From the O(ld) N(orse), Hjaltland is above all the Old Viking name to my home islands, wir Auld Rock, as we love to call Shetland.
To get back to da Auld Rock is to go hame, or home… Or heim if you are Norwegian in search of cultural connection, or sailing adventures.
I have always regarded Shetland as a collection of hidden gems inside a blue (or jade… Or metallic grey, as our sky defines it!) casket. Living on the fringe of Scotland – as north as you can go, and yet full of surprises. Together with Orkney, Shetland form the Northern Isles.
Yet each island group remains distinctive in every way – including flags and dialects – and both have to be explored.
An adventurer’s paradise
Nestled between a sea and an ocean on the 60th parallel, da Auld Rock has everything to offer. From history, language, culture, food to nature. And our natural world is magic! After all, it is not for nothing naturalist & TV Broadcaster Simon King once defined it as one of Britain’s last corners of utter wildness…
Ideally situated at the crossroads with Scotland and the Nordic world (Norway to the East, Faroe & Iceland, North West) we are both the most northerly edge of the UK and the Scandinavian corner of Scotland!
Whilst Orkney has wonderful, lush gentle slopes and rounded heads, Shetland offers both gentle and more rugged landscapes (from mini-fjords to towering cliffs via miles of moorland) with a greater diversity of habitats (due to its own collection of rocks, ranging from soapstone to serpentine, via sandstone, limestone or pink granite to name but a few…) which, in turn, offers unparalleled wildlife at and around 60N… In one word, breathtaking.
We are a maritime world, and what best but discover it from the sea – highly recommended in summer, as our Roost (the open area where tides from the North Sea and Atlantic collide) feels far friendlier than in winter…
Hame is a land where we lose sight of horizon, as sea and sky become one…
Hame is a land where boats are more than a way of life… If an Orcadian is a farmer with a boat, a Shetlander is a sailor with a peerie (small) plot of land.
Hame is anchored in history, from the very earliest human settlements to today, where we have made a close-knit community.
Curious about it? Jarlshof remains one of our most impressive archaeological sites that is so unique in Britain, for it offers us a time walk unrivalled… Another hidden gem!
From Dunrossness to Unst, our most northerly inhabited isle, the land is littered with Norse and pre-Norse treasures.
Nature, naturally natural!
Hame is that place to get away from it all! Throw away your watch to the sea, and dare ask time to a selkie…
From flora to marine and avifauna, we are ruled by nature, in turn, ruled by seasons and the sky.
You too are a keen nature lover? Then Shetland is for you!
Shetland so inspiring…
From the darkest nights, at times coloured by our Northern Lights (Mirrie Dancers) in winter to our azure nights (Simmer Dim), where our sky’s filled with birdsong, Shetland is alive.
But in summer..
Here, dare to virtually explore further : nordicblackbird60n for I love to record my homeworld as a photographer.
This is hame, home, as I live and love it. So I speak, share and write about it as a poet with so much passion. When the time is right, and if you too wish to leap to this Auld Rock, stay for a while, and want to walk this shore with me, your adventure will truly start either on board MV Hrossey or Hjaltland.
Et si vous voulez tout cela en français, je me ferai une immense joie de partager ma maison shetlandaise avec vous. 😌
Tis already time to return… Cross back oceans, straits, continents. Here is a piece I offer you in high summer from my boreal latitude. It is entitled “Survival” as inspired by Red-Necked Phalaropes, Oystercatchers and all those great avian migrants in search of warmth, food, survival.
Filled with magical wildness, Vikingness and wildlife, it is the said island RLS chose as – in terms of outline – his treasure island for the purpose of his famous novel…
An island fit for exploration and adventures that will unveil so many treasures…
And speaking of treasures, two nights ago, I found a treasure in which a poem was sleeping in a pocket-size moleskin I once took with me to this top of my northerly archipelago (well as north as “inhabited” can go!) – the edge of my world.
In this precious notebook, I travelled back to those late July days where a friend and I returned to a favourite beach – Eastings, Sandwick, Unst – Uyesound, Baltasound, Skaw, Norwick, Hermaness and its nearby Boat Station… Magic places I never tire of. That summer was that in 2017.
eyes riveted to horizon, that gang of tirricks above surf,
that perfect beach lost inside blue,
home to sanderlings and solans,
the Moon’s best friend, whatever tide.
Tirrick: Arctic (or common Tern); Solan: Gannet
Out of the sea an otter runs,
fur filled with dreams,
walks out on sand.
