Shetland Diaries - Day 5

We’re still in Saxa Resort and this, I’ve decided is ‘really living’ out here. I was lying in bed and in spite of a slight hang-over from the bottle of wine and couple of whiskies I’d had the night before with John & Beth, I’m feeling inspired and wondering why? It's this place!

Look at the types that are here! They're the Germans and Swedes decked out with the latest, moisture wicking hiking gear, super long photo lenses and natty face furniture… the men that is! Then there are the flocks of single, middle-aged women, (some also with face furniture) a bit out of their depth physically but grasping for something they normally don't get. At the end of another day of sites and   everyone gathers around the wifi hotspot like elephants around a watering hole to discuss treks their next expedition. 

And then there’s us golfers. Ok, we’re a bit off the mark here because they shut the course at Unst but I’m still really glad we came. I truly was inspired by the place. It encapsulated everything that these remote islands are about; the living sea; I’ve never seen water that looks so rich and alive, puffy clouds skitting by in a (sometimes) clear, clean sky. And the air! I tell you it’s the best place to come if you suffer from insomnia. 

And then I thought about Shetland more generally. Why would anyone want to come to such a grey, desolate, wind-blasted set of boggy islands with weather that will rip your anorak off - for their vacation? I mean, come on! Wouldn't you be far better off in Cancun, Clacton or even Calcutta? Being brought up in Scotland, sun-worshipping is second nature to me;  something to do with lack a lack of vitamin D I suspect, so I tend to go towards sunnier climes. But Shetland is teeming with light and life of a different nature. You might not see it or ‘get it’ instantly. That’s why visitors come armed with huge lenses and powerful binoculars. You have to walk a bit or sit quietly on some grassy knoll waiting. Then you can sense it! It’s not the chance to spot an otter or a rare horn-billed snow bunting or a dolphin or minke breaching. It’s this wonderful environment that they still thrive in. And as God’s creatures that once used to live in such places, something subliminal, primordial, involuntarily responds. 

I saw an otter yesterday - no big deal you might say but 24 hours on I'm still excited. There are gannets and terns all teaming about the skies, sheep and Shetland ponies, beautiful Sea Campion, Red Campion, and  Sheep's-Bit. In spite of its poor soil and this place is teeming. If you go to the right places, you'll see platoons of puffins, their beaks full of sand eels (well, maybe not… therein lies another problem) and if you make a bit more of an effort you'll encounter a touch of what’s going on under that magnificent emerald green water; minkes, humpbacks and even killers. 

This is clearly a place to be; maybe not so much for us humans anymore. We need out TV’s and wifi connections. But most certainly for our planet's more selective inhabitants. I've never really realised this before but I really like our natural neighbours and it's so good to see them and be near them in such an unrestrained environment.  In spite of the MOD Radar Stations and old derelict cottages scattered across the hillsides, human impact has barely scratched the surface of this fine place. 

For those that will walk these roads less travelled, they'll be the ones that wake up, possibly with a slight hangover and a lingering smile on their face. 

We reluctantly left Unst, ran the ‘White Wife’ gauntlet without incident and seemed to roll up to the two ferry ports back to the mainland just at the right time. We even had time to pop into see Peanut’s and recounted the many years that had passed by since we first met in Shetland and the people we’d known for the best part of a lifetime. Peanuts has her own gallery shed, quite a remarkable place full of her diverse creations. Pringle’s the Scottish golf woollen company had just commissioned a few basketry pieces from her. 


And before we knew it, we arrived at Shetland Golf Club just north of Lerwick with still time left for a game. This would be our first serious round of golf. As I said, you probably shouldn’t come to Shetland just to play golf. You’d miss all the other wonderful stuff that surrounds the three golf courses here. But bring your clubs along just in case. 

Shetland Golf Club otherwise known as Dale has seen the same great improvements over recent years as Whalsay leading up to and following the Island Games. The course is the second most northerly 18-hole golf course in Britain. An interesting story was emerging as we chatted with some lady members who were about to tee off. The day before apparently, a Canadian couple had flown in their private jet from Dornoch to Shetland to play “Britain's Most Northerly Golf Course”. They’d landed at Tingwall Airport just a few minutes from Dale and showed up at Shetland Golf Club to play it and tick that box off their no doubt rather prestigious bucket list. “Yeah, we flew up to the Shetlands in Scatland to play the most northerly course in Britain,” they’d be regaling to their friends back at the country club in Calgary or wherever they came from - probably Calgary because that’s got all that Shale Oil money. Anyhow, off they popped, had their round and then jetted off home via Greenland and Newfoundland, happy with their memories of playing ‘Scatland’s Most Northerly Golf Course.’

The only thing was no one had had the guts to tell them they'd come to the wrong golf course! They should, of course, have been playing Whalsay. Never mind! Once they realise, they’ll just have to come all the way back again to correct their slight miscalculation. 

The Dale looks down a voe or fiord that is quite breathtaking. The 1st tees off towards it. As soon as you hit the fairways, you find them slightly soft and spongy just with the nature of the grasses and soft wet conditions. But this wasn’t off-putting. The fairways are usually defined with tall, thick rough and a few boggy bits. But the greens are impeccable which must be quite a challenge on this rather wet valley. Again, funding from the Island Games must have helped this club as I don’t recall the course being in such excellent condition in my past visits. 

An Eagle, An Albatross and A Crow

Ball-nabbing Corbie

Ball-nabbing Corbie

One of the more unusual things I remember about Shetland Golf Club from one of my previous rounds was the ‘Corbies’. I’d been playing with a friend a few years back and we hit a couple of nice drives at the 1st. Suddenly a crow swooped down and picked up my friend’s golf ball. I have a photograph of it as it passed over our heads, a bit pixelated (I had to blow it up so much) but here it is as evidence. We weren’t sure what the rules were! I reckoned he had a two-stroke penalty but he wasn’t accepting that. Anyway, he teed up again and off we went. I’ve since gathered that if a player’s ball ‘at rest’ has been moved by an outside agency, no penalty is incurred and another ball must be replaced at the spot that the ball was moved from (Rule 18-1). The ‘Rules of Golf’; they’ve got an answer to everything. 

At the 5th the exact same thing happened to me! My ball was heisted and hoist high into the sky, never to be seen again. This was a hazard we had not counted on. Perhaps Shetland Golf Club members should pack an extra item in their bags - a shotgun! There must be a nest up there on the hills absolutely full of Pro V 1’s. Or maybe they’re in a tree! Oh no... Shetland doesn’t have trees. I reckon the crows, or ‘corbies’ as they’re known here, think the balls are lost eggs and instinctively pick them up and return them to their nest - where they should be. Where that nest is, I’d like to know because he’s got my Pro V1. Apparently this activity only takes place at certain times of the year, which does indicate it has something to do with eggs. 

We finished off our round at Dale and thoroughly enjoyed it, this time losing no balls to the corbies but a few to the thick rough.