Wilmont and my Passport
He had shown me parts of Shetland I would never have seen otherwise: hidden coves where corpulent harbor seals lounged on grey rocks, blinking their black round eyes at me as I sat watching them with my chin resting on my knees…. secret seasides where the tide came in white with hundreds of swans… a strip of wide sandy beach where waves crashed on either side as I walked its length with the sound of a wild wind in my ears. Now as he pointed towards the horizon he looked grave as he said, “Weather’s changing. It’s gonna get bad.”.
Tom was our tour guide, a life long Shetlander, wealthy in his knowledge of the islands, but as I squinted in the bright sunlight to follow his gaze all I saw were a few thin clouds, misty and grey, gathered together far out in the sea. They certainly seemed innocuous enough. “But… “, I said, noticing he had already left to head back down the hill. I followed behind him at a clip.
I had not originally planned to come to the Shetland Islands. But when a friend and fellow knitter wrote to tell me she’d booked a trip to Shetland Wool Week I found it impossible to resist. After all, I was already in Scotland. So The Songwriter flew home to Edward and Apple on the date we had planned, and I made my way up to Aberdeen to meet my friend. We boarded the fourteen hour (Fourteen!) ferry to Shetland, landing early on a rainy Saturday morning, picking up a car and heading north where we took another ferry to the island of Whalsay. There we spent seven hours under the delightful tutelage of two Shetland ladies, learning the intricate techniques of fair isle knitting.
We took a wonderful tour of the island on the day before we left, returning back to our inn with Tom’s dire weather prediction bouncing round our heads. Sure enough, we received an email that evening from the ferry company informing us that the ship was sailing two hours early in an attempt to avoid what was coming. “Really?”, I said, as I stuck my head out our picture window, breathing in the air of a clear, starlit night.
The next morning dawned drizzly and cold. We visited a couple of museums and wool shops and whenever shopkeepers heard we were leaving that afternoon, expressions fell and darkened. “Oh, you’re in for a rough one.”, they said with concern. “Take your seasickness medicine every hour on the hour and don’t even try to sit up.”
The feeling of foreboding was heavy in the little ferry terminal as we left. The few passengers there were shuffled down the walkway as a stiff wind blew the rain sideways into the foggy windows. I swallowed hard. Once in our cabin, I stretched out on my bed, clutching Wilmont, our stuffed monkey who accompanies us on every long journey, grateful I’d decided to keep him with me instead of sending him home with The Songwriter, and I waited.
The moment the huge ship released its grip on the dock, it started. Violently swaying and tipping, we made our way out into the wilds of the North Sea, feeling farther than ever from home. Two hours later I was holding onto the sides of my bed as it pitched backwards and forwards and side to side when I heard… “Due to the expected adverse weather conditions, the restaurant will close in one hour. Passengers are requested to stay inside their cabins. Thank you.”
OH Lord, I thought. It’s going to get worse.
And dear reader, worse it did get. Items sailed off tables, doors flew open. Occasionally there would be a sound so deafening and a jolt so violent it seemed we’d obviously run headlong into something of monstrous proportions. The cabin would then creak and moan as though threatening to break apart completely. Without great effort, I could see myself quite clearly, alone as I bobbed up and down in the dark North Sea, clutching the two items I felt I would need most: Wilmont and my passport.
Either I passed out or fell into a frightful sleep, for I woke up at four in the morning and everything was still. Wondering for a second or two if I was indeed, dead, I peered out the window, saw a tall building and, as it possessed nothing of a heavenly quality, decided I must still reside in the land of the living. Slowly I stood up, opened our cabin door and ventured out into the eerily silent ship. Padding upstairs, I found the crew sitting in the bar, sipping coffee and watching the weather on their computers. “Excuse me, “ I said in a weak voice that sounded nothing like my own. “Where exactly are we?”
“We’re in Aberdeen”, came the proud reply. “Made it here two hours early like we hoped. Beat the worst of it.”
With great diplomacy, I chose not to comment on this last statement, but just said, “Thank God. I don’t ever want to be on the sea again.”
The room filled with laughter and one man said…”Ay, what you mean, lass? People'd pay good money at a fun fair for a ride like that ‘un.”
I left as soon as the doors were opened,
Wilmont in one hand, my passport in the other.