Published in October 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
“This is the perfect summer holiday,” said Adrien, my boyfriend, as he sat on a Shetland pebble beach wearing a 4mm wetsuit. Grey overcast skies, grey seals bobbing up their Labrador heads in the bay, sausages sizzling in the pan on the driftwood fire. He was not being sarcastic. “No heat, no sun, no mosquitos, no other people.”
We took the boat out and hauled up creels teeming with velvet crabs and swimming crabs and psychotic crabs with red demon eyes. Plenty of big brown crab to eat too; we sat out an afternoon gale at the kitchen table, picking them with a silver cuticle pusher. Cold crab with mayonnaise, crab cakes, crab and chilli spaghetti. Arthur, my 7-year-old godson, is a champion fisherman. He netted tiny shrimp along the moorings and hunted baby crabs under rocks, “This morning I found 56!” Out on the boat in a drilling rain he put down a mackerel line and pulled up four tiger-striped beauties for tea. We saw oyster catchers with their elegant orange beaks, razorbills with blunt black beaks angled like a box cutter knife. Flocks of puffins scattered into the air, big orange feet dangling like life vests as they flew up to their nests.
My best friend gathered sugar kelp, dried it on the radiator and baked it into umami crisps in the oven. Sandy, her husband, caught brown trout in the loch and we fried them for breakfast. One day we found two giant sea urchins in a canyon cove. One was pale orange and one was pink. When we put them in the bucket with seawater we saw that they had hundreds of tiny waving tentacles. The pink one pulled a strand of seaweed over itself, as if to hide. Dotty, Arthur’s 10-year-old sister, was our good conscience and made us put them back.
The island farm of Vementry is owned by Sandy and managed by a Shetlander who comes from a long line of sheep farmers. Heather hill, summer green pastures strewn with puffs of white wool and limpet shells dropped on the rocks by the gulls. The cliffs drop down to the pewter waves. There’s money in fishing these rich cold Atlantic waters; Lerwick lands more fish than any other port in the UK except Peterhead. There’s money working “on the oil.” But there’s no money in sheep any more.