Still in Shetland

We have decided to stop here in Shetland and explore properly rather than rush on to the next place. It is a bit of a gamble in case the weather breaks but we think it is worth the risk.  From a distance , the shores look grey and lacking in life, but go ashore in these summer months and nothing could be further from the truth. The cliffs and fields are carpeted in wildflowers  and when the sun shines the fields are a riot of reds yellows and pinks . If the bird populations of these island are anything to go by the seas are in a fairly healthy state too  . As we sail by  we are always surrounded by gannets plummeting into the sea , whilst inshore the terns feast on smaller fry. In amongst them the burly Great Skua’s (“bonxies”) and smaller, more agile Arctic skuas chase and harry the other birds for their fish, and all the while puffins , razorbills and various kinds of guillemots  pop up from their fishing  or sit in rafts to pass the time of day. All that is  missing are the sea eagles that we so admired in Norway – but watching a little Merlin hunt over one of the cliffs and strike with its trademark stoop , hurtling downwards vertically at astonishing speed , more than made up for this.

Over the past 6 weeks we have met 4 couples in their 70’s who return year after year to these Northern waters. Two of them, one Dutch and one German , knew of each other because they had met in a little bay in Patagonia (!) , and although they are  no longer wandering the world , every summer sees them in the Faeroes, Hebrides and Shetlands enjoying the unspoilt beauty of these Northern isles .They also come for the friendly and welcoming people living  here  who have yet to be swamped by the sheer number of yachties that visit  warmer European waters. It was a real privilege to meet them , marvel at their stories and take confidence  that we can continue with our adventures for some years to come.

As usual the weather this year has been in the “it’s not usually like this “ category. The winds have been predominantly Northerly which has kept the temperatures down to a 4 fleece level, although there has also been less rain than usual. Thankfully our heater has performed faultlessly up to now and the lack of any night to speak of more than makes up for these low temperatures. We heard last night that the Island of Mull on the West coast has run out of water – now where have I heard that before? Sure enough, today finds us sitting out our first SW gale in rain heavy enough to solve Mull’s problem overnight and I suspect that this is a hint that within a week or two we should be getting down South just like the German merchants of the Middle Ages who traded up here between May and August.

One of the attractions of Shetland is the way it has tied together our journey in a historical sense. Bergen and its Hanseatic history owed its wealth to the cod fishing  in North Norway and the Shetlands. On the island, each of the natural harbours has the remnants of the old Hansa, and later Bremen trading stations where dried  cod was stockpiled in exchange for wheat , cloth and fishing gear. In Holland we spent a week in Enkhuizen , that rich little medieval city whose emblem, 3 silver herring , shows where they made their money . Up here, we find that the herring came from these waters and in the 16th century the marvellously protected waters of Lerwick sound where we are currently holed up, might have seen 1,500 Dutch herring busses riding out a similar gale. At that time all the money went back to Holland, and the islanders only income came from selling wool socks to the fishermen. Allegedly they sold the services of their womenfolk too,   causing an order to be made to raze the nascent town of Lerwick to the ground because of the licentious behaviour therein!  It all looks much more prosperous and better behaved now thanks to North sea oil, although if I was a young Dutchman I might be tempted to come and try my luck just for old time’s sake!

We have another week here as Bryony is coming up to join us for a short while , so greetings from all on Festina , currently snug as a bug in a gale in Lerwick and looking forward to some more Shetland adventures with Bryony  before making our way home.

One Comments

  1. Well another of Philip and Linda’s big adventures. As we ride out our winter down here (probably warmer than your summer there), it is wonderful to have yet another vicarious cruise.
    For the first time since we arrived, I am going to have the opportunity to go away for a month on the boat this summer. I want to visit Parengarenga harbour right at the very North East of NZ. Have a look on Google Earth, and you will see why I would like to go there. Sand that is pure silica and looks like sugar. It is so bright it can be seen from hundreds of miles up. Awkward approach with shifting bar etc but in the right weather, it may be worth seeing. Keep on adventuring.

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