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.

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