Judging from the clumps of seaweed along the shoreline this morning I had imagined the tide had come right in and was now on its way back out - during the night the roar and crash of the waves had sometimes developed almost into a dull thump as the biggest of the waves hit the shore. I was surprised that the sheep had not come down to feast off this new sea harvest, but they knew more about it than I did, and the tide eventually came in quite a lot higher, reclaiming the dumped seaweed and filling the bay up to the boulders and pebbles at the back of the shore. But when the tide was fully in they began to congregate just above the pebbles. One or two ventured down for a few mouthfuls, but most tucked themselves into the hollows just above the beach and settled down to watch and wait.
We had parked up in the carpark next to the ruined St. Olaf's Kirk. Although there is almost nothing of it left now and it is fenced round warning of danger, the chuchyard is still in use with quite recent interments. The gravestones are all neatly upright, no mean feat in the winds round here, and the grass is immaculately mown. Spring bulbs were showing their heads, and many graves had fresh tributes – it really looked a well loved and cared for place. Next to the graveyard is a large walled area also mown tidily with a well built new stone walls and gates proclaiming 2007 – I wasn't sure if it was an extension, or whether they used it for summer gatherings
Hoping that St. Olaf knew a thing or two when he founded his ancient kirk we parked up just to the lee of it over-looking the isolated bay below, though with farmsteads and crofts scattered on the far shore. The winds for the next twenty four hours were forecast for about fifty seven miles an hour, and it certainly felt all of that. I have not heard so much noise from the bits and pieces outside Thebus since we got caught in the squall on the West Coast of Scotland on the way to the Burn's Night.
Poor Phoebe! I had gone to fetch something from the bathroom. As it was so very windy I had decided against moving until the winds and weather settled a bit. Our way back to the road from this isolated chapel went over several high open fields and involved untying and opening then closing and retying several gates, so not the nicest thing to be doing on a wild and windy Shetland hillside in the middle of a rainstorm. Thinking we would be there for a while and having no internet connection or phone signal, I thought of giving Thebus a bit of a spruce up internally, but its not good to open the slides in windy weather. The bathroom, however is the same size all the time, and having gone in for something I started a bit of cleaning and tidying of cupboards. We are on a slight slope, so the door fell shut and I was busy, though I could hear the storm worsening outside. So, as I said – poor Phoebe. There was a little anxious bark and when I opened the door my poor girl was outside the loo door trembling all over. She tried to get it the loo with me, and I imagine she had thought I had shut myself in there for safety, leaving her alone to face the worst of the storm. If I am around looking calm and acting confidently, even though sometimes I don’t always feel it, then all is right with her world. But when unknown things start to happen I and have locked myself in the panic room it's a different matter.
I told her that I would never leave her alone, and that I would always be there for her, and after lots and lots of fuss she settled down. We are getting a bit low on lpg so I put on the petrol generator switched on the electric fan heater and aimed towards her bed, where warm, and soothed, and comfortable, and me within arm's length, she slept contentedly.
I didn't know whether to just stay where we were, tucked in behind St. Olaf's which gave a little, though not much shelter, or whether to move on. When we had a bit of a phone connection I had contacted someone I met through chicken keeping and the internet. He lives on Fetlar and having come all this way, even though we had never met I was looking forward to saying hello. It had been nowhere near as windy when we spoke and he was half expecting us that evening. So waiting for a slight lull in the storm I decided to make a move.
When we had pulled in the afternoon before we had gone down quite a steep track to the kirk, but obviously mostly down hill, plus it had been a sunny day so the field was reasonably dry. Overnight it had poured with rain, and even worse, what I hadn't, quite literally, banked on, was that the way back was all uphill. Thebus has plenty of power, but his wheels touch the outsides of the tracks here, plus the feeding sheep had trodden quite a lot of wet soil onto the edges of the track. Add to that at the bottom of the steep bit there was a little water splash. No problem in itself, but I daresn't (bit of Worcestershire dialect there) take a run at it and the hill in front, as Wretched Rack would have bottomed out in the splash. So, tortuously we made our way up. I had put Thebus in his lowest gear, but the wheels spun and slipped. I eased back and then inched forward a bit, and so on. There was absolutely no phone signal on either of the phones, and the internet connection was a no-go, so I wondered how often they came to check the sheep if we became completely stuck. At a guess the next house was some two or three miles off at least.
In the end having got a bit of forward motion, I just revved up hoping for the best, and spinning the tyres like they do at the beginning of a drag race we slowly screamed up the hill. Goodness knows how many pounds worth of rubber I burnt off the tyres. Finally skidding and slipping, and engine racing, we made it to the top where we then had to cope with a ninety degree turn though a field gate, which I had retied on the way down. I wasn't certain if Thebus would manage a ninety degree turn uphill from a standing start, and I couldn't go fast because of the narrowness of the gate, but we made it through, and with the adrenaline pumping a bit set off for the rest of the track and another couple of field gates, one of which wouldn’t open fully because of the bank, and had claimed the cover off two outside sockets on the way down. Through all of this the wind was buffeting us unmercifully, but at least the worst of the rain was holding off.
With still no phone signal I couldn’t let Murray know we were on our way and yet again the ferry was approaching shore as we pulled into the harbour, but it was bound for Yell not Fetlar. No problem, said the ferry man - we're off to Fetlar next, come with us to Yell and then you can just travel onto Fetlar. I got into a muddle about getting off at Yell and getting straight back on again, but no-one seemed annoyed, and just as we landed on Fetlar the phone worked again so I was able to give a warning of my arrival.
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Thebus glimpsed from St. Olaf's Kirkyard
The remains of St. Olaf's Kirk, the walls completely covered with lichen
Above - Lichen covered memorial stones in the immaculately kept kirkyard
Below - Breakers coming into the bay beneath St. Olaf's Kirk
Single Standing Stone on the way back from St. Olaf's
With the skies darkening overhead ready for another deluge