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My 'Fave' Place - for Shetland memories

Unfortunately a local monthly magazine - Shetland Life - recently published its last ever edition. It was very popular, had a great mix of articles and won several awards. However the economic climate for magazine publishing is difficult (not just in Shetland) and it was not profitable for it to continue.

One regular feature of the magazine was 'My Fave Place' - locals were asked to choose their favourite place in Shetland and write a short piece on why it's special to them. Last year I was asked to contribute and I thought I'd share the text of my article in a blog - with a few translations from dialect where necessary. So here goes............

There are so many favorite places or walks I could have chosen, but because of the number of great (and a few not so great) memories it holds, I finally settled on Sandsound beach (or East Beach) and the surrounding hills. We first visited the beach when we were house-hunting in 2003, and we bought the School House in Sandsound 3 months later. The small, pebbly beach is about a mile from home and we walk there often, in all weathers - sometimes just walking along the quiet road, sometimes going over the hill. These are some of my highlights, and a few of the lows..…

Like most places in Shetland, the Sandsound wildlife is always around if you look. The wildflowers are wonderful – especially the seggies and banks-flooer (Shetland dialect for yellow iris and sea-pink or thrift). There are always seabirds and we love to watch the wrens darting among the rocks. There are often otters or seals, and on New Year’s Day in 2004 we saw a minke whale in the voe. There have also been orca in the voe, but annoyingly we've always missed them.

The beach looks particularly magical when it’s frosty or has snowed. March 2006 saw the heaviest snow we've experienced here. We walked through snow drifts to the beach, where we made a 2-metre-tall snowman.

The beach is approached downhill and you get a good view of anything in the water as you arrive. One day we could see bubbles about 25 metres off shore, but nothing surfaced. We wondered if it was an otter, seal or bird behaving oddly, but as we got to the beach two men stood up in the shallow water wearing full scuba-diving gear. It was a bizarre moment and felt like a scene from a James Bond movie. They'd been diving for scallops and very kindly offered us some to take home.

When we had a new puppy, the first place to take her was, of course, the beach. She was a 4-month-old rescue dog and had never really been outside. We don’t think she had ever seen water except in a bowl, because the first thing she did was try to run through/over the stream. It was in flood and she sank, briefly. Thankfully she was very resilient and spent many more happy hours there. I've rarely been in the sea in Shetland – it would normally take a dry-suit or an accident! However, I did paddle at Sandsound when we were trying to teach her to swim.

In 2005, I slipped on a wet rock at the edge of the beach and fractured my left wrist. I was simply not being careful enough and of course I learnt my lesson, though 4 months later I fell and broke my right wrist! (but not at Sandsound).

We've spent many summers’ evenings on the beach or picnicking on the banks broo (dialect for cliff edge) and several picnics ruined by midges. One Simmer Dim (the Shetland name for the magical twilight around midnight on a summer's evening, and more specifically on the longest day), we carried picnic table, chairs, enough wood to keep a camp-fire burning for 4 hours and a complete meal down to the water’s edge to spend a wonderful evening with my parents, who were visiting us from England. At midnight, we played our traditional family card game of cribbage, and it is now one of those special family memories.

It is endlessly fascinating to see how the shape of the beach changes with each southerly storm and the stones exhibit a huge variety of colour, texture and shape. The old ruined buildings on the beach used to be a shop, and there are several old houses in the hills around. They all add to the atmosphere and sense of place.

We still spend ages on the beach just strolling, watching the natural world, doing the Redd Up (the annual community clean up of the beaches and roadsides), skimming stones, enjoying the tranquility or just absorbing that special ‘something’ that certain places can evoke. Every time I visit, I think how lucky we are to have such a wonderful spot so close to home.

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