Lerwick

May 15, 2017

We were up early to catch the Tube to Heathrow, arriving with plenty of time to spare. We hadn’t been to Terminal 5 before and it was quite interesting. Nobody at check-in to tag your bags; you put them on the belt, tag them, and scan the tag yourself. And nobody at security to scan your boarding pass, you do that yourself too. At least there was somebody at Pret a Manger to sell us a cup of tea—for now, anyway.

Rosemary went over to the British Airways counter to ask about our return trip. For reasons unknown, they had changed our flights so that we would now have a 4½-hour layover in Glasgow. We didn’t look forward to that, but luckily they could make more changes so that the layover would be more like 1½ hours.

Our flight to Glasgow took about an hour, and it was raining quite a bit when we got there. We got a sandwich at the one and only café inside security, and eventually we were summoned to Gate 5, which was a small concrete room in the basement. On our flight to Sumburgh we actually got a cup of tea and a Tunnock’s Caramel bar as a snack, and as we flew into Sumburgh we could see part of the islands from the air. Luckily for us it wasn’t raining here and the weather was actually quite decent.

Welcome to Shetland

Welcome to Shetland

We quickly got our bags and located the man holding a sign with our name. He sent us off in a van to the Bolt’s car hire office, and soon we were in our cute little blue VW car. After going the wrong way initially, we finally got onto the road to Lerwick. It turns out that you really do have to drive across the runway to go that way, and yes, there’s a man who lowers the barriers when a plane is using the runway!

It was a very straightforward route to Lerwick, and we found the hostel quite easily. Once we found somebody to let us in (next-door at the community centre) we had a quick tour of the building before getting our room.

The wind was really strong, and the Shetland flag which we could see outside our window was standing straight out in the window. We headed over to the Co-op to buy groceries, which took a while as we had to do meal planning as we went through the aisles. Back at the hostel we had our dinner and then headed out for a walk to the harbour, since it still wasn’t raining.

Lerwick harbour

Lerwick harbour

The first thing we saw was a big ship which we initially thought was a ferry, but it soon turned out to be a National Geographic Expeditions cruise ship. As we were looking at it we met a Norwegian man who had sailed his boat over from Stavanger, in really bad weather. Shetland has a Norse history, so they have May 17th (Norway’s national day) celebrations, and that’s why he came over. It’s down in Scalloway so we’ll probably go there on the 17th. We chatted with him for a while and then continued our walk down towards the point.

But the wind was blowing so hard that we could barely walk, and it began to rain lightly, so we returned to the hostel to have some hot chocolate.

May 16, 2017

It was hard to get up this morning, so we were still having breakfast while the cleaning staff were waiting to wash the floors. We made our lunches and headed down to the ferry docks.
It was a nice day today, clear with a bit of cloud on top of the hills. So our plan was to go to the Isle of Noss to see the nesting birds. To get there we took the 10-minute ferry ride across the sound from Lerwick to Bressay, and then walked straight across Bressay to the Noss boat launch. It was quite windy, at times very windy, but at least the sky was clear and the newborn lambs were bounding around with their mothers.

Ferry to Noss

Ferry to Noss

By 1 pm we reached the crossing to Noss, which was said to be served by an “inflatable ferry”. Our ludicrous imaginings were soon replaced by an ordinary Zodiac with a crew of two, the warden and a helper. Their dock on the Bressay side was rather sketchy, with the south-east wind blowing big waves over it, but after a few attempts the boat landed successfully. We donned life-jackets and jumped into the boat. The trip across the channel didn’t take very long and getting off at Noss was much easier.

The warden took us into the visitor centre and gave us a brief overview of the island, showing us the track to follow. The track was easy to find but you did need to be careful of the rabbit holes.

Northern Fulmar

Northern Fulmar

There were puffins ahead so we decided to head on to the cliffs rather than stopping for lunch. The first birds of interest that we saw were eider ducks, and we watched them for a bit before continuing. Finally we found a sheltered location by the cliffs where we stopped for lunch.

Murres (Guillemots) on a cliff

Murres (Guillemots) on a cliff

There were small cliffs with fulmars and bigger cliffs with murres (called “guillemots” in Britain) crowded wing to wing. We saw an occasional puffin but it was not until after we had finished our lunch and headed farther up the hill that we saw several more. We had been told that the puffins were nesting and would mostly be in their burrows, but we might see a few. Which we did—there were about 20 of them on a small offshore island. It was fun sitting on the hillside with the little birds quite close by.

