A plan hatched in the depths of winter, over a new year ‘zoom’ call involving too much wine and much-missed old friends finally came to fruition last week as I flew – yes, flew! – further north than I’ve ever been to a land where the sun never sets. For one day of the year, anyway. That’s the day I longed to see in a land I’ve long wanted to visit.
Even in the bright sunshine with which we were blessed, the constant winds had an icy chill; arriving by air, little over an hour from Inverness, it was less obvious just how ‘far away’ Shetland is from the Scottish mainland, than if I had gone by ferry as my friends had. (They assured me it was as flat as a millpond. If they can guarantee that next time, that’s the way I’ll go). When one wakes at 3am to find sunlight streaming through the windows, though, it becomes apparent that you are either very, very far north or else have died and been reborn in paradise.
I don’t like the dark. I’d take 24-hour daylight all year round. I’d even take the coldness, if I could have that.
With so much to see and pack into such a short, three-night trip I left with the desire to return again soon; such an incredibly beautiful place with landscapes both familiar (reminiscent of the Western Isles) and unexpected. I didn’t take my sketchbook – no time for that! – but I was certainly inspired. To quote my friend Morag: ‘Everywhere you look, there are sharp angles’. Seabirds galore perched on most of them. And puffins!! So many, there was no need to hunt for them. They seemed to have the knack, too, of arranging themselves into the most picturesque situations, nestling between candy-pink thrift and orange lichen-covered rocks, brilliant green grasses waving across their clownish cheeks. I decided if I ever found myself living in Shetland I’d buy myself a proper camera and spend my whole life just photographing puffins. In fact, I’m sure that’s what everyone there must do!
Mid-summer evening was celebrated with pink Prosecco and a wonderful midnight boat trip to the island of Mousa with its well-preserved ‘broch’, the cracks in its stone walls home to thousands of nesting storm petrel, whose impatient chirrups as they anticipate the return of their mate we were there to hear; the bat-like fluttering and urgent broch-circling of the returning partner we were there to see. As we made our way across the hillside back to the boat (1am, no torch required) an almost-full moon rose above the broch, its reflection spreading golden across the calm sea. A magical sight. How lucky am I?