Levenwick

June 5, 2017

When we arrived at Tingwall from Fair Isle, we took the taxi-bus to Lerwick and picked up our rental car—a red VW Up! rather than a blue one this time—and headed for The South, as the road signs call the area south of Lerwick. We had had two days cut out of our time here by being marooned on Fair Isle, so basically we needed to get as much done today as possible.

Shetland pony with foal at Jarlshof

Shetland pony with foal at Jarlshof

Soon we passed Sumburgh Airport, where we had started our trip three weeks ago, and headed for Jarlshof. It’s a major archeological site, where people have lived for the last 2700 years, and much of the area has been laid bare and exhibited. There were Bronze Age, brochs, Vikings, and on top of it all the ruins of the laird’s house.

Excavations at Jarlshof

Excavations at Jarlshof

Our visit to Jarlshof coincided with several busloads of cruise ship passengers, so it was a bit difficult to walk around. There were pathways and signs describing all of the excavations, and it wasn’t easy to understand all of the various stone buildings but to be fair, the archeologists haven’t sorted them all out either. But as with almost all the museums we have gone to in Shetland, it was well done.

Ruins at Jarlshof

Ruins at Jarlshof

After a cup of tea at the Sumburgh Hotel we drove up the hill to Sumburgh Head. There was a display there about the lighthouse and its history, including its role in the war. But we spent a lot of time watching the puffins nesting on the cliff tops, where they were easy to see and fun to watch. We also scanned the area for unusual migrant birds while having a cup of tea in the café, but there were only starlings. We had been lucky with the weather; it only rained for a short while and most of that was while we were inside.

Lighthouse complex at Sumburgh Head

Lighthouse complex at Sumburgh Head

It was still early in the afternoon so we made a side trip to Quendale to look at the historic water mill. We looked around the gift shop, which had some interesting items, but we didn’t really want to go through the mill. But there was a huge flock of about 30 ravens in a farm field and the nearby loch had a couple of Common Shelducks.

More puffins

More puffins

We found our way to Levenwick and then down the hill to Da Mucklehus, our B&B for the next two nights. Anne and Peter greeted us warmly and showed us around their lovely house. We were the only ones staying there, so we had the sitting room to ourselves. Our bedroom was very large with views out to the sea as well as inland. Anne had made dinner reservations for us at the Sumburgh Hotel for 7 pm, so at 6:30 pm we headed out. The clouds were quite low down on the hill above us, but luckily didn’t come down over the road. It was quite slow driving down the main road to Sumburgh as the road was being repaved and had a 20 mph speed limit in several sections.

The food and service at the hotel were very good; Rosemary had grilled lamb chops and Paul had salmon. We splurged and shared a sticky toffee pudding for dessert, which came with an excellent sauce.

June 6, 2017

We had breakfast at 8:30 am; Rosemary had French toast as well as fresh fruit with yogurt and muesli, and Paul had smoked haddock and scrambled eggs. The weather forecast wasn’t good, with light rain in the morning and heavy rain in the afternoon.

So we headed over to St Ninian’s Isle to go for our planned hike in the morning. The six-kilometer walk started out by crossing the tombolo which joins the island to the mainland; it’s famous for being the only sand tombolo in Shetland. The walk around the island was the usual coastal walk, water on the left and land on the right. Even the birdlife was the same, with no new birds for us, and we hardly saw any puffins. Most of the time there was a strong wind battering us but only the occasional rain shower. But we didn’t get blown over the cliff!

Tombolo at St Ninian’s Isle

Tombolo at St Ninian’s Isle

Back at the car we changed out of our rain gear and ate our apples for lunch. The rain started coming down in earnest now, so we headed to Lerwick to do some final shopping. First stop was the Textile Museum, which was highly recommended, but we thought it was not as good as some of the other museums we had seen. It seemed rather small and cramped.

St Ninian’s chapel ruins

St Ninian’s chapel ruins

By now it was raining hard, so we parked the car near the town centre and headed for the shops. We bought Stugeron at Boots, anti-sea-sickness pills for our upcoming New Zealand trip which aren’t available in Canada. We visited the Shetland Times bookshop to buy the complete works of local author Marsali Taylor, but her first book is out of print so we’ll have to look elsewhere for that. Next we visited the shop which sells soap made from goat’s milk; the soap had been recommended by our Norwegian acquaintance way back when we were first in Shetland.

Dunlins in the grass

Dunlins in the grass

Today there was an actual goat in the shop, but not the goat that gives the milk, that was his mother. But he was busy eating and paid no attention to us. We chatted with the owner for quite a while and soon it transpired that she was a personal friend of Marsali Taylor. So she messaged her to ask if she had any remaining copies of “Death on a Longship”! We’ll see if we get any reply.

She also recommended the Peerie Café, so we went there and had hot chocolate and cake. Last stop was Jamieson’s of Shetland to buy a sweater. The ones we looked at here were not hand-knit, but they were made in Shetland with Shetland yard and were considerably cheaper than the hand-knit sweaters we had seen on Fair Isle for £300. Finally we stopped at Tesco on the way out of town to buy Marmite and Colman’s mustard on the way out of town.

Back at the B&B we relaxed in the lounge and caught up with writing our journals, waiting in vain for rare birds to drop into the trees in the garden.

Tonight we had dinner reserved at the Spiggie Hotel, so we drove carefully through the mist and rain along the single-track road to the hotel. It was small and not very busy, but it was tidily furnished and well-supplied inside. There was a standard bar menu but we had the specials, which were lamb chops (Rosemary) and monkfish (Paul). They were very well cooked and presented.
On the way back we drove around Loch of Spiggie, which is an RSPB reserve, but the weather wasn’t very conducive to birding so we headed back to the B&B.

June 7, 2017

This morning at 2 am it was dumping down rain—it woke both of us up. But when we got up at 8 am the rain had stopped. We were supposed to have stayed at Da Mucklehus for four nights but because of the flight delays we’d only actually stayed there for two nights. So when we checked out and Peter cautiously asked if we wouldn’t mind paying for three nights, we didn’t mind at all. We just asked him to write up a receipt detailing that, so that we could make a claim on our trip disruption insurance.

