“You’ve come at the wrong time.”

This is what everyone tells me.

They don’t say, “Welcome to Shetland!” Instead they say, “It’s such a pity you came right now, in January.”

Then, like an answering machine instructing you to call back later, they tell me to come back in summer. Some insist that June is the best month, others swear it’s August that shows off the best of Shetland . . . and what is the best? Long sunny nights that last until dawn, white sand beaches that sparkle in summer light, and a million birds breeding up a storm. Also, everything is open in summer, whereas in winter, so much is shuttered against the dark days and relentless wind.

But what so few understand is that I am not searching for sunshine or a tan. I am not here on holiday. Like a confused bird, I have flown north for winter, eager to see Shetland as it is.

When I arrive on the southern tip of the island, it is very dark and very wet–it remains this way for most of my stay. There are brief times of light: around ten in the morning, the blank sky separates from the dark shape of the land, blue against black. The short day continues in a state of perpetual sunset and by half three, it is finished, as if the sun only works part-time.

For some of us, the love of rare places outweighs the love of warmth and comfort. The beauty of Shetland is forever linked to its long distance from “Scotland” in the South. Only a few rare birds are blown here by accident. The rest of us arrive in Shetland intentionally.

I am not sure what my original intention was–only to make it here. I have no new passport stamp to prove it–I am technically still in the United Kingdom–but the rain cutting across my face and the wind whipping my back is proof that I have landed safely in the middle of the North Sea.

60° North to be exact–the same latitude as Alaska and Norway and Russia. But Shetland remains far warmer than its latitudinal cousins. Even now in January, I explore the hills around Lerwick in jeans and a raincoat. My phone says it’s 50°F (10°C), but I suspect the wet wind subtracts from that optimistic temperature.

Perhaps I have come at the wrong time. Other than music at the pub last night, nothing seems to be “on” right now. There is no tourist show, no planned excursions or man-made spectacle for me to see.

There is only this island called Shetland and the constant wind and the pelting rain and the modest sun.

Yet strange as it may seem, I love it all. The cold and lonely places of the world call to me like a good book from the shelf. I crave the off-season–I love traveling in the right place at the wrong time.

“It’s a pity you’re not staying longer,” says another Shetlander to me, shaking her head in disappointment. “You’ll miss Up Helly Aa!”

Yes, I shall miss the fire festival at the end of this month. I would like to see it one day, but the annual Viking celebration is not what brought me here right now, right after New Year’s.

I came only to see Shetland–to illustrate the name on the map with the sights and sounds I now carry forever inside me. It is the real reason I travel–so that when I close my eyes and think of Shetland, I can feel the sting of sea salt upon my cheeks, I can hear the wind howling around the cliff’s edge, I can see the glowing pink line of cold light that peeks out between grey sea and white cloud, I can make out the lovely incomprehensible strains of Shetlandic dialect, and I can feel the warm exhale from a pony’s wet black nose.

Let the rest of them come in August if they’d like. I came to Shetland in early January and I am no less fond of the place because of the calendar.

In fact, I think, it was the perfect time for me.

Comments

  1. Maureen
    January 8, 2013, 3:02 pm

    It’s so beautiful. Winter seems a perfect time! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Taylor
    Utah
    January 8, 2013, 5:33 pm

    Thanks for the excellent post! Like you, I also travel to see the place as it really is; not for a tan or relaxation. I wish others realized the value in visiting a place when it isn’t “meant” to be seen.

    • Andrew Evans
      January 10, 2013, 2:44 am

      Thanks Taylor! Glad you liked it–I think you would love Shetland so I hope you make it out there someday. All the best, AE

  3. Jeff Coulter
    January 8, 2013, 6:07 pm

    Amazing, and beautiful. I so appreciate your perspective on the world and that you share it with so many of us!

  4. Monica
    Missouri
    January 8, 2013, 9:04 pm

    I love your little videos. You know just how to pack the beauty and personally of a place into the sweetest little visual blessing. The fact that you visit a place to see and hear its heart, makes the journey special. I like feeling a part of a place and not an outsider. Shetland became real to me through your eyes, that’s your gift to me/us. This is a beautiful place, thanks for sharing it with me. Traveling mercies Andrew. God bless!

    • Andrew Evans
      January 10, 2013, 2:43 am

      Thanks so much Monica! Your words always mean so much to me and it makes me happy to know you’re out there watching! All the best to you & keep warm this summer! AE

  5. Liliana
    Belgrade
    January 9, 2013, 10:14 am

    Wrong Time !! But great blog Andrew ( :- Hi from Belgrade !

  6. Sarah Laurenson
    Shetland/Edinburgh
    January 9, 2013, 12:25 pm

    Yay! You’re so right. Shetland is at her most shockingly beautiful in winter, definitely. See why I think so here: http://reformlane.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/shetland-winter.html and here http://reformlane.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/wavehunter.html x

    • Andrew Evans
      January 10, 2013, 2:45 am

      Sarah, thanks for showing your photos, which capture the beauty of the wild grey in Shetland. AE

  7. Emma
    Tasmania
    January 10, 2013, 9:20 pm

    I came across your article this morning Andrew and wanted to comment because I really enjoyed your style, ‘The cold and lonely places of the world call to me like a good book from the shelf.’ For me your article evokes a paradoxical feeling of energy and serenity – great stuff! Cheers.

  8. Matt Arnold
    Shetland
    January 11, 2013, 8:01 am

    Welcome to my world – a fascinating experience 12 months a year!

  9. Robyn
    Shetland/Edinburgh
    January 12, 2013, 5:00 am

    Makes me homesick!

