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.
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.