The ferry journey to Fetlar was once again easy and quick. Well done all the ferry companies on Shetland!
We passed a few totally isolated and uninhabited islands, though still with a resident sheep population. I assume they have to be shepherded by boat, but they seemed unconcerned grazing happily or tucked in pockets of turf sheltering from the winds, and before we knew it the boat was docking at Fetlar.
I felt a bit guilty about imposing myself, and a big dog, and a huge bus on what was really a total stranger, other than a few exchanged internet comments. After all the guy had moved to just about the furthest point possible from the general population of the uk, and even at this great distance there was some unknown woman turning up uninvited at his door.
But notwithstanding, he had very kindly asked me to supper, and when I phoned to say I had arrived and ask directions he told me to follow the main road across the island till I saw the shop at Houby, and he lived next door. Now generally a main road has at least room for more than one vehicle at a time. Not this one. Once again it was wide enough for Thebus wheels and not much more. And if I thought some of the other places I had been were sparsely populated this was even quieter. There were no buildings by the harbour that I could see, and I am not sure how many miles I went before I did see one. Of course travelling on single track road one goes that much slower and distances seem longer. Apparently the whole island is only six miles end to end and Houby is about halfway up. There was a lovely view down to the scattering of houses that formed the heart of this little community and its beautiful bay, and even before I spotted the shop I could see Murray standing out in the wind to wave me in.
Murray had come to the island as a visitor for some time before deciding to settle here, and eventually bought a totally ruinous croft house and had a charming replacement built in the traditional style, but with up to date insulation and mod cons. The view over the bay in front is stunning – you could spend hours just sitting and watching the waves and the shoreline, where apparently they have porpoises and probably dolphins -what is the difference between a porpoise and a dolphin, I must find out (since writing this I have found out if you want to know then follow this link ) plus Minky Whales and Killer Wales or Orca. They come as summer visitors trying for the pups of the seals that live and breed on the shore, and Murray said in rough weather large seagoing ships drop anchor in the bay to wait out the storms. A large and thriving otter population live on the island, plus many seabirds, and summer visiting birds who fly in to breed including the Red-necked Phalarope.
The human population is only around eighty or so souls, pretty well all involved with farming or the sea in one way or another. I think it would be a wonderful place to live if you wanted to start in self-sufficiency, as though there is lots of wildlife there are no weasels or stoats, foxes, badgers or rats to get after your poultry, and I can't imagine the property is expensive as there are so many abandoned and ruined dwellings just waiting for someone to love them. Chatting to someone waiting for the ferry he mentioned his family croft was for sale if I had a hankering to live on Fetlar - but I said I had only just bought a bus!
Murray had cooked us a lovely meal and we chatted about poultry, of course, and the sheep that he keeps for home produced mutton. He is very interested in genetics having spent his working life at an Agricultural College, and has crossed some of the native Shetland sheep in with other breeds to produce a slightly larger, better proportioned sheep but with the easy lambing and good mothering traits so essential in a moorland environment. The resulting sheep look remarkably like my own preferred breed of Black Welsh Mountain. And shortly I will be able to tell you what they taste like, as not only did he give me supper twice, and a breakfast on Saturday of his delicious home produced eggs, but he gave me three double loin chops to take with me.
I also nearly had to stay overnight with him, as the night I arrived for some reason the key jammed in Thebus' door lock, but Murray sorted it out with a squirt of WD40 - I must get a can for emergencies. -yet another thing I had at home and didn’t take when I left.
On Saturday night Murray took me to the community centre, which together with the shop and possibly the church, is the heart of life on the island. And very nice it is too. I think he said it had been an old chapel which presumably the community had bought and improved with local fund raising plus some lottery money. They have kept the nice feature of the old pitch pine lined chapel ceiling, which now makes a large meeting hall, doubling up as a badminton court. Built on the side is a modern extension housing a lounge and bar probably with wonderful daytime views out over the sea, but warm and toasty with double glazed windows, and all the heating provided from their own windmill outside. The bar is run via a committee with a rota and is open every Saturday night and high days and holidays.. Darts and Pool seemed the order of the day (or should I say night) with some good Scottish country music playing when we arrived .
Everyone was most friendly and welcoming and had of course already noticed Thebus' large and stripy presence on the island - though they could have hardly missed him as I had been parked up next to the shop taking up half the roadway. The weather whilst I was on Fetlar was not the best for enjoying its scenery, having spent almost the entire Friday evening raining hailing and blowing, and Saturday with more of the same, and even if I had been able to walk I think I would have preferred not to, so all in all I didn’t get to see Fetlar at its best. Apparently it is known as the Garden of Shetland because of its fertile soil and in the summer is covered with flowering plants and wild orchids.
I haven’t actually been to a caravan site since I left Dunbeath on the mainland and I really could do with parking up and sorting Thebus out, plus empty his tanks. The caravan site I was originally heading for on Yell is apparently very good and in a beautiful position, and although unmanned does have electric hookup with an honesty box, and I presume somewhere to dump waste water. So I was thinking of heading back to Yell, and the consensus of opinion at the hall was that Mid Yell would be an excellent place to park with a chance of seeing the lights - if they performed - and it stopped raining.
So armed with information about the ferry I decided to leave mid morning. And I would just like to say thank you Murray, and all the other islanders for such a kind welcome to a total stranger.
Murray is quite a character and before he actually moved onto the island had his tombstone and coffin sent on ahead. They are in the shed now, behind all those things one normally manages to accumulate in a shed so I couldn't take a photograph, but this is the wording.......
Evening View down to the Bay with Houby just showing on the left
- Taken through Thebus rather smeary window
Murray's line of Black Sheep
It's a photo taken by Murray on a sunny day, unfortunately my stay on Fetlar was much greyer
Fetlar Hall from Houby Village, looking aross the bay
Murray - by the fireplace in his lovely Fetlar home
With a blurry Phoebe in the foreground
Light and Water Dance,
A Curlew Summons the Wind,
No Questions Remain.
Free Living Shetland Ponies on Yell