Shetland dazzles through the skudding clouds

A short flight in a short plane takes me from the mainland to Sumburgh on Shetland. I mean a short plane with room for just 12 rows of seats. It is the layout inside that must be a challenge for any pilot. On one side of the aircraft pairs of seats face the hunched figure of the sole stewardess who gives her safety briefing hunched in the narrow space between the single row of overhead lockers. The other side has rows of single seats. So one side has double the weight of the other side. Surely, this makes it hard to fly in a straight line.

Well, in a straight line it goes. The first sight of Shetland is through holes in the cloud cover. Smooth, felt-covered hills slope away from the coast where nautical mice have nibbled away at the land to leave teeth-marked cliffs standing tall, facing the rolling sea. The sun shines through to give this land a bright, openess as it catches the highlight of isolated farms and huddled villages painted in contrasts of white & maroon & grey.

To the west lies Canada and to the north lies Iceland and to the east, Norway. This place is equidistant between the UK mainland and Norway, 200 miles in each direction. 22,000 people live on the 16 inhabited islands out 100 that make up this Scottish district.

Driving along the single track roads from the airport, small sandy bays & crescents of smooth sands can be seen peeping around headland and every corner. Not a tree in sight; just a flat, green landscape with grazing sheep the only disturbance around low settlements that scream to hug the  tugged coastline. The two-storey house is the exception amongst the scattered villages of traditional, low bungalows and barns of these wind-swept islands. No place on the island is further than 3 miles from the sea and this is so obvious as one travels about. The sea is always there. Why are the dwellings in these remote locations, clamped to a bay or holding on to a wedge of sand? Weaving or whaling or fishing maybe.

On one beach surfers surf; on another beach walkers walk; on a third beach seals laze in the sun. The one constant is the aquamarine ocean that crashes in rows and lines of waves and ripples on the waiting shore.



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