The only thing we had scheduled this morning was driving to the airport to leave Shetland. But we had some extra time so on our way there we went over to Loch of Spiggie. Luckily we found a moorhen there to add to our Shetland list, making our trip total 79 species. Surprisingly there were a couple of swans hidden in the reeds as well.

We also stopped off at the Quendale Mill to buy a hot mat with Shetland ponies on it, something which we hadn’t seen anywhere else. Then finally we headed to the airport. Checking in went smoothly as did security, and the weather was perfect for flying so no delays were expected. And right on time our plane for Glasgow departed.

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Marooned on Fair Isle

June 3, 2017

Today was the day for us to leave Fair Isle. It’s been fun being here but it’s time to carry on and see more of Shetland. It was a beautiful day with sunshine, blue sky, and very little wind, so perfect for flying. So after breakfast we finished packing up and took our bags down to the lobby. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:30 am so there was no point in doing anything other than wait.

But then it was announced that the flight would likely not go as scheduled. The weather was good at Fair Isle and Tingwall, but one of the aviation rules for our airline was that there must be two escape plans for a route. For us that meant we also needed good weather in Kirkwall in the Orkneys, and apparently the weather there was bad. But they planned to put on special Sunday flights tomorrow, to bring people to Fair Isle who were delayed and take us off.

Fair Isle harbour

Fair Isle harbour

So basically we spent the whole morning waiting to find out if the flight would go. We did manage to go for a short walk to look at the puffins on the headland. That was a great experience, with several of the little guys sitting outside their burrows in the sun. In the harbour we met three Canadians, mother, father, and daughter, who were sailing from Scotland to the Baltic Sea. Their boat was registered in Vancouver but they actually lived in Fernie.

Puffin on the cliffs

Puffin on the cliffs

Finally at 12:15 pm we found out that today’s flights were definitely cancelled. So we were assigned a new room in the Obs for tonight; because the cancellation had been late the staff had already cleaned our old room and reassigned it. But the new room was identical to the old room, except that it overlooked the car park instead of the garden.

After lunch, well, we were here for the day so we headed out for a walk. So far the weather looked okay but it was definitely clouding over. It was rather quiet, with only a few skylarks singing and no oystercatchers for quite a while. Then we got down to Da Water and what did we see? Large, showy waders—Godwits! We walked very carefully closer to them and found they were Black-tailed Godwits, the commonest kind but still pretty unusual. And they were new for our list, anyway.

Black-tailed Godwits in flight

Black-tailed Godwits in flight

As we were admiring them, a kittiwake flew by and all four of them took off and flew south past the kirk. That was too bad. But we told Robin and his wife about them, and they re-found them, hanging out in a grassy area with the usual group of geese.

By now it was raining slightly, but we decided to stay out and hope the rain would stop. It actually wasn’t raining too hard yet but by the time we got halfway back, it was definitely raining. Arriving back at 5 pm we made some tea and sat in the lounge.

Dinner was at 6:30 pm and tonight we had Lancashire Hot-pot, which was perfect for a cold wet afternoon.

June 4, 2017

We woke up this morning to low-hanging clouds, so we weren’t too optimistic about the planes being able to land. Despite this we dutifully packed up and took our bags downstairs to the lobby. After breakfast we sat around waiting, but by 10 am we got the news: the fog was likely to stay, there would be no flights today, and we were rescheduled to tomorrow. So just in case we couldn’t fly tomorrow either, we asked to make tentative bookings for the ferry on Tuesday morning.

But we were here for the day, so off we went for a walk. We headed over to the Gully to see if we could find that Purple Sandpiper which had been reported in the Log, but after spending quite a while looking for it, we couldn’t find it. We headed down to Da Water, which didn’t yield much, but today was Sunday so there was Sunday Dinner and we didn’t want to miss that.

Da Water and the kirk

Da Water and the kirk

We were expecting roast beef and Yorkshire pudding but instead we got roast beef—Austrian style. That was good, too; it came with a horseradish sauce which wasn’t too strong along with roast potatoes, carrots, and parsnips. Dessert was a delicious chocolate mousse.

Orchid flower

Orchid flower

By early afternoon the sun was shining, so off we went to the South Lighthouse, returning via the cliff tops. We missed the Icterine Warbler which was supposed to be around, and on the way back we didn’t see any new birds either. But the cliffs were spectacular, with narrow geos and tall stacks and eiders going “oo-oo” at each other.

4047—Sea stack on west coast of Fair Isle

Our evening meal was High Tea today, so there was cold meat, salads, bread, and cold salmon. A very nice choice of food and a nice follow-up to our noon meal.

At 8 pm there was a talk by Chris Dodd, one of the researchers at the Obs, about his experiences moving native New Zealand birds between nature reserves. That’s a very complicated process but New Zealanders seem to be very keen on bringing their native birds back from near-extinction. It was also interesting for us to see the scenery, especially since we recognized a lot of the locations involved in his projects.

And we were pleased that the Log tonight didn’t mention Purple Sandpiper in the Gully!

June 5, 2017

Today was the day we’d be leaving the island. Everybody was certain about it. So we were cautiously optimistic. We packed up and went down for breakfast. We were scheduled to go on the 9:30 am flight so after settling up our bill Susannah drove us and the two Norwegians up to the airport. Lo and behold, the plane did arrive! It was quickly unloaded and then we got on and flew to Tingwall. Easy as that.

We’re leaving the island!

We’re leaving the island!

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Fair Isle

May 30, 2017

We were (hopefully) flying to Fair Isle this morning, so after breakfast we cleaned out our food and packed our bags. We checked out of our room and then headed over to the airport at Tingwall, stopping along the way to top up the car’s tank. (No problem with the gas cap this time.) Bolt’s had told us to leave the car unlocked and put the keys above the visor when we left it at Tingwall airport, so that’s what we did.

