It was 8 pm. And the sun was shining through the clouds. It was going to be like that till the winter sets in. The wind descending from the Pole was icy cold. The landscape seemed to be totally barren. Devoid of any vegetation. What was seen all around were Serpentine debris and gravelled soil. I felt as if I were on moon. There was nothing; not even the slights sign of a human intervention! But those poorly developed soil and debris hid away some of the rarest species of plants which require some strenuous effort for their sighting. As I crawled on the ground I recalled how right Ms. Louise, the warden of Gardiesfauld Hostel in Unst, Shetland, was of telling us the previous day that the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve is best explored on hands and knees. Remaining grounded gifts you the opportunity to see the miniature mosaic of the rarest flowers in the remotest part of the British Isles.
Located in Baltasound in Unst, Shetland, the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve is a low, rounded hill bounded by sea cliffs on the eastern side. A cattle corridor in between meant to facilitate the movement of livestock between fields to the north and south divides the Nature Reserve into two parts. Spread over an area of around 42 hectare, the Nature Reserve is dominated by a thin layer of finer soil that nurtures an unusual form of heathland which is rich in wild flowers such as thyme, dog violet, mountain everlasting, alpine meadow-rue and early purple orchid. The scene has not changed much since the end of the last glaciations.
It was mid-May— just the perfect time to spot the marvellous mosaic of colours on scree deposits formed by constant frost shattering and weathering of the bedrock in-situ. These serpentine rocks—a kind of ultrabasic igneous rocks—are home to tiny Arctic-alpine. But you need a pair of keen eyes with lot of patience to spot them as they often hidden beneath the debris, and are camouflaged! After four hours of constant walk and intense search on the rocky terrain I spotted the rarest of the rare Edmondston Chikweed (Ceratium nigrescens ) in its full bloom. This is an endemic plant discovered by local botanist Thomas Edmondston in 1837. It was a great of moment of joy; for Edmondston Chickweed is not found anywhere in the world expect within the periphery of 42 hectre of land in the Keen of Hamar. My camera did the rest of the job…well…by then it was 12 at midnight and the sun was still shining on the horizon. It was time for me to get back to the shell, Gardisfauld Hostel in Uyeasound on the island of Unst.
HOW TO REACH
Keen of Hamar is located in Unst, the northernmost British Island. We took a mega bus from London to Aberdeen in Scotland. In Aberdeen we boarded on the MV Hrossey of Northlink Ferries to Lerwick, the capital and main port of the Shetland Islands. In Lerwick, we hired a self-drive car from Bolt Car Hire to Unst.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed five days and four nights in Gardiesfauld Hostel, the most northerly hostel in the United Kingdom. Situated in Uyeasound on the island of Unst, the hostel is a perfect place for budget stay.