The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group
All Hail, Shetland!
It started in London when a small band of excited travellers gathered under the departures board at Kings Cross Station. There were a few who chose to make their way north by other means, but 8 of us were on the train. Stocked up with snacks and reading matter, we were geared up for a peaceful few hours chuntering up to Aberdeen – but it was not to be! Aside from our 8 seats every other seat in our coach was occupied by teenagers on a school trip from Dundee. They were well behaved, but it was not the quiet journey we were expecting! The last hour or so from Dundee was lovely, but the carriage looked like the aftermath of a pop concert, with overflowing rubbish bins and food all over the floor.
From Aberdeen Station most of us trundled our luggage up the hill to the hostel, where we were met by John, Judi, Colin & Fergus, who’d driven up.
The next morning we trundled back down the hill for a slap-up breakfast in Wetherspoons before shedding our luggage and taking a look round the city. The dockyard was dominated by the Northlink ferry, with its pointing Viking livery, that would take us north. About 12 hours north. It’s hard to believe there can be 12 more hours north after all that time on the train, but this is Shetland – more Viking than Scottish!
For personal reasons I shall gloss over the pitching ferry ride, as I spend most of my time lying very still and trying not to think about the swell. However I woke up the next morning to find that we had indeed arrived in Lerwick. I declined the full Scottish breakfast, but they were very popular with the rest of the team.
Luggage collected, we leapt into our hire vans and drove out to Bridge End on Burra, and the activity centre we were staying at. A former school, it was set on an island accessible only by boat before the bridge was built. That’s one way to stop the kids escaping! We spotted our first otter as we were unpacking the Tesco’s shopping over a cup of tea.
Over the week of our stay we travelled the length and breadth of Shetland, and I can’t go into detail of every walk and trip. There were ferry hops to the islands of Yell, Unst, Mousa, Fetlar and Out Skerries. The cliff top walks were so stunning it seems criminal not to mention them, but they were simply all good – Eshaness, Muckle Roe, Silwick – which would you pick? Towering cliffs, stacks, pinnacles and arches. Soooo many seals. At Fethaland I spent a good 20 mins watching seals swimming below me in water so clear you could watch them diving under the surface. Along with the seals, otters and other wildlife, there were just so many birds: the smokey-eyed fulmars, the glossy shags, bully-ish skuas and elegant diving gannets. I must also mention the Neolithic remains: Mousa broch, Jarlshof, the Ness of Burgi. Seriously, a week is just not enough!
I took the headline from our day walking from Quendale to Fitful Head. Like most of our days in Shetland, it started sunny but as soon as the wind picked up you were wearing every layer you had. This was what it was like walking from the shelter of Quendale bay up to the cliff tops and into the teeth of a fresh westerly wind. All along the cliff top was a turf bank designed to protect the grazing land from salt spray – and we were about 900ft up! At the top we hopped over a fence to find a bit of shelter for lunch – this was in the lee of the radar building. As if to prove how cold it was at this point it started snowing, but luckily not for long. Between wintery showers there was glorious sunshine with which to admire the view down to Sumburgh Head and out to Fair Isle, and for clarity these were probably our best views of the week. We returned to Quendale with minutes to spare, sheltering in the old Mill with a cup of tea whilst listening to the hail drumming on the roof. This is summer in Shetland.
Ever Decreasing Boats in Shetland
As well as the overnight car ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick, the smaller inter-island car ferries and a replica Viking longship on Unst, Colin, Robin and I took the the smallest boats of all, sea kayaks, to paddle from Scalloway the 7 miles back to the Bridge End Outdoor Centre.
We launched at Scalloway in sight of the castle, and immediately met 3 red-throated divers. Our voyage took us down the sound between Mainland and Tronda, then down to East Burra. On the way, we passed the Shetland mussel farms, followed a razorbill, posed with Shetland ponies, and visited a tern colony without getting bombed as they're not bothered by boats. The highlight was the Bridge End Centre's resident otter swimming along in front of my bows.
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