I seem to have the house to myself, the rain has started (after an extremely promising and sunny start to the morning) and I thought I could do worse than post about the virtues of being 60° North (reading a book is also tempting but the computer has a better view).
The world is full of places that I want to visit but I keep finding myself spending free time and funds on coming back to this one place – each visit makes me more determined to return but the reasons change. Once these pilgrimages were driven by homesickness and people; school holidays here were great, far more sociable and far more exciting than anything on offer in our sleepy English village – just the right mix of novelty and familiarity. Returning as an adult for a week here or there when I’m generally at the end of my work tether though has far more to do with how bracing places like this are. I partly allude to the weather which so far has been a mix of strong wind, blazing sunshine, rain that means it, and quite thick fog, but also to the change of perspective.
The May that I left behind in Leicestershire was lush with blossom and verdantly green (apart from lawns which looked August levels of parched) everything was growing with what will look like vulgar opulence when I get back. Stepping off the plane at Sumburgh we felt like we had stepped back a couple of months. Winter browns greys and ochre’s are still very much in evidence in a landscape thin on trees and big on rocks. Closer inspection does however reveal that spring has sprung and summer is almost here. The Tern’s possibly arrived on the same flight (dad swears they’re a couple of days late but we’ve seen plenty now) but other migrants are decently settled in – Oyster Catcher’s and Lapwings (I think both migrate) are the most evocative sound wise (Shetland countryside sounds like roaring wind with a mix of bird calls and sheep bleats, it smells of something indescribably sweet and floral with top notes of pony, sheep, seaweed, wild thyme and occasionally peat smoke, it tastes slightly salty.) Red throated divers are adding a bit of wild romance and a big ginger dog Otter made an appearance – Otters have an undeniable charisma about them and this one despite his strawberry blonde coat was no exception.
There is as you might have gathered no shortage of impressive wildlife, but as much as I like scuttling after Otters and throwing myself into bogs to get a better look at a pair of divers (or to avoid being mobbed by Bonxies) that’s all window dressing. People aside what brings me back and back again is the way this place makes me look at things. Literally look (as opposed to metaphorically because I couldn’t say that and not feel like a prat without a few stiff gins in me) a view which is brown and unappealing from a distance transforms on close inspection. I have never seen so many primroses; there are acres of them pouring down the hillsides in some sort of ridiculous yellow stream. They are tiny, delicate, perfect and miraculously immune to sheep, rabbits and the wind. There are also violets - a lot of violets in every imaginable shade from a very sophisticated smoky grey through amethyst and into a proper deep violet, also tiny and invisible until you’re on top of them when you suddenly realise that they’re everywhere all of which is quite charming in the manner of a Pre Raphaelite painter showing off just how much intricate detail they can cram into a picture.
Look up and out and the Pre Raphaelite vision transforms into something much more heroic and muscular (I the right light it gets a bit Rothko) big sky’s, big seas, big rocks and big waves, and all the time (unless you’re downwind of rotting seaweed) it smells delightful and feels timeless. All of which makes me want to paint and write and walk and enthuse in an attempt to pin down what it is that has managed to so comprehensively fire my imagination – and I haven’t even started on the amazing ever changing light…