Strict Standards: Redefining already defined constructor for class wpdb in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 52

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/cache.php on line 36

Strict Standards: Redefining already defined constructor for class WP_Object_Cache in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/cache.php on line 389

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Page::start_lvl() should be compatible with Walker::start_lvl($output) in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/classes.php on line 537

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Page::end_lvl() should be compatible with Walker::end_lvl($output) in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/classes.php on line 537

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Page::start_el() should be compatible with Walker::start_el($output) in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/classes.php on line 537

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Page::end_el() should be compatible with Walker::end_el($output) in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/classes.php on line 537

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_PageDropdown::start_el() should be compatible with Walker::start_el($output) in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/classes.php on line 556

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Category::start_lvl() should be compatible with Walker::start_lvl($output) in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/classes.php on line 653

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Category::end_lvl() should be compatible with Walker::end_lvl($output) in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/classes.php on line 653

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Category::start_el() should be compatible with Walker::start_el($output) in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/classes.php on line 653

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_Category::end_el() should be compatible with Walker::end_el($output) in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/classes.php on line 653

Strict Standards: Declaration of Walker_CategoryDropdown::start_el() should be compatible with Walker::start_el($output) in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/classes.php on line 678

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/query.php on line 21

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/theme.php on line 508
Wildlife Camera » Farthest north

Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/post.php on line 115
« Safari camera know-how -
Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/post.php on line 115
Quietly through Masai country »

Farthest north

13 November 2008


Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/wildlife/public_html/wp-includes/formatting.php on line 74

shetland puffin

A few miles up the road from the Most Northerly Golf Course (18 holes, 6009 yards), and the Most Northerly Hotel, not far from the Most Northerly Post Office and the Most Northerly Castle at Muness, we stopped at the gate of the Most Northerly House.
A low black-roofed white cottage, with a porch to stop the gales from invading the front door, it squats with its byres and peat stack on a grassy slope.


A clear stream dances past the front of the cottage, spreading out into the shallows where Arctic skuas bathe prettily, before it loses itself in the sea at the foot of a sandy beach.
It’s called Skaw Cottage.
For your money, on Unst you get a lot of space, a lot of light (it hardly gets dark at all in midsummer) and several thousand seabirds and sheep as your neighbours.
You also get a few hardy folk driving up to your gate, which is on a bridge over the dancing stream, because they want to say hello to the people in the Most Northerly House.
They may also want you to point out the place where the highest wind-speed ever recorded in the British Isles – a terrifying 177 miles an hour – was registered by the Most Northerly Anemometer, just before it was blown away.
Which emphasises that Skaw Cottage is a place to visit in summer. In the grip of winter’s gales and darkness, it might be less fun.
The seabirds know that. In June, the cliffs and moors are alive with the sound of whistling whimbrels, yodelling skuas and the cacophony of every kind of avian voice, from pipits to gannets. The birding is brilliant — some of the best in the world. By late summer, the isles are almost deserted.
For a brief burst, during those long days of high summer, Shetland basks in its tourist season and islanders forget for a moment that they are on the same latitude as the Eskimo villages of Hudson Bay. They harvest their hay, sell the knitwear and silverware they have made during the winter, and clip the fleeces of their neat little sheep.
It is a time for fishing and fiddle playing.
The fishing that interests the tourists is among the 300 lochs on the islands - “some of the best and most prolific brown trout angling in the British Isles,” according to the local experts’ guidebook.
In many of the lochs, fish average nearly a pound in weight, with some running to 2-3 lb. It is possible to fish almost anywhere, almost round the clock thanks to the “simmer dim” of summer twilight.
It’s fishing as it used to be. With angling breaking all records as one of Britain’s most popular participant sports, Shetland is sure to become even more attractive for a growing army of rod-toting, fly-hatted enthusiasts.
And if you can spare time from the fishing, the fiddlers are worth an hour or two of anyone’s time. There are many set-piece festivals of Shetland music, which is very different from the bagpipes and tartan of the Highlands. But the best music of these northern isles is heard at such impromptu events as the midweek gatherings in upstairs bars in the heart of Lerwick.
Fiddlers stand around the piano and fill the night with a toe-tapping mix of reels and airs, sometimes solo, sometimes in concert.
The Shetlanders find the lightweight fiddle the perfect instrument for their musical talents – easy to take on a boat and easy to adapt to all kinds of music.
The sound of a fiddler from the island of Yell playing in the local style, wild and vigorous, in that smoky bar is a lasting memory of the islands, which have a fascinating air of adventure linked to near-to-home comfort.
Shetland really is a safe place to do adventurous things. It’s fun to jump on and off a succession of ferries, from Mainland (the largest island, not Scotland) to Yell, Fetlar and Unst. The fares are a real bargain for the half-hour trips – some are even free, other tickets cost about £3. There are more than 190 ferry crossings between the islands every day, so there’s no lack of choice.
Each of the smaller islands has its own character, some are covered in green crofts, some in sheep-grazed heather, but there is no wilderness and no trees, just lots of space. Everywhere you are close to the sea. Nowhere in Shetland is more than three miles from salt-water and most of it is much closer.
There are seals in every voe, or sea inlet, and otters too.
This is the best place in Britain –one of the best in the world – for seeing otters. They play along the shore and even in the ferry harbours.
One earnest Home Counties wildlife watcher asked a Yell man where she could see otters and he gestured towards the end of the jetty. She thought he meant the distant hills of Yell and asked how she could get there.
“Och, woman,” he said. “Like this…”
And he grabbed her elbow and walked her to the end of the stone-built harbour.
To her astonishment there were a pair of otters frolicking only 20 yards away from the line of cars waiting to board the ferry.
The wildlife thrives despite the presence in the largest sea-loch of the great Sullom Voe oil terminal, which brings ashore a large proportion of Britain’s North Sea oil and gas.
“The oil” has brought prosperity and jobs, but the Shetlanders are well aware that it will run out. They have spent more money on tourist promotion than any other British region of comparable population.
Their visitors from the South are always fascinated by the ever-present sea, thrashing on 1500 miles of coastline, which ranges from white-sand beaches to 1000ft. cliffs. And by the weather: “Nine months of winter and three months of bad weather,” say those who’ve struck a bad patch.
Shetlanders have great respect for the sea. Most of them lost relatives at the fishing, especially in the harsh days when the men went out in six-oared boats, and on at least two occasions more than 100 were drowned in a night when storms struck suddenly while the boats were far at sea.
After centuries of harsh rule from Norway and Scotland, prosperity came late to Shetland. So when the money began to gush in, the islanders developed a rash of building – most of it rather devoid of taste. They made great and worthwhile efforts to make certain that the oil companies would not pollute their landscape. Then, unfortunately, they did the same thing themselves with prefabricated bungalows.
The people, the land and the sea are fascinating; the man-made surroundings less attractive. Shetland’s national flower is said to be the ubiquitous “Shetland Rose” – a red lager can shining brightly in the ditch.
But it’s easy to avoid the worst eyesores and there’s plenty of room, especially on the 100 uninhabited islets. Just don’t go to modern Lerwick expecting old-fashioned charm. The Shetlanders have certainly failed to copy the building skills of the Norwegians they admire so much.
The hotels and guest-houses are adequate and still improving. The seafood is superb, flipping straight from tide to table. The nightly service to the isles from Aberdeen is also excellent (pay £22 to £32 one-way, according to season) — a fine start to any adventure.
WN copyright (Puffin on Shetland by Lisbeth Landstrom from iStockphoto)


Comments are closed.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.