Endings and beginnings

As mentioned in my last blog, I went down south to see friends and family last week. I also went across to Wales, to visit the spot where my father’s ashes are scattered – a place he loved, by the Nant y Moch reservoir (in the picture above).

It was a trip that had been planned for a little while, but just before I went, it took on another purpose. Both Graham and I had recently begun to realise that the things we missed – seemingly quite small, but adding up all the time – were beginning to outweigh the things we love about Shetland.

I’m very close to my family and I miss my sisters, so it was hard when my eldest sister Niki came over to the UK from her home in Cyprus, and saw all my siblings, but couldn’t get up here to see me, nor I down to see her. And although it’s amazing waking up in the mornings to oystercatchers and curlews calling in the bay, I really, really miss blue tits in the garden, butterflies and bee flies, and the sounds of songbirds in the woods. I miss foxes and roe deer and badgers. And we both miss pints of real ale in proper country pubs.

We’ve also come to the conclusion that we can make a better living in a place that’s cheaper to get to (ie, has more tourists), has a longer tourist season (ie, all year round), and has a greater variety of wildlife. So we’ve decided to bite the bullet and, before winter sets in again, head south.

We have chosen to move to Wales, where all the above things are true – plus there are hills and even mountains (which Graham still hankers after), and it’s a whole heck of a lot nearer family and friends. And my dad, who I had a long chat with on my visit, would approve – he lived in mid-Wales for about 40 years and loved it unreservedly.

So, our sojourn on Shetland will come to an end at the end of October. It’s been an amazing year, we’ve seen some amazing things, and had, all in all, a pretty brilliant time. I’m glad we’ve done it, and it’s been a heck of an experience.

But now we are looking forward to a new beginning in Wales, a new adventure, and a new phase of our lives. With blue tits and bee flies… and beer. At the moment I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with this blog, but I will definitely let you all know when the time comes. Thanks for reading.

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Migrating south

I’m off on holiday!

Tomorrow morning I fly down to Birmingham, pick up a hire car, and head off to the West Country to visit family and friends in Bath and Bristol – my old stomping ground, where I lived for the best part of 20 years.

Bizarrely, I’m really looking forward to the driving as much as anything else (so long as the hire car’s OK, that is). In another life, I had a lovely (if somewhat naff) little MGF, and I loved doing long drives in it. I well remember doing the journey from Cambridge to Bath, heading across for the weekend to visit my mum, iPod on shuffle, singing along all the way. OK, the M4 has to be one of the worst motorways in the country, definitely the worst I’ve come across for middle-lane hoggers, but even so, I loved the freedom and just driving in my little car.

Of course, it’s been a while now since I’ve had much to do with traffic and motorways, or have had to deal with the nightmare of the massively overcrowded M4 corridor. The worst causes of road rage I come across these days are tourists who don’t wave to say thank you when you’ve pulled into a passing place to let them by on single track roads.

I’ll let you know how I get on…

Another visit to Muckle Roe

The other day we did quite a big walk – it was a full afternoon out at Muckle Roe.

The Hamms – the deep, spectacular, cliff-ringed bays where the fishermen (and smugglers) once plied their trade – are quite a well-known tourist attraction and plenty of people park up at the end of the road and walk the 4km Land Rover track cutting through the heathery hillside.

Those in the know, however, turn their backs on the obvious route, and head down to the lovely rocky and sandy beach with its bubbling stream that cuts right through the middle, and out to the lighthouse, with views across to Vementry island, picking their way around the stunning coastline.

We’ve done the walk to the lighthouse a few times before, so we cut out that bit of headland to make the walk more manageable, and turned inland from the beach. It turned out to be a good decision, because it was up above one of the many little inland lochs that we had our first unexpected sighting of the day – a beautiful Painted Lady, the first one we’d seen in Shetland, and in fact only the third species of butterfly I’ve seen since moving here. (The others, if you want to know, were Large White and Red Admiral.)

