In September 2020, I moved to a croft house in Levenwick and began, more or less immediately, to research the people that had lived here before me. Through conversations with local people, the return of photographs and pottery and 8 sessions in Shetland Museum Archives, I found that the Halcrow family had lived here from the mid 1800’s until 1660. I became particularly interested in researching a woman called Susan (Cissie) b1876 – d1960 who lived in my croft house for 83 years – and after her parents and brother died, from 1916, she was alone. She made the fire in the hearth, grew things, opened the old latch door and looked out to sea every day, as I now do, also as a single woman. Susan was the last of three generations of the Halcrow family to live in this house and she lived through some of the most recorded changeable times in Shetland history. And living here as a single woman can be tough at times.
Through this new frame of mine, I began to write a story of two women living in the same house over a century apart. I began to write and research through my own lived experiences, diarised in a daily practice of writing. I researched a story of Susan, this house and Shetland, juxtaposed with my own lived experiences in the same house and out of that story, I knitted a pattern for Susan. When I look at Susan’s face in any of the photographs that I have been given, she looks calm, serene and has a real beauty about her. The glint in her eye was there to the end. In the archives, I read Susan’s will. She mentioned the Small Holders (Scotland) Acts 1886 and 1931 and the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1954.’ This highlights the importance of Tenants rights here in Shetland and pinpoints some of the most notable, recorded social changes in Shetland’s history – dating from the Napier Commission – right through to the personal will of a woman whose parents and grandparents fought for their rights.
I was awarded a VACMA award. (Visual Arts Craft MakersAward) to write the story of Susan and myself living in this house over a century apart and to design a knitted piece dedicated to Susan Halcrow. I have made a neat little pullover dedicated to her, with her in mind. The jumper hopes to embody the natural elements of Shetland and how serene and calm Susan looked – always smart, usually wearing a brooch or collar when photographed outside the house. The body of the jumper is inspired by the colours of the Shetland seas of turquoise, aqua, greens and all the blues you could ever imagine and I wanted the yoke to be jewel-like. It is a knitting recipe of light, wind, the sea, yarn, Shetland life and a woman called Susan as well as my own creative practice. My creative practice is a way of expressing my life through the art of storytelling and technology of knitting and through the use of expressive colour.
I would like to thank Shetland Arts and Creative Scotland for supporting this project – for me, it is a thing of great beauty – not only the design but the 15 page story of Susan and I. The writing of this work has been a research and a personal journey written in letters to Susan. If you would like to read the story, it is in full on my Patreon site. If you are interested in the knitting pattern, it is available on ravelry (with the story too). Links to both are below.
Big love from Shetland in these long summer days. Tracey.
We are approaching midsummer, the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. We are in the Shetland Simmer Dim – my first fully experienced one here and it is a rare experience. June is the time of year where we are graced with a light until after midnight although the sun sets at around 10:30pm. The evenings are some kind of twilight, a half light in which you can still see everything even at 1am. From the bed, I look out to sea where the twilight meets the sun rise at around 3:30am. Together, these joining lights and the calmness of the evenings full of bird song are recognisable only as Shetland.
For a few short weeks, Simmer Dim means that there is no true darkness at all, which I am accepting as the flip side of the coin of Winter whereupon it is daylight between 9am and 3pm and if it is a bad day, there is no true daylight at all – just a greyness.
In June, time is like a breath. It feels as if the world held its breath so long that now, there is an opportunity for a gentle exhale.
The Summer light in which we are living by here in Shetland, brings us out from hibernation. I have become lighter with the lightness fo the weather. The plants grow at a speedy rate, pushed on by the long days. The cats lounge outside rolling around in the dust. Finally, the winds have slowed.
I find myself wallpapering at 11pm because it feels like early evening then I’m awake by 4:30am because of the fully sun lit day light. The cats think it is breakfast time, I’m up, dressed, out and down on the beach by 7am before work. I feel tired because I’m doing so much but it is not an exhausted tired. It’s a fulfilled tired of living a long full day, Then, I am aware that on 21st June, the days will begin to grow shorter, slowly at first then gather speed. I don’t even want to think about it.