Our little rental car

Our little rental car

We went into the little terminal building and took a seat; not long after that the lady from the office came in and announced that our flight was on “weather watch”. Basically this meant that the weather might prevent us from flying today. The weather at Tingwall was fine but the weather over Fair Isle wasn’t looking so good. In the meantime we sat and chatted to some other passengers and watched the small plane take off for a flight to Foula.

Our Fair Isle transport

Our Fair Isle transport

Shortly after 11 am we got the go-ahead, so our luggage was weighed, we paid for the flight, and then the six passengers and two crew members got into the plane. The flight took about half an hour and was totally smooth the whole way. We flew at a very low altitude, so we could even look down and see gannets below us. And we were surprised that the Fair Isle airstrip was a dirt strip—we’ve never landed on one of those before. Still, the landing was very smooth.

Flying past Lerwick

Flying past Lerwick

Fair Isle terminal building

Fair Isle terminal building

Susannah from the Bird Observatory was there to meet us, along with three other passengers. The drive to the “Obs” took about 10 minutes, so we were soon shown to our room. What a lovely place to stay! A large room with ensuite bathroom and shower as well as a good view. A key feature of the view was a scrubby bunch of half-dead trees, known as “the garden”, which would be a great place to find birds on the mostly treeless island. After settling in we went down to meet Susannah for a briefing about the Obs. We got a detailed map of the island and were shown where some of the birding hotspots were.

Spotted Flycatcher from our bedroom window

Spotted Flycatcher from our bedroom window

Lunch was at 1 pm in the main dining hall, pea soup followed by a slice of pizza with some salad. After lunch we donned our boots and wet-weather gear and headed out. Before long we caught up with a man and his grandson who were going to find a Long-eared Owl, so we decided to join up with them. It was in the garden just behind the chapel, they said.

Fair Isle kirk

Fair Isle kirk

So we walked down the road and looked behind the chapel—but there was no owl there, and not even a garden. But we’d heard about a Subalpine Warbler so we headed off to its reported location. Luckily we met up with another pair of birders who pointed out that we were at the kirk, not the chapel. We should have consulted our map! So we turned around and found the chapel, and just as described, there was the owl, roosting on a low fence in a small bushy garden. The bird didn’t look all that healthy so hopefully it would be able to get some food and survive.

Long-eared Owl roosting in the chapel garden

Long-eared Owl roosting in the chapel garden

Next stop was to find the Subalpine Warbler, but despite there being six of us now we didn’t find the bird. And since we were a bit damp we headed back to the Obs to have some tea and biscuits. We left our wet things in the boot room, which is an important rule there.

Siskin at feeder

Siskin at feeder

Dinner was at 6:30 pm: cottage pie with well-cooked cauliflower followed by strawberry pudding with cream. Meals at the Obs are a fixed menu, and you line up at the counter where the cook gives you your meal. We had no complaints about the size of the servings!

Every day the warden and his two assistants go out and census the birds, covering the whole island. At 9 pm everybody gets together and the warden does what is called “Log”, where they review their counts of what had been seen or banded today. Anybody who has found any other species are invited to chip in; as it happened we had seen a loon down in the bay as we started out, and nobody else had seen one today, so we got to chip in with that.

May 31, 2017

Today was an amazingly beautiful day. No clouds and almost no wind (although that’s not so good for bringing rare birds to Fair Isle). We had breakfast and then picked up our packed lunch and headed off for the day.

The Obs and Fair Isle harbour

The Obs and Fair Isle harbour

Today was a “cruise ship” day, meaning that this morning a small cruise ship had anchored off-shore, and about 120 passengers would be ferried in to the small harbour. There was definitely an advantage to the cruise ship’s arrival because it meant the local crafters would be setting up their wares at the Hall. Fair Isle’s knitwear is world-famous, so knitters would be present along with other artists. So that’s where we went first.

Fair Isle school

Fair Isle school

We had tea and a biscuit from the volunteers there before checking out the crafts. We bought a tea towel to support the local school (which has four students), and both of us bought toques as souvenirs of Fair Isle. But knitted sweaters with prices approaching £300 were out of our league.

South Lighthouse

South Lighthouse

From the hall we walked down the hill to Da Water to look for the Gadwall which was said to be there—but no Gadwall. Such is birding. We continued on down to the South Lighthouse, where we sat by the football field (out of the wind) to eat our lunch.

After lunch we consulted our hiking book and decided to walk back along the east side of the island. The first thing we came to was a little geo (cleft in the cliffs) with a flock of Eiders—and the Gadwall! Not only was it strange to see a Gadwall in salt water, but this male bird had an orange beak, whereas it should have been bluish-grey.

Wildflowers near the cliffs

Wildflowers near the cliffs

We climbed a few stiles and headed uphill; we had met a hiker earlier and were surprised to see him coming back down the hill. He had encountered an aggressive Great Skua, he said, and so he turned back. So we decided not to go that way, not wanting to disturb the birds. Instead we chose a different route up Malcolm’s Head.

Near the top we met James, who had flown from Tingwall with us yesterday, so we told him about the Gadwall. In return he told us about a Whinchat which was supposed to be at Da Water, and also about the Subalpine Warbler which was still being seen.

The views from the top were really spectacular so we spent a while up there before descending to join up with the road. The local shop was open so we stopped in and bought ice creams. Just the thing for a warm sunny day! From there we walked up to look for the “Subalp”, but still no luck. So our next stop was at Da Water.

Heligoland bird trap

Heligoland bird trap

There were two men trying to move two cows into a different field. The men had a dog and a quad bike and they chased the cows all over several fields until eventually they seemed to have them in the right place. As for the Whinchat, well, we didn’t find it.

The Obs in the evening

The Obs in the evening

Dinner tonight was potatoes with pork cassoulet, and dessert was apple crumble with custard sauce. Once done with that we got our boots on and headed down to the harbour and up onto the headland, where puffins were nesting. Most of the puffins were in the water below, but several were swooping past us and a few popped out of their burrows. It was great fun watching them.

Puffin taking off

Puffin taking off

At Log tonight the wardens had already heard about our Gadwall but we had to tell them about the two Dunnocks which had been outside our window this morning.

