Sunday, 21 October 2012

Walking away from Voe.

Walking away from Voe.

The fire had gone out as we rose to the morning cloudy skies. Still it was better for me than being outside in the cold, and the chance to have somewhere to sit and eat my breakfast was a rare treat too. Such simple things please me you see.....
Karel was up and readying to leave as he was going to hitch hike I think. We ate together and then he said his farewells. It had been good to have had company for a change, and save me going stir crazy.
After he left I got my bag packed and was about to set out when I realised that I had not got my gloves. I searched high and low and couldn't find them. Now they were quite an expensive pair, but that wasn't what concerned me, it was the fact that the general temperatures were dropping here daily. I went over to the bar where I had been last night, just incase I had left them there, but no joy.

Shona, a lovely young woman did her level best to help me find them, but in the end she took my details and said she would ask the other staff members later. She also gave me a list of places to see and details about each one, as she was a keen traveller herself of her islands. It was a pity that she couldn't come along to show me all the sights and guide me around, she was full of local knowledge. This was her part time job, job number two. In the week she worked in a salmon factory at Mid Yell, gutting and preparing fish for sale. She genuinely said that she enjoyed it and that it wasn't as smelly a job as one might think, in fact it was quite a pleasant way to earn her daily bread so to speak. Over a cup of tea or two I learned a lot more about the way of life here for some people and the nuances that life on an small island can have.
After tea I set off on foot again to Brae. Before I had gone about two hundred yards another young woman came along the street in the same direction as I was walking and we struck up a conversation easily. (I am sure you think that I only chat to pretty young women, as is my way, but I have in fact met and chatted to many men too.) Anyway, Carlin, (not a lager) was very informative about many facets of her village and the road ahead towards Brae. She didn't seem to mind me picking her brains as it were about things of interest around this Voe (inlet sea) at Voe. She also had a few jobs and one was at the pub, and that seemed to be the norm here. I said my farewells and followed the sea edge towards the far shore and the ruined church. There is also a lot of rusty metal everywhere around here, tractors and old machines from eras gone by, when industry was a different kettle of fish. 

Brae was only about six miles along the main road and a fairly flat walk for a change.

The village boasted a famous fish and chip shop, Frankies. Many awards had been won recently and the fish was indeed a very lovely meal at almost £6.50 for a small portion. I'm surprised they didn't win an award for the most expensive fish supper......
Still, it was lovely, filled me up and got me ready for the rest of the days walking into North Mavine. It was like I had gotten to Hollywood, the sign set up high on a hill overlooking the sea.

Here the distance between the Atlantic and the North sea is at its closest on any of the islands, about 70 feet in my estimations, or 20 meters for you metric bods. Back in the day, when fishermen had to use elbow power to get anywhere, they had actually taken the small fishing boats out of the ocean and rolled/dragged them across the road to the sea, rather than have to sail all the way around through treacherous waters. Now with a new road built it was possibly wider than it had been in those days, but it still must have taken a few people to have achieved the task.

It began to get dark, so I put up the tent in a kind of quarry, dumping ground. Fortunately someone had left a load of fresh hay piled up, so I was able to make a nice thick mattress for beneath the tent. Boy oh boy was it warm and comfy through the night, despite the rain and wind. I do have to improvise sometimes you see, comfort doesn't always come from the bed and breakfast or hostel direction.
When the rain stopped briefly early the next morning I was up and ready to leave, and got on with the task of walking to Hillswick, where I had heard that the seal sanctuary was.

