurse R, to be able to recall the disbelief, daily resignation speeches, intra-party treachery, and bitter divides between town and country, young and old, England and Scotland. T’was Shakespearean!
my posts are getting later and later… it wasnt my intention this month but on tuesday night with my running club buddies, feeling invincible, i decided to freewheel at speed down a steep and gravelly hill. alas, freewheeling turned to body surfing, left side to the tarmac before a puffin-like stop-plop onto my shoulder and head. ambulance. five hours in a and e. fractured head of humerus. abrasions from elbow up to armpit down the left side to my knees. pain killers. physio scheduled. the inability to sleep comfortably, drive, press shift for capitals. nurse r-ggd this is the reason i have arthritis in my shoulder but cant remember why.
travel notes to self
perhaps not this time ….