Marhofn 93.05 - May 2003

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Foula spirit

Jon Metcalf

Already a strong contender for trip of the decade, in a place I would never have dreamed of visiting before succumbing to the influence of RHB. The trip started off with me fretting about the available walking time in the hall of the tortured souls (or Lerwick airport departures as non-baggers call it). The flight had been delayed three hours due to the pilot having medivacced someone the night before (Ken Butcher was similarly trapped on an independent trip to Fair Isle). The day will come when the possessed will outnumber the civilian population in such places.

When we finally got underway I had the good fortune to sit next to the pilot for the 15-minute flight as the plane was full. To get some flavour of the exceptional seascapes, see www.originart2.shetland.co.uk/features/foulacliffs/ which has a linked tour of several shots from a flight round the island. Towards the end of the flight there was the added excitement of wondering if the eight-seater would be friends with the roughly-surfaced landing field rushing towards us.

I needn't have worried about getting round the two sensational hills and a good bite of the soaring cliffs within the available four hours. There was even time in hand for a leisurely sunbathe away from the bonxies at the top of the lost-world-like Sneck o' da Smallie, where The Daal between the hills dramatically meets the sea via the vertical.

Got down to the landing site fine where, 25 minutes after scheduled departure, a local came by, in what can only be described as an island car, to tell us it was too misty for the plane to take off from Lerwick that day. Splendid - all I had was a day-sack and the 'hill fresh' joggers and rugby shirt I stood up in. Just managed to get a mobile signal from Shetland mainland for long enough to warn the tribe I wouldn't make it back to our holiday cottage that night.

Sneck o' da Smallie (photo: Ann Bowker)

Sneck o' da Smallie (photo: Ann Bowker)

Two German tourists and I made for the island's only B&B at the double. Here the options were bunk-beds in the house or a double bed in an outhouse. The guy clearly fancied the comfort of the in-house option, but was democratically outvoted by his lady friend who was more interested in a double. Two people were already staying there; a lady who had been sketching for the week and an older Belgian guy who had decided to move to the island. During the evening another pair of retired English waifs and strays came in, who had got so hopelessly lost on the hill that they would have missed the plane anyway. They had nothing on them to pay for their B&B but were trusted to stay then settle up remotely.

The hospitality was amazing, and after a sound dinner most of the party repaired to a living room. Mine host, however, had clocked the rugby gear, and asked me if I'd like to come out to set the oval-ball world to rights with a friend. We headed off with him clutching a bag that clinked invitingly. There is no pub, so I couldn't stand my round, and I was day-tripping alone on a non-round-number hill, so I had nothing to reciprocate the offer with. Didn't seem to bother him at all. His friend turned out to be a man of 75, who produced a litre-and-a-half optic of Morangie. The finer detail of the evening eludes me from some point in the second pint of malt. Well worth being repeatedly told I was an idiot by the older man whenever our views of teams or the laws of the game diverged. Come the end I could have slept very comfortably on the airstrip, feeling no pain whatsoever.

The next thing I knew there was a loud thump at the bedroom door, with a shout of '45 minutes to eat breakfast and get to the plane'. Back in Lerwick, Domestic Management concluded that I was still more in the glen of tranquility than the land of the living. I got dispatched to bed to sleep the rest of it off, with the righteous snort of the responsible part of the relationship.

This visit was a rare privilege. A place already blessed with staggering cliffs and hill-scapes also turned up a brilliant evening with exceptional people who I would not have met in other circumstances. The strongest common view they expressed was that, while anyone who made the effort to get to Foula was most welcome, they didn't want to publicise its qualities to the wider world in case the place got swamped. Many Marhofn readers will already have been, or are bound by list-o-mania to visit anyway, so I have a clear conscience in shouting both the place and the people's praises.

The Kame, Foula (photo: Ann Bowker)

The Kame, Foula (photo: Ann Bowker)

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