Beachcombing in Shetland: I’ve travelled the world without leaving home

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When ill health took away my freedom to roam, searching for beach treasure gave me a vital connection to my island home and more distant shores

Before I had children, my work as a research scientist meant frequent travel. I specialised in nature conservation and discovered that I was pregnant with my first child on a visit to an Ethiopian colleague’s field site in the Bale Mountains. The motherhood penalty in academia is high, and when my husband was offered a post in Shetland, I handed in my notice in the hope of finding a new job that would allow a better work-life balance.

We relocated north on the overnight ferry from Aberdeen, and despite a rough voyage and sea sickness, I was immediately smitten. Shetland is an archipelago of more than 100 islands, 16 of which are inhabited. Weather moves fast here and there is a constant play of light on a sea scattered with islands. I was excited to live in a place where there is always a chance of seeing a pod of orcas.

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