On the internet it looked like a nice place to visit, and it had a quaint cafe, people often talked about. The terrain was very changeable and that meant much sweat and tears, no blood fortunately. I stopped briefly for lunch outside the school, but as it was a Sunday I wouldn't be in anyones way here. Before long I was rolling up into the tiny village, which had a large looking hotel, the Saint Magnus Bay Hotel. It was fairly quiet and I thought I might have to pour myself a drink, but then found that the bar was not busy because everyone was in the carvery on the other side of the building. Too late for me though, they were packing away and cleaning up after a very busy lunch trade they said. I had a pot of tea and asked to charge up my phone. Oddly enough I haven't had any signal for most of the past week, and the battery was being eaten up rapidly. I got into a brief conversation with Gurda, who I thought was foreign, but was actually the mother of the owner. She told me that she had been rushed off her feet and that they had been busy all day practically despite economic downturns elsewhere. People still have to eat though, and what better way than to go out for a meal with family and friends, where the food (or for me, the smell of the food) was divine. The shop had closed too as I had arrived here so late in the afternoon, what had I been doing all day?
I set off to speak with the people Pete and Jan who apparently run the seal place. No-one answered the door when I knocked several times, despite the obvious smoke coming from several chimneys. As I was about to walk away I saw a man mowing the lawns and introduced myself. He looked at me very strangely, and said that he hadn't gotten my message, but then they had been away on holiday for a fortnight. I tried to explain my interest in hearing about life here and their work with seals, but he seemed agitated and eventually I deduced he was far too busy to chat to me. He said that if I was about tomorrow that he would have more time to chat then, and that I was welcome to put my tent up close by. I chose a spot out of the direct wind and where there was a bit of soft grass, and settled down again realising that there was little else to do here until tomorrow. I assumed that the comments from Pete were an invitation to stay around and chat again tomorrow at some length, so looked forward to asking many things about the locality, the lifestyles here, the winters and the quality of the friendliness between people of smaller communities.
I rose at about eight and had a very cold and inspirational wash in the public loos, but eventually felt better for it....
At about 9.30 I saw Pete walking his dogs on the beach close by and assumed it would be O.k. to speak to him, and get an idea what time he had made available to me for the chat I was waiting to have. He seemed brusque again and finally admitted that he didn't really have time to chat at all, so many other important things needed his time. I was kind of flumoaxed as to why he suggested I stay around at all, if this was the case. Politely I thanked him for his honesty and he went on to ask me one or two more things about why I was here and what I wanted to achieve with my walk. I could tell he was a reporter, because he was trying to suss out an angle and didn't really listen to what I was saying as much as offer his own observations as to what he thought I was saying. I pulled him up and said that it maybe wasn't what I had intended him to understand, but that I was in fact trying to observe peoples reaction to a stranger, and not as he put it, expect hospitality from everybody I met. I certainly don't think that people have endless amounts of time to chat, just because I do. Nor that they should invite me in for drinks and hospitality, because I myself would do that if the roles were reversed. Neither do I think that because I am trying to bring the discussions between people back to the forefront, and also raise money for charity, that gives me any rights to expect kindness and courtesy from anyone at all. But I did concede that I do have some expectation rather than absolutely nil. That people would be sociable enough to express at least some interest in what I am doing and acknowledge me as I passed their particular neck of the woods. But I guess that even this is way too much for some people, even reporters for a local news paper that I felt would at least be interested in getting a printed version of my walk and aims out there for their adoring readers to be informed about Imagine.
Never mind, I thanked him again for his few minutes of conversation and shook my feet as I set about getting the hell out of here.
The road back to the junction sped by and soon I was heading due west and out to the end of the mainland, and towards Escha ness. Apparently there were cliffs and other spectacular things to see along this part of the western coast. I found the Braewick camping site with tee pee type accommodation, and a cafe that was now closed for the winter, sadly.

I walked out to the end of the land and back to Johnnie Notions Camping Bod on the north side of the peninsular. This was an interesting place to see, it was tiny but very conducive to thoughtful contemplations. I stayed a while to soak up the history behind the man who saved so many lives during the time of smallpox. He was not a physician as much as an inventor, but it would appear that his remedy had helped many, not one of those treated had died. I mean obviously they were dead now, but not as a result of the illness they had contracted. He had lived about two hundred years ago, in the very house in which I sat reading and writing poetry.

