Hanging Off A Cliff Edge In A Business Suit

Shetland Map[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=

via google maps


For part 1 of this story, The Long Road to Shetland, click here.



A cockroach died in the night. Close inspection revealed it lying on its back with its little feet pointed up into the air.

The rooms were awful, located in wood cabins out the back of the hotel, damp and musty. There was black mould inside the shower cabinet. Not that I had any intention of showering. Or of sleeping in the bed for that matter. I lay on top of it fully clothed and used a jacket as a pillow, cold and damp seeping into my bones. I was sorely tempted to go bashing on Jimmy’s door and retrieve his keys. The car would have been a better place to spend the night.

Instead it was Jimmy bashing on my door that woke me, way too early. We should have breakfast at the airport, he suggested. There’d be no argument from me there. We paid for the rooms and left. It didn’t cost much. The girls processing my expenses in Accounts were never going to believe this one.

After a freshen up and a change of clothes I found Jimmy at a table overlooking the runway. Aberdeen may not be Scotland’s largest airport but it has to be one of the busiest. As well as commercial airline traffic, a heliport provides the supply route for Britain’s oil industry in the North Sea.  It was buzzing, a constant stream of helicopters taking off and returning from the rigs. I cast a sideways look at Jimmy through the froth of a cappuccino. He looked tired. Scotland vs. Norway had taken its toll. Not that I would have appeared much better. The long drive, the stress of (not) finding a hotel worthy of the name and a virtually sleepless night. For the moment it felt good enough just to be somewhere that didn’t smell of mould.

We watched our plane taxi up to the front of the terminal building. Just as my Scottish job was coming to an end British Airways began to introduce natty little city jets for some of the regional routes. This plane, however, was one of the oldest. A turboprop that I could easily have believed was constructed from balsa wood and string.

There wasn’t much talking once we were onboard. It was pretty much an impossibility anyway until the engines throttled back. Hard enough just to hear yourself think. And of course we were over water. Boat phobia extends to planes in these less than ideal circumstances. But the weather, thankfully, was calm. On a previous occasion I’d flown on a similar aerial boneshaker into Inverness in a Force 8 gale, an experience I was keen never to repeat.

By way of diversion I pulled the inflight magazine out of the seat pocket and studied the route map. “Oh look Jimmy, Shetland is closer to Norway than it is to Glasgow. Now isn’t that funny?”

A stewardess appeared at just the right moment. “Coffee?”
“Yes, he will.”

We were met at Sumburgh (Shetland) airport by an enthusiastic fellow holding aloft a large board bearing his company’s logo. Fresh faced. Freshly showered. I dread to imagine his first impression of us. Initial pleasantries exchanged, we made our way to the car.. and had barely reached the airport perimeter before the conversation turned to football. Boys, huh.

The landscape provided more than sufficient interest for me. Green, yet rugged. Trees are few and far between. If they exist at all they are short, sparse and sculpted into weird shapes by the wind.

A movement above a grassy area off to the left caught my eye. A huge bird. Some sort of raptor? “Crikey, what’s that?”
“Aye, that’ll be a Bonxie. A Great Skua.” I’d clearly struck a chord with our host. He launched into a description of the bird, it’s distribution on the islands, and how it would probably dive bomb me if I was to leave the car. We were stopped at a junction, about to turn right for Lerwick and The North, according to the signpost. ‘The North’? The NORTH???? How much bloomin’ further do you need to go? Surely the Arctic Circle must be round the next bend..?

There was a pause and he looked at me for a moment. “Do you like puffins?”
“I adore puffins.”

Right indicator cancelled, we turned left instead. Sumburgh Head. The road took us down an ever narrowing peninsula and out on to grass. The car stopped 50 yards or so from the cliff edge, nose pointing out to sea. Soft snoring could be heard emanating from the back.

“There was beer..”
“Aye, there would have been. He’ll be fine here, he can sleep it off.”

We set off on foot down towards the sea. It was a glorious day, blue sky and sunshine. “You’re lucky. It’s rare to have a day like this up here.” Just before the cliff edge we look a path leading to a lower level of grass. “Now we need to get down on the ground.”
“They’re just over that edge. We need to creep up on them. Very quietly.”

