May 2014.

I've bought a campervan as a 60th birthday present to myself, made some curtains and a patchwork quilt, waved goodbye to my family, and set off. My aim is to explore the coastline of Britain, anti clockwise, starting in Kent. I have no idea what will happen.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Island of Vaila, Shetland

I went to the Shetland Islands as a foot passenger and left Baa in the long-stay carpark at Kirkwall. I thought my ticket was pretty reasonable for a seven hour crossing – but then I hadn't booked a cabin. .. It was 11pm when we left and, as advised, I went straight to the cinema; there was no film showing and it was warm. True, but the recliners didn't recline much and I couldn't get comfortable. So I moved to the bar which was draped with sleeping bodies, and found a curved banquette – I can describe it no other way - and slept surrounded by empty glasses and bits of Pringle.
Into Lerwick at 7.30am and a call from Richard Rowland, already up and about, who was coming to meet me. He was soon outside in his VW van with young Daniel from Brazil who was also staying with Richard and his Polish wife, Dorota Rychlik. Daniel looked a little strange; he had come off a bicycle the day before and had been bandaged up in A&E.
You can't get close to Vaila sheep!
It was a beautiful morning and we stopped a few times to take photographs. Shetland is wild and rugged, more so than Orkney. There are more than 100 islands, though only about 15 are populated. It's not a place for townies; life here is out of doors... farming, walking, archeology and miles and miles of stunning coast teeming with seabirds.
Dorota was waiting at the on-shore base with Alijia, a guest from Poland who is a spinner and weaver, and we were soon crossing to Vaila. We stopped to feed the ponies and then the pigs, before reaching the house. Over a breakfast of boiled eggs Alijia explained how to dye wool with wode. It makes indigo if you do it right, and a nasty brown colour if you get it wrong.
Vaila Hall with the Watchtower in the distance
Dorota has a herd of 120 pure Shetland sheep which she is developing for the widest variety of natural colours. Theirs was the first orgnic farm on Shetland and the resulting Vaila blankets are sold at Dorota's art gallery, Vaila Fine Art, in Lerwick.
Their home is a large Gothic mansion, rebuilt in Victorian times, which they bought 20 years ago, lock, stock and barrel including an impressive collection of stuffed native birds.
I walked round the island with Alijia – it is 800 acres of sheep country, steep cliffs, and a formal garden. The sheep are incredibly wild and you can't get near them, and the ground, in places cropped and smooth as a golf course, is littered with rubbish dropped by the seabirds – crab and mussel shells and other fishy body parts. It's a wild and wonderful place.

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