Friday, June 6, 2008

land of air and sea

Another day of fog, but experience has shown that while it may be a complete white-out in the South end, driving over to the West side sometimes brings a slight clearing of the skies.

At least, that theory held yesterday. Lerwick was thick with fog, so I spent the morning cooking a special meal for Noelle and Tommy (keema matar with Shetland lamb), then I turned off my pans, tucked the pudding (raspberry and strawberry roulade) into a paper and foil cradle, slung it in the fridge and headed out into the day.

I drove to the Dale of Walls, which was a river-cloven valley with irises and buttercups limning the water's edge and hills on each side speckled with little crofts; some in use, some tumbledown, all picture perfect. And all the while, as I headed seawards, the ridiculously theatrical silhouette of the island of Foula was rearing higher and higher out of the line of mist blurring the border between sea and sky. Dramatic? Oh, yes. Plus as many superlatives as there were flowers underfoot. So, I parked and headed off to the North, heading for Deep
Dale which is a huge cleft running east into the land. This is an utterly exquisite coastline - soft and grassy underfoot, covered in seapinks, wild orchids and cottongrass, and the edge of the cliffs undulating in a line as unpredictable as it was breath-taking. Almost as if the coastline had been drafted by a drunken architect, or perhaps it was more like one of those jigsaw pieces that refuse to be slotted into place, but has a fascinatingly convoluted profile. Damn this slow broadband, if ever there was a case for a photograph, this is the one. Words fail me.

I walked as far as I could see little blue 'access Shetland' signs nailed to posts and stiles, and then when they ran out, and I judged that it was time to turn round, I headed home, Deep Dale-less. ( Oh, okay there were some cows off in the distance, and I'm not brave enough to walk through fields of cows perched precariously on cliff edges. Actually, let's be honest here, I'm not brave enough to walk through any enclosure that has cow involvement, not after the night when I left an old studio of mine in darkness and discovered that its tiny front garden was crammed full of cows. And their calves. And when I opened the studio door, I was face-to-face with a bonsai stampede)

However, I digress. That was yesterday, the walk round the coast at Dale of Walls. Today, I thought I'd attempt to walk another part of the same coastline, and try another approach to the romantically named Deep Dale. With a name like that, I had to try. I decided to approach from the north and walk south to Deep Dale, thus avoiding fields of cows and hopefully finding a path that was liberally strewn with blue 'access Shetland' signs. For the first hour, all was perfect. Stunning coastline, even more seapinks, no cows, loads of blue signs and then...

Attack of the giant skuas. As I trekked towards a high lochin, a flock of these monsters rose up into the air, and my heart sank. Two of them, the outriders, were dispatched to see me off, and they did so with terrifying efficiency. My stick to hold above my head ( surrogate scalp, I'm told) was jammed in my rucksack, and when a giant skua is swooping down on you, trust me, you don't stop to fossick in your rucksack.

I legged it back the way I came, apologizing to the birds for disturbing their loch and trying (but failing) to send out the telepathically reassuring message of - feathered ones, fret not, I come in peace, honest, I haven't eaten an egg for ages - if you don't count the egg whites in last night's roulade, that is - I'm harmless, I'm an illustrator, I'm almost a sodding vegetarian ( if you discount last night's lamb) all I wanted to do was walk to Deep Dale...

They were having none of it. They saw me off their territory, and I had to retreat once more, Deep Dale-less. I have to concede. It belongs to the birds and the beasts, sea-girt and for now, impregnable.

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