And so, in my working suit, I got down on my hands and knees and crept towards the edge. And there they were. About 20 puffins within a few square yards. Waddling along the grassy slope and ducking in and out of burrows. The odd spat with a neighbour. Shorter than I’d imagined at little over a foot in height. But oh so cute. Inching forward on my stomach now, getting ever closer to the cliff edge, one bird was so near I could have reached out and touched it. How long we stayed there is anyone’s guess, but it was very many minutes. I was transfixed.

Walking back up the hill, a horrible thought. Jimmy. Good grief, what if he’d woken and found himself in a car on a cliff top with his colleagues nowhere in sight? I needn’t have worried. We opened the doors quietly so as not to disturb him and drove back to the road.

“Oh, that was fabulous.”
Another pause. “Do you like beaches?”

A quick look back over my shoulder. No discernible change. “I love beaches..”
puffins sumburgh head

via Shetland Lighthouse Holidays

© Lighthouse Holidays


2017-10-24T19:32:43+00:00August 28th, 2015|Tags: |


  1. kate@barnhouse August 28, 2015 at 11:56 am - Reply

    A briiliant denouement, I really enjoyed your ripping yarn! Thank you, Jessica.

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 9:25 pm - Reply

      Thanks Kate.

  2. Julieanne August 28, 2015 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Bloody brilliant. A most enjoyable tale Jessica. Puffins, you saw puffins, close enough to touch. Wow. #envy

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 9:27 pm - Reply

      I’ve always wanted to go back. Missed it again for this year. It’s quite a journey from here and not cheap, but we will one day.

  3. Vera August 28, 2015 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    Excellent read, looking forward to the next part.

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 9:31 pm - Reply

      I wish I’d kept the photo I took of the beach, which was stunning. On a sunny day the sea is as turquoise as anything in the Caribbean and apart from the lack of palm trees, and heat (!), you could almost believe that’s where you were. But the day turned fairly ordinary after that, so I’m leaving the story here!

  4. annamadeit August 28, 2015 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    Wonderful story, Jessica. I really enjoyed that. And, I adore puffins too – they are so cute! Lucky you to be able to see them in their natural habitat, and on a sunny day to boot! 🙂

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 9:36 pm - Reply

      I couldn’t believe my luck with the weather. If it was always like that I’d move.. the Scottish islands really are stunning. Thanks Anna.

  5. Mrs GH. August 28, 2015 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    A memory for ever! You are a wonderful writer, painting a picture in words is an art; and a pleasure to read. Well done!

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 9:39 pm - Reply

      Thanks Pats. Definitely a memory to treasure. And all the more delightful when it comes out of the blue. Certainly worth the dry cleaning bill!

  6. FlowerAlley August 28, 2015 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Such an entertaining tale. Wonderful photo. Thank you.

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 9:53 pm - Reply

      Hi FlowerAlley, thank you and welcome to rusty duck! I’d been wanting to see puffins for a long time, they are gorgeous birds. Sadly climate change appears to be having an impact on their numbers.

  7. Backlane Notebook August 28, 2015 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    A very good read and want more please.

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 9:55 pm - Reply

      Thanks. It was fun to write too.

  8. Alison August 28, 2015 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    Oh, that must have been a treat, seeing those puffins. Will there be more story (please)?

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 9:58 pm - Reply

      A real treat. I’d imagined them to be so much bigger somehow but they are comical. I’ve exhausted this tale, shall have to trawl the memory banks for another. Thanks Alison.

  9. Pauline August 28, 2015 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    Wonderful tale, I love puffins too! We were as close when we went to the Farne Islands a few years ago on our way up to Scotland, something like that stays with you for ever.

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 10:33 pm - Reply

      It certainly does. Have you been across to Lundy? Not being a boat sort of girl it would have to be the helicopter for me, but that only goes in the winter. Must find out if there’s any overlap with puffin season.

  10. Sarah Shoesmith August 28, 2015 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    Blimey – cockroaches are reputed to survive nuclear attack, but that hotel killed one? You did well to get out of there alive! How fab to be suited and booted and hanging off a cliff looking at puffins. Please let there be more of this story…

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 10:37 pm - Reply

      Cockroaches do have the air of being bombproof. This one was very definitely deceased, perhaps I should find out what the hotel’s secret is, lest we should suffer an infestation too?

