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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.