On this weekend in 2007 we started our first visit to Shetland. We flew up from Heathrow via Glasgow and arrived at Sumburgh Airport mid-afternoon on Saturday 27 January 2007. My Shetland geography wasn’t very good at that point and I remember being rather surprised about how little time it took to get from the airport terminal to our hotel. It took significantly longer to get our small group into the minibus than it did to drive the few hundred yards round the airport perimeter road to the Sumburgh Hotel.
We came to Shetland mainly to see what Up Helly Aa was all about and to get a fix of the winter wildlife (my recollection is of sea birds and otters). My other recollection is of the two distinct halves to the week - the group tour (with Shetland Wildlife) and the extra few days we spent exploring the islands on our own.
|Up Helly Aa - The Burning|
|Watching the Junior Up Helly Aa|
The first few days were spent in/around the minibus. I can remember visiting Sumburgh Head, St Ninian's Isle and Scalloway and going (successfully) a bit further north on the mainland in search of arctic hares and otters. I can also remember the weather being pretty bleak for much (but not all!) of the time - to the point when the group refused, pleading bad weather, to get out of the minibus at one of the planned stops.
The next few days were completely different - we might not have found any more otters, but we did get to see how fantastic the Shetland weather can be even in the middle of winter. On the day when the other members of the group were dropped at the airport and we collected a hire car, the weather was transformed - from winter bleak to winter sunsine. The final episode I can recall from that trip was sitting in our car at ‘the old radar station’ on Garth’s Ness in the sunshine. We’d just spent time looking at the Quendale Bay shipwreck - not the Braer - but the older wreck that appears very occasionally at the west end of Quendale Beach. We certainly didn’t have any inkling that we would wind up spending quite so much time around the south end of Shetland over the years - and despite many walks on Quendale Beach, I’ve never seen the old wreck again.
Once we made it back down south we were so enthused by our first visit to Shetland that we promptly booked a much longer trip for Summer 2007 - and that pretty soon degenerated into finding and buying our Shetland house - just a few yards from east end of Quendale Beach.
I do wonder if our departing memory from that first visit to Shetland had been of cowering in a minibus avoiding the weather rather than sitting in the sunshine looking out to sea if things might have turned out differently.