  11. bittster August 28, 2015 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    I’m loving where this is going and should have expected no less from you 🙂

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 10:39 pm - Reply

      You’re very kind bittster.

  12. Tanya T August 28, 2015 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    That was a wonderful story!

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 10:40 pm - Reply

      Thank you! And welcome to rusty duck.

  13. Freda August 28, 2015 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    Great! (I didn’t know you knew Scotland so well..)

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 10:49 pm - Reply

      Yes, very well. I wish we hadn’t moved so far away or I’d be back more often.

  14. Kris P August 28, 2015 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    I’m glad to find that you got something wonderful out of that trip! I’ve seen puffins up close myself once – in Alaska. The Shetland Islands must be very, very cold.

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 10:52 pm - Reply

      Probably no colder than Alaska! Although there are even puffins down here, on Lundy island off the North Devon coast.

  15. Amy August 28, 2015 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    At least the “unmentionable” – my mother’s longstanding term for cockroaches – was dead before you saw him… I’d say it must have required puffin watching to make up for the antecedents! You deserved something enjoyable after all that 😉

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 10:54 pm - Reply

      The trouble is the cockroach wasn’t there the night before. So, prior to its demise, it must have been walking around the room whilst I was in it.

  16. mattb325 August 28, 2015 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    What a great story – and a great way to finish it off. I’d love to get that close to Puffins!

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 10:56 pm - Reply

      They are so cute. Must find a way to do it again. Thanks Matt.

  17. justjilluk August 28, 2015 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Really enjoying these!!!

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 10:59 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jill. Puffins would make a really great subject for a picture. Get the DP up there on that plane!

  18. CJ August 28, 2015 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    How fantastic, my eldest would have been in heaven with a bonxie and puffins. Brilliant. CJ xx

    • Jessica August 28, 2015 at 11:05 pm - Reply

      The bonxies are not so nice. They eat the baby puffins.

  19. Diana Studer August 28, 2015 at 10:50 pm - Reply

    We went to Scotland, and he went to the cliff edge.
    I saw his photos. Cliffs, are not for me.

    Looking forward to your next episode!

    • Jessica August 29, 2015 at 10:36 am - Reply

      Hi Diana and welcome.
      I can understand your feelings. For me the problem is water. Thankfully the cliff edge was quite firm and I didn’t feel in any danger of falling off. Given that there was water underneath it could easily have been very different. Look forward to following your South African garden, it’s at the really exciting stage!

  20. Hannah August 28, 2015 at 10:57 pm - Reply

    Loving this! Can’t wait for the next instalment

    • Jessica August 29, 2015 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      I’ll have to come up with a new story. After the beach that trip turned back to being thoroughly business like, I wouldn’t want to bore you! I do wish I could find the picture I took of the beach though, it was gorgeous.

  21. pbmgarden August 28, 2015 at 11:29 pm - Reply

    Thanks for such an entertaining story. I have a feeling you have more like this!

    • Jessica August 29, 2015 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome. Looking up the islands on google took me right back there. I want to go again now..

  22. Annie Cholewa August 29, 2015 at 1:47 am - Reply

    You have me longing to be on Shetland again now. We always said we’d retire there eventually although maybe not now our friends In Lerwick have moved away.

    • Jessica August 29, 2015 at 9:11 pm - Reply

      It’s a beautiful place isn’t it. Or at least it is when the weather is benign. Not sure I’m hardy enough to get through a winter!

  23. homeslip August 29, 2015 at 8:53 am - Reply

    You must take the boat across to Lundy, the best time for us to see Puffins was always the May half term holiday. Early Summer is best for bird watching as the climbers arrive 1 August onwards as the birds finish nesting. Puffins look like toy ducks when you see them bobbing on the sea and of course they are brilliant swimmers and awkward on land. Of our six crossings to Lundy – we stay for a week and just love it especially swimming with seals and snorkelling, the reefs around Lundy are equivalent to the rarest rainforest, and once we saw a young basking shark – we’ve only had one bad voyage but the crew were brilliant at handing out sick bags. We weren’t sick as we sat in the bows and just kept our eyes on the horizon but the boat was heaving and rolling and I was jolly glad to get off. You see so much from the boat, Manx Sheerwater doing their ‘sheer water’ thing, and porpoise playing in the wash and if you’re very lucky the RAF Search and Rescue helicopter perform a practise mission on the boat. I can’t tell you how exciting and skilful (female pilot) that was to experience! What a wonderful end to your story!

