Boarding the ferry to Shetland feels slightly like boarding the Hogwarts Express. Its a portal to another kingdom and as the boat pulls out of Aberdeen’s harbour, sets it course to North and slips quietly over the empty horizon, the first-time passengers share a feeling of sailing into the unknown.
For many people in Britain, the Shetland Islands exist only in a small box on the periphery of their weather forecasts. They are the most northerly specks of land in our country, yet exist in the imagination of Briton’s as far away as Timbuktu or Khartoum.
The Shetland Islands had never particularly figured in my imagination either. I have always spent long summers pedaling across the Himalaya, through Alpine valleys and spent my winters dreaming of reaching places like the Karakorum. It was an old friend who had drawn my attention to this far-flung, wild corner of Britain.
Like so many British adventures our plan had started at Lords cricket ground. Whilst lazily whiling away a long summer’s day listening to Test Match special, my friend Alastair had listened to a lighthouse keeper, Lawrence Tulloch, from the Shetland Isles, who was on his first ever visit to London. In a soft, lilting dialect -almost more Norwegian than Scottish – he described how he’d often listened to cricket matches as mighty waves crashed upon Britain’s most northerly lighthouse, on the storm-lashed rock of Muckle Flugga.