Early Winter on Shetland, November 2018

Storms can, and do, roll through the Shetland Islands at pretty much any time of the year.  Sometimes they get graced with Met Office names, at other times they just anonymously batter the islands for a day or two before rumbling on past. 

During the summer there can be quite long gaps between the storms, in the winter they are often rather closer together.  This makes fitting in a winter visit between the storms a wee bit challenging.

When I was packing to head up to Shetland the islands were being battered by one of these un-named storms.  The ferries to and from Shetland were being disrupted, the local inter-island ferries had stopped running and even Loganair were offering to let people re-schedule their flights.

As I travelled north just after the worst of the storm, the flights got bumpier and bumpier - it was fine around London, a bit rough around Aberdeen and positively entertaining on the approach into Sumburgh at the south end of Shetland.  Fair Isle (usually covered by clouds) was clear, but had a very pretty necklace of white surf around it.

As usual, when I’m on Shetland just after a storm I headed to Scat Ness - this low headland almost always acts as a wave magnet, waves from anywhere south will make for good photographs.

A quick glimpse at the weather forecast as I arrived suggested that there was going to be a pretty steady procession of rain clouds blowing through throughout my stay.

It didn’t really work like this. Although the first 24 hours were a bit wild, after this the weather just got calmer and calmer, until it got to almost shirt-sleeves conditions (and much less wind than one could reasonably expect even in summer).

Post storm waves on Scat Ness ...
... in the West Voe of Sumburgh ...
... and in Quendale Bay.
Sunday morning calm on Scat Ness

One bonus that you can never rely at anytime of year is the appearance of orca around the Shetland coastline.  A few years ago orca reports where real novelties - but at the moment they almost expected.  However, I was delighted to get a social media alert that orca had been spotted heading down the east side of Shetland towards the southern end.  This turned out to be some of the regular visitors - including the big bull orca (Busta) and a few of his family.  They slowly tracked their way round the south end of Shetland across Quendale Bay and eventually (just before sunset) popped up at St Ninian’s on the west side of Shetland, still checking out the voes and beaches for seals.  

I don’t think anyone is clear why orca sightings are so much more common now than they were a few years ago.  It might be that the food sources have changed either around Shetland or somewhere else.  It’s also entirely possible that the increased reports of sightings are down to better communications - over the last few years there are better social media networks where sightings can be reported and, in the Shetland context even more importantly, the mobile phone coverage has really improved recently!

Busta passing Sumburgh Head
Razor and her calf (born last winter)
All calm on Quendale Beach
Quendale Bay from the garden - calm and clear across Lady's Holm and out to Fair Isle on the horizon.

But true to form - by the time I was checking at the airport to fly south I could see warnings that a new (as yet unnamed) storm was winding up in the Atlantic ready to blow in - and both the ferry and boat companies were starting to post disruption messages.   Not quite soon enough - I wouldn’t have minded getting stuck on Shetland for a few more days.  Maybe next time.

There are more pictures from this trip on Flickr - and the sequence of daily pictures started over on Blipfoto on 30th November.                                                                                                                                                               

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