I was hoping a friend would be here on Summer Solstice but I am not sure, so, I will mark the day in some special way – by doing something I hardly do anymore, camping or swimming in the sea, or just by sitting out and listening to the world – not knitting, or writing – just sitting and marvelling at this special place where the season of Summer rewards our waiting. Maybe I’ll do all three.
Today is one of those rare perfect days – it is still, calm, bright, sunny and clear. The Ewes are still lambing, the air is filled with the sound of birds and it’s a rare opportunity for me to get out on the bike. The regular winds make cycling difficult here. I used to bike about 8 miles a day in Sheffield, every day, in all weathers, up the hills with all the shopping in the panniers and a back pack on. Here, my bike has been in the outbuilding for about 5 months.
Today, I oiled it, brushed the dead bugs out of the paniers, loaded it up and set off for St Ninian’s and Bigton hall for soup and cake lunch for £5. Along the side of the road Sea Pinks and wild primroses grow. The deep blue sea is always to my right going to St Ninian’s and to my left returning. When cycling, you see all the things missed by being in a car and I felt grateful – really grateful to be alive and grateful to live in this beautiful place – so extreme that the weather governs emotions. St Ninian’s is 3 miles around the corner from here. Seeing it has never ceased to make me happy, whatever the weather, time of day or how ever I am feeling. Just seeing the natural tombola makes my heart sing.
Back home, Tiggy sits beside me now on the South side of the house. We both soak in the sun’s warmth. His fur warms up. His eyes run from the winds. My shoulders loosen.
At the back of my house is an old barn and a small byre. I dug the byre out and sieved every bit of soil that now rests in two builder’s bags. One is full of growing potatoes (they’re too close – let’s see what happens) and the other has carrots, onions, beetroot and strawberries in it. They may never grow, never ripen, the weather in chilly. Until last night, I covered the potato bag because of the chill. It is still really cold at night – but last night was still, calm and clear. I captured the early moon and at 1am, it was still light. On some occasions, it makes me laugh – just to be here, to see this incredible world so far north, to try to grow things, get the bike out, paint things and make tidy the untidy. When I sat at the small café at Sumburgh yesterday, I looked at the edge of the earth, the horizon, Fair Isle 24 miles away, and I watched the birds rise up and fly.
During the week, I am working now, 3 days a week and I also volunteer another day. I do this to meet people, be part of the community, give back to others and to pay my bills. The work is full on, with few pauses and it’s extremely detailed. I also teach online knitting workshops and manage the online process and am currently writing a booklet about Susan Halcrow and I, living in the same house over a century apart. So, understandably, there is little time and today, I have decided to put out a call for a strong person who is able to help me with the back yard, lift the stones, lay flags, remove some soil, rebuild a low garden wall and help with painting the outside of the house because I am short and getting on a bit. If you are interested in 2 – 3 weeks staying here in Shetland, in my guest room with full board in exchange for helping me with all the stones at the back of the house and to paint the front and week the endless dandelions out, then contact me. If I don’t know you, I will have to ask for a reference. But, Just contact me if you are interested because I am interested in getting this work done and sharing the opportunity of staying in this amazing location with another person.
As a reader of my blogs, you’ll know that in September 2020, I moved to a croft house in Levenwick, Shetland. It has been a busy 7 months, buying a car, driving a car again after 12 years of not doing so, restoring the south bedroom to its original floor and fireplace and to a more relaxed palette, applying for work, getting project co-ordinator jobs, developing, devising and presenting successful online knitting workshops, digging out a byre, sieving soil, learning how to get furniture to an island parallel to Norway, that although is technically in the UK, it is miles away from London and finding that deliveries do not easily arrive on this island.
As well as living here, I have been researching Susan Halcrow and her parents and paternal grandparents who lived in this house for 3 generations from the early 1800’s. I’m particularly interested in researching Susan (Cissie) b1876, d1960 who was born in this house and lived here alone after her parents died early 1908 and 1914 and then her brother died in the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
I, as Susan did, make the fire in the hearth, grow things, open the latch door and look out to sea every day. We both live and lived here as single women.
