Shetland is blanketed in one of its summer fogs today. Just like it was yesterday and the two days before that. My walks up hill and down dale have been taking place in white-outs, in which everywhere looks exactly the same, but you keep on marching on in the hope that the fog might lift and whisk away to permit a view that you just know would be stunning if only you could see it.
I've been hunkering down in a variety of peat bogs, sand dunes and heather banks to do my lady watercolourist thing, but all that there is in my sketchbook for yesterday is a big blank page. Yesterday I caught a sense of just how dangerous it is to go a-wandering on cliffy coastal paths in the fog. Yesterday I might just have needed a change of underwear if I hadn't worked out how to use map and compass to navigate a tricky bit of coastline up at Eshaness.
Mary Blance and I wandered blithely along the cliff-top, cautiously admiring the deep, deep fissures cut into the cliffs at our feet. Fissures, or voes, made by the pounding of the sea on the ancient rocks of Eshaness. Some of the oldest rocks in the world are here, and it is a place of majestic, wild beauty which, on a clear day is as breathtaking as it is terrifying. Here, on the edge of the world, you can easily imagine that you stand on the dividing line between the known and the Abyss.
Yesterday, as we peered and oohed and ahhed, we were respectful of the edge, the drop, the exposure. The sea crashing down below, and the crumbly edges carpeted in sea-pinks, thrift and cotton grass. We admired that floral softness, blossoming for such a short season in contrast to the stony eternity of the rock's existence, predating us, and all our foolish human attempts to gain dominion in such a wild place.
We walked, then we turned to head back to the car, talking, talking, talking and assuming that we only had to reverse our path to bring us back to where we began. We noted the fact that the fog had thickened, but on we went. And on. Until we noticed that the little loch on our left wasn't the one we'd seen before, and if that was the case, which loch was it, and, um, where are we? To which the only answer we could find was ; in the mist. In featureless terrain with the possibility of the hole of Scraada opening up like a yawning mouth at out feet, so we had to be mindful of where our feet were, but also to keep a look out for the Edge. On we walked. Assuming that something familiar would hove to out of the fog.
Something didn't. On we went until I hauled out my compass, got a grip of myself, realised that as compass and map bearer it was Up To Me to get us out of this mess. We needed to be heading South West. We had, until then, been heading North East, convinced that we were going the right way. It turned out that we were a very, very long way from the car. Some of the way back involved Mary discovering just how woefully inadequate her walking boots were to the task of keeping the peat bog off her socks, but hey. Some of the way back involved my trying to sound like I knew what I was doing when inside myself I was full of fog and doubt and a worm of terror.
We made it back, obviously, but wiser by far. Hills kill. Fog confuses. Maps, compasses, good boots and decent weatherproof clothing can make the difference between being really lost, and being able to rescue ourselves.