“Everyone has a story for how they end up here”

By Emma Pearson

June 22, 2024

15 August 2023

Photos my own

For the past ten or so days, Medjool and I have been on holiday in Shetland.

Note One: Despite there being approximately 100 islands in the archipelago, I quickly learned to refer to where we were as just “Shetland” – not “The Shetlands” or “The Shetland Islands”. Whether we were on Mainland or another of the islands, it was always just “Shetland”. Unless, of course, the island went by its own name, which it invariably did. Nomenclature matters.

Note Two: I have put a link to the Shetland’s information website (aimed at visitors, potential movers, investors, and more) at the bottom of this writing. If I put it here, you’d get distracted and not read this piece. It’s the best bit of marketing for a place I’ve ever seen, and now that we have left for and arrived in Orkney, it makes me want to go right back. Seriously, it is that beautiful. At least when the sun is out. And even when it isn’t. And yes, it is wet and grey, chilly and misty, even in August. Well worth the trip nonetheless.

On our final full day, on one of the northernmost islands (Yell) we visited the beautiful Shetland Gallery, featuring Shetland artists’ work, and struck up a conversation with the co-founder, Shona. As we got chatting, she seemed genuinely interested in learning why we had come to Shetland for holiday. I had asked her how she and her husband had ended up there. She explained that she had been an art and textiles teacher at a public private girls’ school in London, and there came a point when she wanted more space and more time for her art and life as a whole, and Shetland made sense. She added, “We’re forever meeting such interesting people. It’s so far away from anywhere else, that anyone who visits has a reason for coming all this way”.

It was an invitation, it felt to me, to tell her what had brought us there. I decided to tell her my reasons for “Why Shetland?”

“So, my reason for having come here is that I am in a newish relationship with this lovely man, Medjool. It’s a new relationship because my husband Mike died six years ago. If Mike hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be in a relationship with him. Soon after Mike died, our youngest child took her life. I have had other losses too. My family has really shrunk.

Medjool and I both live in the Geneva area – me in France close by, and him in Geneva proper. I am a Brit, and he has British roots through his father who, like my parents, was from Yorkshire. We try to have holidays that don’t require plane travel, and so when my parents, who are both still alive and healthy, decided to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this summer, and chose the UK for their event (despite also living in France), Medjool wondered about us using the UK as our base and exploring some of his father’s origins. There is so much of Britain he doesn’t know.

But I know from experience that I find it painful to revisit places with him that I had been to with Mike, or with Mike and the kids. It’s too triggering. But over my lifetime, I’ve been to most of the obvious British places for holidays, often with Mike.

Stunning Cornwall? No good – it’s where Mike and I had our first serious get away when I was 21.

Glorious Wales? Nope – it’s where I spent some formative years, and where the whole family visited about 10 years ago as we went all over showing the kids our roots.

Dramatic Lake District? Absolutely not – it’s where Mike and I got married, and where we had many winter and summer breaks – with and without the kids.

Other parts of Scotland? Ouch. For me one of the jewels in the crown is Skye, along with other Western Isles – but that’s where we had our last family holiday, just before Mike got ill. Can’t go there. Too hard. Not with Medjool.

So it was a question of looking at a map and wondering – based on the kinds of things we both like to do, which is being outdoors in big open spaces – where haven’t I been? And Northumberland, The Orkneys and Shetland were the most obvious places.

That’s how we decided to come. That’s why we are here. Because neither of us had spent time here before. New, different, interesting. And non-triggering”.

It’s not a bad way of choosing holiday locations – “Where haven’t I been with Mike and the family, back when it was intact?” Yes, it’s true that I feel a little mean-spirited, not wanting to accompany Medjool to Wales, the Lake District, or Skye. But I am just not ready. Perhaps in time.

But it is hard.

I couldn’t bear it if he didn’t like somewhere I love. Somewhere Mike loved. Somewhere we all loved.

I couldn’t stand it if he wondered what all the fuss was about.

As a Swiss person, with jaw-dropping scenery on his doorstep whichever way you turn your head, what’s to love about a misty, bracken-y hilltop, with its perfectly formed ploppy piles of sheep poo? And even if Medjool is less used to coastal walks and enjoys their freshness, isn’t it true that it all gets a little samey after a few days, in a way that mountain scenery just doesn’t?

No – I can’t risk any disappointment, criticism, meh-ness. He will have to go to other much-loved places on his own. Or with someone else.

AND, it is also very hard to come to these new places without Mike, without the kids. For by golly would Mike love Shetland.

Hermaness and the gorgeously-named Muckle Flugga off in the distance – https://www.shetland.org/visit/do/outdoors/walk/hermaness-circular

He’d love the light, the clouds, the grey seals and seabirds.

He’d love the smells of seaweed and seashores.

He’d smack his lips at the fresh fish.

He’d love the unhurried and gentle pace of life.

He’d fantasise about renovating long abandoned crofts.

And he’d wonder if it might be a place we could live in, when the kids have left home.

Which they have.

Eshaness and its stunning red cliffs


Holidays are hard.

Favourite old haunts are tender.

Newly-discovered treasures are tender too.

These past and present strands of my life don’t always mesh so easily.

Note Three: As promised, the Shetland website. https://www.shetland.org/

Beware the free-fall into rabbit holes!

About to delight in the very chilly water at Norwick Beach, Unst


Oh, go on – just one more photo… A road sign seen on Mainland, near Brae, where the North Sea and the Atlantic are literally metres apart. And clearly drivers on the narrow strip of land should give way to Otters. Because that’s just the right and humane thing to do.

About Emma Pearson

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