Through this new frame of mine, my Shetland practice became entirely local (Shetland) based and I began to want to develop a digital written piece with an online knitted design created through my own (phenomenological) lived experiences of living in the same house that Susan had. I diarised my life in small chapters related to the morning or light, or sun rises or moon and frequently of the wind. Through a daily practice of experiential writing, I began to wonder about Susan and her life by researching photographs of her and working on a small colour blending knitting design. That pattern became, Good Wishes for the New Year and it was exactly that – all about Susan.
But, I wanted to develop a deeper understanding underpinned by archival researching of her and her family to write my story of Susan, this house and Shetland, juxtaposed with my own lived experiences in the same house and to share it internationally. This can never be The story because I cannot talk with her but it will be a story to honour a woman who lived a long life within this house.
At the end of January, I read about The Visual Artist and Craft Makers Awards (VACMA) which is a programme of small grants schemes with a range of local authorities and art agencies across Scotland to support Scotland-based visual artists and craft makers in their creative and professional development. I had become really interested in the idea of writing a booklet about Susan and I living in the same house about 140 years apart. And to write part of the story through the experience of developing a knitting design with Susan in mind.
So, I applied for a Visual Arts and Craft Maker Award (VACMA) 2 days before the closing date, and submitted by the skin of my teeth on 2nd February. The application flowed because this is real for me. I don’t have to make this up, it is my life, my home, seen alongside a very real woman who lived here – I just have to find the right way to write it.
I hope to creatively experiment through an auto ethnographic practice (personal experience in order to understand cultural experience) to enable me produce a 16-page digital booklet about the real life of 2 single women in different times living in the same house (140 years apart).
I will be experimenting with written word, photography and knitted design to tell our linked stories and I will also include a pattern design in the booklet. The project will bring together my previous 5 year’s skills and experiences, my Masters, Artist Residencies and my move to Shetland in an ongoing commitment to my creative practice.
Within time, I received an email from Shetland Arts to say that my VACMA application was successful, which I was over the moon about. To enable me to dedicate time to the project, I stopped all online teaching colour blending workshops until the end of May to give me time to knit the sample, research the family in the Archives at the Museum and to design the pattern and to write this work as beautifully as possible.
Though, from next week, my part time job has increased hours and I also volunteer at Women’s Aid too so I’m finding life very busy and full on but still, without fail, this booklet, the writing, research, design and knitting has been on my mind every day since February. I’ve been to the archives 4 times, I write when I can, I have, tonight, just finished the sample knit which has two different sleeve finishes and uses two types of yarn – as a sample, I am happy. The pullover will develop into another piece. I have a wonderful test knitter, Cait, from Cream City Yarn, a wonderful yarn shop and creative knitting space in a one-room schoolhouse located in the suburbs of Milwaukee.
Maybe the booklet doesn’t need a knitting pattern design in it, but a recipe of life in this house, and of knitting and two women.
If you would like to know more about my research on Susan and the Halcrow family, I will be writing a monthly piece on my Patreon site here.
Does the wind become my friend? Or is it the other way around, do I befriend the ever present wind?
Wind roaring down the bedroom chimney to my left, like tinnitus playing havoc with my mind. It is the first waking sound and often the last. No one told me that I would have to prepare for a life of wind.
Alfie ventures out into the sweeping winds, ears pinned down to his skull, eyes squinting to the flare. A sudden strong gust of wind is a Flan. The Flan surges between buildings, finding any path to rush down, taking out a cat. He has learned – he hurries across the tiny road to the shelter of the old abandoned walled garden. How I would love that garden to be cleared, to be made good, to have the time and resources to do so, for it to be an area of calm and growth. When I walk in it, I think of its glorious days when Susan was alive, when she would have tended it, grown her vegetables, sat peacefully with her dog Ralph but now it is all overgrow as if in A Sleeping Beauty story, with rambling roses head height taking over many years ago.
Nature reclaims – even in the winds. If it has to, growth creeps across the ground below the winds.
When I am not thinking of the cracked shower base, the car breaking down and being towed away then the disagreeing conversations with the man that sold it to me, or the beds to order and get to an island, or the 3 day a week administration job, the knitting workshop administration and presentation to motivate participants, or planting the vegetables, repainting the window frames and the inside walls, I find time to move out of my thinking head into the sensing body to be present to what is around me. This is where my thoughts and feelings sit. They wait patiently to be reawakened when I can fully perceive and experience the life I now have here. And, in those brief wonderful connected times, I am free.
