Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Shetland Islands: on the edge of Britain - Telegraph


We sat motionless in the grass atop Hermaness Hill, surrounded by frenetic activity more reminiscent of Heathrow airport than Britain’s northernmost headland. As the grey blanket of mist, which had lain heavily all day, gave way to shafts of evening sunlight, we marvelled at the raucous behaviour of the seasonal inhabitants and the cacophony of shrieks reverberating around the 500ft cliffs rising from the depths of the North Sea.
It is clear why the tiny island of Unst, at the tip of Shetland, is dubbed a naturalist’s heaven. The sky – now awash with blue – was filled with a wheel of puffins, while the cliffs were packed with guillemots, razorbills, gannets and more. The 100,000 breeding sea birds picking this northerly spot to nest had turned out in force to welcome us.
Just then, Hollie, my 11 year-old, pointed excitedly. “Look out, Dad, it’s coming in to land – mind your head!” I ducked just in time to avoid an overly confident puffin, touching down close by. Before retiring to its burrow on the cliff edge, it stared at us, its orange beak wonderfully vivid in the late sun.
With light fading, it was time to pack away the binoculars and well-thumbed bird-spotting books. Before long, the cliffs were disappearing into the distance but the sound of birdsong remained. We stopped briefly and savoured being the only humans on this wild, craggy headland on the edge of Britain, unaware of the walker marching in our direction. “It’s paradise.

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