By Promote ShetlandJune 7th 2022

Shetland’s wildlife and rugged scenery proved a big draw for Manx woman Jackie Darbyshire and her family, who have swapped one island community for another.

After spending five holidays in Shetland Jackie Darbyshire and husband Adrian jumped at the chance to relocate when she landed a job with The Shetland Times.

They made the move north with their then 10-month-old daughter Ella from the Isle of Man in May 2021.

They initially settled in Lerwick, where they enjoyed having everything they needed on their doorstep.

“It was so convenient,” Jackie said. “The shops, leisure centre, playgrounds, my work and a beautiful white sand beach were all within walking distance.

“And on Christmas Eve we enjoyed a great display of Northern Lights from our living room window!”

Once the family had settled into Shetland life they decided to move to the village of Aith, in West Mainland.

“Our dream was always to have a more rural lifestyle - but still with all of the comforts of village life and Aith is ideal,” Jackie said.

“It’s very family oriented. Michaelswood community woodland with its dinosaur trail has quickly become a firm favourite and again our nearest leisure centre is a short walk away.

“We’ve been to the public hall for our first Sunday teas and to pick up a Chinese takeaway and there’s a weekly toddler group Ella can go to as well.”

She added: “Lerwick is now a 30-minute drive away but the coastal views along the way are incredible. It’s a constant reminder of how lucky we are to live in such a special place.”

Jackie, 37, is no stranger to island life having grown up in the Isle of Man.

She’s found many aspects in common and others that set them apart.

“They both have a strong sense of identity and community,” Jackie said.

“We’ve been made to feel welcome here and I think that’s because we’ve got involved with island living.

“I’ve met lots of people while taking part in events including the Bressay parkrun and Shetland Triathlon Club’s novice triathlon and joining a sea swimming group for a bracing Sunday morning dip.

“It’s been easy with a toddler to meet people and I’m making a conscious effort to make friends with other mums to build up a bit of a support network.”

One aspect of the Isle of Man landscape the couple do miss are the trees.

“People like to point out the lack of trees here,” Jackie said.

“We definitely appreciate them when we visit family back in the Isle of Man but a quick visit to Michaelswood or Kergord is enough to give us our arboreal fix.

“And besides, the dramatic landscape and the incredible wildlife makes it all worthwhile.”

We’ve been made to feel welcome here and I think that’s because we’ve got involved with island living.

Jackie Darbyshire

The couple appreciate the benefits of raising a young family in Shetland.

“We are able to give Ella a childhood I’m sure many people would be very envious of and one which just isn’t possible in more built up places,” said Jackie, who is now working as a freelance journalist.

“We spend a lot of time outside, on the beaches and exploring on foot.

“And you can see Ella is thriving. She’s quite the explorer and likes to walk everywhere.

“Her strength and stamina have grown from clambering over the pebbles and rock pools on the beach and her language development is also shaped by the environment, and she likes to point out various flora and fauna.”

There is a noticeable change in the landscape as you head north on Mainland.

The A roads take you through an expansive landscape of peat hills while the network of minor roads snake their way alongside voes, lochs and burns.

“We like to head out in the car and see where a road takes us,” Jackie said. “We have discovered great walks and beaches that way.

“The feeling of space does take some getting used to but you soon get used to sharing the environment with only the wildlife for company,” Jackie said.

“It’s not unusual to have a beach to yourself or to go on a walk and not meet anyone else.”

The inevitable windy days and short daylight hours during the winter months mean people tend to retreat to the warmth and comfort of the indoors.

“We’d visited here twice before in the winter, timing our trips for Lerwick’s Up Helly Aa and the Scalloway Fire Festival so we had an idea what to expect,” Jackie said.

And the family’s first winter passed quickly thanks to the facilities.

They made good use of Shetland Recreational Trust’s membership, which makes the gym, exercise classes and swimming across all eight sites very affordable.

And they could also be found in the dedicated children’s section at Shetland Library, in Lerwick, where there are weekly group Bookbug reading and singing sessions.

Even in the depths of winter, the sun can make a welcome appearance, bathing the islands in a glorious golden light quite unlike anywhere else in the British Isles.

It’s not unusual to have a beach to yourself or to go on a walk and not meet anyone else.

Jackie Darbyshire

The reward for those short winter days is, of course, the long summer days with the Simmer Dim.

Jackie and Adrian have certainly made the most of their weekends and time off and enjoy heading off the beaten track.

“We have a list of places we want to visit, activities we want to do and attractions we want to see,” Jackie said.

“We’ve done really well for wildlife sightings - we followed a pod of orcas along South Mainland’s east coast, enjoyed a picnic with puffins on the isle of Noss and you never know when an elusive otter might pop up.

“We ticked them off and had some bonus sightings too - a close up encounter with Freya the wandering walrus and several sightings of a sperm whale.

“Visiting all of the inhabited isles is top of the list for this year although we won’t be able to do them justice on a short visit.

“The more we find out about Shetland the more we have to discover. I doubt we’ll ever get to the bottom of the list!”

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