If I pick the first year of my arrival and go back 100 years to 1920, when Susan was here, I wonder what here life was like. In some ways, it maybe was easier than mine because she had only the house and animals and garden – we complicate life by things that break – but harder because it was rare for a woman to be entirely alone in Shetland without family. Susan was the last in the line although she had many cousins.
Susan would have been 47 in 1920, although she was crofting as her father had done, she was registered as Spinster in the censuses. For me, the connotations of Spinster are old, washed out, unmarried, without children, unloved women but no, not this woman, her face shines in every photograph. How can we speak to another through the lapse of time and loss of connections? How I would love to talk with her, listen to her, knit with her, learn from her, walk Ralph with her but maybe there was no dog walking then – maybe the dog just pottered around the croft. I worried about Susan and how she made a living – but there was no need of that. I cleared that worry.
To sense one’s surroundings within and around us, to live connected to self and surroundings is an art that grows, is nurtured, is cultivated. It takes a calm heart to fully listen to one’s own surroundings. How fully we perceive and inhabit our worlds and our ability to respond creatively to what we find depends on us being fully present. Our sense of being alive in each moment depends on our capacity to play and imagine as well as sit or touch or listen or feel or taste. If we meet events with flexibility, curiosity, wonder and passion then we inhabit not only the world but ourselves. It could even be when eating that cake, with a view of the sea, and really tasting that cake and really seeing the sea. Or it could be in the darkened archives reading Registers of Sasines, Valuation rolls and censuses as I have – we fall fully into that recorded world. But, of course, this can only be truly achieved when we have had the car mended, ordered the shower tray from afar, contacted 6 different people and organisations to arrange for beds to be picked up from afar by Shetland transport and all the other never ending daily practical requirements of modern life. And then there are the emotional needs – what of those?
But, I wonder, If I did not have these ordinary things that tie me to the daily jobs, would my special thinking, living, breathing time all merge into one and be less precious? I had hoped that my live would merge and that my creative practice and life would have no boundaries. Maybe Susan’s was a boundaryless life.
It is through my writing that I find myself, reflect, understand some of the things that I am going through. This is when I inhabit my world fully. This is where my authenticity lies. To get to this point can often be slow. I start with a thought and the words follow. It takes time. The right time and a meeting of mind and openness.
An unfolding image.
If you would like to read my monthly updates on my findings in the Archives regarding the family that lived in this house for 3 generations from 1838 to 1960, then these writings are on my Patreon site. https://www.patreon.com/traceydoxey
I am also writing a booklet on Susan and me living in this house 140 years apart. There will also be a knitting pattern. follow this on instagram @traceydoxey
This project is supported by VACMA from Creative Scotland, Shetland Arts and Shetland Islands Council
This weekend has been all about a northern Winter, blue light, snowfall, walking to the top of the hill, and scraping the ceiling.
Two of us have had an attempt at sanding paint off the ceiling now. I bought a fairly expensive belt sander and duly plugged it in and hit the ceiling with it. Holding 3kg up above your head whilst wearing goggles and a face mask, standing on a chair, is testing to say the least. It didn’t work. So I started scraping the paint with a ‘magic scraper’ but it wasn’t magic at all, then Nitromorsing, then I paid a man to have a go at sanding and in one hour the entire room was filled with paint flakes and dust but there was nothing in the dust bag and some areas were sanded but more paint was still left on the ceiling and it was all looking very intact with 50 years of rippled paint beaming down at me. He said it couldn’t be done and to go over it with another ceiling. I thought about it. I poked and wiped a little area clean on the glass in the window so that I could see out, heart slightly sinking at the magnitude of it all – then shut the door for two days.
Saturday, I returned to the ceiling with fresh vigour, armed with new paint stripper and optimistic hope. Somehow, I had forgotten the midweek sinking feeling. Two hours later, there is little effect on the paint from the paint stripper and scraping so I pick up the sander again. Whilst sanding above my head, I can feel my stomach muscles tightening to hold the weight of it all and to balance – maybe this hideous act of restoration can be exercise too. Saturday tea time, I close the bedroom door and shower off the dust.
