Glory in Grey shetland, 22 June 2010

And so begins another series of epistles chronicling the wanderings of Chris and Geoff. Expect these emails to land in your inbox until November 2010.

This comes to you from Shetland. We are here for the hamefarin (homecoming) of the Shetland diaspora. (Geoff’s great-grandfather, William Williamson, swapped crofting and fishing for a paddle steamer on the Murray back in 1876.)

Rugged up for the summer solstice as we walk the narrow roads of Burra

It was this hamefarin that prompted us to set out on a five-month adventure. Another catalyst was an invitation from a friend to visit him in Inner Mongolia. In joining the dots, we noticed that Russia lay in between. Our plan was hatched—to fly to Shetland and then to come home by train. That broad plan has been modified a bit, but the spirit remains, including the Trans-Siberian railway. That’s the condensed version of our story. Stay tuned for the blow-by-blow account.

It's a bit over a week since we flew out of a Canberra glinting in frosty sun. We flew over the red-brown corrugated desertscape of central Australia, running with rivulets from recent floods. From the stepping stone of Darwin, we looked down on gently erupting volcanoes of the Indonesian ring of fire on our way to Changi airport. We caught our breath for two days in the quiet garden-beach setting of Changi Village. It was a good move. Not only was it peaceful and convenient, but Geoff could indulge his passion for plane spotting from a park bench right under the flight path and just over the road from the perimeter fence of one of the busiest airports in the world. And Chis identified no fewer than nine new birds including the utterly outrageous Oriental Pied Hornbill, which landed at eye level and greeting distance in a tree not far from the runway. We were so amazed, we never thought to reach for the camera, so you'll just have to believe us. (For the full list of new birds spotted, see the Asian Birds page.)

Looking towards Changi Beach, infamous in the history of World War II and now a place for planespotting and birdwatching
The tropical profusion of Changi is a world away now

Three flights later (in diminishing order of plane size and ascending order of personalised service), we touched down in fog to the treeless, windswept and rolling green hills of Shetland. There is no hint of the lush tropics or red deserts here. It’s summer but you wouldn’t know it. The giveaway are the long twilights—the sun sets about 10.30 pm and even then it’s not truly dark. For the first few days, the temperature struggled to reach 10 degrees and Geoff could not keep his hat on in the stiff northerly wind. We were very glad to hole up for a couple of days in a B&B at Sandwick where we recovered from jet lag and acclimatised. Our bedroom there looked out over the island of Mousa where an Iron Age broch provides nests for storm petrels. A visit to that broch is on our list to do later this week. Now, we're settled into a cosy cottage called Lurnea on the island of Burra. Its view is of Shetland ponies grazing and the ever-changing moods of the coastline.

Our neighbour in Burra

The hamefarin is keeping us entertained. There have been gatherings of the Williamsons, Geoff’s family. We’ve already visited family members at Walls and the nearby crofts where ancestor William Williamson grew up. Later that day we dined with over a hundred relatives, sharing a table with Geoff’s closest blood relatives, brothers Jo and Tim Williamson. Their great-grandfather was William’s half-brother. On Sunday, the family gathered for a church service at the Tingwall Kirk. One of the local hymns talks of ‘isles where God's light sheds his glory in grey’. That’s about right! But it is fining up bit by bit.

The larger hamefarin has attracted more than five hundred folk, with Kiwis particularly evident. There are all sorts of activities organised. We went to a choral evening for starters. The Shetland Museum and Archives is a popular spot to get a sense of history and family connections. When we were there we saw a mural painted by our friend, Lilian.

Looking back towards our cottage (see the yellow arrow) from the road to Papil

The landscape and pace of life is working its magic and we are slowing down now and putting our list of things to do and see aside. Chris has taken time to befriend the Shetland ponies next door. Skylarks, oyster catchers and curlews accompany us on our local walks. Our drives to Lerwick (where the hamefarin club is our base for connecting over a cuppa and the internet) and to Scalloway (for bread and milk) are punctuated by pauses in the 'passing places' with a wave and a smile to the occasional fellow motorists.

We have a few more days to soak it all in before catching the ferry to Aberdeen. And that will be another story.

Yes, we have, well and truly!

This comes with our love, as always, and also with our first travel tip.

Travel Tip #1. If you are more interested in resting and walking than shopping on your stopover to Europe, stay at Changi Village.

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.