Friday, October 9, 2020

Back From Scotland

I got back to Leicester last night with no real enthusiasm for the place. The extra 100+ days of lock down we've had here have probably been the final straw and I've been absent for a goodish bit of it after the water went off in my building for a weekend. I had to move out for a few days and saw no good reason to come back. There are still things I find convenient about living in a town, still people I care about here (although I can't see them) but I've loved the space that first the Scottish Borders, and then Shetland gave me other the last weeks. It made me feel so much better than I have in months, and I'm really going to miss it. Especially now the students are back here - they generally make the city feel safer, but right now an extra 40,000 people, half of them on my doorstep, feels overwhelming.

Meanwhile it's a long, long, time since I was in Shetland during the Autumn and so I ended up falling in love with it all over again. I was lucky with the weather. It was frequently quite windy, often quite wet, but never for very long. I wouldn't have minded a proper storm, but am grateful for the the glorious light and the change of colouring I got to see. It went from still having a hint of summer in sheltered corners, to feeling like winter was almost there on the more exposed hills.

It was also a chance to think about how I present the Shetland I see here and elsewhere on social media. I'm normally there around midsummer, and like most of us my pictures are carefully edited to show the wildest or most picturesque things I come across. It's a romantic view of a landscape which isn't exactly dishonest, but ignores the industrial reality of the place, so isn't entirely honest either. It's something that was really underlined for me when I posted a picture of an oil rig that's being decommissioned. People were ambivalent about it, but oil is a huge part of Shetland's recent history and prosperity as is fishing, salmon farming, mussel farming, and now the landscape is being torn apart for a massive windfarm.

It's generally accepted that the ruins of old fishing stations are attractive in a way that the massive sheds and pelagic fishing boats of today are not - but the new boats signal far more wealth for the people who work on them. The ruins represent a deeply exploitative system that took far longer than it should have to break. Maybe the windfarm will settle into the landscape in the same way that salmon and mussel farms have become so much part of the voe's that I can't really remember what they looked like without them. Maybe they won't - I'm not a fan of windfarms and somewhat dread the impact they're going to have. I think they'll further shift the balance between wild and domesticated (or industrialized) away from nature. 


  1. Interested to read about the windfarm. I was in Shetland when the pipeline was brought into Sullom Voe and always admired the way the Shetland Council stood up to the oil companies. I have not been back (but hoping to in the next couple of years) but have seen on line how things have moved on. I now live in Kent and there are lots of offsea windfarms which looks wise are Ok, but must admit not so keen when turbines are on land. I will follow this development with interest.

    1. There's a lot about it in The Sheland Times, and for a generally anti point of view Sustainable Shetland on Facebook is still campaigning against. Unfortunately it's harder to find an organized group that is pro, although there are plenty of people who are broadly positive about the development. It's been an extremely contentious issue that's divided a lot of people and ruined some old friendships, and the impact on the look of the islands will be considerable. One thing about Sullom Voe is that unless you're almost on top of it you wouldn't really know it's there, but this is over a 100 huge turbines right down the spine of Shetland, with the likelihood that more will follow. I'm obviously not a fan!