Taking in the summer

A Shetland summer for the record books

While of course I would never be so sadistic as to take pleasure in other people’s misfortune, there is certainly a peculiar irony in the fact that, while much of Britain has been plagued by torrential rain and flooding, Shetland has been enjoying its driest summer for 25 years. Indeed June 2007 proved to be the second driest June since records began nearly 95 years ago.

The events are, naturally, related. The wind here last month was blowing from the north-east about 75 per cent of the time, meaning that the Atlantic depressions which would usually find their way up to Shetland, were instead held back over mainland Britain. The result has been that, while we saw rainfall of just 12.4 millimetres during the entire month, other parts of the country have endured 20 to 30 times that amount.

The water levels in Shetland’s lochs have been steadily dropping, ponds have needed refilling and gardens have required regular watering. I don’t think we will ever dry out enough to make a hosepipe ban necessary, but this is probably as close to that as we can get.

But before you all start packing your bags and buying up holiday homes in the Northern Isles, it is worth remembering that consistent north-easterly winds do not exactly make for good sunbathing weather. Average temperatures last month were just slightly above the usual, but that is still only 10.2 degrees Celsius, which is chilly compared to almost everywhere else in the UK.

Having said that, it is true that I am currently writing this (on a piece of paper with a pen) while sitting outside the house in perfect sunshine, looking out on the calm blue sea of the South Harbour. Today (Sunday) is just idyllic: folk are strolling around the island in their T-shirts, the seals are hauled up on the rocks singing to each other and the few unclipped sheep in the field are hiding in the shade looking decidedly uncomfortable. But then yesterday was grey, cold, miserable and, just for a change, wet. So it’s not exactly consistent.

Understandably, people visiting Shetland for the first time don’t really know what to expect weather-wise (I have lived here most of my life, and I don’t know what to expect either). Tourists rarely arrive with small bags; they come prepared for anything. And very sensible they are, too.

But the weather here can be deceptive, as well as fickle. For somebody from the south of England Shetland probably seems like a very cold place. The temperature rarely gets as high as 20 degrees Celsius, but 20 degrees (or even 12 or 15) in clear and unpolluted air can feel very warm indeed. And the unsuspecting visitor who doesn’t bother with the sun-cream just because there’s a bit of a cool breeze, will often find themselves red raw by the end of the day and sincerely regretting their oversight.

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This week a flotilla of yachts arrived in the North Haven from Sweden. In total, 18 spent the night here making the usually quiet haven into a very lively place. The yachts that come throughout the summer months, most often from Scandinavia but also from France and the Netherlands, are always among the most welcome visitors to the island.

Photographs by Dave Wheeler.