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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next: Fair Isle