EXPERIENCE: I lived a Shetland Island dream.

I have decided to write a book proposal to send to agents to write my story of living in Shetland as a single woman – in the most beautiful house and also why I left. I sent a pitch to the Guardian for their Saturday magazine ‘Experience’ section. It is below.

I bought and sold a 200-year-old croft house in a pandemic year.

At first sight, the 200-year-old croft house in Levenwick, Shetland, felt like it had always part of my life and I part of its existence. Its childlike front faced east, towards the horizon where the sea bordered the vast sky. The coronavirus pandemic was in the early, frightening months when I sold nearly everything I owned—including my flat in the city of Sheffield—and made the 800-mile journey north to this house that was now mine. I had decided to buy it on a sound, the click of the old wooden latch hitting its wooden casing and the sight of the flag stone floor.

But my move to Shetland was not a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic. I had stayed on the island multiple times over the previous 5 years, and I’d always had a faint idea that I might move to there one day. Yet it was in March 2020, when Shetland friends sent me links to the tiny, jewel-like croft house for sale, that I knew it was time at age 57 to make my dream happen: living by the sea in a lifestyle of creative knitting. 

I arrived in September 2020 with 2 cats, 2 bags, and a cat pram, followed by a few pieces of my furniture a week later. I felt as if I had never lived in any other house in my life. Its easterly facing windows offered ever-changing light and colour, whales in the bay, sunrises, passing ships, dark night skies of stars and the Milky Way or full moons that seemed to rest on the house roofs. The island was there for me to explore, finding favourite spots to collect cowrie shells, taking ferries to see Iron Age brochs and knitting on the beach. I began my creative life of knitting design, writing and teaching online knitting workshops.

Because of the pandemic, no one was allowed in anyone else’s house or car and everything began to close for the approaching winter, but I was happy, learning about myself and living a life close to nature. I began to restore parts of the house, sanding wooden floors, getting the leaky shower repaired so I no longer had to wash in a bucket, sieving the rocky soil in order to grow vegetables in the shelter of the roofless byre.  At Easter, a two-day blizzard coated every window with frozen snow as if at the North Pole, an unfamiliar and beautiful experience. 

I researched the croft house and the generations of people before me, including a woman who lived there for 83 years. She and I had opened the same doors, looked at the same view from the porch, sieved the same soil. I cherished my time with two friends, one in the village and the other 40 miles away, an 80-mile round trip for us to visit each other. But, by May, I began to feel very alone, which was a deeper feeling than that of lonely. I missed my son and daughter, still in England, and I missed my Sheffield friends and the city’s multi-cultural, outward perspective. Then, there was the wind.

Until you have lived on a treeless island where the wind visibly surges from the four points of the compass, down chimneys with a roar that lifts the bedroom floor boards, pins the ears of the cat to his head when he leaves the house, drives salt spray across the windows from a sea half a mile away, and nearly rips the car door off unless you use two hands to open it, you have not experienced wind. Shetland’s wind is nearly constant and can easily blow between 40 and 70 mph. I found it invigorating at first, but it soon ripped into my thoughts and became exhausting.

When I began to go out every morning to see if the barn roof was still attached, I knew that I could not sustain a solitary life in the raw harshness of Shetland at my age. A friend had said to me, ‘If you bide in Shetland, you’ll need a man.’ A partner may have alleviated much of the loneliness, but my decision to leave Shetland would have been the same.

I learned that a place of great beauty alone is not enough to sustain me. I found that I wanted the multi-cultural, open-minded existence of the city. I needed real connections to people who didn’t just talk about me but with me. I loved the little croft house, but I had to let it go, selling it in the Autumn and returning to Sheffield in October last year, without home or job or knowing exactly what next.

When I came back, friends said, ‘well, at least you tried.’ But I didn’t just try.

I did it, and I undid it.

There is a quote, ‘she believed she could, so she did.’ I believed in my Shetlands dream, and I had the bravery to do it and the courage to undo it when I knew it wasn’t mine anymore.

—Tracey Doxey

May 2022

Grateful thanks to Ann Senuta (who lives in New Mexico) for editing this text for the pitch.

if you would like to support me with the idea of writing my story, then please contact me in the contact form on the home page – I would love to hear from you.

Author: traceydoxeydesigns

Site specific Artist using own created textiles, laser cuts and hand block printed wallpaper to engage with narratives of landscapes, social history and place.

13 thoughts on “EXPERIENCE: I lived a Shetland Island dream.”

  1. “ At least you tried” More important is that you realised living in Shetland wasn’t for you and took the decision to come back to Sheffield. You can still visit Shetland.
    I loved reading this account, I hope you can write your book, good luck.
    Merinda

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  2. I really enjoyed reading your piece about Shetland and your determination to follow your bliss!
    It requires courage at ANY age!

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  3. Oh how I hope your book proposal meets with success! I did so enjoy your journey, and also it is a good take of caution for me. I have been so tempted to move to Orkney – not as harsh as the Shetlands, in my experience, but still …and with almost 2 decades on you, quite daunting. I would hate the wind, especially through a cold, lonely winter. All the best to you.

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  4. Please if it is accepted do let me know. I’ve found your journey fascinating. I’ve followed you for a few years and also your journey to Shetland. Which i thought was do brave. Your work is amazing and like you I love Shetland lace and Jamieson yarn. I also produce Shet6 type lace on my knitting machine. Using the lace as a ground for embroidery. ( I specialised in knit at Uni). I so admired your courage in making your move…but understand your need to return again something that took courage. Wishing you every success in the future
    Niki x

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    1. Hi Niki – so good to hear from you. thanks for commenting. we both specialised in knit at Uni. I think we should get in touch. If you are interested in Fair Isle (the Island) I might be able to point you in the right direction.

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  5. Those that don’t take chances like this, that don’t follow their heart, don’t live life to the full as you have. You embrace everything to the full and that’s how we all want to live our lives

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    1. thanks for that – you get it. ― Theodore Roosevelt, said

      Dare Greatly –
      “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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  6. I want to read your book so much. Your writing & bravery got me through some hard times. I would absolutely buy your book.

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