Puffins courting

Puffins courting

Continuing up the hill we came to the next sight, which was a huge cliff which housed a gannet colony. It was quite amazing to see all the birds perched on the ledges; the cliff was about 200 meters high and it was totally white with bird guano!

Noup of Noss with gannet colony

Noup of Noss with gannet colony

That was quite a sight but it was getting late, so we headed back to the reserve headquarters. The last boat was at 5 pm and we got back there at 4:30 pm, but most likely the warden keeps track of how many people are on the island and tries not to leave people there overnight. It was just as hard landing the boat on Bressay this time and we had to wait for five or six large waves to pass before it was safe to clamber out of the boat. We said our goodbyes and thanks and headed up the hill.

We had 5 kilometers to walk to get to the ferry, and the walk seemed quick. Part-way across the woman who had helped with the boat stopped and offered us a lift, but we declined. It was lucky we did because we then saw an Arctic Skua (called “Parasitic Jaeger” in North America), which we hadn’t seen yet.

Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger) in a field

Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger) in a field

As we approached the dock for the Lerwick ferry several cars zoomed past us, up the hill. We knew this meant the ferry had just arrived. As we got closer to the dock we could see the boat was still there, but would we catch it or would we have to wait an hour? Suddenly several more cars zoomed past us, towards the dock. Clearly they knew what time the boat would leave! But then the boat-helper woman pulled up beside us, having dropped off her passenger. “Four minutes!” she yelled. “Do you want a lift?” Well yes, this time we did want a lift, and she dropped us off at the dock at the last possible instant.

We ended up back at the hostel at 6:30 pm and made our dinner. That was a popular time for dinner so people in several groups had all eight stove burners in use at once. But it all came out right in the end. Afterwards we processed the day’s photos and wrote the day’s journals; bedtime was 10:30 pm.

May 17, 2017

Feeling more rested this morning, we got up just after 8:30 am. At least we were out of the way of the cleaners! Today’s plan was to go to Scalloway to see the museum as well as to attend the memorial service for the 44 Norwegians who lost their lives while travelling on the “Shetland Bus” during World War 2.

So after breakfast we made our lunches and headed out. First stop was the Loch of Clickimin (it’s an eBird hotspot) to see what birds we could find. There were a lot of Tufted Ducks but nothing else of significance. However we also stopped to look at the Clickimin Broch. A broch is a round structure built with rocks, apparently for people to live in but according to the sign its exact use is unknown.

Clickimin Broch and Loch

Clickimin Broch and Loch

We carried on down the road to Scalloway, which wasn’t very far. Parking was easy to find, close to the museum. The service wasn’t until later so we walked through the small fishing town, right down to the end where there was a marine training centre which was run by the local university. It was all pretty quiet. In the windows of a local merchant there was a mural which had been painted by some school-children. From it we could figure out which buildings had been used during the war as command posts, communication houses, and storehouses.

Norwegian flag in Scalloway

Norwegian flag in Scalloway

We sat on a bench outside the museum to eat our lunch; the day was sunny but the wind made it cold. However we had chosen a sheltered spot so lunch was very nice. After lunch we went to look inside Scalloway Castle, which of course is a ruin now. In the old days it would have been heated by peat fires but today it was colder inside the castle than it was outdoors!

Shetland pony outside Scalloway Museum

Shetland pony outside Scalloway Museum

Then we visited the museum, which is quite new, having been opened just five years earlier. It was really quite good; much of it was devoted to the Shetland Bus. This was a World War 2 operation which connected Britain with German-occupied Norway, bringing fugitives out of Norway and sending back guns and saboteurs. It was a very small-scale operation but it made the Germans station more troops in Norway to try to keep things under control.

Shetland Bus ceremony

Shetland Bus ceremony

We wandered along the street to the memorial and found people setting up speakers and flags. Precisely at 3 pm the service began with a brief introductory speech; there were about 50 people in attendance, many of whom were Norwegian. After the wreaths were laid a local woman, who was born in Kirkenes, gave a speech. She told us of her childhood in Kirkenes during the war, of her house having been bombed, and of having to stay in the shelter and being rescued by the friendly Russian army. At the time she couldn’t understand why her father called it “freedom” when through her young eyes she only saw no house, no food, and cold weather. It was quite moving.

Shetland Bus wreaths

Shetland Bus wreaths

After the service was over we went back to the museum to have tea and goodies. It was a great way to spend a relaxing day.

On the way back to Lerwick we thought about stopping for groceries, but instead decided to return to the hostel and walk over to the Co-op. This time around we made a list, so we had a better idea of what to buy!

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