A rather lovely Painted Lady

A rather lovely Painted Lady

She (it’s a Painted Lady so it has to be a she…) obligingly landed, wings open, and sat still for us, enjoying a few moments of sunshiney warmth while we took some photos, and then continued on her journey, no doubt heading back down to the Continent to escape the fast-approaching Shetland autumn.

A family of field mushrooms out for a picnic...?

A family of field mushrooms out for a picnic…?

Yellow club fungus, clavulinopsis

Yellow club fungus, clavulinopsis

We then found some rather lovely field mushrooms, arranged like a family going out for a picnic, as well as some bright yellow fungus that we later identified as yellow club fungus, clavulinopsis.

Dramatic scenery, rock stacks and daunting cliffs

Dramatic scenery, rock stacks and daunting cliffs

After that, the day was all about spectacular scenery and wild and windy seas crashing in, rock stacks and daunting cliffs. We found one bay with two enormous rock stacks, one thin like a needle, the other a big, bent hummock, with waves thrashing against them and spraying up. We scrambled down a precarious slippery track to the beach and discovered that as well as the stacks there was an enormous tunnel through the cliff with the water squeezing in and out as the tide ebbed and flowed. All this in just one bay.

We looked down on this beach with its rock stacks and waves crashing...

We looked down on this beach with its rock stacks and waves crashing…

We scrambled down the cliff path to the beach...

We scrambled down the cliff path to the beach…

Found an impressive cave/arch hidden from view from above...

Found an impressive cave/arch hidden from view from above…

And photographed the waves crashing in against the stacks

And photographed the waves crashing in against the stacks

At South Hamm there are the forlorn remains of fishermen’s cottages, long abandoned and roofless now. But you can still look through the windows and imagine how it might have been to live here in this perfectly wild and windblown place, with the constant sound of the sea at your ear and the long, long views out to an open, empty ocean.

The old fishermen's cottages at South Hamm

The old fishermen’s cottages at South Hamm

By the time we reached North Hamm, with its imposing cliff on one side and red sand and shingly beach, I was starting to flag. If you continue round the coastline from here, there’s an almost-island which defied us not to go for a look, challenged us to just go that one bit further. But “Let’s save it for next time,” I wimped out.

North Hamm

North Hamm

After all, we still had the 4km walk back along the Land Rover track to the car park. Which was fine, and scenic and heathery enough. But those tourists who just go there and back along it really don’t know what they’re missing.

Hats off to Emily!

The lovely Emily Poleson, a fellow WordPress blogger (shetlandhandknitter.wordpress.com) designed and knitted a couple of lovely hats for Graham and me recently.

The weather’s been relatively warm, so we’ve not had much chance to wear them, but with the coming of September there’s been an autumnal chill in the air, so yesterday we jumped at the chance to wear our new hats.

Actually, Emily knitted Graham two hats. This is the blue one.

Actually, Emily knitted Graham two hats. This is the blue one.

Lovely aren’t they?

Magical mushrooms

Had a lovely evening walk after work yesterday.

We went to Kergord woods again, and it was lovely to be in among the trees. We could hear goldcrests seep-seeping everywhere, and even managed to catch a glimpse of a family flitting among the branches. These tiny birds (our smallest) are like bright, flying jewels with their golden striped heads and huge, bright eyes.

A nicely arranged trio

A nicely arranged trio

Back down at ground level, we found treasure of a different kind – a multitude of mushrooms. Well, it is September after all, so mushroom season is definitely well under way.

This one's called The Sickener - for obvious reasons

This one’s called The Sickener – for obvious reasons

Some sort of slime mould. Lovely...

Some sort of slime mould. Lovely…

As we left the woods, to head home for tea, we were treated to a fine aerial display by a couple of merlins who seemed to be teasing the entire colony of rooks that live in the trees at Kergord. They were probably, in fact, trying to catch the aforementioned goldcrests, and seemed completely unfazed by the tens of rooks that kept trying to bug them. The best views we’ve had of merlins – so far…