Most Northerly

One can go no further. My picture shows the most northerly public road in the United Kingdom and this is where it ends. It is on the island of Unst, above Shetland’s mainland. The Ministry of Defence maintains another, private road which reaches a little further north, but this is as far as ordinary folk may go. Beyond the field is the raging sea; one cannot go on without the aid of a boat. Nearby is Britain’s most northerly house, served by the most northerly Post Office and most northerly bus stop which boasts an online following:


This is Britain’s most northerly church, a Methodist chapel at Haroldswick, also on the Shetland island of Unst. Its inside feels fairly Scandinavian with its generous use of pine. In its vestry is framed a letter from the UK’s most southern church, down on Jersey, recording an exchange of greeting.


It feels strange being so far ‘up’. Scotland is 110 miles to the south and the Arctic’s breath can be felt much of the year. In the Bible, the north was a dangerous direction; from it came invading armies of Syrians and Assyrians, Babylonians and Hittites. Type north into an online concordance and nearly all the references will be negative. Proverbs even likens a backbiting tongue to a north wind. There is one intriguing reference to the north, however, found at the beginning of Ezekiel’s prophecy:

Verse 4: Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.

This is the beginning of his wonderfully awesome vision of God. The north is a grim, wild place of hungry polar bears, biting winds and Viking graves. Yet it is also the abode of the Living God, whose glory cannot be contained. Whether we live in the balmy south or chilly north, with the Psalmist we can ask

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? (Psalm 139:7)

And of the toughest of northmen with the stoniest of hearts and frost-bitten souls, the apostle proclaims:

“…so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27)


Hills of the North, rejoice,

river and mountain-spring,

hark to the advent voice;

valley and lowland, sing.

Christ comes in righteousness and love,

he brings salvation from above.


CE Oakley