Note: I wrote this post on my way to Shetland several weeks ago, but due to dodgy internet haven’t been able to post it until now. I haven’t changed the wording – this is what I was thinking as I sat on the ferry sailing out of Aberdeen on the eve of my birthday.
I’m typing this sitting in the cafeteria of the Hjaltland peering out at a grey sea and a grey sea mist. On the drive here hailstones battered my van; small ones, but lumps of ice none the less.
I should be on a plane flying to the Pyrenees and preparing to spend a summer in the sun. Yet once again I’ve packed my fleeces and my waterproofs and headed north.
Why am I doing this to myself? I’m a person who loves hot, tropical weather and hates being cold. The clue is in the name ‘Hjaltland’. It’s the old name for Shetland and is now the name of one of the two ferries that ply the long journey from Aberdeen to Lerwick (The other is called ‘Hrossey’ which is the old name for Orkney and some, but not all, ferries call in at Kirkwall in Orkney).
I was excited about walking the Camino. I’d even done a course! But something kept stopping me from booking the flights. I told myself it was because I was busy and I’d get round to it. I was a bit worried about walking it in the height of summer, but then I do like the heat and I’ve walked in much hotter places (Hong Kong, Africa, the Swedish Arctic in 2014 – yes really, it was hotter than Bangkok) so it shouldn’t really be a problem for me.
I was a bit worried about how much it would cost – far more than walking the Kungsleden, but I’m good at budgeting and so that shouldn’t really be a problem for me either.
I just couldn’t convince myself to book those flights though. Mainly because I had a niggle at the back of my mind that got stronger and stronger … I was about to turn 50, something I wasn’t looking forward to, and I didn’t want to do it in a strange place that meant nothing to me. Of course I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken too long before it did mean something to me, but what if it didn’t?
Through the niggle my soul home began to call me.
I don’t call Shetland my soul home because it has any kind of religious feeling for me, I mean it more in the way someone might have a soulmate. A soulmate is someone you feel completes you, fits perfectly with you. My soul home is the terrestrial equivalent of this. I feel like I belong, at one with the place. As someone once told me when they were describing San Francisco, ‘my feet feel as though they belong on the pavement’. I’ve felt my feet belong on the pavement in other places, but nowhere so intensely as Shetland.
I haven’t been since Up Helly Aa two and a half years ago and that is too long. I miss it.
I knew this was where I wanted to be for my 50th. The decision was confirmed when I struggled with my knees on the Peddars Way in May (and that’s flat and only took three days). I really don’t think I’m in any sort of shape for the Camino this year. And just in case that wasn’t enough, the pound plummeted further against the euro thus making it even more expensive.
I decided I wanted to get the ferry on the night of the 23rd so the view I’d have as my half century ticks over is of the ferry sailing alongside the Shetland Mainland (the main island is called ‘Mainland’) and into Lerwick. My birthday cake will be a slice of cheesecake from the Peerie Cafe. I’ll drive down to Sumburgh and see puffins and then head north so I can spend my birthday evening sitting in my favourite conservatory in Unst, the most northerly island in Britain, gazing at the sea, watching the sun go down (will be very late this far north, but will still be my birthday) whilst drinking a celebratory bottle of Valhalla beer.
I booked the ferry a couple of days ago and was on standby – that’s never happened before. But it’s Shetland. Everything is possible, so I didn’t have any worries and drove up to Aberdeen today and of course I got on.
I still want to walk the Camino, but this just wasn’t the right year for it. Instead I’m going to visit my favourite places, eat my favourite food, drink my favourite beer and generally just chill. Apart from editing my Kungsleden book that is. I’ve decided to use my time as a writing retreat to try to knock it into shape for publishing (about bloody time!) And I want to go back to Orkney too to visit some of the islands I haven’t been to before. So maybe it won’t be so relaxing after all.
But it’s the only place I want to be and now I’m on my way.
Do you have a soul home? Share your thoughts in the comments below.