Local Patch - Shetland - (I) Scat Ness

While it’s relatively easy to pick a local patch when I’m in Oxford (see my recent Narnia post), I really struggle to define a local patch on Shetland.  There’s a temptation to just say the ‘south mainland’ but this really doesn’t do justice to the range of different places in the south mainland.

So, in the first of three blogposts - Scat Ness.

We didn’t discover Scat Ness when we first visited Shetland, it wasn’t until we bought our Shetland house that we found it and started to explore.  Scat Ness is one of three headlands reaching south from mainland Shetland into the Roost and towards Fair Isle.  Today there is a little modern settlement (Scatness) at the north end of the headland but as you walk south through between the houses you get a sense that these houses aren’t the first signs of people living around the Ness.  

As the houses thin out you will find a collection of planticrubs (the drystone wall enclosures traditionally used on Shetland to give vegetables at least a fighting chance of growing) and the remains of an old fishing station (maybe from the 16th C) and further out you’ll find a number of much older buildings (the Ness of Burgi fort) that probably date from about 2000 years ago.

These buildings give a sense of a busy active place in history - however these days, as you leave the buildings behind you get out in a place dominated by the birds and the waves.  

In mid-summer any walk out on Scat Ness will be accompanied by the local tirrick (Shetland name for tern) population, and if you venture too close to where the tirricks think their nest or young might be they will let you know all about it - and they have no qualms about drawing blood.  

At other times during the year the little cliffs around Scat Ness will be covered with maalies (fulmar) and sometimes there will be tysties, tammie nories and scarfs too (black guillemots, puffins and shags) - and you might even see a draatsie (otter).  Further out in water around Scat Ness you’ll also see seals and if you get really lucky a passing orca (also looking for the seals).

Over the course of the year, Scat Ness will get battered by (more than) its fair share of storms and as you’ll guess from the pictures below that's when I most often head there.  Very often on the day after a storm the Shetland skies will clear but there will still be lots of the energy in the waves rolling in (usually) onto the west side of Scat Ness.  There are a number of places where I love to sit just watching and (occasionally!) photographing the waves breaking against and, sometimes, over the cliffs.

Whenever I'm sitting watching the waves, I'm struck by the sense that the landscape I'm watching is at the same time both always changing and (at least on the timescale I've known it) unchanging.

There is a temptation to think that one of the fort dwellers from 2000 years ago or the fishers from 500 years ago were dropped back onto Scat Ness they would still recognise some elements of it - even if the helicopters and planes coming in or out of the nearby airport might rather shock them.

October 2010
November 2011
March 2012
April 2013
December 2014
August 2015
November 2016
October 2017
April 2018

Weather (and puffin) Report, April 2018

This is Shetland - the weather is different here.

The past few days really have confirmed my long held view that the weather on Shetland is just the reverse of what most of the rest of the UK is getting.

For much of the past week Shetland has been dry and sunny (on a few days cloudless blue skies) from early morning through to late at night.  At the same time much of the rest of the country has been wallowing (or so I’m told) under heavy cloud cover and close to continuous rain.

And yesterday, as if to prove the point Shetland was blanketed under a layer of thick (and sometimes thicker) fog while folks down south were soaking up the rays in the garden (and tweeting comments about breaking out the barbecue).  If I’d set up a barbecue in the Shetland garden, I’d have been hard-pressed to find it again (and that’s not because the garden is very big).

So, what have I done with my (most-of-a) week of Shetland sunshine.  I’ve been wandering on the beaches and headlands, and mostly spending the time at Sumburgh Head looking for linzertorte and puffins.

My arrival on Shetland this week, coincided with the return of the puffins - I know, good timing!  The guillemots , razorbills and kittiwakes return to the cliffs earlier in the year, and I don’t think the fulmars ever go away - but the puffins reappearance really is the sign that spring has sprung.  

At the start of the week there were only one or two puffins checking out the cliffs - but by the end of the week there were dozens of birds around - and the influx has (hopefully) only just started.  

It would be good to think that the arrival of the early puffins (who presumably get the pick of the burrows, once they’ve evicted the rabbits) was going to herald a bumper breeding season, but I’m not very optimistic. I don’t think there has been a good breeding season around Sumburgh for a while.  

Puffins do live for a long time, so one or two poor seasons aren’t really a problem, but if the feeding grounds really are as depleted as recent reports suggest (and that could be over-fishing or climate change or a combination of the two) there is a long term problem.

In the meantime I’ll probably be spending more time on the beaches and headlands - and I might pop up to Sumburgh Head every now and again to see check up on the puffins (and to visit the splendid little cafe in the visitor centre - they do very good linzertorte).