3. Island Life
Bonxie, Loch of Cliff – female Dunters, Hermaness, Boat Station – meadow pipit chick on roadside – Tysties and Rock Pipits, Boat Station – Solans off Boat Heaven, Haroldswick… Dratsie fishing in the bay with its head popping up – two Swallows, Saxavord Resort – Pied Wagtail, 2 Raingjus at Norwick…
Bonxie: Great Skua, Dunters: Common Eiders, Tystie: Guillemot, Raingjus: Red-Throated Diver.
4. Norwick Shalls
You walked back ta da Noost wi shalls,
a braally treasure i’da haands;
da sheenie kind,
better dan silver, gold an aa.
And from da Shetland Dialect:
You walked back to the top of the beach with shells,
A fine treasure in your hands;
the shining kind,
better than silver, gold and all.
A’da end o’da boannie road dat takks dee awye fae da sea,
follow da steinshakkers,
da lone clood an da wind-
da ocean bed, raw serpentine…
Dere is a meadow a’da end,
a bed o eyebright an a stream –
Eden shaped up couleur croissant.
6. Da Lang Hoose
Inside da laang hoose wir entered, an fun fowr chairs chiselled by haands oot’ o pine trees…
As if spirits invited wis fur a laang yarn or juist fur mead.
Dere wis nae fire i’da hearth, bit wir felt hame, sae wir sat doon.
And from the Shetland Dialect:
6. The Long House
Inside the long house we entered and found four chairs chiselled by hands out of pine trees…
As if spirits invited us for a long chat or just for mead.
In this world silenced by a terrorist disease, skylarks still sing above an early April hissing gale.
In this part of the main island, where Sandness looks lost inside haze, tussock grass yields, yet those birds we call laverick have returned as lairds o’da braes – elevated above da tun an da scattald (human dwellings and open fields where grazing’s shared among crofters…).
They will defy the harshest gust, ignore that brutal tongue from gales to sing to blueness and the sun.
To each passing of cirrus clouds, they do not know the world’s locked down, as they ascend among ravens, oblivious to material us.
They have returned in their hundreds to the daresay of each hillside.
On this Monday lost in April, this sky has turned cacophonous, as hillsides home song of skylarks, that dare to ignore gusts from gales…
…A black hole or stravaig in a desert where time locks itself in, as bubbles inside surf, or footprints lost through tides and gales.
Many walks done and gone. I still remember the Vernal Equinox, as March gave way to light and warmth. When birds returned to the island, and jenny wrens perched on roses to sing their songs, joined by blackbirds at dawn and dusk. A song so powerful, explosive and whimsical, you need to turn back and listen.
And as May comes with its unbound clemence, and shiny bright, stars vanish in the blue of night, as Beltane gives way to summer.
Summer, summer, da Simmer Dim, as our sky turns an opera house. Our island sings in tussock grass, around the bays – above our heads. It is a time filed with bounty, as our summer guests fish and hunt. A time where life fills with colours, where chicks grow feathers outwith dark. Darkness unknown to so many of us and fledlings until Arcturus reappears in late July. Our Atlantic and sense of North glow back orange. We then reignite our candles. In this mystical universe, the very few urban dwellers welcome July with refracting light in the bay. They do not question the great clock – the astronomical delight as da mirkin wins back its way. mirkin, murky times lie ahead…
Some walk through time on land, at sea.
As August wanes in honey gold, our most westerly land beacon feels a poltergheist at sunset. Foula, foul, fugl Island, with its bewildering cliff tops, redefines ife, geometry. Light as we knew from Simmer Dim – our nightless nights – lose in power, intensity. Our path to hairst and the autumnal equinox becomes clearer.
It is when night unveils its kaleidoscope of gales and stars. And we look more carefully, auroral glows in between clouds. Our pace hastens as we go home to the fire back in our hearths. Too soon the tides will speak out loud, and auroras trapped inside clouds will signal a new phase across the season. Few gannets fly, fish in the bay. Rose flowers gave way to their own fuits. The overgrowth lost its lushness… A lower sun shines through few leaves from alders or strong willows. That sense of blue tarnished with grey has lost its way. Deep purple hills back to bracken, bare and so brown.
September stepped in as a thief. October followed in its grace. Each wake-up call from our bedside triggers the start of each sunrise. Each minute lost now and regained, days have shortened and yet, still bright. I hear Sawhain’s still a long shot… Our winged friends wander south and south. For us, dwellers of thre island, we need to prepare for dark times.
Now, the island can sleep in peace, with auroras, constellations, stars and comets – a twany moon there as a friend.
