Apologies for the lack of promised report on my Shetland trip. I took the opportunity of a flying visit to Aberdeen for work on Friday to head out along Deeside for the weekend, and I am just back today.
That means I’ve already threatened my new year’s resolution to spend more weekends at home, but I reduced my corresponding sense of guilt by doing very little except sleeping, eating and reading, due in part to the miserable weather.
Anyway. To be honest, while I really enjoyed my couple of days in Shetland earlier this week, and the weather was remarkably clement for the time of year, I can’t really be bothered giving a full blow-by-blow account of my solitary amblings around the quiet streets of Lerwick with my camera, or my attempt to avoid feeling self-conscious while having a pint by myself in a pub. And nor would you be interested, I suspect.
However, when sitting having a pint on the Wednesday night, I did have a little bit of a brainwave, though I’ll save that nascent genius for a later post.
What I will share is that the journey back on Thursday morning from Sumburgh airport to Inverness, stopping at Kirkwall, almost never happened.
I arrived at the still-dark hour of about 7am at the airport – a 40 minute drive south from Lerwick already under my belt, with only the strangely compelling SIBC‘s looped music and eclectic mix of local, maritime and Nordic news to find snow beginning to fall and my lucky window of good weather closing. Only once aboard the plane the authorities decided we needed de-icing, and the crew of the de-icing truck not only took ages to report for duty but also lingered leisurely over their task in a way that led our pilot to share quite openly her frustration to us in the cabin.
Eventually after a freezing hour of reading an in-flight magazine that was two months out of date, we departed – only to spend around the same time loitering on the tarmac in Kirkwall, Orkney, while the plane suffered an electrical fault.
That a couple of Orcadians who’d boarded at Kirkwall were getting increasingly anxious about an onward connection from Inverness to London, served to remind me how precarious the act of planning travel can be across the highlands and islands.
The weather and unreliable transport are in fact strong themes in the book I’ve just finished reading, Between Weathers by Ron McMillan, which I picked up from the Shetland Times bookshop in August. It’s an enthralling travelogue of a journey around Shetland in 2005, describing people, places, cultures and histories of the different communities of Shetland – different not only from the rest of Scotland but, often, from each other.
Covering the county from top to bottom and taking in the hardest to reach islands, McMillan writes personably and cheerfully without being flippant, and informedly and authoritatively without being dry or academic.
As a Scot, he is able to present his subject sympathetically and realistically, and with evidence of substantial research before and after his trip. A writer from further afield might have easily run the risk of describing these supposedly “remote” islands in a romantic, patronising or one-dimensional way.
He also writes sensitively about the people he meets, who – even where unnamed – would probably be easily identifiable to locals or future visitors.
It’s well worth a read to anyone interested in Shetland, and it’s certainly whetted my appetite for my next work trip in June, which I am seriously contemplating extending to make into a wee holiday.