Walking a straight line
Updated: Aug 20
Brindister, West Burrafirth to the Ayre of Whalwick
This is my response to the ‘Walking the Lands First Friday walk’ along the Honeybourne Railway Line; as we don't have a railway on Shetland I thought we should make a walk along a straight line of our own making... using an OS map with a line drawn on it from our croft house in Brindister, West Burrafirth to the Ayre of Whalwick, a small remote bay with what was once ‘a dwellinghouse with outhouses and a few acres of land attached’. Tracking our progress on my phone app, remarkably the line is reasonably straight.
Walking a counter-intuitive straight line in the heather and bog and rock-strewn landscape around Brindister, with its many lochs and streams, requires a deliberate effort to ignore the desire paths that we would usually take. While here in Shetland, liberated from the restrictions imposed by English ‘rights of ways’, we can also walk where we want, the stricture of our route demands constant referral to the OS map and keeping to our straight line. It also involves a lot of discussion (which, in hindsight, we really should have recorded), as we scan the landscape closely for any landmarks that might assist us to keep in the right direction, and lots of pointing.
Surprisingly, although our line studiously avoids most of the obvious landmarks we might more intuitively head towards, it does pass directly through one ancient hilltop cairn, making that stretch of the journey a little simpler than the rest.
There are also lines going our way carved into the ground by sheep who clearly have a similar objective. The ground is decorated with flowing bog cotton, as we walk the smell of flowering heather (early this year) rises as we kick up the dusty pollen.
Attempting not to veer too much from our line we plough through boggy bits that we might otherwise avoid, but recognising that we cannot walk on water, we skirt around lochs and regain it on the other side. The need to keep on the straight line requires scrambling over rocks and picking our way down steep slopes - with pauses to rest and catch our breath and just look.
Walking like this takes us to places we haven’t been or spent much time in; seeing known places from different angles, we look at a landscape that we thought we knew in a different light.
Our eyes alight on small plants and lichen and interesting textured rocks; we look out at newly-seen vistas and watch slow-moving clouds.
We put up small startled birds from amongst the heather at our feet, even a hare, who bounds across the rocks, then sits perfectly still before racing off again to disappear. Sheep stand on summits; bleat a greeting or maybe a warning. The sound of birds calling, wheeling above us.
And then there’s the bay below us, with a gleaming lapping sea to gaze across while we eat lunch. Despite the cool wind the sun has obligingly warmed the rocks for my cold hands. We wander across the stony beach and find that human rubbish has inevitably found its way here, tangled amongst roots, seaweed and stones.
Before we leave, we walk amongst the ruins of the substantial dwelling house lying just above the shore, its stone walls surrounding what once were productive fields, and a mill lying close to the nearby stream, reminding us that once a family lived here. I wondered about who they were and how long ago, and why did they leave?
Above us on the skyline a figure moves, repairing fences.
A few quick sketches