Sunday, 8 September 2019

Day Six - Lerwick and back to Aberdeen

Our last day and since we weren't sure of what we'd be doing we left the Lerwick museums and so on until now.  We had until 5:00, when checkin at the ferry terminal opened.  A leisurely breakfast, allowing ourselves the treat of a full, cooked Scottish breakfast which was wonderful, then the quite onerous job of packing everything up and checking out of the hotel.

We started our final tour of Lerwick at the Clickimin Broch.  This is in the loch next to Tesco - very handy.  They've done it really well - at last a broch that you can go into, look around and really see how these amazing structures work.

There's a helpful notice explaining what is where and a little of the history of the place, but then you're left to your own imagination.

On the way back to the car, we saw this blast from the past ... only people our age would remember this petrol station sign, so it was great to see one still in place.  

Clearly, "National Petroleum" don't sell petrol in the UK any more - not under that name anyway, but maybe they still exist somewhere.  

The distictive logo was state of the art at the time!

Then on to the Shetland Museum and Archives.  An amazing, amazing place and we wondered if we should have come here first since it answered many questions that we'd come up with during the week ... but then again, at the beginning of our week we hadn't the questions!  The museum is free, beautifully presented and hugely informative.  The history of the islands from their geological past, through the social and cultural history of the various groups of people who have made their home here, to the oil and the wealth it has brought here are all covered in depth.  All the exhibits are great, but one "stand out" is the display and video explaining the Sullom Voe Oil and Gas Terminal, which explains clearly and objectively the building of the terminal and its impact (both positive and negative) on the islands (this video is available on-line here There's too much here in the museum to take in during one visit!  It would need a good couple of days ... and that's before you get to the archive!  They also have a fabulous cafe who do really good lunches.  Well worth a visit ... or two! onward again to the Shetland Textile Museum.  When we got there, we weren't impressed by the building - unprepossessing I think would be the right word.  But don't let that put you off - once inside it's a kind of wonderland of stuff about Shetland textiles, including Fair Isle, of course.  They have a full-size loom in there!  Best of all were a couple of ladies doing knitting and spinning.  Both were very nice people (with wonderful Shetland accents) who were happy to explain what they were doing in detail.  Lois was more interested in the knitting and Ian was fascinated by the spinning - helped by the fact that the lady doing it was a trained engineer who knew what she was talking about technically as well as culturally.  Who knew that there's a slipping clutch arrangement between the flier and the bobbin (through which, of course, passes the orifice) - Ian didn't, that's for sure!  What we thought would be a few minutes' visit turned out to be well over an hour!Then ... after a bite to eat ... it was back to the Northlink terminal for the ferry.  Once again, a really efficient operation.

Looking back to Lerwick
Passing Lerwick Victoria Pier
As we went south, we passed Fair Isle - the southernmost of the Shetland Islands.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Day Five - Hamnavoe and the West

Careful readers will remember that we mentioned Hammond Innes' book North Star earlier when we went to Sullom Voe.  Another place featured in the same book is Hamnavoe and as you know by now, that's reason enough to visit.

Before we set off, we revisited Lerwick to find that two enormous cruise ships had docked and were disgorging their passengers into the town.  Here's one of them - the other was larger still.  Between them, they must have held more people than the entire population of Lerwick, but they must be a godsend to the local shops which were swamped with cruisers buying anything and everything.  They seems to be mostly Americans, but maybe that was just a perception. 

All around the town were parties being given conducted tours and as we progressed on our own travels, we kept coming across coachloads of them.  All bringing wealth to the area, so not to be sneezed at.