Victor Hugo had cried for her in his foreword… And it took a book (“Notre Dame de Paris“) to trigger major restoration works, as the elderly lady was notably suffering from severe erosion to time, history and the elements.
What happened last night felt totally surreal. Notre-Dame has survived so many ordeals – human assaults, the hands from time – and during those 850 years (or so), she saw a city grow and thrive.
Inside her so many memories. Her world famous bell – le bourdon – became associated with so many events (including the liberation of Paris in 1944) happy or sad… And against all odds, she has been standing in this Parisian sky.
Last night, my heart bled at the news, and this orange-grey cloud – flames from her heart, as the 19th century spire yielded to a raging fire that engulfed the forest – this nickname given to those 1300 oak trees that served as timber frame to support that huge slate roof.
Like millions of people around the world, I watched powerless, in disbelief, and heaved the following poem, as a tribute or way to cope with shock.
Ô Notre Dame, ta forêt brûle, ton coeur en flammes!
Une forêt de chênes de cent mètres de long, une forêt de chênes charpentée par des anges, une forêt de chênes anoblie par les âges;
toute une nuit orangée a dévoré ta flèche, ton coeur et ta charpente -
une forêt de chênes, maison pour un bossu et son Esméralda...
toute une nuit d'horreur, pluie battante d'ardoises retrouvées en poussière à l'issue d'un déluge -
une forêt de chênes au XXIe siècle toute réduite en cendres,
ton coeur, ce cher poumon, au plus proche des âmes.
Spring has multiplied signs throught that long and still ice-bladed month of March. If light has reached parity with darkness on the 20th day, and our migrating visitors called at night and settled back in our fields and meadows whilst others pursued their incredible journey north, the island still needs to wake to the promises of the season.
April, April… Life rekindles
March now behind us.
Tonight I heard eight puffin scouts have been located west of my favourite headland in our inshore waters. Earlier, friends reported the magical ascending song of a skylark as they wandered by abandoned crofts… Common Eider drakes already sit by their concubines… On inspection of the ground, daisies and bluebells have long braved snow, ice and thaws, re-icing and equinox gales. Even within the perimeter of my sanctuary, the grass has grown and would deserve a serious cut. Spring, voar, so precocious.
Light reappears on the 60th North Parallel.
I read somewhere that between the two solstices – and more precisely as we approached the Vernal Equinox – we were gaining up to two hours of light every month… Now, as April has entered in the great cosmic ballroom, my sunrises and sunsets are becoming more epic.
Strangely enough, fog has already been rolling on from our local hills. “Exotic” and “curious”, for fog remains an oddity before April… February and March both felt odd in places.
Yet April promises (or do I really take this for granted?) liberation from many claws – storms, gales, and other signatures from the icy months. And if I have yet to listen to my first skylark, I know it will not be long. The sky just needs to quieten a little more and our star to warm up those acres of storm-bent grass around our meadows… Wake, wake, wake, wake!
April is when you return to me.
As I am typing you are gradually falling asleep. Your case is packed. Your passport lies in a pocket of your handbag… Tomorrow, you too will begin your migration north – north by NE, as you will cross that stretch of your Irish Sea to find your way back in Glasgow before making your way to my North Sea from the mouth of a sheltered harbour. We can travel the world like swallows… or Storm Petrels. But to journey, we need a boat.
I may not wait for you from my favourite headland on Saturday, But I will gladly watch that great blue Viking efigee on the white hull we call da boat approach my favourite offshore island of Mousa at about 6.30 in the morning and drive parallel to you, as the bow kisses each wave from our sheltered waters. If we are lucky enough, Mother Sea will let you enter the Bressay Sound with grace.
It will be your first time. Selkies and seagulls will salute you on your passage. You are about to return to me as seabirds find their way across miles of oceanic deserts, da Roost to reconvene with my headlands, bays and meadows.
Now, my turn to find sleep from my northern latitude, as I will be by your side tomorrow, in voice and spirit. I have prepared home to welcome you on my northern island.
In anticipation to your arrival, I wrote a piece entitled North Voyager. It sounds and reads like a leitmotive… And yet it does epitomise that promise from Spring.
The Federation of Writers (Scotland) is an organisation dedicated to making the written and spoken word available to the public of Scotland, with respect for diversity and recognition of additional support needs. Caidreachas nan Sgrìobhaiche (Alba) ’S e prìomh-amas Caidreachas nan Sgrìobhaiche (Alba) litreachas sgrìobhte is labhairte a chur mu choinneamh poball na h-Alba, a’ toirt spèis do dh’iomadachd agus feumannan-taice a bharrachd.