Sunday, I wake to more fresh snow and decide to ignore the bedroom ceiling until I have walked to the top of the hill which overlooks both Levenwick on the East and St Ninian’s Isle on the West side of Shetland. On passing Jimmy’s, I catch him feeding the birds and mention that I’m walking to the top of the hill and the abandoned mast – just in case I never return and I’m either in a blizzard or lost or slipped or dead – I’m on the hill, right? I’ll call in on the way home to let him know I survived. Living alone risk assessment – it’s a good idea to tell someone where you are going when it’s remote and there’s bad weather. In my bag I packed a little back up 1. a newly recharged domed torch that sticks to the fridge and can flash. I figure this is a good idea in cases I need to flag down a helicopter. 2. a foil blanket in case I get caught out and need to hide under something. 3. a flask of tea. No money and no chocolate.
I’ve not left the village before the first blizzard of sharp harsh hailstones, bigger than pepper corns, lashes across the land from the West. I take shelter against a wall in an old, roofless shearing shed.
Even I think it’s a stupid idea and I know Jimmy will be looking out of his window wondering where I am. After ten minutes, there’s a seasonal change from harsh winter blizzard with hail to calmness and a speck of blue sky so I set off again. The blue light is reflected on the new snowfall, which reflects back a whiteness. Pink edged, dark grey filled clouds begin to surround me, there is a faint sound of wind but it is positively calm compared to 5 minutes ago. Out to sea, a snow storm rages. I can see it pouring, sieve like in vertical strands connecting cloud to sea. I’ve begun to watch the shape and colour of the cloud formation indicating the weather in that particular spot.
Only two sets of foot prints have been before me – one of human and the other of a large dog. The pink frills edging the clouds become peach then fiery gold – the sun, suspended in the moment, is hiding somewhere behind the snow clouds colouring the cloud edges burning them into a golden light. Whilst writing, the paper page turns pink from the reflection of the clouds many, many miles away.
I am the only living human on this great hill – I know this for sure because there are no other footprints. Sheep follow alongside. Abandoned snow topped peat banks to my right marking what would have once been a busy place. To the north, the sky is one sheet of orange/ grey, as if fire smoke and to the South, dark rolling fog coming towards me. It is magical to see the earth’s weather system for miles in both directions – doing different things. The southern weather becomes quite frightening to watch – as if a harsh storm is rolling uncontrollably covering everything in its path. On the hill, I’m hoping for a view of St. Ninian’s Isle but the likelihood is becoming slim. I now begin to look for possible shelter – not even a building but a wall.
The ice on the road is frozen like the waves of a sea. Frozen ripples with small snow drifts at either side. The light is blue – not the sky, but the light itself. The ice is too slippery so I walk in the snow alongside.
Slowly, slowly, not entirely walking but meandering, Bowie on a loop in my head, I reach my goal of the abandoned telegraph masts at the top of the hill with 360 degree view at exactly the same time new hail as sharp as nail points stab my face. The wind howls and whistles around the masts. Briefly, I look over the edge of the cliff to St, Ninian’s way down below – a perfect natural tombolo beach visible from above.
I turn, to face away from the instant hail storm then start the return journey. It’s easier going back downhill.
Bleak blue light
Coldness on my back from the chasing wind. The sea, way below, ahead of me is now a deep Navy Blue. The storm sky has coloured it. At ground level, snow falls gently, sheltered by the hill and for now, the wind has subsided.
Saturday, Sitting in this old house, with the doors open for this fine Shetland sunrise, listening to the sparrows and starlings mutter and chatter over the breakfast seeds on the wall, the red light pours sharply in to the house as a shard of light, hitting the back wall at an angle in the corner – a different place from even two weeks ago where light hit the middle of the sofa. I am learning a cycle of annual shifting light.
Light, so commonly taken for granted, is a big thing here. Its appearance is being squashed into a smaller opening by the darkness of Winter speeding in to borrow light’s hours. The night darkness is squeezing out the daylight day by day but sunrise is putting up a spectacular morning fight.
For a brief half hour, I listen, wait and watch to see the magnificence of a new day writing its signature across my walls, through my windows and refracted through the old lead chandelier prism crystals that now become brokers in this arrangement between sunrise and light. The crystals throw rainbows of light across the walls and ceiling. The moment is enchanting. Why not be enchanted? – if only briefly.
