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.