On the move

My husband tells it like it is when it comes to moving house…

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The hills are alive

Bertie and I are doing some serious hill-fitness training in preparation for our move to Wales. It’s a bit difficult in Shetland though, as there aren’t really any high hills. We mostly have to just go up and down a lot.

Going out for our usual afternoon walk, though, and giving myself the target of ‘getting to the top of that bump there’ adds new purpose to walking the dog. And Bert doesn’t mind. Though he’d prefer it if we just kept to the more rabbit-infested parts.

There it is - that's the massive Mouldy Hill in the distance...

There it is – that’s the massive Mouldy Hill in the distance…

So, the other day we went up Mouldy Hill (yes, it is called that!) just a leisurely 80m above sea level, but about as high as I can get walking from the front door. It’s basically an extension of our usual walk up the burn, and I can’t remember when we last did it without seeing mountain hares (now turning white) and red grouse.

A short drive away, the Ward of Culswick – a monumental 118m – was conquered one afternoon after an early finish at work, and yesterday, we walked up  Weisdale Hill – a whopping 260m. (Whoah, pass me the oxygen!)  It was a beautiful, bright sunny afternoon and evening (though pretty cold with an Arctic wind) and there were some stunning views down Weisdale Voe.

It’s all very well, though, this mock hill-walking, but I’m now thoroughly excited about getting to Wales and really getting some height.

Here’s a few of the views we’re looking forward to…

The house at Jackville

Back in the spring, we walked halfway out along Stromness, one of Shetland’s many long, thin peninsulas, where we picked up tiny green sea urchins and discovered a plantiecrub full of honeysuckle.

Right at the end of this sliver of land is an old house called Jackville, which was built in 1848. There is no road to it, you can only reach it by foot (or horse or quad bike, I suppose) or boat. We obviously spotted it on our walk, and thought what an amazing place to live it would be. It is not lived in – but it is far from empty.

Yesterday, we decided to walk all the way out to it. It is an amazing spot. Just across the water, barely a stone’s throw away are all the trappings of civilisation that Shetland has to offer – roads, shops, neighbours – and all the added extras that those things bring: traffic, pollution, waste, noise… Yet here, on the very tip of this rocky, boggy scrap of land is quiet, solitude, peace and a feeling of being very far from that so-called civilisation.

I love this description from electricscotland.com: “Two long and narrow promontories project into the bay of Scalloway. Of these the southern, called Ustaness, is of by far the greatest importance, being fertile, populous, and well cultivated. Stromness, the northern, is somewhat narrower than the other, and can boast of only a few crofts. At its point stands the neat house of Jackville, than which no better out-of-the-world residence could be found, even in the Ultima Thule.”

How evocative is that? Indeed, I’ve done a (very little) bit of research and can really only find info about the place around the 1800s. I know that one family was cleared from Jackville (though this would have been pre the house) and probably went to Australia. Apparently it was originally two houses, though now there’s an old wooden conservatory/porch affair replacing the two front doors, with intriguing skulls of various sizes on display inside.

We peered through the grimy windows to view Marie-Celeste-like scenes. The place is still sparsely furnished; in one tiny, snug of a room there’s even a decorated piano. There’s a huge table in the kitchen – with an old-fashioned phone on it, so it was obviously relatively recently occupied. The plaster is peeling off the walls, though, and the whole thing is in a sad state of repair. What a place to live, indeed…

Sea urchins everywhere

Sea urchins everywhere

The house may be unoccupied, but the area is certainly not deserted. As well as the ubiquitous sheep, the place is obviously well-frequented by otters, judging by the enormous number of sea urchins scattered just above the rocky shore. It’s a collector’s paradise, with pink, purple and orange ones, and quite a few almost entire.

We picnicked out of the wind under the wall of the wildly overgrown garden, before leaving this idyllic spot and making our way back along the heathery ridge to so-called civilisation, leaving a dream of solitude and peace behind, and intrigued to know more about who might have lived here in more recent times.