June 1, 2017

As predicted, our blue sky of yesterday was replaced with grey sky, but no rain. Before breakfast Rosemary looked out of our window and happened to see the Long-eared Owl roosting in the trees in the garden. What a surprise to see it! When we went downstairs and told people about it they were all trying to see it, which was actually quite easy once you knew where it was.

After breakfast we collected our packed lunches and got ready for the day. There was a report of a Quail, so we headed off hoping to find it. No luck for that bird—it’s one of the hardest birds in Britain to find because it hides so well. So we carried on and went looking for some of the other birds which had been reported.

Kittiwake in flight

Kittiwake in flight

The wind was pretty cold and soon we were cold too. And if there were any birds around then they were hiding in the bushes to keep out of the wind. So although we had our packed lunches we decided to go back to the Obs for the hot lunch. It was carrot and tattie soup with potatoes and cheese for the main course. Definitely much warmer than eating our sandwiches.

When we were finished we put on extra layers and our new Fair Isle toques and headed out again, this time walking all the way to the South lighthouse. We weren’t having much luck finding the reported birds, and there was a report of Red-backed Shrike near Da Water but we didn’t find that either. However we found the Barnacle Geese with a variety of other geese in a field not far from the lighthouse.

Golf course by the lighthouse

Golf course by the lighthouse

By now the wind had died down so the afternoon was quite pleasant. For most of the afternoon we had been with other people but now we split off and headed back towards the Obs on our own. We stopped to admire a very sharp-looking Wheatear and then both of us had alarm bells going off… Wheatears aren’t supposed to have pinkish breasts… this was the long-lost Red-backed Shrike! We found it! All on our own! Yay!

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike

On the other road across the field we saw Sam and his granddad looking down at Da Water. They hadn’t seen the shrike yet so we waved at them, but they didn’t look our way. Later we found out that they were looking at the Whinchat which we hadn’t seen yet. Such is birding.

After watching the shrike until it finally flew over the hill and out of sight, we continued along the road back to the Obs. We had a brief diversion to look for a Sedge Warbler, which we didn’t find, and by the time we arrived back it was after 6 pm and dinner wasn’t very far off. Tonight we had salmon, new potatoes, and cauliflower, followed by fruit salad. The cook tonight was different than on the previous nights, and interestingly the food was better tonight.

After dinner the wardens went out to release a bird from one of their mist nets and came back to report that they had flushed a Quail from the garden. So several of us went out in the direction it had flown, but we didn’t find it.

We entered our sightings into eBird, including the Blackcap we saw from our window before dinner, and our Shetland list was up to 73 species. That’s not too bad!

June 2, 2017

There was some rain last night and so this morning was grey and gloomy, although the rain had stopped by the time we got up. The day wasn’t looking very good for the flights, so the people leaving were on hold waiting for flight updates.

Da Water and the kirk

Da Water and the kirk

We headed to the south to look for new birds, as we passed all of the now familiar birds: the bonxies, the Skylarks, the Meadow Pipits, the fulmars. When we got to Da Water we started to look for the Whinchat, which we still hadn’t seen. There were other birders there, two brothers, and they had seen a Yellow Wagtail. With some help and patience we were finally able to locate that bird.

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

While we were there the brothers got a text. “Rosefinch at the Haa”, it said. That meant there was a Common Rosefinch at the Auld Haa, which was just down the road. So we headed down to the Auld Haa—it had bird feeders outside, which was a good sign. Eventually a few House Sparrows showed up at the feeders, accompanied by a female Common Rosefinch. A dull-looking bird but at least its strange-looking beak helped to identify it.

We hadn’t ordered a packed lunch so we started our return journey to the Obs so that we got back by 1 pm. But we did have time to stop at Schoolton to sit on the bench overlooking their garden. We sat there for a while and did see several species of small birds, including a Redpoll, which was new for us.

Redpoll

Redpoll

From there we hurried back to arrive in time for lunch. People were still waiting for flights, but at least the news was more positive for them.

After lunch we decided to walk up to the North Lighthouse, mainly to see that area of the island. The weather had improved greatly since this morning, so it as a very pleasant walk. The North Lighthouse looks very similar to the South Lighthouse, though, since they were built at the same time by the same people. We didn’t see any new birds but we did see lots of puffins.

North Lighthouse

North Lighthouse

Back at the Obs we made some tea and had a leisurely rest of the afternoon. Eventually the scheduled flights did arrive and take off successfully, so hopefully the same thing happens tomorrow when we leave!

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Lerwick, again

May 27, 2017

It was a beautiful day when we got up, blue sky and not much wind. There were lots of things we could do, but we dithered for a while trying to decide which of them was right for today.

So finally we decided to do a walking tour of Lerwick. After breakfast we headed along King Harald Street to the water and then followed the path along the coast past a small golf course to some former military structures. This was The Knab; a week and a half ago when we arrived in Lerwick we had tried to walk here, but the wind had been so strong that we could hardly stand up.

Lerwick waterfront

Lerwick waterfront

Today was different, though, lovely and warm with a slight breeze. We carried on below the cemetery and eventually met up with Commercial Street, where today the shops were open. From here we walked along checking out various shops with the hope of finding a small sweater to fit Edith, Paula’s new granddaughter. After numerous shops we came upon one which had small hand-knit sweaters in the Fair Isle pattern but the wool was very scratchy, so a small child wouldn’t want to wear it. Previously we had been told that Fair Isle knits were very itchy and after actually feeling one we agreed. After those shops we looked in a couple of charity shops to see if they had any good books, but we didn’t see anything we wanted.

Jamieson’s of Shetland Knitwear

Jamieson’s of Shetland Knitwear

However it wasn’t time to buy souvenirs yet, so we continued on to the Shetland Museum, which had been rated very highly. And it was yet another well-laid-out and well-planned museum, with interesting sections from the geology of the islands to knitting and lace-making. Two floors of exhibits, which were comprehensive but not overwhelming. At the knitting display there was a computer where you could make your own Shetland sweater design; Paul’s turned out to be… well, the English word for it is “ghastly”.

