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Farewell North Roe

We are on our way home to Vancouver after spending the past three weeks in Shetland. On Sunday I woke up and knew I needed to walk to the loch below Skelberry, something I’d never done before.

Randy and I parked along the roadside, then walked down the drive to the South House, where Lowrie Copland lived when I interviewed him in 2001. His great-niece lives there with her family now, and she kindly loaned me her rubber boots - a perfect fit. (Lucky me, at one point I sank to my knees and Randy had to lift me and the boot out!) Randy wasn’t so fortunate and had to squelch through the boggy peat moss, soaking his shoes through.

In 1948 my great-grandfather Peter stood next to this loch to reflect on the past and say farewell to his birthplace for the last time:

“As I meditated on these changes in the onward march of events, another picture came in the screen, real and with clear cut lines. Again I ran beside my mother as she went out on the pasture to milk the cow. Again, before my school year had come along, I plucked the daisies and stuck them in her hair as she was preoccupied with her milking. Again I played with brothers and sisters around the stooks of sheaves and the cocks of hay. And I found the very spot where little sister and I dug out the wild beehive, getting stung for our pains.

And dear, old Father took me to the fishing. I can still recall the first fish I caught - what an event! I went around to all the neighbours showing it to them, and all agreed it was really a very big one. It just looked like a whale to my young, inexperienced eyes.

All those dear memories came flooding back to me. They are so dear, so sweet, I stood by the side of the loch - or rather, where it used to be - reverently took off my cap and breathed an earnest prayer to God that I should never, never be allowed to forget those days. And as I stood on the heather in the little, hallowed grove, dear to me since over sixty years ago when I ran barefoot over it, the spirits of departed relatives and friends gathered round and I could see them all again. And the tears rolled down - rolled down the cheeks of a big, strong, six-foot man; and the spot became sacred - sacred because somebody’s mother and father were there, and brothers and sisters gone on before.”

Seventy-five years later, I stood on the little hill overlooking the loch and pictured Peter standing there, and his mother and father, his siblings, extended family, and neighbours stretching back into the past. I was invited into the Haa of Skelberry where Peter was born, with tiny windows exactly where they would have been. A fitting farewell for Peter, and a fitting farewell for me.

Yesterday I visited the North Roe School (population 18) to visit with the bairns. Then we fit in some last minute visits and started the sad process of packing. This morning we left for the Sumburgh airport at 5:30 am, just as the sunrise was a distant haze beyond the horizon.

Farewell North Roe - see you again soon!


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