Shetland: Roads in a landscape

Roads in Shetland trace three-dimensional calligraphy across the landscape. On the West Side, the hills are undulating. The roads loop to and fro, taking a route that yields to the contour, but is not dictated by it. On every visit I try to draw these roads.

Here is a bend in the road. I was walking back from Walls with my groceries. I paused to rest, and draw the route I had just walked. The town of Walls, with its famous Post Office and Shop, is close, but it is not just over the hill you can see, much as you might like it to be when you are walking there. There is yet one more hill after that, and only then you descend to Walls.

A bend in the road: looking towards Walls.

The hill in my drawing, where the road disappears, is owned by the terns. They see you coming and get organised into squadrons. Then as you reach the brow of the hill they start launching themselves at you, in regular swoops, screeching to terrify you. I was there towards the end of the tern season. But they were defending their hill to the end. I feel like an intruder, and walk fast until they are well behind me.

Here is my running route.

Dale -> Walls road, looking east towards Walls

A section of this road falls within the territory of the curlew. He has a different technique from the terns. Rather than terrify you, the curlew’s idea is to entice you away. He flies overhead, making a piping sound, a clear note repeated three times. Having thus secured your attention, he then flies ahead, as much as to say “come this way”. He then courageously lands on the road, and looks conspicuous: “Come and get me!” As you approach, he might bounce up the road a few times, until he is sure you are properly out of his protectorate. Then he goes back home, job done.

Here is another view from the Walls road, not far from the bend in the first drawing. Walking back from Walls, I was arrested by a bright view of the sea, and an array of colours from the flowers. There was a formidable wind blowing. But I had a go. Ten minutes in, the skies darkened, the temperature dropped. I just managed to get my art materials back inside my waterproof rucksack before the rain came down. Welcome to Shetland.

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