Quendale Beach
Old LORAN Station on Garth's Ness
Sumburgh Head & the Lighthouse
Guillemots at Sumburgh Head
Shetland Wren at Sumburgh Head
Puffins return to Sumburgh Head
Getting Close - Puffin at Sumburgh Head
Early Lambs on Garth's Ness
Tea Room with a View - the cafe at Sumburgh Head
And if you want more pictures - there's a Flickr album too.

Local Path - Thames Path

Having blogged about my local patch (the CS Lewis Community Nature Reserve), I thought I'd turn my attention to one of the local long distance footpaths in my (southern) neck of the woods.

The local options here are The Ridgeway and The Thames Path - I opted for the later.

My experiences of the bits of the Ridgeway are that it can get very, very muddy at this time of year (and to make things worse it can get very chewed up by vehicles), maybe I'll get back to that a bit later.  Mind you the Thames Path can also get very muddy too, and it has the added attraction of flooding.

I've been exploring the Thames Path via a series of day walks from Oxford - so far I've done four days walking down stream (as far as Reading), and two days heading up stream (to Lechlade) - in each direction using either buses or trains to get to/from the path each day.   I've done just over 70 miles of the official 184 miles.

From East to West:  Reading to Pangbourne

Path from Caversham Lock, under the Reading bridges and out of town along the Thames Side Promenade, squeezes along the river bank below Tilehurst Station then from Marpledurham Lock along the tow path into Pangbourne.

Christchurch Bridge, Reading
Marpledurham Lock

Pangbourne to Wallingford

Across Whitchurch bridge, then uphill away from the river before dropping back into the lovely Hartslock Wood (walking high above the river).  Then back to the riverside and as the Thames turns north and on to pass between Goring and Streatley (at this point the Thames Path is on the west back of the Thames and the Ridgeway on the East).  The Thames Path snakes it's way through Moulsford and behind the school before passing the riverside boat houses on the run in towards Wallingford Bridge.

Goring Lock
Sculling into Wallingford

Wallingford to Abingdon

This bit of the path mostly sticks tight to the river bank (except through Shillingford) as it follows the meanders through Preson Crowmarsh, Shillingford and Little Wittenham, occasionally swapping from left back to right and back again.  Swinging due west then back to the north again then finally east on the way up to Abingdon Bridge.

Wallingford Bridge
Clifton Hampden Bridge

Abingdon to Oxford

The river all seems more contained along this reach - passing house backs and the Radley boathouses on the way back into the numerous Oxford bridges.

Rose Isle
Iffley Lock

Oxford to Newbridge

The river sneaks it's way north through town - past the Head of the River and the train station before finding it's way out into the wide open spaces across Port Meadow up to Godstow Abbey. Then as alternative paths (Shakespeare's Way and the Oxford Canal Walk) continue North, the Thames and it's path make a decisive turn to the west - via Swinford Bridge and meandering (via some distinctly flood-ready reaches, requiring minor detours) through to Newbridge.

Across Port Meadow

Newbridge to Lechlade

The Thames gets significantly narrower as it it works it way through to Lechlade, and in places very flooded (at this time of year) - finding alternative routes is now part of the navigational challenge.  And we get to go past the final sets of the locks on the river finishing with St John's Lock just outside Lechlade - these locks are now home to Father Thames himself (he used to sit closer to the source about another 25 miles west.

Alternative Routes Needed
Boats at Radcot
Father Thames


All these chunks of the Thames Path are readily doable using local buses and trains. Downstream from Oxford the start/end points are serviced by frequent buses (except Pangbourne, where the train is easier).  Upstream from Oxford (at Newbridge and Lechlade) the buses are rather less regular - and it helps to know the timetable and to keep an eye on the time as you get to the end of a walk!

Local Patch - Oxford

It’s good to have a local patch.  The place nearby that you go to as a stand-by when you just want to spend a bit of time outside.   When I’m in Oxford,  the C S Lewis community nature reserve is my local patch.  

The reserve is managed by BBOWT (the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust), and it’s used by lots of local folks.  Some for their fresh-air or jogging fix, others for dog walking and some just as a short cut through to Shotover Country Park.

The reserve was once, long ago, C S Lewis’ back garden, and his house ‘The Kilns’ still sits in front of the reserve.  Several houses have appeared on other parts of the old garden as the years have gone by, but it’s still fun to think of C S Lewis wandering on what is now the reserve as he conjured up the ideas for Narnia.

There are a couple of Victorian-era clay pits in the reserve - both now water-filled - that provide a lovely habitat for a reasonably good range of birds - on a good day you’ll see mallard, moorhen and coots and lots of small birds in the trees above the ponds.  On a really good day the local heron and kingfisher will put in an appearance too.

Although I’ve lived near the reserve for close to 30 years, it’s really only over the last 7 or 8 years that I’ve been visiting regularly, and for the last 3 or 4 I’ve been involved in at least some of the fairly regular volunteer work parties that meet 5 or 6 times each year.

Here are a few of the pictures from my collection…