    • Jessica August 29, 2015 at 9:25 pm - Reply

      It’s impossible sadly. I wasn’t joking about the boat phobia. It isn’t sea sickness, it’s raw fear of being on water. I’ve never felt totally comfortable with it but we were on holiday in the Indian Ocean many years back and had a really rough crossing between two islands. Unfortunately the only way off the island again was by the same boat and the next four days of the holiday were wrecked by the mounting dread of it. I said never again and never have. Airports that have runways close to the sea are also a problem, like Shetland! But I refuse to give in to that or my travel options would be severely curtailed.

  24. SeagullSuzie August 29, 2015 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    A great story, I’ve also been on an old plane in serious turbulence…very scary!

    • Jessica August 29, 2015 at 9:29 pm - Reply

      Very, very scary. The BA pilot was brilliant. He gave a running commentary all the way down to reassure the passengers that everything was under control. That landing was over water too (see comment above), coming in over the Moray Firth with the water churned up like a boiling cauldron. Why do I do these things.

  25. Jo August 29, 2015 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    You should write your memoirs if you’ve got more tales like this, I enjoyed reading along. How fantastic that you got so close to puffins, they have them at Bempton Cliffs but you can’t get within touching distance.

    • Jessica August 29, 2015 at 9:32 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jo. I read somewhere that Shetland is one of the more accessible places to see puffins, once you’ve got over there of course!

  26. Cathy August 29, 2015 at 8:09 pm - Reply

    That was the one thing I noticed about the map you showed in the last post – just how ‘close’ Shetland was to Norway. I can’t believe I didn’t know that – but of course a UK atlas will only show the UK… Lovely puffins – we saw them in the Farne Islands a few years ago – and diving from the cliffs in Orkney where the Golfer was getting just TOO close to the edge with his camera… 🙁 Thanks for sharing your colourful tales Jessica

    • Jessica August 29, 2015 at 9:37 pm - Reply

      It seems ages since we’ve been up to Scotland, let alone the islands. Writing these posts made me realise how much I miss it! The western isles next I think.

  27. Linda P. August 29, 2015 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    You’re an entertaining story teller and I’ve enjoyed reading of your good fortune in being so close to those puffins. The unexpected experience must have made up for the hair-raising aspects of your journey.

    • Jessica August 30, 2015 at 9:34 pm - Reply

      Next time I plan to do it the easy way.. more time and a decent place to stay. Thanks Linda.

  28. Brian Skeys August 29, 2015 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    Walking along the beach towards the sunset, I do like a happy ending!

    • Jessica August 30, 2015 at 9:36 pm - Reply

      Hmmmm. Maybe next time! 😉

  29. Chel @ Sweetbriar Dreams August 30, 2015 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    I love this! I could imagine everything you were saying down to the mudded suit. I would have done the same though to see the puffins. One day I hope to go to Shetland but will make sure the hotels on the way are of a ‘certain standard’ and not one with ‘HOT L’ in pink!! xx

    • Jessica August 30, 2015 at 9:39 pm - Reply

      There’s plenty of choice. There are some gorgeous hotels up there. Just check in advance that there are no oil conferences in town!

  30. Linda aka Crafty Gardener August 30, 2015 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    Loved ready both parts of your journey … got more to share? How about writing a book?

    • Jessica August 31, 2015 at 10:24 pm - Reply

      I started a book a couple of years ago. Word count remains (frozen) at the bottom of this page. But I do mean to take it up again. Hopefully this winter. Thanks Linda.

  31. jannaschreier August 31, 2015 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Gosh, I need to add puffins to the ducks, geese list. Don’t you think you could have come up with somewhere a little easier for me to get to though?!

    • Jessica August 31, 2015 at 10:29 pm - Reply

      It’s a strictly northern hemisphere bird I’m afraid. You’ll just have to come back and visit us!

  32. Sarah September 1, 2015 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    A wonderful tale even with the awful hotel seeing the puffins must have been such a bonus! Sarah x

    • Jessica September 1, 2015 at 9:33 pm - Reply

      They are beautiful birds. Couldn’t believe my luck to see them so close.

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