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This report is taken from PN Review 194, Volume 36 Number 6, July - August 2010.

Letter from Shetland Malachy Tallack

From the cliff edge I made my way up the hill, following the sixtieth parallel eastwards. Soon, the lavish, fertile green that fringed the shore gave way to low heather and dark, peaty ground. The land flattened into a plateau of purple and green, trenched and terraced where the turf had been cut. Tufts of bog cotton lay strewn like white pebbles about the hill. Shallow pools of black water crouched below the banks and in the narrow channels that lolled between. I hopped from island to island of solid ground, trying to keep my feet dry, as a skylark hung in frantic stillness above me, buoyed by the lightness of his song.

After fifteen minutes or so I was walking downhill again, into the lush valley that folds tightly around the Loch of Vatsetter and the Burn of Maywick, flanked by bright yellow irises. The thick heather faded back into a lighter, leaner green, and on the opposite slope were fields, striped by cut silage. A gust of plovers sprang suddenly from the ground ahead, and curled its way over the valley. Two lapwings crossed their path above the loch, guttering towards the sea with a clumsy kind of grace. I watched the birds until they tumbled out of view, and then continued down to the burn below.

The steep climb into the valley meant an equally steep climb out again, on a gravel track that, according to the map, crossed back and forth ...

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