Some 15 years ago I was living in the south east of England, running like a hamster in his wheel, all frantic activity and seemingly no actual progress. My every day was bookended by a commute that involved traffic jams that ground in and out of the outskirts of London. For a frustrated naturalist it was torturous – a slow motion drive along a sterile artery, the only wildlife I’d see being the crows that hopped and dodged amongst the cars, sidling their way nearer to the remains of unfortunate badgers and foxes.
I traded all of that in for a new life in Shetland, placing myself in one of the great landscapes of northern Europe. I was a step closer to living the dream but, this being real life and not the movies, I still had to get to work – I may have swapped London for Lerwick, but I still needed to make a daily commute.
A new home
I’d chosen my new home with care – if I was to live in Shetland, I was going to do it properly. This naturalist was going to live surrounded by nature… and that meant a home at the far end of Whalsay, an old croft house perched on top of a peninsula pointing across open sea towards Norway beyond the distant horizon. I would be able to see porpoises from the kitchen window, wake up to find migrant birds roosting on my windowsills, disturb an otter sleeping in my peat shed on top of my winter fuel.
That, though, would come at a cost. A small price to pay, but the daily commute would be a relatively long one – a short drive down the island to catch a ferry, half an hour at sea, and then a further half hour journey down the spine of Shetland and into Lerwick. Friends left behind in England rolled their eyes. “So you’re commuting three hours a day? How do you cope with it?”
And there’s the thing – there’s nothing to cope with, apart from the occasional cancelled ferry when the winter storms prove too much (and that’s the perfect excuse for an enforced night out in town). But let’s not dwell on those rare days.