I have always noted shifting light, where it hits the walls of my homes, how it affects me, how it shifts around the room at different times of year, how I wait for it to appear at certain times of year and how it slips away. I have rejoiced in it for years. But here, here it is more powerful because being so northerly, the light is extra precious during winter. I have yet to learn of its daily power during living here through a summer where the light fights back to take over the hours of darkness.
This morning, all my world stopped to be in this November moment. Grateful at being able to see the pure light and to feel its powerful healing properties.
Pure Moon light.
A moon beam paints its light in the whole shape of the window across my bedroom floor. Unbeknown to me, light is also painted across the floor in the room downstairs.
Outside, the moon world is brought together by a party of present and missing elemental guests. The sharp light is here because wind and rain are missing. The moon is the main guest of honour. A moon so bright and full that it creates a pool of light in the basin of the wide and deep sea. The fold of the earth, visible through the window, as horizon line between earth and sea, marks a line between moon light and night darkness as if drawn by a spirit level.
After the storm, after the Orcas, the moon paints the sea silver and my bedroom floor with a faint but clearly defined light in the shape of a window resting on the old wooden floor boards.
How can I turn away from this natural visual world that is lit by a full moon guest? To sleep is to miss it. I cannot sleep, or read and although knitting beckons me, the moon light pulls my gaze and I see nothing but tones of grey, silver, slate, graphite, black, white. A boat sails on the horizon trailing its own white light.
To be alive at this moment, here, now, with all the elements in perfect harmony is priceless. Except for the personal cost of noticing, taking time, being aware, being in the moment – given freely.
I write in the pure darkness, not seeing the pen or the words. The white page is faintly highlighted by the painting moon light.
Suddenly, rain arrives at the party, accompanied by blowing wind and bringing cloud. Other natural elements join the party, breaking up moon’s isolated glow. Rain, wind and cloud cover moon – he leaves the moonlit party, taking with him light.
Black ness returns accompanied by rain on the roof and wind down the chimney.
If you would like to receive a monthly newsletter on living in Shetland, I have started a Patreon site for unpublished stories – which will only be available to Patreon supporters. If you would like to receive monthly newsletters, stories, updates on research on this old house and Susan Halcrow, discounts on my knitting patterns and information on Shetland, please consider supporting me through Patreon at £3 per month or £6 per month. The link is here. https://www.patreon.com/TraceyDoxey
This story is the first one and it is free. After that, my Patreon supporters will receive exclusive stories and I will dedicate time to my writing on that page.
If you are interested in staying at Smola in Shetland, the link to Air B&B is here
6:25am. A calm, slightly damp, silent, start of a day, with a waft of wind around my bare legs.
The one star left, after the star-studded sky has evaporated, is high and to my right – it may be a planet, I need to learn. Last night, at 3am, the Plough, ploughing amongst a sky of stars, I, noticing its different position to that when I was in Sheffield.
Here, 60 degrees north, the tilt of my view is different, sharper, present. On opening the door, in dressing gown, slippers and down coat, I’m greeted by a peachy ribbon hugging the sea top and sky bottom, falling temporarily in its homemade fold in the Earth’s atmosphere. Since moving here, it has been my greatest pleasure to be greeted by a line of colour dividing earth from sea – this is on lucky weather days. Some days, there is no differentiation between either. Almost seven weeks since I arrived and my first waking moment has never changed. I look out to sea, to the horizon, in search of a sunrise.
I have renamed the bench a Thinking Bench, rather than a Procrastination Bench. I procrastinated in that quiet garden in Sheffield, here, I view the changing light, devouring its fleeting moments.
This place is not an easy place to live but I am alive by its weather challenges and gift of light because it is becoming briefer at this point of the world. Nothing is missed, nothing taken for granted, nothing is sure – the changing light is a gift.