Lerwick community centre

Lerwick community centre

We had lunch at the hostel and then dithered some more. But Paul finally suggested that we drive out to Kergord to find the Rooks, in Shetland’s one and only forest. On the way we filled the car up with petrol, which turned out to be harder than we thought. Finally we had to ask for help because we couldn’t figure out how to unlock the gas cap, despite reading the owner’s manual. (The trick is to leave the key in the lock while unscrewing the gas cap.) But that was all right, we had plenty of time.

Kergord House

Kergord House

The Weisdale valley was really lovely, green with several lochs. Once we reached Weisdale it was easy to see where we were going because the rooks were nesting in small forests around Kergord House. This was another Shetland Bus connection; it had been used as the headquarters for the operation for a while, but now it’s just an ordinary country house. There were over 30 nests all clustered together and there were a lot of rooks flying around.

Rooks near their nest

Rooks near their nest

We parked outside Kergord House and walked along the road, where we could hear a forest bird singing. The song sounded sort of familiar but finally Rosemary spotted it and identified it as a Chaffinch. An extremely common bird throughout Britain but we were saying “Woo-hoo! Chaffinch!” because it was new to our Shetland list.

Kergord House woods

Kergord House woods

On the way back to Lerwick we stopped at the Weisdale Mill, which used to be for grinding corn. It was built in 1855 and was Shetland’s largest corn mill, and now it’s an art gallery and café. We briefly looked at the art displays and then carried on.

We had dinner at the hostel, and after dinner Rosemary e-mailed the Mousa boat people to see if there was space on tonight’s trip to the island to see the storm petrels. We did have a reservation for later in the month but today’s weather looked ideal. And luckily for us, two hours later a reply came back saying yes there was, and we had the last two seats on the boat. So we just needed to be down in Sandwick by 10 pm.

So we drove down to Sandwick, arriving well before departure time. We met two other early arrivals and stood around chatting with them, as well as watching two families of eiders with their young out on the seaweed-covered rocks. The babies were very tiny, suggesting that they had hatched recently.

Eventually the rest of the passengers arrived—all 60 of them including two groups in large vans—and the boat took us all over to Mousa. It was amazing how light it was, considering it was 10:40 pm when we landed on the island. The boat captain gave us a brief talk about the storm petrels and then we set off along the trail to the broch. Along the way we stopped to listen for the peculiar murmuring of the storm petrels coming from their nests in stone walls and on the beaches.

The Mousa boat

The Mousa boat

As we approached the broch we could see them zipping around and around like bats, and when they found their mate they would quickly zip into the gap in the rocks. But you could never get a good look at them. It was a very amazing experience and well worth staying up for.

When the boat got back to Sandwick the mist had come down to ground level. So driving back to Lerwick was definitely more challenging. The single-track road from Sandwick up to the main road had no white lines at the side, so that was a bit stressful, but the main road was well-marked and even had street lights a lot of the way. We finally got to bed at 1:30 am.

May 28, 2017

We woke up wanting more sleep after yesterday’s late-night excursion, but we couldn’t really sleep in because the cleaners start their rounds at 9:30 am! So we dragged ourselves out of bed and had breakfast, after which we headed out on today’s excursion.

Our plan today was to drive out to Vidlin and Lunna to see another place which was used during the Shetland Bus operation. The weather was definitely not as nice as yesterday, with grey skies, wind, but no rain. Nothing is very far away in the islands so our drive up the A970 to Voe and along the B-road to Laxo and then the single-track road to Lunna only took about half an hour.

Lunna Kirk

Lunna Kirk

Lunna House was another place where Norwegian saboteurs planned their raids during the war, but repair facilities were too far away so the operation was moved elsewhere. Today it’s a private house—big, grey, and grim-looking. Next to it was Lunna Kirk, the oldest church in Shetland which is still in use. Today was Sunday and there was no service, but it was clear that services did take place sometimes. The interior was lovely and simple and fitted the area perfectly.

Lunna House

Lunna House

Our hiking book had a walk around Lunna Ness, and along the road we came across the access point for the walk. If the day had been better we might have attempted the whole route, but there was a strong north wind and both of us were tired after last night’s excursion so we opted for a shorter version.

Hiking to the Stanes of Stofast

Hiking to the Stanes of Stofast

Our hike started off following a cart track which took us over the hill and down to the water. From here we followed the coastline, passing several small lochs, until we could see our objective, the Stanes of Stofast. These large rocks were glacial erratics which over time had split apart. They were at least mildly interesting, although the rest of the walk had been pretty dull. When we got back to the car we found our walk had been only 4 km, which was more our speed today!

The Stanes of Stofast

The Stanes of Stofast

On the way back we stopped at The Cabin, which is a small museum in Vidlin devoted to wartime memorabilia. We were greeted warmly by the volunteer, who offered us tea or coffee and a biscuit. We chatted with him for about half an hour about all sorts of things—it turned out he had worked for BP and he had worked with the husband of Marcia, whose B&B we had stayed in at Hillswick.

It’s amazing how well people took care of their old military uniforms after the war ended. The uniforms in the museum looked like they had been freshly ironed just yesterday! However the other exhibits were a bit slapdash and many of the labels were hard or impossible to read.

Back at the hostel we cooked up our dinner and then just relaxed for the rest of the evening. Bedtime was much earlier tonight.

May 29, 2017

We were up at our usual time to have breakfast, make a lunch, and head out. There was no wind or rain today and it was looking good for our hike on Muckle Roe. To get there we followed the A970 to Brae and then turned off a secondary road. We followed this road over a small bridge to the end at West Ayre, where there was a helpful sign saying “End of Public Road” and another one saying “Car Park”. There’s nothing worse than hikers blocking people’s driveways!

So after putting on our boots we headed off on the path, which was easy to locate. Today there was another car there, with another couple just setting out on the trail. This was the first time we’d set out on a Shetland trail with other walkers. As on other hikes, we kept the sea on our left at all times.

