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Published: September 30th 2015
Excitement doesn't come to you in Shetland, you give this place time and wait and steadily you learn things about the sea, the land, the seasons and you find it exciting.
7:15am, at the harbour - the Bressay Ferry leaves Lerwick towards the shore opposite. Bressay, a long thin line of land, is tinged with a thin pink ribbon of sunrise pushing below the low lying grey sky. At the Lerwick side, the sea and streets are very still and calm. The large fishing boats stand majestically by the harbour piers - one from Norway, the other is from Lerwick. Alongside is the accommodations barge, painted in Dazzle Camouflage, used for the men working at Sullom Voe. I've been told that 5,000 men are working on the new plant and they stay in accommodation barges moored up in Lerwick. A cruise liner is expected later and I begin to understand the oil money moving the economy around these tiny islands at a faster pace than I first thought.
Quietly and playfully, a large seal lifts its head out of the sea's surface about 10 feet away from me. Immediately, I'm grinning and talking to it
like a puppy dog. He teases me by rising slightly and bobbing up and down. Then he rises, dips his head and his large body arcs into the sea and he's gone. I wait but he doesn't return.
I set off for the Knab, the edge of the land. On the walk, a small sandy cove between the Queen's Hotel, which is built into the sea, and a small fisherman's cottage - built in the same style, opens up. Narrow, deep steps lead to the crescent beach that no one has trodden on. It's littered with sea glass and shells. A seagull rapidly stamps up and down at the sea edge whilst its huge fledgling cries repeatedly in the hope of food. They're the same size. The mother stamps wildly which brings an eel to the surface, which the fledgling expertly springs upon. So much life to watch and learn from in a tiny space. The cottage itself is remarkable. It's very old, partly submerged in the sea, even though the tide is out, which means it will well submerged when the tide rolls in. The walls facing the cove look damp and the guttering looks missing.
I knocked on the door
but spiders had built their homes across the doorway
It looks unloved but proud. On the south side, the house reveals its true nature. It's got a long history of fishing and working. A hook and chain hang from the end of the building, a small walled yard is on the top floor, all windows are curtained, cobwebs cover the door opening, millstones have the look of being looked at, plants grow in every crack. An addition to the building has been made that adjoins Commercial St - The Lodberrie - It's beautiful, really beautiful.
So many things have happened whilst I've been here. On the second day at Bain's beach, a woman joined me to look at the sea glass and broken chips of pottery that littered the sea edge. We took a walk around the Knab together and talked about the sunrise, the day, her work here, my travels to China and how this elemental Island takes over your feelings and vision. We got on like a house on fire - she left me her name and number.
I go to workshops on lace knitting, weaving and fair isle yokes. I've sat by the sea and seen, what I thought was
a seal swimming towards me but it was a cute sea otter with his catch. I was so excited when he climbed up the small jetty that I was sitting on that it was hard to be silent. And, I've visited the Jamieson & Smith wool sorting shed to hear the incredibly charismatic Oliver talk about wool grading (his job for nearly 50 years) buying Zenit camera's from Polish years ago, how he would not make coffins out of sheep wool, how wool was considered a bi-product, and how the new marketing of woolen products has now driven the price of wool to a reasonable sale price for the crofters who wait all year for their wool cheque. Oliver is a man of great integrity, someone you would be proud to work with - the whole group was enraptured by his talk. But the best part happened afterwards.
In the wool shed at Jamieson and Smith, I met Angela. Having never spoken to her before, she stopped on the road and offered me a lift back to the hostel which was about a mile - I unusually and graciously accepted. In the hub, used for Wool week, I told
her that I was planning to catch two buses and walk 3 miles to get to St. Ninian's Isle on Friday. She asked me where it was, I showed her on the map, she figured that she could get there and back in 2 hours, in time for her Harvest supper and just said, 'Let's go'.
So, after knowing this woman for 5 minutes, we pegged it to her car and she drove, with a broken foot, 15 miles to a place she had no idea about but wanted to go because I did.
St Ninian's is a natural tombola beach - a long, thin, curved double -sided beach with sea on both sides. It was the BEST two hours I've spent in a very long time. spontaneous, running, squealing, feeling free and experiencing a natural Tombola beach just for us alone - with no one else around for miles. Spontaneous, altruistic kindness. Free.
Come to Shetland - don't buy things. Buy experiences.
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