Hamnavoe is a couple of small islands away from Mainland, just down from Scalloway and the other side from Lerwick.  This time, the islands are reached by bridge rather than ferry and one must cross Trondra to reach West Burra. The bridges are great, but single track and one gives way to cars already on the bridge.  In practice, this isn't an issue because there really aren't many cars around these parts!
 The journey is lovely and here we found yet another different "style" of Shetland.  We've discovered that everywhere is slightly different from everywhere else which means an interesting trip wherever.  Here, the emphasis seems to be on fishing since there are lots of little harbours with fishing vessels tied up.  It seems to be quite well sheltered here.  The pics are of Hamnavoe harbour.A quick word about public toilets ... do you remember when every village, town and city in the county had one?  And over time councils have closed them, presumably because they would prefer people to bespoil their verges than provide facilities for their visitors.  Well, in Shetland they still exist.   Everywhere.  And they are really well maintained, in good working order, well painted and stocked.  It's refreshing (and at times a great relief).On the way back, we revisited Scalloway and went to the excellent Museum there.  As well as some super information about the area, there is also a lot about "The Shetland Bus".  This was the nickname of a clandestine special operations group that made a permanent link between Mainland Shetland in Scotland and German occupied Norway from 1941 until the end of the war. Crossings were mostly made during the winter under the cover of darkness. This meant the crews and passengers had to endure very heavy North Sea conditions, with no lights and constant risk of discovery by German aircraft or patrol boats. There was also the possibility of being captured whilst carrying out the mission on the Norwegian coast.  The fishing boats were armed with light machine guns concealed inside oil drums placed on deck (see above). The operation was under constant threat from German forces, and several missions went awry, several fishing boats were lost during the early operations.  Fascinating stuff.As we arrived, a coachload of cruisers had just left, and as we left another arrived.  Result!Just across the road from the museum is Scalloway Castle.  It wasn't a castle in sense of being a defensive place, more a statement of power by Robert Stewart (1533–1593), illegitimate son of King James V, who was granted lands in Orkney and Shetland and subsequently established himself as a powerful but unscrupulous figure in the islands.  Well, actually, this was his holiday pad since his main residence was in Orkney.  The castle also served as a meeting place for The Thing (parliament) of Shetland.  It was also the location for the Courts who amongst other things, tried witches here.  If found guilty they were taken to Gallow Hill to the west of Scalloway where they where hanged if men and garrotted or drowned if women and then burned.  It is said that the soil is still red with their ash!     

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Day Four - South to Sumburgh Head

Today we went south, starting by identifying the "most complete broch in Scotland".  A broch is an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure found all over the north of Scotland. Brochs belong to the classification "complex atlantic roundhouse" devised by Scottish archaeologists in the 1980s. Their origin is a matter of some controversy!  The one we saw is on Mousa and is said to "already be over 1000 years old in Viking times".  We investigated another broch more closely on our final day.

On the left is the Mousa Broch and on the right is Lo looking at it.  The plaque photographed here is in Scalloway Museum and explains a little:

St Ninian's Isle is a small tied island connected by the largest tombolo in the UK to the south-western coast of the Mainland. The tombolo is known locally as an ayre from the Old Norse for "gravel bank" and is 500 metres long. During the summer the tombolo is above sea level and accessible to walkers. During winter, stronger wave action removes sand from the beach so that it is usually covered at high tide, and occasionally throughout the tidal cycle, until the sand is returned the following spring. 
 Depending on the definition used, St. Ninian's is thus either an island, or a peninsula.  It has an area of about 72 hectares.

 This is one of the many formations created by the sea round here. The sea, driven by the wind, is quite gentle at the moment, but in winter it is rather different and many, many years of this sort of attention creates something wonderful to look at.


Heading further south, we came to Quendale Mill, a water mill which is not now working but has been restored.  As we have found so often, the custodian was terrific - very nice and very knowledgeable.  For the first time ever, we were given concessional entry without asking   He showed us round quickly, then set the DVD going which gave the history of the place, then left us to it.  It's a really interesting place which properly explains how a water mill works.
Then onward to Sumburgh Head and, as we passed the airport, we had an unexpected but interesting delay.  The road crosses the runway and we were stopped as an aircraft came in to land and another took off.  We were also able to see helicopter movements as they carried crew to and from the oil and gas rigs off the shores of Shetland.  The crews change mode of transport here using an aircraft (Loganair) to get to Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Then onward to the lighthouse - now disused.  We were slightly disappointed to find that we had to walk the last bit UP to the buildings from the car park ... the emphasis being on up!  We couldn't quite see why since there was loads of car parking space at the top, all completely empty.  Their story was that the walk was "part of the experience", but we were not convinced.  It's quite good, the best bit being the restored engines that ran the foghorn (right) and a reconstruction of a wartime radar hut which saved the fleet in Scarpa Flow, Orkney from being bombed in the war.  Quite convincing and well done.  Sadly, we couldn't see much of the actual lighthouse nor was the cafe open, but the views from the top were pretty good:

Since it was well after lunchtime by now (the lighthouse cafe being out of action) we decided to see if there was a cafe at Sumburgh Airport, which of course there was - and rather a good one.  They had this mural on the wall:

 "They'll meet the people who have come so far to see them.  As they come through the gate and through the croft, and say, 'You're welcome back, we're glad to see you - come in and sit down."  Vagaland: Come Agyan - Yere Wylcom

On the way back we found some of the genuine residents ...

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Day Three - The West of Mainland

We decided today that we would re-do Lerwick town centre and then go across the the west of the Shetland Mainland.

This is (we think) the oldest house in Lerwick and is the one where DI Jimmy Perez (he from the BBC TV Series Shetland) lives.  Clearly, they don't use the inside of this - but one can sometimes see him going into that front door. 

Beside this house (although not on the TV) are the Lodberries or rock landing stages which were the way that goods were delivered to the houses here.  Out in the Bressay Sound is a remodelled Viking ship that's used for show and competitions ... in this shot, the Bressay ferry is passing behind it.

We also visited the Lerwick Town Hall, which is an amazing place.  Even though a meeting of the Council was in session, we could wander about and look at the place.  They are justifiably proud of it.  The pic on the right is one of the entrance pillars.  On the left is just one of the fantastic stained glass windows that surround three sides of the main hall which depict the history of Shetland with its Norwegian past.  The Vikings are in evidence as you'd expect, and the links to Orkney are important too.  But what we found particularly interesting was the history of 1066 ... not the usual history, but one that was going on at the same time as the events down south!

We popped across to Scalloway again to visit the North Atlantic Fisheries College's Marine Centre.  NAFC is part of the UHI and concentrates on short courses for those who need specialist skills for the fishing industry which is so important here. There are courses from "Basic Firefighting and Prevention (Seafish)" to "Fishing Skipper" and "Fishing Engineer" to "Sea Lice Identification and Recording".  They also do a great deal of important research about fisheries here.  And they have an interesting little museum and a cafe, which we visited.

Then onward towards Papa Stour, for no other reason than it sounded interesting!  We didn't want to land on the island - although you can fly to it from Lerwick.  Wikipedia notes: "Papa Stour Airstrip consists of a gravel runway and a small wooden shed. Access is via a metal gate with a notice warning people of the airstrip."  We could also have taken an inter-island ferry across, but since we're not really into birdwatching or little flowers, we thought we'd just look at it from the mainland.

That's Papa Stour behind us.  And here are some better pics of the island and the western tip of mainland:

And finally, on the way home we saw this, but we don't really know where Clousta is either:

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Day Two - North to Yell and Unst

Today we decided to do what we'd intended to do tomorrow because we woke to a lovely day when the forecast had said rain.  Yell and Unst are the two next largest islands of Shetland after Mainland.  Since the whole of Shetland is made up of a series of islands, the Shetland Council runs a comprehensive ferry service which, effectively, forms part of the road.

You can see from the map that Lerwick is about half-way down Mainland, connected to Yell (the middle island) by a ferry from Toft to Ulsta and Yell is connected to Unst by a ferry from Gutcher to Belmont.