Muckle Roe near the lighthouse

Muckle Roe near the lighthouse

Despite the clouds, the view towards the other islands was good. Across the water was a big island, which was Papa Stour. To the right, easily visible with binoculars, were the Ve Skerries with their lighthouse, and farther out, barely visible, were what looked like oil drilling platforms. We saw the usual birds: lots of fulmars on the cliffs, and a surprising number of Black Guillemots offshore; we were also surprised that there were almost no starlings in the area. When we came to the lighthouse our guidebook started to confuse us, but eventually we ignored its instructions and just followed the path already worn by many other walkers.

Thrift flowers on the cliffs

Thrift flowers on the cliffs

We ate lunch on a hill overlooking Stromness in a lovely sheltered spot. From this spot we could see the Hillswick peninsula and along to Esha Ness. It was interesting looking at where we had been on previous days.

View towards Hillswick Ness

View towards Hillswick Ness

The trail headed down to the coast now, to South Ham, which was a cove with a beach. There was also a North Ham, which we walked to next, which was also a cove with a beach. This cove had very small sea arches in the big cliff next to it.

North Ham sea arches

North Ham sea arches

The way back was quite straightforward because we followed a cart track all the way. The only mistake we made was not consulting the guidebook, so instead of turning right at a junction we continued on the cart track. But this only meant that we had to walk back along the road a bit to reach the car. We did see a loon on one of the larger lochs along the track, though.

Twite on a fencepost

Twite on a fencepost

Our lunch had been small so we were hungry when we got back to the car, even though it was only 3:30 pm. And then we remembered that we would be driving back through Brae, home of Frankie’s Fish and Chips. It’s labelled as Britain’s most northerly fish-and-chip shop so we thought we should make a point of going there. So we stopped there at 4 pm and this time there was a table for us. Rosemary sat on the north side of the table so she was Britain’s northernmost fish-and-chip shop customer!

The fish and chips were quite good, and Frankie’s had won some awards, but we aren’t really connoisseurs. However the fish wasn’t greasy so it must have been good.

Back at the hostel we had tea and the last of our Tunnock’s biscuits. Our unplanned dinner out had upended our hostel food planning, so we’d have a few things to leave in the free food bin tomorrow before leaving for Fair Isle.

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Hillswick

May 24, 2017

We caught the 3 pm ferry from Yell to Mainland and headed towards Hillswick. Tonight we were staying at Almara B&B in Upper Urafirth, near Hillswick, and we had instructions on getting there but they were based on coming from Lerwick. So we made a wrong turn, or failed to make a correct turn, and ended up at the oil terminal. However we figured out where we needed to go, turned around, and then it was quite easy to find Marcia’s place after all.

We hadn’t really noticed that the clouds were thickening but just as we arrived at the B&B the drizzle started to fall. But it was only drizzle, nothing serious. Our room was quite large and we had plenty of space to unload our stuff, so we got settled in and made some tea.

St. Magnus Bay Hotel

St. Magnus Bay Hotel

The only drawback of staying here was that there were no restaurants within walking distance, so we would have to drive somewhere for dinner. There weren’t many options, so we decided Frankie’s Fish and Chips in Brae would be okay. But when we got there at 5:30 pm their tables were all booked up and they couldn’t seat us until 7 pm. We hadn’t expected that! So for Plan B we went back to Hillswick, to the St. Magnus Bay Hotel. In hindsight this turned out to be a good choice because Rosemary could just have a large bowl of soup.

We went to bed early, hoping to catch up on some of last night’s missed sleep.

May 25, 2017

Rosemary had a good night’s sleep last night so today she felt more alive. Still not well but at least able to function. We had breakfast at 8 am, as this was the latest that Marcia would serve guests; there were three other guests so we met two Americans from Virginia and Stefan from Germany. Stefan was cycling the North Sea Cycle Route and the Americans were struggling with the standard transmission in their rental car! We had a pleasant time chatting with everyone while eating our tasty breakfast.

Ringed Plover on the beach

Ringed Plover on the beach

After breakfast we drove down to Hillswick, planning to walk the circular path around Hillswick Ness. But part of Hillswick was closed off because they were filming part of an episode of the TV show “Shetland”. But the car park guy said it was okay to park down at the end past all of their vehicles, and that worked fine for us.

Hillswick with film crew vehicles

Hillswick with film crew vehicles

We went on the walk first because the weather was reasonably good. And we had parked right by the old manse, which is basically where the path starts. There isn’t actually a path as such around the point, but the route is easy enough to follow: water on the left, land on the right. The terrain was easy to walk on as well because previous walkers had left a track of sorts to follow. So we weren’t floundering in any bogs.

Geo with sea arch

Geo with sea arch

The cloud cover was fairly low so anything in the distance was obscured, but for looking at birds this was fine. Every little geo (small bay with cliffy sides) had a group of fulmars sitting there, possibly nesting but we couldn’t tell. By the end of the walk we had counted over 300 of them! We didn’t see any puffins, though, and later our hostess Marcia told us that there weren’t enough fish locally to support them.

Fulmar on the cliffs

Fulmar on the cliffs

As we walked the clouds over the hills started to clear and the sun came out a bit, so that made the walk even better. We passed the lighthouse and then came to a geo with a view of a tall sea stack. We’d seen a picture of this stack at our B&B. Farther out was a strange-looking multi-pronged sea stack which was named The Drongs. Such a cool view!

The Drongs

The Drongs

The walk was only 8.2 kilometers so we got back to Hillswick in time for lunch. We stopped in at the little store and bought some juice boxes, crisps, and some Orkney cheddar biscuits. By now it was sunny so we sat down at the water’s edge next to the film shoot and ate our lunch. The film shoot consisted of a crew of about 30 people filming about 30 seconds of dialog. After they were finished, things went back to normal and a woman came out to let her little dog charge along the beach.

For dinner we went back to the St. Magnus Bay Hotel’s restaurant. Tonight Rosemary had the lamb shank and Paul had fish and chips. We splurged and had sticky toffee pudding for dessert, and it was actually quite good. Next to us was a man who was also at our B&B. He was from Inverness and he was here to climb Marilyns. Today was Ronas Hill, tomorrow would be Vord Hill on Fetlar. He was rather apologetic about it but we assured him that we understood obsessive listing activities!