The door is open. Shetland
If you are interested in visiting this part of the island – bookings are open from spring time for single traveling, exploring ladies who want to experience this part of the world in a safe, unique house by the sea. Air B&B offer 20% off for the first 3 bookers. https://airbnb.com/h/levenwick
I pack the bike paniers for the beach – a place that I know is today in a wind storm. Laying the blanket upon the fine sand, making ready to start knitting the gloves with my online Ravelry Knit group is wonderful moment. It is THE perfect location to sit and knit, think, feel – the sea rolling and heaving in front of me, the bike tyres being quickly buried under small sand drifts behind me. I dig into the bank of the crescent beach and unpack a speckled banana and Christmas biscuits in an old tin, my 5 year old Thermos from Japan, my note book, pen, yarn and chart.
I sit as if a child on a picnic for no one and watch the weight of water lift the surface of the sea in front of me. Waves break and reach the shore line as if they move along the keys of a piano – right to left along the entire long beach.
Sand grains settle on the surface of my tea as if in a grain huddle, in the base of the open biscuit tin, on the blanket in the shape of the base of my shoe, in the threads in the ball of yarn, on the canvas yarn bag that travelled a thousand miles, in my hair, on the scarf.
I scan the sea for whales – the whales that came in to the bay last Weds when I was at St Ninian’s. The weight of the sea water, rising and sinking, ebbing and flowing – covering secrets below its surface in the cold, cold depths of ancient sea sounds.
Today is the first day of my online Ravelry Knit Along where you can join me until 12th October in a group to knit the Smola gloves – named after my home in Shetland. You can ask questions, add photos, let me see your projects. THANK you to all those who have bought the pattern for the gloves already.
Happy knitting, happy sea and beach thoughts – If you’d like to join me on the beach next year, I will be offering Air B&B for single lady crafters, artists and explorers. Message me if you are interested in staying in my 200 year old house by the sea.
It is exactly one week to the minute that I stepped off the overnight ferry from Lerwick, arriving in Aberdeen at 7am on the morning of 14th August after a ten hour visit to Shetland to see the little house with a view of the sea. A long arduous journey back to Sheffield was ahead of me with so many thoughts within me.
The three hour bus journey from Aberdeen to Edinburgh gave me ample time to self sabotage with whys, hows, and what ifs about my decisions to move a thousand miles. Parallel to the broken disjointed eight hour journey down the east coast of England to Sheffield, my thoughts shifted, opened, slipped and dispersed across my lap in front of me. The beauty of the landscape blurred by to my left, without being seen, both on bus and train – I never looked outward – only in. Of course, I was beyond tired having travelled non stop for three days whilst dealing with life changing decisions of buying a tiny house without any idea of future plans.
Now, exactly one week to the hour and minute of docking in Aberdeen, I’m able to reflect whilst beside me, within the folds of the deep quilt on the bed, my loving cat lies sleeping unaware of what is going to happen in a few weeks for the long return journey north. During the last week, so many physical, emotional and sensory things have happened since that whistle stop ten hour visit to Shetland with 24 hours travel on either side, which also entailed major disruptions from a tragic derailment, a heart-breaking loss of life from that train ahead of me, journey decisions on the hoof and scary heart stopping moments of trying to make a ferry leaving the country whilst stranded four hours away form the point of catching it. There were times during journey that I really thought I would not make that ferry for Lerwick which was leaving from Aberdeen – a city on lockdown where I had no place to stay or go.
Here is an extract from my urgent, cathartic scribblings on 12th August.
At Newcastle, I’m told there are no trains from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, due to major landslides and floods on the track. Initially, I feel sick but also naively hopeful – as if it will all clear up and get working for when I arrive – either this is a princess talking to herself about being above all this or more pragmatically and closer to the truth; me burying my head. After conversations with the lady at information in Newcastle station – who assures me that Scotrail have a duty to get me to Aberdeen – (looking back I now think why would the make sure I would make my ferry?) and that there will be buses provided. Beside her, I stand on the platform and urgently call the ferry company – I have until 5pm to cancel but really, I’m being pushed further up the country with no idea of what will happen and no way to get back with a massive back pack, old lady shopping trolly full of precious china from China, a front day pack with laptop and a bag with water. Add Corona to that with masks, social distancing, hand sanitiser, no toilets on some trains, no tickets, lockdown in Aberdeen, no place to stay and I’m already thinking of turning back. I call Patti and mention that maybe this is a sign. She said it’s not a sign. There’s maybe no chance of going forward, chance of being stuck and not getting back yet I naively still think there is a way. The information lady gets me on an earlier train out of Newcastle to arrive in Edinburgh 20 minutes ahead of my planned time. I sit in first class waiting to be moved by the conductor who knows I am there and talks with passengers and leaves me be.
