It takes a lot to stop Ritchie Williams getting outside. Even in the darkest depths of winter, he’ll still be gathering friends for hiking, kayaking and surfing trips. Often, everyone will crowd into the Ford Transit van that he and his girlfriend, photographer Susan Molloy, converted into a camper van with a stove and fairy lights. After a surf on the moon-shaped white-sand beach at Quendale, or kayaking among the curious rock formations up at Eshaness, they’ll get changed and dry off in the van.
“The landscape here is special, and so varied,” says Ritchie, who until recently was a welder and diver at engineering firm Ocean Kinetics, but who has recently been working at popular Lerwick brunch spot Fjara. “In the south of the Mainland, you have these flat white-sand beaches, but as you go north it becomes more volcanic and dramatic. And each of the islands has its own feel. Every time I think I’ve seen it all in Shetland, I discover something new.”
Every time I think I’ve seen it all in Shetland, I discover something new.
Ritchie was born in Birkenhead, where his dad hails from, but moved up to Shetland when he was young. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been outside, and I spent so much of my childhood digging jumps for bikes, or going out on boats with friends,” he says. “I was lucky, too, to meet a group of likeminded people at school, who are still good friends today. We’ve sort of developed together, getting into freediving, cliff-jumping, cycling, kayaking, surfing, rock-climbing and really everything outdoors.”
This summer, the group have noticed that they’re less alone than ever. “I’ve never seen more people in Shetland out walking or swimming in the sea,” says Ritchie. “It’s like lockdown has helped people realise what an amazing place we live in. And it’s great - there’s plenty of space to go around.”
Here, he talks through some of the photographs he’s taken on his Shetland adventures over the years.