May 26, 2016

We were up early to have breakfast at 8 am, then we packed up our bags and said goodbye to Marcia. We were heading back to Lerwick for a few days before flying to Fair Isle, but not until later in the afternoon. Our plan was to walk around Esha Ness, which was not far from the B&B. The day was looking good so far and Marcia told us that the forecast was for warm weather, perhaps with record high temperatures. (That would mean 19°C in this area.)

Esha Ness lighthouse

Esha Ness lighthouse

The start of our walk was at the Esha Ness lighthouse. We got started at 9:30 am and walked along the edge of the cliffs, which were very wild and spectacular with many and varied geos cutting into them. There were lots of birds (mostly fulmars) and several wildflowers. At the end of the cliffs we came across a group of kittiwakes. They have been in decline for a while and so we were glad to see them: they were the last regular seabird species missing from our list!

Cormorant with young of the year

Cormorant with young of the year

From the small hamlet of Ure the route took us along a minor road, which eventually led across the peninsula to Tangwick. There we found Tangwick Haa, a former laird’s house which had been converted into a museum. We went into the museum to use the toilets but, more importantly, to get a cup of tea. We made the tea and got some biscuits, left a donation, and went outside to set at a picnic table in the enclosed garden. By now we were hungry so the tea was very welcome.

General store display in Tangwick Haa

General store display in Tangwick Haa

The lady in the museum was very friendly and welcoming, but in the end we only bought a tea towel from the gift shop. The museum was well done; there were three areas upstairs. One was arranged like an old general store, another like the laird’s sitting room, and the third was devoted to some of the locals. Especially to local boy Tom Anderson who became a big name in Shetland fiddling.

Dore Holm, drinking-horse sea arch

Dore Holm, drinking-horse sea arch

The next section of our walk had us walking along the coast back towards the lighthouse. For once we found that we were too hot rather than too cold! And when we got back to the lighthouse, avoiding the area being defended by terns, we found a number of other tourists there. This was also a new concept for us, but then today was the Friday before a long weekend.

The drive back to Lerwick was a bit tedious, but fortunately it was only 30 miles so it didn’t take long. We checked into the hostel, headed over to the Co-op to buy groceries, and made dinner before the rush started. It was lucky that we did that because there was quite a large group making dinner after we were done. We also did some laundry, so now we are stocked up with clean clothes.

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Yell

May 23, 2017

We woke up to grey skies and drizzle this morning, and Rosemary now had the sore throat which had been the start of Paul’s cold. Now both of us had it.

The Davids had already breakfasted and were on their way, so we were on our own. We started off with creamy porridge with Lyle’s Golden Syrup, very yummy, and this was followed by a poached egg, bacon, mushrooms, and tomatoes. A great way to start the day!

The rain wasn’t heavy rain, but it was predicted to last most of the day, so we gathered up our rain gear before heading out. Our plan was to drive to Burravoe, using the side road from Mid Yell, stopping at a few places on the way. The single-track road ran up and down over the moors, occasionally passing small settlements. We’d been told about the Aywick Store so we had to stop and see that. It was a big building with many rooms full of various products. One room had only greeting cards, but they overflowed into the next room which was for gardening equipment. We were very impressed, but we didn’t need anything so we carried on.

The White Wife of Otterswick

The White Wife of Otterswick

We also stopped in Otterswick to see the White Wife, which is the figurehead from a ship that had been wrecked on the coast in 1924. It was just a short walk through the sheep pastures, and luckily the rain had already stopped. It was odd to see a monument in such an obscure place.

Old Haa, Burravoe

Old Haa, Burravoe

Down at Burravoe we stopped at the Old Haa, where we went through the museum before having tea and cake. That was plenty for lunch! There was also an art gallery and a small shop, where Rosemary purchased a hand-knit pair of gloves. After leaving the museum we drove a small distance down to the harbour so that we could go on the walk that Anne from our B&B had told us about.

Headland outside Burravoe

Headland outside Burravoe

The walk took us around the shores of the small harbour, past an abandoned house and out onto a peninsula. By now the sun was shining, but it was windy so it wasn’t all that warm. The views were quite good, both out to sea and towards the other islands. After finishing that part of the walk we climbed up to the cliffs to see the many seabirds. There were several hundred fulmars, with one razorbill and a few murres in the mix. No puffins to be seen, though. After watching for a while we followed some waymarks which took us out to the road, past a Shetland pony who came over to say hello, and back to the car. It was a lovely walk, especially since the weather was good.

Friendly Shetland pony

Friendly Shetland pony

It was now mid-afternoon so we headed back to Gutcher to have some more tea and cake, and to get some rest. At 6:30 pm Peter brought our soup, which was followed by the main course. The plates were heaping—two pork chops, four potatoes, peas and carrots and cooked cabbage. Way too much food! Dessert was a rhubarb crumble topped with custard. Both of us were stuffed to the gills.

May 24, 2017

After a bad night’s sleep we got up just in time for our 8:30 am breakfast. Today it was goodbye to the Old Post Office and on to the next place; but first we headed out to North Yell. Our plan was to drive up to Gloup to see the memorial which had been erected for 58 fishermen who were lost at sea in powerful storms in 1881. We could drive almost all the way to the memorial, which was good because Rosemary was very tired. Originally we had planned to do a hike starting at the memorial, but that got scratched off the itinerary.

Gloup Memorial

Gloup Memorial

So instead we got back into the car and headed back towards Gutcher. We stopped at the nearby Breckon Sands, where again we parked by a farm house and climbed over stiles to do a walk. Down among the marram grass by the beach it even felt a bit warm, but we weren’t tempted to go swimming. We also followed a narrow road which was supposed to take us to a broch, but when we came to the end of the road we couldn’t really figure out what path to take.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover

Once again back in the car we headed towards the ferry to Mainland. We stopped at West Sandwick for lunch and to look for birds, but there weren’t that many. We did find a Mute Swan on a loch there, so that increased our Shetland list by one. We were booked to go on the 3 pm ferry, which was a couple of hours away, so since we were both tired we actually had a nap in the car.