Yell has been inhabited since the Neolithic times and a dozen broch sites have been identified from the pre-Norse period. Norse rule lasted from the 9th to 14th centuries until Scottish control was asserted. The modern economy of the island is based on crofting, fishing, transport and tourism. The island claims to be the "Otter Capital of Britain" and has a diverse bird life including breeding populations of great and Arctic skuas.  It also proclaims itself as "The Friendly Island".  
Unst, on the other hand, is largely grassland with coastal cliffs. Its main village is Baltasound, formerly the second largest herring fishing port after Lerwick and now the location of a leisure centre and the island's airport. Haroldswick is the location of a boat museum and a heritage centre, of which more later.  Unst appeared to us to be less well developed, hillier and with more cattle ... but we could be wrong!
We were a little apprehensive about the ferries - we looked them up on-line and could even work out the timetables!  However, using them turned out to be far easier than reading about them!

At the very top of Mainland, however, is the Sullom Voe Terminal which is an oil and gas terminal. It handles production from oilfields in the North Sea and East Shetland Basin and stores oil before it is transported by tanker. When Shetland was identified as a location to provide pipeline terminal and support facilities for offshore oil installations in the northern North Sea, corporations involved had expected to each build their own terminal facilities. However, wishing to minimize the negative impacts of the industry, the Shetland Islands Council, with power granted to it by the UK Parliament in the 1974 Zetland County Council Act, was able to contain all pipeline terminal facilities at the Sullom Voe site.  This, to us, shows just how proactive the Shetland Island Council is!  We were impressed.  Ian wanted to visit here since reading the Hammond Innes book North Star which is set around here and mentions Sullom Voe.  It was written in 1974 just as the Shetland oilfields were taking off, before the terminal was built but is all about the oil industry.  We got there and were parked up taking some photographs when we were gently challenged by a very nice security officer who pointed out that while the installations appeared on Google Earth, they would prefer that we didn't photograph them.  In respect to the way they handled it, we haven't included those picture here, but the one above is the Voe itself with the maintenance facility behind.  There is an excellent video in the BP Video Library about the terminal, its construction and impact, available here.

The ferries are a joy to use.  You can book, but we didn't and while it delayed us a bit (bookings give you priority) on the crossing from Yell to Unst, in practice it wasn't a problem.  £19.70 gave us a return ticket for both ferries - you just pay once and you're covered.  Then you just turn up and go.  Boarding is fast and efficient, all the ferries are RO-RO, and the staff are helpful and pleasant.  

It really was very easy.  The only slightly tricky bit was that it was very busy at the Gutcher terminal, the ferry is only little and we hadn't booked.  We had to wait for about an hour for the ferry to make two return journeys before we could get on.  But that wasn't really a big deal and there was plenty to watch!

Our aim was to get as far north as we could and to drive the unclassified road (Holsens Road) from the B9087 to Skaw which is the most northerly road in the UK road network.  This might not be everyone's lifelong aim, but we wanted to do it, so did.

These photographs are at the end of the road - literally.  You can't get further north than here by driving on the road.  There's a nice little car park and a beach too.  As one looks out to sea, one can't help get the feeling that the next stop is the Arctic but that wouldn't be true because one is actually looking east!  But never mind.  Certainly it's true that there's not a lot north of here until the Arctic!


Everything here is "Britain's most northerly something", which is either exciting or romantic depending on how you look at it and feel.

 For example, here is the kit from Britain's most northerly post office which used to be at Haroldswick just south of Skaw, but its closed now (no surprise there, so many post offices have closed!) and the most northerly post office is now at Baltasound about half-way down Unst. This kit was one of the exhibits at the excellent Unst Heritage Centre which, along with the Unst Boat Haven, makes an excellent place to visit.  At each of these locations we met really, really nice custodians who explained their places with genuine passion and knowledge.  At the Heritage Centre we bought a kit to knit some lace in the Shetland way - different from the Honiton way we saw last year.

Coming back was just as easy - they don't charge at all for the return journey so you don't need your ticket any more - presumably they have realised that anyone going north is going to have to come back sometime so charge up front. Mind you, the wind had got up so it made for a couple of most interesting journeys accompanied by car alarms ... I was glad I had learned to set the alarm without the trembler on the car. 

If you read the introduction to this part of the blog, you'll have seen that we'd intended to call at Old Haa Museum in Yell.  Unfortunately by the time we go back to Yell the museum was closed.  Another time maybe.