West Side Story

There may not be many Sharks in the waters around Shetland, and precious few Jets frequent the runways at Sumburgh, but West Side Story seems to be a pretty good summary of the last few weeks on Shetland.

Old Coastguard Lookout at Gloup Ness
My intention had been to spend time exploring the northern extremities of Shetland.  I did get as far far north as Gloup Ness at the top end of Yell, but I've spent more time exploring the west edges of Shetland.

I've revisited Eshaness, I've been back to Sandness, I've explored the far side of St Ninian's Isle and Fitful Head and I've walked at Fulga Ness and around Banna Minn.  And of course I've spent time wandering Scatness.

One of the encouragements to venture west is the ever-changing Shetland weather.  Rather strangely over the last couple of weeks the winds on Shetland have been very light, and it’s been rather easier than usual to walk some of the cliffs without fear of being buffeted over the edge.

The west side of Shetland is traditionally the ‘exposed’ side – the houses are usually oriented so that the door (often only one so that a through draught can’t cause havoc inside) is on the more sheltered east side.   These western locations are also often very sparsely populated, and in some cases are just sites for lookout posts or a light houses, encouraging passing shipping to keep well away.  The wild winds and the churning seas (carried the full power of the Atlantic Ocean along with them) have over the millennia blasted away any fragile rocks or vegetation, and every location is characterised by a storm-bound beauty.

Eshaness.  The poster child of Shetland.  Eshaness regularly pops up when a dramatic Shetland cliff-scape is required.  The dumpy little lighthouse doesn’t need to be any bigger, it stands at the edge of a high cliff looking straight out to sea.

Fugla Ness

Fugla Ness. There are lots of light houses around the Shetland coastline.  The well-known ones, the major lights, are the lighthouses at Sumburgh or Eshaness or Muckle Flugga.  There are also a series of minor lights dotted around the coast too.

On Fugla Ness, one of the minor lights marks the route into Hamna Voe.

Banna Minn
Banna Minn.  At the southern end of the Burras, the narrow finger-shaped islands on the west side of Shetland, is the long curved sheltered beach at Banna Minn, the island on the south end of the beach includes one of the traditional Shetland boat-houses, a common 'second use' for boats that had passed beyond seafaring.

St Ninian's tombolo at low tide

St Ninian’s Isle.  A little south of the Burras is another of Shetlands iconic coast scenes, the tombolo at St Ninian’s Isle.  When the tide is high the island become a real island, at low tides the double-sided beach offers waves from both north and south.  If you venture round to the far side of St Ninian’s you’ll get a glimpse of a more rugged side of the island.  The rocks fend off the waves that roll in from the Atlantic, the next bit of land to the west is the southern tip of Greenland about 1400 miles away.

Scat Ness
Scatness. The southwest corner of Shetland, Scat Ness had traces of habitation back over 2000 years, and standing here with only the sea birds, seals and the occasional otter for company, it’s not hard to imagine that the landscape hasn't changed much over that time.  Over the years a few walls, and small stone enclosures (called planticrubs) have been built, but the coast line probably hasn’t seen too many changes.

There are more of these images online on Flickr, and they will also be part of my exhibition during Oxford Artweeks in the second half of May.

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