RID­ING INTO THE SHETLANDS

THE RUGGEDLY BEAU­TI­FUL SHET­LAND IS­LANDS ARE A BEA­CON FOR WILDLIFE LOVERS AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHERS, WHO CAP­TURE ITS SPLEN­DOUR THROUGH THE LENS.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY EWEN BELL

The ruggedly beau­ti­ful Shet­land Is­lands in Scot­land are a bea­con for wildlife lovers and pho­tog­ra­phers, who cap­ture its splen­dour through the lens.

The Shet­land Is­lands are easy to fly into even if you’re not a puf­fin. Flights land ev­ery day from Ed­in­burgh and Aberdeen, mostly car­ry­ing trav­ellers in search of sea birds. Fish­ing boats are mod­i­fied in sum­mer­time to carry walk­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers, armed with long lenses in search of nest­ing gan­nets and guille­mots.

They cling to the cliffs in their thou­sands, bick­er­ing and squawk­ing like Twit­ter come to life. It’s manic and won­der­ful. From the van­tage of the boat you watch the birds re­turn to shore with beaks full of fish. The cool wa­ters of the Shet­land Is­lands pro­vide rich feed­ing for mi­gra­tory birds, or­cas and hump­back whales.

Higher up the cliffs, where the soil is softer, the puffins nest in bur­rows and spend a fu­ri­ous few months rais­ing chicks. Puffins have to flap their wings at 400 beats a minute to stay in the air, their stubby wings much bet­ter suited to fly­ing un­der­wa­ter than above it. There are sev­eral hot spots for puffins around the is­lands, some an easy walk from a light­house and oth­ers a day walk across the wilder­ness.

Lo­cal bird ex­pert Hugh Har­rop takes trav­ellers across the is­lands by road and sea in search of wildlife. He’s a gen­tle guide who fits per­fectly into the soft land­scape of the Shetlands, hand in glove, and as calm as a Shet­land pony. Hugh uses quaint lit­tle cot­tages for overnight stays, small lodg­ings that sit low against the pre­vail­ing winds. Cot­tages are usu­ally in a fish­ing port or farm­ing vil­lage, where the cui­sine is tai­lored to hun­gry fish­er­men. Cod and pota­toes is more likely to be on the menu than quinoa salad.

Knowl­edge of the ferry sched­ules is essen­tial if you want to drive be­tween is­lands and get off the ‘main­land’. The north­ern tip of Unst of­fers spec­tac­u­lar views across the cliff tops and an un­bro­ken hori­zon look­ing north to the Arc­tic.

Walk­ing trails in the Shetlands are gen­tly in­clined with board­walks on the marshy parts, and while the sum­mer weather can be more oceanic than sunny there are al­ways wild­flow­ers lin­ing the way. The big re­ward comes when you find your­self look­ing down upon a few thou­sand gan­nets as they cir­cle in for a land­ing. The noise and smells are allem­brac­ing, up close to such an abun­dance of wildlife where the very edge of our world meets the be­gin­ning of theirs. • Ewen shot these im­ages on the Canon 5DSR with the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sports, Canon 50mm f/1.2 and Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 lenses.

Clock­wise from top: The land­scape of the Shetlands is wild and beau­ti­ful and the lo­cals love their seclu­sion; Crew of ‘The Mousa Boat’ get ready to push off, tak­ing hik­ers across to Mousa Is­land for the day; The ‘Ham House’ was built in 1770 and is one of the few build­ings on Mousa that has not be­come a ruin, erected from the abun­dance of stones that also serve for fenc­ing ma­te­rial; Be­low Spig­gie Loch there’s a small beach of pure white sand that pro­vides a shel­tered har­bour for push­ing out a row boat; King tides and storms bring ashore an abun­dance of reef life in­clud­ing urchin shells.

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