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.