Shetland November 2010

Aiming to get up to Shetland for a weekend right at the end of November was always likely to be a little bit touch and go.  I was picturing lots of wind, some heavy rain and very bleak scenery.  I hadn't given much thought to snow - silly me.  Towards the end of last week the weather forecasters started talking about the arrival of early winter, and on Friday there was some evidence, not much in the south of England but definitely further north.

On Saturday morning I had the entertainment of an early drive up the M40 and M42 to Birmingham airport.  Not much traffic around but there was the occasional bit of white-out where there wasn't any evidence of lanes at all.   The flight from B'rum up to Edinburgh was pretty much on time and I was delighted to see (as I hit third breakfast) that the onward connection to Sumburgh was on time too.  I was starting to picture my walk on the beach and lunch at the Sumburgh Hotel.  However the news from Shetland wasn't encouraging, lots of snow around and it was taking time to clear the runway to allow my plane out to get to Edinburgh.

Delays stretched out ( and my plans, in my mind, changed too).  The walk went first, leaving a restock trip into Lerwick as the priority, eventually I realised that even doing this was going to be a challenge with the closing times and this was before I realised I was actually heading into something that looked like an arctic winter.  Finally picked up my very small rental car, and headed gingerly around the airport slithering and just made it up to the local shop at the south end of Shetland for an emergency restock before it closed.

Then headed to a very cold wee house, which is on a much steeper hill than it was on when we were last in residence.  Of course I didn't realise how steep the hill really was until I was part way down it - when it became apparent that I wasn't going to be able to get back up without assistance.  I found a suitable place to abandon the car and trudged through the snow to the house and got into the thaw-out process.  The real downside of storage heaters is that they need advance warning, so there isn't much scope for instant heat.  Did get one room reasonably warm, and ate my tea there, before unpacking the sofa bed for the first time and went to bed fully dressed (including Fair Isle hat) making use of all the available duvets.  Even had to fight with the fridge - it had decided that the kitchen was too cold to bother, and it was only when I set the fridge on its arctic setting that it would do anything at all.

First light revealed how much snow there was on the ground - 6 or 7 inches of really light powdery snow blowing around at the slightest provocation, and more still falling.  I could briefly see Fair Isle in the distance completely covered with snow.  After porridge made with a slice of milk (a consequence of the arctic fridge setting), the main morning amusement was a long walk along Quendale beach watching the fantastic changing light - a black, grey, white and orange pallet.  Looked as if the sky was on fire at times.

Post-walk, the car rental company came to haul me back up the hill - next time I'm getting a 4x4.  Throughout the day I'd been aware that normal plane noise was missing - my 16:30 flight to Aberdeen was feeling like a real longshot.  However the airport folks encouraged me to assume it would go as planned, and surprisingly it did, followed very shortly by a much earlier Aberdeen flight whose passengers had spent several hours sitting at the airport.

This all seemed good until about half way to Aberdeen when the pilot came on to say that the airport had now closed again, but that they were working on it, and we would just slow down a bit - how much can you slow down a plane?  It all sounded OK until he said that we still had plenty of fuel - I hadn't thought about fuel until that point.

Aberdeen airport was full of people waiting for flights some clearly settled in for the long haul.  My return flight to Birmingham was only 45 minutes late - and the pilot was happy to point out that Aberdeen was his warmest stop of the day (and that had included a visit to the Channel Islands).

The entertainments of winter travelling.

Shetland November 2010