Aboard a quite different vessel, the Northlink Ferry, I arrived in Aberdeen the next morning. Aberdeen was in lockdown, and I planned to spend as little time there as possible, just two hours, before my train left for the South. My idea was to sit in the sun outside the ferry terminal, eating my packed breakfast, before a gentle stroll to the railway station. Ha! I arrived in Aberdeen in the middle of a rainstorm. Roads had become rivers. On the periphery of my vision, a drain cover had lifted, and the water rose from it in a translucent pillar. I struggled towards the station through floods and wind.
Aberdeen station was a huge glass tent, with the rain battering, and lightning visible, dimly, through the roof covering. It also resembled all the tents I have ever known in that the floor was covered in a thin layer of water. I sat down damply on a damp metal bench. All the trains were cancelled. Fortunately, I had some banana cake. I drew a picture. Then I found a helpful official and a bus.
The bus was going to Edinburgh. I drew a picture on the bus. After having been in Shetland for three weeks, I noticed that there were huge trees, everywhere. The sun came out.
This is the Lera Voe phone box, which is on the road between Burrastow and Walls.
The phone box is a landmark. This year it was renovated, and fitted out as a sanctuary and small room. There is no phone in there any more, unless you bring your mobile phone with you.
Henry Anderton did the renovation. His project was partly financed by a reward he obtained for having found a message in a bottle on one of his beach-cleaning outings. You can read about it in this article from the BBC, published in February 2020.
The article says of Mr Anderton: “He has bought the phonebox, near Walls, for £1 and been supplied with the regulation red paint from BT. He said: “We’ve now launched a crowd funding operation to help out the renovations – we’ve got to find a door first.”“
Evidently he found a door, because when I visited in July the phone box was complete, bright red and in great shape. There are shelves and a seat inside.
I wanted to draw the phone box with Lera Voe in the background. This is the view from the field behind the phone box. You can see the voe, and the hills beyond. The road is just behind the phone box in my drawing. “Voe” is a Shetland word meaning “sea inlet”.
Here is work in progress on the drawing.
Here is the article from the BBC mentioned above, as a PDF file.
These phone boxes , which were called Telephone Kiosks, were designed by Giles Gilbert-Scott in the 1920s and 30s. Giles Gilbert-Scott was a prolific architect, who also designed Cambridge University Library, the North Wing of the Guildhall in the City of London, and Bankside Power Station which is now Tate Modern.
The phone box at Lera Voe is a “K6” phone box, designed by Gilbert-Scott for the jubilee of George V in 1935, following his successful design of the K2 phone box in 1924. The K6 is distinguished from the K2 by the embossed crown, and the fact that it has 8 rows of windows, rather than the 6 rows of the K2.
It would be possible to date the phone box had I been more careful in drawing the crown. The crown is painted red on the Lera Voe phone box, as it was on the original phones boxes. Only in the 1990s did BT start painting the crowns gold.
“On the remote west side of Shetland you can find spectacular scenery, peace and the ideal refuge for the escapist. The guest house welcomes you with peat fires, a cosy library and all the marvellous food you could want after a day of exploring….” This is Burrastow House , near Walls.
The house is right next to the sea. Here’s a view across the bay.
Around the back is a vegetable garden and polytunnel with herbs in. Here’s the view from the back. See all the chimneys!
And here’s another view from the front garden.
Here is work in progress on these pictures.
All pictures drawn and coloured on location, using a paper block by Saunders Waterford “St Cuthberts Mill” 300gsm Hot Press and Daniel Smith Watercolours over De Atramentis waterproof ink.
Here is a sketch of the mysterious island of Foula.
Foula is about 20 miles away from Shetland Mainland, so it hovers on the horizon, often with its own special cloud.
This is a view from the Virda Stane, which is at the top of a hill. It’s a rare view: normally at this stage on the walk I would hunkered down on the East side of the stone, with its bulk sheltering me from the howling West wind. However on this particular day, there was eerily little wind. So I could sit on the West side, and observe Foula, before it disappeared in the fog.
On a long walk to Footabrough, I paused to do a drawing of a distant headland.
The drawing shows the West corner of the island of Vaila, with the wonderfully named “Stack of the Cuillan”, which are the rocks forming a small island at the base of the cliffs. In the distance is a headland. The question is: what is the headland?
When I was drawing it, I thought it must be Skelda Ness, some 6 or 7 km away. But that might be hidden behind Vaila. So is that distant headland Sumburgh Head, 25km away?
It occurred to me that the phone might know. I have the OS Maps app. But evidently it didn’t think I was interested in any feature so far away.
However it did give me the bearing: 149 degrees, as you see. So now back in London I can use my old school protractor.
It’s Sumburgh Head in the picture. I’m glad we sorted that out!
Further on towards Footabrough are the Skerries of Easter Paill.
The word “Easter” here does not relate to the Christian festival, but to the fact that these small islands are the ones on the East. I guess this implies there must be a “Wester Paill” somewhere but I haven’t found it.
