Heavenly Hermaness

There are few places in Britain for which it’s really worth sleeping in my car for, especially for a number of nights.  Situated at the top of Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Isles, Hermaness is one of those.  Dozing off in the passenger seat with the call of Red-Throated Divers flying overhead and waking a few hours later the gentle call of a Golden Plover I would even say that just being there can be a genuine pleasure.

It can be harsh though – on my last visit the mist was so thick I could hardly see more than 10 feet in front of me and the long walk across the classic peat moorland that sits between the car park and the distant cliffs was a very grim and foreboding place indeed: and not much good for photography.

This time conditions were generally helpful though and the deep dark pools that intersperse the cotton grass speckled moorland were at their most picturesque.

It’s a habitat that houses the largest breeding population of Great Skua’s (or Bonxies as the locals call them, a name that has stuck with most birdwatchers) and at this time of the year, then end of the breeding season parental birds in ones or twos were to be seen dotted all around, making their usual loud calls as a warning to each other.

Every time another bird would fly anywhere close to their spot then up would go the wings in a threatening display and 90% of the time this would suffice although the occasional scuffle did occur, birds thudding into each other with great power.

Although they were still small in comparison even the youngsters seemed well practised in wing-raising behaviour too!

The real drama of Hermaness comes at the end of the moorland walk though, and the cliffs that lie there are among the most dramatic to be found in Britain: I’ve already left instruction for some of my ashes to spread there when I pass away so much does this place inspire me!  Nestling at the far northerly end of the sweeping coastline the lighthouse on the small island of Muckle Flugga represents the furthest north you can go in Britain.

Here other seabirds dominate proceedings and the large white areas on these outlying rocks represent huge and seemingly ever-expanding colonies of Gannets.  Getting closer to some of these on a bleak and windy evening really gives a sense of drama, the power of the sea and the fantastic isolation of this fabulous place – the streaks in the images are the constantly gliding Gannets moving through the slow shutter speed taken shots.

All of this was a magnificent bonus for me as I was really there for this summers last burst of Puffin photography – regular readers of the blog will know it’s been a project focus this year.  They were there in great numbers too and spending the early mornings and evenings alone with them in this dramatic location really does make Hermaness feel like a little bit of heaven.

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