To correspond with BBC Radio 4′s ‘Book of the Week’ shows – featuring of course our very own Sixty Degrees North by Malachy Tallack – we will be releasing short extracts from the book each day this week!
Today, in episode five of ‘Book of the Week’, Malachy reaches the last point of land on his journey along the sixtieth parallel – a small island just off the west coast of Norway. In this extract, Malachy sits by the ocean and reflects on his journey, home, and where he now finds himself:
“My destination was the island of Stolmen, a little further south along the coast. It was the last point of land on the sixtieth parallel before it dropped back into the North Sea and then returned to Shetland, and it seemed the most appropriate place to complete my journey before going home.
Sitting there beside the sea, two hundred miles from home, I thought back to the traffic that had ventured west from this coast towards my own shores. To the Vikings who had sailed in the eighth and ninth century, and who had made their way ultimately to Greenland and beyond. To the refugees of the Second World War, who were carried in fishing boats and other vessels, in what became known as the ‘Shetland Bus’. And then to the oil tanker Braer, which left the refinery just north of Bergen in January 1993, carrying 85,000 tonnes of crude oil. She was bound for Quebec in Canada, but made it only as far as Quendale on the south east coast of Shetland, where she hit the rocks and spilled her cargo. It was a few years after my family moved to the islands, and a few miles from the spot where, later, I would find the parallel.
I’d come to Stolmen by following that line around the world. Once there, I had nowhere else to go but home. I’d known all along, of course, that this was a journey with only one possible destination. But faced with that last stretch of water that separated beginning from end, I felt nervous and uncertain. Would the place I was going back to be the same place that I had left? And did I even want it to be? Perhaps I’d expected answers, but I hadn’t found any. I’d been left with only questions. Ahead, the sky was like a welt, blue and purple ringed with pink. A crack in the clouds brought sharp fingers of light down onto the blackening waves, and the cold chafed against my face. I sat for ten minutes more, perhaps fifteen, and then it was time to go. I stood and flung a stone into the water, towards Mousa, as though to reach as far as I could towards home, and then I walked away.”