  10. Fraser
    shetland
    January 12, 2013, 5:11 am

    Glad you likes shetland, its a great place to live all year around, come anytime and its difrent, but as you say dont come to get a sun tan. Although we sometimes get better summers than the rest of the uk.

  11. Lewis
    Cheshire
    January 12, 2013, 5:39 am

    A Shetlander in Cheshire. Only a week since I was in Shetland but that still made me fill homesick. So evocative

  12. Kathleen Haden
    United Kingdom
    January 12, 2013, 7:26 am

    Here here! It doesn’t matter what month I visit Shetland (I’m up there next week actually) I love it! The colours change all year round, all beautiful, never the same from one month to the next. :)

  13. Jennie Brigham
    Suffolk
    January 12, 2013, 7:27 am

    My husband I lived on Shetland for 5 years, we have lived in many places but Shetland is the only place I ever regretted leaving. The weather is part of it , its so changeable and extreme, never boring and never taken for granted. The sea is crystal clear, sometimes a millpond and others raging! The people are warm and welcoming, everybody knows just about everyone else and brings with it ,a sense of security, and sometimes humour. A great aunt came to visit and told a fellow passenger on the ferry, she was visiting her nephew in South Mainland, and with no more information than that the woman said “Oh, that’ll be the Chiropodist then” :) The wildlife is extraordinary, every day was an adventure with something new to see! The dark, but atmospheric winters, with gales and Northern Lights were wonderful, and the light nights of summer were a joy. A exceptional place to live or visit.

  14. Daniel Hahn
    Florida
    January 12, 2013, 9:18 am

    I went in the summer of 2011 and it looked similar to your video ;-)
    If I had to describe Shetland with one word it would be “magical”. I spent a lot of my time on Unst.

  15. Jeanette Mortimer
    Birmingham
    January 13, 2013, 3:37 am

    I use to live on the islands and got married there, my husband and I have not been back since we married even though we always said we would. However we will be back for our 25th wedding anniversary in 10 days. I booked it all 2 years ago and been looking forward to it and growing increasing excited. Then last week I looked at the long range weather forecast and was disappointed that it was going to be raining for at least the first week we were on the islands. Dissapointed that is until I read this, you have reminded me of why I love the islands, why I call it home, dispute only living there for 4 years and why I feel homesick to the bottom of my heart when I see beautiful images of the islands. Thank you

  16. Jimmy Carlyle
    Lerwick, Shetland
    January 13, 2013, 3:40 am

    Great article. I was out walking in the hills last weekend, no wind, no rain, a bit of sun and a bit of mist. Very mild at the moment. Is it the best place in the world? Well “da Rock” always calls you back.

  17. Barrie Jehu
    Quarff, Shetland
    January 13, 2013, 6:09 am

    Across from the Hall. Been here 35 years; no intention of going elsewhere. The light here is fantastic, even if I can never get a photo to show it. Where else can you run into a pair of otters at midnight, on the edge of town? Or have a sparrowhawk stare back at from the deck of the house. Or a merlin sitting on the garden fence? Or have a polecat join you in your shed for a few months?

  18. Kevin Moreland
    Lerwick
    January 13, 2013, 6:27 am

    I’ve posted a few videos of Shetland if anyone wants to see more . http://www.youtube.com/user/shetlandmarketing/videos?view=0

  19. Ron McMillan
    Chiang Mai, Thailand
    January 13, 2013, 8:04 am

    Well done for making this trip and for enjoying the beauty of the islands even in the dead of winter. Beauty takes so many more forms than a blue sky over a golden beach washed by warm waves. I have been to Shetland on many occasions at various times of year (I wrote a book about one five-week trip around the islands in 2005) and every time I depart the islands I leave with a heavy heart and the absolute certainty that I will be back.

    Ron McMillan

  20. MoniqueB.
    The Netherlands
    January 15, 2013, 1:17 pm

    Oh my… Indeed, it doesn’t matter whén you go, you just do. I was there in October and believe me; the isles will stick with you. I’m still not over it. Every season has it’s charm and the people are very friendly.
    I’ll be there again next year, I can’t wait. Maybe we’ll meet there and talk about it some more!

  21. MoniqueB.
    The Netherlands
    January 15, 2013, 1:30 pm

    I had to change computer to watch the video.

    I’ve been to the same spot on Eshaness! It was exactly where I took pictures and walked along the voe.
    http://bridgetsbrei.blogspot.nl/2012/11/12-times.html and this.. http://bridgetsbrei.blogspot.nl/2012/10/finally-some-rocks.html
    I didn’t meet any pony’s that close, hahaha.

  22. Forest Parks
    January 27, 2013, 11:13 pm

    The video really makes it look stunning! I’m from the UK and really wish we learned more about the islands around us at a younger age. I have never visited Shetland but as I age I long to visit these places more and more!

  23. Mavis Gulliver
    Isle of Islay
    February 5, 2013, 4:41 am

    I loved this – so after my own heart – here on Islay we we’re storm bound yesterday – no ferry, no plane, no-one on the beach except me. It’s wonderful!

  24. Vicki Cagan
    New Zealand
    February 19, 2013, 10:25 pm

    Great article. It’s always the right time to visit Shetland. I find it hard to leave after every visit.

  25. Hayley
    Melbourne
    May 22, 2013, 8:06 pm

    How fantastic! I am heading over to Shetland (before heading over to Scandinavia) in January 2014 to experience both the islands and Up Helly Aa and just can’t wait. But I have trouble explaining to people why I am going and why I am so excited about it – you have just explained it for me. Thank you :)

  26. Andrea
    Trieste, Italy
    January 15, 3:44 pm

    WIll be there the last week of Jan/early Feb 2014… can’t wait ! and fully agree with Andrew ! :) already been there during summer season… now is the time to appreciate Shetland in Winter ! :)