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Fetlar

May 21, 2017

We were up at 8 am this morning; the weather looked promising for the day. Our ferry to Gutcher, on Yell, was at 9:30 am so we headed over there just after 9 am and we were first in line. The sign at the dock said “Bookings only” and we thought “Good thing we made a booking or they wouldn’t let us on”. But later we found out that the sign really meant “The ferry won’t run unless somebody made a booking”. As it was, there were only three cars on our trip. And while we waited for the ferry we added a new bird to our list, the White Wagtail.

Yell Sound ferry

Yell Sound ferry

In Gutcher we had an hour to wait for our ferry to Fetlar, but there was a pair of Red-throated Loons just offshore, close enough to see their red throats properly, and in the loch behind the Old Post Office Rosemary found a small flock of Whooper Swans, also new for our list. We would be staying at the Old Post Office tomorrow night, and we met the owners, Anne and Peter, outside. We chatted for a while and they invited us in for tea while we were waiting.

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans

The ferry trip to the island of Fetlar took 25 minutes, and when we landed we headed off along the single-track road which is Fetlar’s main highway. It was nearly sunny and very quiet, with no other cars on the road. We stopped at the Fetlar Interpretive Centre, but we were too early for the opening time.

While on Fetlar we hoped to see the Red-necked Phalarope, which nests on the island. So we headed to the Loch of Funzie (pronounced Finnie) to look for them. There were no phalaropes in the loch, but there was an RSPB hide nearby, overlooking some small ponds. This was a good place to eat our lunch while waiting for the little birds to show up. Well, we spent about an hour at the hide, chatting with another couple, but no phalaropes showed up. And nobody had written about phalaropes in the hide’s log book either. Maybe we were too early.

Coast of Fetlar

Coast of Fetlar

So we walked back to the car and continued to the end of the island to hike to a folly built by Sir Arthur Nicolson, the laird of Fetlar who evicted most of the crofters from the island. We parked at the farm at Everland and asked the farmer for directions. He pointed us in the right direction so off we went, and his dog came along with us. She was a sheep-herding dog who tried to round up the sheep and lambs as we passed them. She also tried several times to catch rabbits but luckily (for us) she didn’t catch any.

Our walking companion

Our walking companion

The weather by now was sunny and warm and the scenery was beautiful. Before going to the folly we went down to the beach and then climbed the hill up to it. It was a just a ruin now, but it is said that it was originally built of stones from the croft houses that Nicolson cleared out. Only a couple of Greek columns were left standing. The dog was still with us and she almost caught a fulmar there. Luckily she didn’t catch that either—a fulmar will vomit foul-smelling oil in self-defence and the farmer would not have been happy about that.

Nicolson’s folly

Nicolson’s folly

By the time we got back to the car the mist was coming in, so we didn’t linger, instead returning to Houbie where our B&B was located. We were earlier than expected, but a local handyman said that Juliet would be by later and pointed out a note she had left for us. Our room was lovely, having been recently redecorated, and it had a good view to the east and a shower which looked like it might have reliable hot water.

Juliet and her husband had purchased the B&B this past January and were in the process of fixing it up. We had our evening meal there as well, because there are no restaurants on the island, and it was really tasty. And it was even better because we didn’t have to cook it or wash the dishes!

May 22, 2017

It was amazing how quiet it was during the night. No wind rattling the windows, no cars going by, just utter stillness. We had breakfast at 8:30 am, starting off with porridge followed by sausage, bacon, fried egg, mushrooms, tomatoes, and black pudding. It was a great breakfast to start our day.

First stop today was the Loch of Funzie again, to hopefully find a phalarope. But luck was not on our side; we spent quite a while at the hide as well as scanning the loch shores, but no phalaropes. That was too bad.

So it was back to Houbie to visit the Fetlar Interpretive Centre. Once again the museum was well laid out and very informative. It had some interesting historical displays including a fairly big section about Sir Watson Cheyne, the Fetlar boy who went on to work with Sir Joseph Lister and develop antiseptic surgery procedures.

Fetlar Interpretive Centre

Fetlar Interpretive Centre

For lunch we drove over to the beach at Tresta. There were picnic tables there, and we ate the last of our hard-boiled eggs and our sausages saved from breakfast. Luckily for us the weather was quite nice so sitting at the picnic table was very enjoyable.

Bluebells at Brough Lodge, Tresta

Bluebells at Brough Lodge, Tresta

After lunch we thought about going on a hike, but the phalaropes were still calling us so we decided instead to return to the loch for one more look for them. Still no phalaropes, but we did find two whimbrels for our list.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

Today we were moving on to Yell, so we had to be at the ferry for the 4:40 pm sailing. We knew of a hike that started at the ferry terminal so we decided to drive there, leave the car in the appropriate lane, and do the walk. The walk followed the coastline out to the abandoned crofts of the village of Urie; as we came out on the opposite shore we startled a basking group of seals and they all plunged into the water, eyeing us suspiciously. Sorry, seals!

Ruins of village

Ruins of village

From here the trail started uphill through some sheep fields. For a while we were followed by a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls who flew overhead, tut-tutting at us. But before long they gave up and left us alone. The path was a bit difficult to follow because the only waymarks were where stiles were needed to cross walls. And we realized that we had used one of our two hours just wandering along the coastal section! So we picked up the pace in order to get back to the ferry terminal in time.

But we made it back to the ferry with lots of time to spare. Despite not finding the phalaropes we had had a good time on Fetlar.

The ferry crossing took 25 minutes and soon we were back in Gutcher, at the Old Post Office B&B. Peter welcomed us warmly and showed us our room, and Anne came downstairs and chatted for a while as well. We moved our stuff in from the car and settled in for our two-night stay.

Dinner was served at 6:30 pm, consisting of salmon, potatoes, and salad followed by apple and raisin tart. The whole meal was really good but way too much food. We chatted with the other guests: there was David, a retired American of British origin who lives in France, and David, whose job is to travel around Scotland auditing police and fire departments.

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