I drew this on location in my sketchbook.
The waves are done with watercolour resist. The resist is a kind of rubber solution a bit like Typex. The air was somewhat damp, despite the fine weather. I applied the resist before the paint was entirely dry, and then the resist didn’t dry properly either. I walked along for while with the sketchbook open, flapping it, much to the consternation of nearby terns. Then the terrain became more complicated, and too rocky to scramble over carrying an open sketchbook in one hand. I sat down on a stone and rubbed the resist off, which reveals the white bits. I was pleased with the result, obtained even in these adverse conditions. The product I was using is “Schminke Rubbelkrepp neutral”, in a tiny 20ml jar, applied with a brush.
In the evening I had another go, this time trying to describe also the brilliant light of the day, and the clarity of the water, as well as the pointedness of the rocks, and their regular angles.
On another walk, I drew the headlands of Mucklure.
The dark is terrifyingly black, and the glitter from the sea is blindingly bright. It’s impossible to draw. But it’s so arrestingly beautiful that I had to have a go.
This scenery demands to be drawn.
Here are some blog posts from previous expeditions to Shetland. You can also see a collection of Shetland Landscapes (2017) on this link.
The rocks off the ward of Mucklure are almost geometrical in their formations. They make abrupt right angles. Here are the Skerries of Easter Paill, small rocks in the sea off Dounawall and The Hamar. Here is another drawing of the same location. It’s hard to get an idea of the scale. Here’s a map … Continue reading “Shetland, Skerries of Easter Paill”
Here are some pictures I drew in pen and wash. I spent a lot of time drawing rocks. The rocks are overwhelming in their detail. Not every thing I saw is in the picture. But every thing in the picture, I saw. Here are some pictures I drew on the journey going back South: And … Continue reading “Shetland 2019 – pen and wash”
There’s a beach near Burrastow that looks towards the Island of Vaila. Here’s a sketch I made from the cliffs above the beach. Those cliffs look steep and dark. The tower is a “watch tower”, I’m told, built by the Laird back in the day (1700s) to watch over his fishing operations. The story I … Continue reading “Shetland: Towards Vaila”
The wooden sign from the main road said “Historic Site”, and pointed up a small road that lead steeply uphill. I was on my morning run and felt energetic, so I set off up there, keen to see the Historic Site. In Shetland, Historic Sites are often at the top of hills. At the top … Continue reading “Shetland, Historic site walk”
Here is a collection of landscapes all done directly in watercolour with no pen and ink. I am using Daniel Smith Watercolours, and trying different mixing combinations. All of these pictures are done with three or fewer colours, alone or mixed together. It seems to me that the fewer the better. The picture hangs together … Continue reading “Shetland landscapes”
Here’s another attempt at the skerries of Easter Paill:
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.
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.
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.
Here is a collection of landscapes all done directly in watercolour with no pen and ink. I am using Daniel Smith Watercolours, and trying different mixing combinations. All of these pictures are done with three or fewer colours, alone or mixed together. It seems to me that the fewer the better. The picture hangs together better if I don’t use many colours. And it’s faster.
The wooden sign from the main road said “Historic Site”, and pointed up a small road that lead steeply uphill. I was on my morning run and felt energetic, so I set off up there, keen to see the Historic Site. In Shetland, Historic Sites are often at the top of hills.
At the top of the first hill, there was no Historic Site, but a view of the next summit. I carried on. At the second summit there was no Historic Site either, just undulating hills in all directions. I was disheartened. I was also a long way from home base.
I turned around. In the distance was the island of Foula, which lurks on the horizon, looking menacing. Usually it’s seen across the sea. But from that second summit, Foula hovered above the green hills, too large, too grey, too abrupt in its cliffs. As I started running back downhill, Foula sank reluctantly, until it disappeared below the horizon and all around was again soft green hills, and sheep.
The next day I resolved to find the Historic Site. I went on a mega-walk. Here is my route:
You see marked the “Germattwatt Café” where I stopped on the way.
I found the Historic Site which, against all expectations and precedent, was not at the top of any hill, but low down. near the sea, on a promontory, and near a fishing lake. There were low ancient walls, and the distinctive patterns of undulations that indicate a dwelling, property divisions, field boundaries.
In tribute to the wisdom of the ancestors who chose this place I stopped a while. There was a good view up and down the estuary. Good fishing was to be had, both freshwater in the lake, and salt water in the sea. Such fishing was still being had. In the sea was the fish farm and the mussel farm. I drew a picture:
You see the stones of the Historic Site in the foreground. In the distance the “A971” makes its way East at the foot of the hill. The lines in the sea are the mussel farm. The high hill is the Ward of Browland. Here’s the Ordnance Survey Map. The arrow shows the direction I was looking when drawing the picture.
Then I walked on, following the sea. Here’s a drawing near the “pier” circled in red on the map.
The whole walk was 22km, and took 8 hours, including two hours of stops for drawing, refreshment and looking at the view.