About Me

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On the bright side of the road
Lover of words. Usually found with a book or a pen in my hand.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Shetland Days - twelve and thirteen

Well, that's a novel way
to keep warm
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.

View from Fort Charlotte
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.

The Bod of Gremista
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 was
View from the Bod of Gremista
so 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.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

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.

Winter's sun
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.

Snow on the moors
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.

Shags or cormorants?
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.

Nearly back to my 
November home
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.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

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.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Shetland Days - eight

Behind Jimmy Perez's
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.....no! 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!

View from my November home
across to Bressay Island
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.

Just look how clear the sea is here!
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 noticebable 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?

Friday, 8 November 2019

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.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

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.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

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.