This whole incident is teaching me to not give up – keep trying.
Little did I know in Newcastle, the terrible tragic severity of the mentioned landslides and floods. Little did they know. Near Stonehaven, the train had changed route after halting due to flooding on the line, then hitting another flood or a landslide, it had rolled down a steep embankment and caught fire – the driver, conductor and one passenger were dead, six were injured. The crash had not been noted for some time because it was in an isolated place. I cannot think how terrifying it must have been for those passengers and how shocking the outcome is for everyone.
Between Newcastle and Aberdeen, a friend messaged me and I relayed all the problems of travel and that I was heading for Edinburgh and there had been flooding and I was hoping it would be cleared up by the time I got there but if it wasn’t – I had no idea. She suggested Megabus out of Edinburgh and sent me the times of the two buses to get me to the ferry in time (just) for the overnight crossing to Lerwick and my 9am meeting of the house I am buying the next day. She mentioned a regular bus service could also be an option if there were no buses provided for stranded passengers. But I knew that booking had to be way in advance because of corona and social distancing, everything was stacking up against not making the ferry. In my head, catching a bus was not an option I had thought about or considered or could do. It seemed unthinkable to go the last 130 miles by an unplanned bus. She screen shot two photos of mega bus times.
Five hours into my journey, my sinking thoughts were that if I couldn’t make the journey to Aberdeen through cancellation of services, then was this the right move to an island and was this was the calm before the storm. At that point, I could not hear self-sabotage starting. She encouraged me, she wrote,
‘how many people would have continued once Covid happened? Here you are now, one more push, you are the one still standing. If you do everything you can and it doesn’t work, then there will be just accepting it but if you have not tried, there will always be the what if in your mind’.
This message from a woman who had gone through her own deep searching journey on an island was not to be dismissed and gratefully received.
However, Edinburgh Waverly Station was in turmoil. Of the many Scotrail staff in the station, none were able to help me with advice, they pushed me from one to another staff member then on to LNER to see if I could get a bus from them to Aberdeen – at which point I was turned away and back to Scotrail. Scotrail provided no back up transport on Weds. Not once did Sctorail staff suggest to go to the bus station, not once did they offer any suggestion to meet the ferry at Aberdeen and I was stranded, way up north, in between destinations so I ran, dragged the bags and made it to the bus station in search of Megabus. I asked for the ticket office. All closed due to Covid and then I saw it, the Megabus itself. A glorious shining blue double decker to Aberdeen to arrive in time for the ferry. I asked the driver, he said get on and at that moment, I could have kissed him. Lockdown or not, virus or not, he was my ticket to the ferry. Backpack unceremoniously thrown in to the hold and a discussion over the wheeled shopping trolly carrying precious china that in the long run, meant nothing – my water and I boarded the megabus and I became instantly hungry. How do you eat when your hands have touched many rails, handles, tables, bags, trains, doors, buses in a virus where there is no water to wash your hands? You use hand sanitizer and hope.
Later, when I caught my breath, I wrote: As the bus crosses the bridge towards Dundee, over the Firth of Tay, I feel it – a small but discernible hint of excitement.
As the bus pulled in to Aberdeen, I felt as if I had crossed the line of resilience and built an experience through friendship that stands the test of time. It’s not easy for me to accept help having built a wall around my independence and feelings over many years – I noted – We need to look out for each other, hang on in there and keep trying. I learned a lot from today. No wo/man is an island, we work better with friends.
And I have Mati to thank for getting me on that Megabus to make the last call for the ferry.
In the morning, I dressed on the ferry to meet my house, as if for an interview – would the house like me – you never get a second chance to make a first impression – I already liked it without ever having met or seen or been inside or touched or smelled it. I knew I more than liked it. Maybe I was a little overdressed to meet the house. Silk blouse, navy trousers, packed for another season another place in mind. I looked slightly neat but knew the back pack, front pack and bags would sort that appearance into a more well-worn dishevelled look. It was the first time I had worn socks and trainers since March. My sun marked feet pushed into trainers.
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