It’s the epitome of a postcard photograph, summer on this island. Travellers and locals alike never seem to tire of the cliffs, the sea caves, the beaches. It’s not difficult to see why. Shetland is home to some of the most beautiful scenery that Great Britain (and quite possibly, the world) has to offer.
But this story isn’t about that.
Everyone already knows how summer becomes this island. This story is about the season where all the (dark) magic happens: winter.
Winter and I have a star-crossed, love-hate relationship, but as fate would have it, I have learned to cope with it as best as I can: with some form of compromise and a wee bit of sunshine.
All sentiments caught in the crossfire relating to this matter, I have aptly dubbed winternal (winter-internal) battles.
Thankfully I have found a few simple remedies, or should I say they found me.
Winternal Battle #1: Daylight (or lack thereof)
During the summer, it’s quite possible for this island to come by 19 hours of sun in a day. That leaves about 5 five hours of darkness. However, winter makes sure that all debts are fully paid, sometimes with interest. In January, this island receives a meagre 34 hours of sunlight. That’s a little over a day’s worth of sun for the entire month! Cheery, eh?
The Remedy: Many islanders use the long, dark months to take up a new hobby. With this winter came the learning of a new language for me. Halò. Ciamar a tha thu? Tha eadar-theangadair a dhìth orm! (Hello. How are you? I need an interpreter!)
Winternal Battle #2: Gales
This island is no stranger to Force 12 gales (≥ 73 mph or 118 km/h) during winter. Since I moved out, I have had to revisit and revise my wardrobe choices. I’ve traded my tank tops for thermals, flip flops for snow boots, sundresses for rain-proofs. But what can I say, looking like a suman (rice cake wrapped in palm leaves) in unflattering winter gear is a small price to pay for the breathtaking sight of the waves crashing against the cliffs during a storm.
The Remedy: If you can’t beat the wind – hide from it! Cosy home gatherings in the company of good friends and good food are the way to go. As long as the weather’s bad, there will always be a reason to come together somewhere, somehow – #MusicMonday, #TapasTuesday, #WineWednesday, the possibilities are endless when you live in a distant island.
Winternal Battle #3: The Cold
To be fair, the cold is something that isn’t necessarily a “winter”-nal battle. I’m going come clean and say that really, it’s a year-long struggle. The warmest this island ever gets is around 18°C. But then redemption arrives in the form of long summer days and the ever-present sea, always and only the sea.
The Remedy: Like most things in life–you grin and bear it, sweetheart. Or take up knitting! This winter, one my colleagues taught me the basic knit-stitch. So far, I’ve come up with an “abstract” piece of work, a half-made scarf, and a snood that’s far too small for me. What can I say—the cold hath no sorrow that Shetland wool cannot cure!
So now you’re probably thinking, “Great. I should’ve thought twice about booking that end-of-the-year visit.” Well, apart from the long, dark nights, Baltic cold, and merciless gales, here are more things to look forward to:
The North Sea hath no sorrow that a 5mm wetsuit cannot heal. Winter is no exception. Trust me. I’ve tried it and lived to tell the tale. More of this in another post, perhaps. Shetland has beautiful beaches and excellent water visibility. You might even come across a friendly pod of dolphins or killer whales. And the answer is no, chances are orcas won’t prey on you if you met them in the wild!
Save for the summer months, I personally think that this island is at its loveliest under a blanket of snow. Because of its geographic placement, snow rarely lies for more than a few days at a time, but when it does, the drama goes from 0 to 100.
Up Helly Aa
Up Helly Aa is an annual tradition that started in the 1880s. This viking fire festival involves a parade through the town, burning of the galley, and evening parties in different locations. It means many different things to many different people, but one thing is for sure – it is not for the faint-hearted.
The Northern Lights
My Dearest Winter Warriors
Thank you very much for hearing out my winternal battle rant slash travel ideas for this island during winter. I suppose no good thing ever comes easy (or soon enough), and summer is no exception. On the contrary, my husband loves winter. He seems to think it’s the best thing ever! Which only goes to show that there is beauty in everything, we just have to know where to look 🙂 Please don’t hesitate to give me a shout should you have any questions about visiting Shetland!
Also, many thanks to Ivan Hawick for letting me showcase his amazing images. Check out more of his photos here.
So, is winter more of a yay or a nay for you? What are your favourite things to do during the wintery months? But most importantly, has anybody started spring cleaning? I hope not. I would hate to be left out.