I wasn't looking forward to the return trip, as it had been a little boring and despite the great open views, it was very monotonous. That said, maybe I had just had enough of this whole debacle, and the lack of real interest in what I am trying to discover. Literally I am seeing Britain from the grass roots, and yet I might not be seeing the true nature of its people even if I had previously thought I had put myself in the best place/position to do in fact that. Even here in the wild blue yonder, lifestyles are similar to those of the rest of modern Britain. People are infected with the search for happiness in the rat race far more than is healthy. They have forgotten even here, the things that had made real sense to a life of fulfillment. Sharing. They go about in their bubbles, not being interested in engaging with a stranger, possibly for fear of the energy they will have to invest in that exploit, or the dangers of interaction with an unknown person who might invade their comfort zones. So just as I thought this, along came the post man to deliver me another message.
I was contemplating the chance of a lift instead of walking all the way back to the next route of my walk which would be back at Voe or Brae. I was hoping for a bus, but they run twice in the mornings but not in the afternoons, out this far on the mainland. Bob however was finished work and heading home, and he changed everything I had previously been concluding. That is to say that he added a counterbalance to the other evidences I had seen and observed over the past few weeks here in the Shetland islands. Just like the two Geordies, he stepped up and saw a man in need and came to the rescue.
Bob has been a postie for a number of years now, but also been away from the islands too on a few occasion. To university and also to live in France for a brief period. He met and married a lady called Laura, not an islander. Someone they affectionately call a Sooth-Moother, (anyone from below the islands I think that refers to).
He first asked where I was headed, before inviting me to a drink at his house a few miles along the road, when he realised I don't have schedules. He suggested that I may need a hot shower. My god he could read my mind too, and I was so glad that here was a man who knew what a stranger might need, and not afraid to offer what was within his power to give. When we arrived at his house, he called up to the wife and said that he had a guest. Laura came down to meet me and didn't seem at all shocked or put out that her husband had brought a stranger, (one with an unusual name) home to be catered for. Bob put the kettle on and Laura chatted to me to acquaint herself with the story so far. As if it were common practice, (and I'm sure it might very well be for these people) Laura asked me to stay for dinner too. Boy was I drooling at the smell of hot proper food coming from the kitchen as she set about making the meal. The cottage/croft was absolutely charming, with so many features and a tiny log stove in the fireplace and the words Life is Beautiful written in gold leaf across the place below the mantle piece. I mean this place was sweet and quaint and quirky and well, it was full of love and passion. Although she made an apology about the state of the place, (as you women often do) I thought it was like a trip to heaven. I would have loved to have taken a few snaps, especially of the skeleton at the table to share with you all, but I didn't want to be rude and invade further on their kindnesses.
They told me to feel free to use the bathroom, have a bath and freshen up as dinner would be about 45 minutes. Oh yes it was a pure joy to be able to get properly warm, even though my new thermal underwear is doing a very good job of keeping the chills at bay, the bath was divine. Home sweet home, with all the lovely homely effects set about, and the touch of a woman. Bob made tea and we chatted whilst the food was being prepared. They told me a phrase which is something like, Makalongarm. Meaning help yourself, make a long arm and get stuck in, once we sat at the table to eat. I cannot begin to tell you what thoughts were going through my head as I remembered the chat with Pete earlier and my new found experience to show that my expectations are not too high or unfounded on the will of people to share with a stranger. Here was the proverbial good Samaritan (and his wife) doing what comes naturally to so many people, unfortunately not everyone. Something that can and will bring rich rewards and satisfaction to anyone who shares their time and hospitality with a stranger.
And then as we sat to further talk about everything that I hoped to learn from the great people of Great Britain, they invited me to stay the night. I was almost crying with gratitude, they couldn't surely have known just how timely this help was, especially as the nights are so damned cold now. There are not words enough to tell Bob and Laura just how much I loved the support and the food and the kindness behind it all. They are like so many others I have met along the way, hopefully already mentioned here on the blog with gratitude. Amazing acts of random kindness from strangers to strangers, and all for the love of doing it and nothing more.
The bedroom like everything else was cosy, and warm and full of dedicated attention to the nice things that make a house a real home. One day maybe I will again have something like this that I too will be happy to share with others. As you can imagine I slept for the gold medal. Nothing could move me until Bob was up and about and I realised that I should get up and thank him once more, he was going to give me a lift to the bus stop before he went to work. He offered me breakfast and tea and and I was fit for anything as we set out to the bus at Ollaberry.

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