Beaches and Headlands: Shetland September 2017

It’s always good to get another quick fix of Shetland beaches and headlands - even when the weather isn’t perfect.

I’ve spent the last few days doing the things I did on each of the two previous trips north.  I got to spend time on Scat Ness and at Sumburgh Head (including a fab Tea & Tunes session in the cafĂ© at the lighthouse).  I walked the length of Quendale Beach and across the St Ninian tombolo.

The Castle, en route to Sumburgh Head
Calm Seas at Scat Ness
Quendale Beach
St Ninian's tombolo
This time the prevailing weather was coming from the North - this meant that the south end of Shetland was much more sheltered than usual - but the little bit of wind that was around was a wee bit fresher than on the last couple of visits.

The other thing that struck me this weekend was that the sound track to the weekend was different.  Earlier in year the regular sounds are the oystercatchers, redshanks and terns, and on the cliffs the regular chatter of the fulmars and guillemots.  The prevailing sound I can still hear from the weekend is the honk of the skeins of migrating geese passing overhead.  Each evening there were big groups of geese dropping into the fields around the house at twilight - and getting away again long before I get to the point of pulling back the curtains in the morning.

A bonus of the clear northerly winds is that it often means that the air is very clear - so Fair Isle, 25 miles away across the Roost, looks as if it is a lot closer.

Fair Isle, with Lady's Holm in the foreground
As the nights get longer and darker, one of the things I always hope to see at this time of year is the aurora borealis - locally the Mirrie Dancers.  And we did indeed get a brief (but not very clear) sight of the Dancers one evening.  However I’ve now added another optical natural phenomenon to my Shetland wish list. Mareel.  

If you google “mareel" you’ll almost certainly get told about the splendid arts centre that opened in Lerwick a couple of years ago. There is another meaning.  

If you google “mareel luminescence” you get into the fascinating world of Noctiluca Scintillans or Sea Sparkle, and you’ll find that there is a special Shetland word for this sort of bioluminscence.  I really am going to have to start exploring the Shetland beaches at night this winter.

Scottish Borders, September 2017

One of my slow-burning projects involves taking a picture to represent each of the 85 Ordnance Survey Landranger maps that are needed to cover Scotland.

This weekend I decided to risk a somewhat dodgy weather forecast and head just north of the England-Scotland border to pick off a few sheets from that part of the world.

Sheet 73: Peebles, Galashiels & Selkirk

Selkirk is a picturesque little border town that spreads up the hills mostly on the east side of Ettrick Water.  My picture is of the original church that gave the town its name - the ‘church in the forest’, and I have it on good authority that William Wallace was proclaimed guardian of Scotland here in 1298.

Sheet 73 Kirk of the Forest, Selkirk NT 470 285 DSC_8128

Sheet 74: Kelso & Coldstream

Just a few miles east of Selkirk (and just on Sheet 74) is Jedburgh. As you come into Jedburgh from the south the skyline is dominated by the remains of Jedburgh Abbey, built in the 12th Century and mostly abandoned in the 16th.

Sheet 74 Jeburgh Abbey NT 655 205 DSC_8161

Sheet 79: Hawick & Eskdale Area

This is one of the three Landranger sheets where I’ve spent most time over the years.  My maternal grand-parents lived in Hawick and I spent many childhood holidays there (the other frequented sheets are 36: Grantown & Aviemore) and 4: Shetland - South Mainland).

On this visit I decided to spend time in a valley on the eastern edge of the sheet - Carrifran.  On my old Landranger sheet (dated 1994) the valley is shown as a steep, rugged and completely barren. On 1st January 2000 the valley was acquired by the Borders Forest Trust and became Carrifran Wildwood.  Over the last 17 years local volunteers have been restoring the valley to how it might have been 6000 years ago - before it was cleared and munched into submission by sheep and goats.  The results are inspiring, and if you look at the most recent Landranger sheet you’ll see the valley is now filled with mixed woodland.

Sheet 79 Carrifran Wildwood NT 159 115 DSC_0147

Sheet 80: Cheviot Hills & Kielder Water

One of the historic routes between Scotland and England was over the Carter Bar - a pass through the Cheviot Hills.  This was also the site, in 1575, of the last major battle between Scotland and England - the rather inappropriately named “Raid of the Redeswire” (it wasn’t a raid and didn’t happen in Redeswire).  The skirmish was won by the Scots.

Sheet 80 Looking North from Carter Bar NT 698 068 DSC_0318

As you might have spotted from the pictures I was rather misled by the weather forecasters.  The woolly hat and over-trousers remain packed away, and the sun-hat I didn’t pack would have come in very useful.