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A Different Kind of Life

Author: Douglas Forrest
Year: Adventure

There is an old Shetland expression "What’s for wiz ‘ll no go by wiz". It simply tells us that if we are destined to experience something, it will happen. And that may help to explain our ten-year long adventure that began in September 1979.

We were living in the Central Belt of Scotland at the time and looking to move to England to be nearer my wife’s family, but no suitable teaching jobs were on offer. Around that time, I was alerted to a very different post at the opposite end of the country.

An application led to an interview offer. Only two of us were interviewed at which point the other applicant withdrew and I was offered the job.

Fast forward a couple of months and a family of four plus an Afghan hound and a Siamese cat found themselves standing on the dock of Scalloway Harbour looking down on a converted fishing trawler watching all our earthly belongings being loaded. And then it was our turn to clamber on board.

Moments later the engine note changed, and ropes were dropped onto the deck. We were off.

We watched the boat steer a passage between red and green buoys. Low lying islands were soon behind us, and we were out in the open North Atlantic heading west.

As soon as we reached open water our destination came into sight. At first it looked like three separate islands because three pinnacles of land jutted above the horizon. Later we learnt that we were seeing the tops of Da Noup. Da Sneug (Shetland’s second highest point) and Da Kame (Britain’s second highest sea cliff).

Another thing we noticed when we were out into the open water was that there was a gentle but steady swell that made the vessel sway in a regular rhythm. All the human passengers were able to adjust to the motion. The same could not be said for the canine member of the family and at about the halfway point she was seasick.

On the whole, the journey was relatively uneventful apart from that incident. As we focused on our destination the three peaks merged into one spectacular island and as we drew closer, we were able to discern the shapes of low houses tucked under the lee of hillocks.

We scanned the shoreline for an obvious landing point, and it was only when we came within a few hundred metres of it did we spot the silhouette of a crane which we learnt later was used to lift the island’s mailboat out of the water between trips to the Mainland.

As we drew close to shore, we could see that quite a gathering had assembled on the stubbly little pier and as ropes were being fastened, we heard someone call, 'Welcome to Foula.'

Thus began ten years of life without mains electricity, mains water and no shop.