17 June 2011

The Shetland Islands (04-07/06/11)

Margaret and I decided at the very beginning of the year that we were going to go to the Shetland Islands together. While most people were planning trips to the major European cities, Margaret and I were busy talking about hiking around Britain's most remote islands, taking in the impressive scenery, and hopefully seeing Shetland ponies, puffins, seals, and maybe even otters. We discussed various times when we could get up there and decided June would be best. The winter weather didn't sound very inviting, and most things (including some ferries) were closed or at least had significantly reduced hours in winter. By June, it was pretty warm and things were open, but the major tourist season (relatively speaking) wasn't at its peak yet. After a day in Aberdeen, we got a Northlink Ferry up to Lerwick, the main town in Shetland with around 7,500 inhabitants). We stayed at a hostel in there (taking day trips from the 'city') - the hostel was actually rated the best hostel in Europe - very hospitable and friendly.
The 12-hour, overnight ferry ride was unpleasant. Somehow
we didn't have seats reserved (though we had tickets booked)
but there were plenty of empty reclining chairs for us. As it
happens, we ended up sleeping most of the night on the floor.
We used our inflatable neck pillows as normal pillows and our
towels as blankets. I woke up partway through the night and
could feel the ferry swaying a lot from side to side. I decided to
move to a recliner closer towards the middle of the ferry - so
I wouldn't feel the lift and drop as much, and so I was only
being tilted from side to side and not lengthwise (lying
horizontally in the ferry). 

We decided the only reason we slept at all was because we
basically hadn't slept on the train the night before. But we
arrived in Lerwick without any major problems, found our
hostel, and sorted out our plans. We spent the first day in
Lerwick itself - giving us a chance to recuperate and explore
what turned out to actually be a decent sized town. 

Near Lerwick harbour.

Our Northlink ferry.

One of the main streets in Lerwick. The store at the left,
Jamieson's, is where I ended up buying a Fair Isle sweater
on the last day of the trip.

We decided to take a stroll over to a broch (and iron age stone
building) just outside the town. We wandered around a bit
and ended up climbing up this big hill to get some views
over Shetland. Here, you can see all of Lerwick. Across the
harbour is the isle of Bressay. And the sort of misty hill
rising out of Bressay is actually the next island over -
the Isle of Noss. 

A stone at the top of the hill.

me, the loch, the broch, part of Lerwick, and part of Bressay

walking through the bog - footprints

The Clickimin Broch

On the way to visit the broch we stopped to pet some horses.

Licks from the horse for Margaret!

Walking around the broch - given
Margaret's face, I think she wasn't too
pleased about having to crouch through
every passageway.

From inside the broch.

Little rooms off the center with windows.

From the top of the broch.

Did I climb up a staircase that
was blocked off? Woops!

The next day we got the ferry from Lerwick across to Bressay.
You only pay on the way out of Lerwick and the guy just
didn't ask us for payment - free ferry ride! It took about 7 minutes .

We didn't end up exploring Bressay - we decided to just walk
across it and get the ferry to Noss. We figured we could explore
Bressay more on the way back (since the ferries to and from
there ran longer than those to Noss) but we ended up being too
tired. We did, however, stop and take a bunch of photos on
our way across. We saw our first Shetland ponies - which are
very cute and very short.


There's a red telephone booth on Bressay!

Margaret and I referred to this as the town center. This is the
grocery store, the gas station, and the post office. All in one.


Looking over to Noss from Bressay.

Ruins in Bressay. Noss in the background.

The 'ferry' over to Noss is actually just an inflatable motorboat.
The guy just goes back and forth whenever he sees people
waiting on either side. £3, or £1.50 for students!

There were lambs EVERYWHERE, much to my delight.

The coast of Noss (and Bressay). Noss has gentle (though rocky)
beaches on its western side and 500 ft cliffs on its eastern side.

Beach! The hills in the back are on Bressay.

The center of Noss is the breeding ground of big, nasty birds
so you have to stay along the coast. The ferry driver warned
us that they will let us know if we get too close to them.
It's about 5 miles around the island, and it generally takes
about three hours. 

There were a bunch of curious lambs on Noss.

Lots of holes where various animals live/breed.

The cliffs were covered in nesting birds.

The coast is rugged and oddly carved, with pieces jutting out
into the North Sea.


So many seagulls.

There are puffins in there.


:-( There were a bunch of rabbit skeletons,
too. Big, evil, nasty birds.

This cliff was completely covered in birds.

From the top of the hill on Noss, looking over Bressay, back
to Lerwick and mainland Shetland.

Me at the 'summit' of Noss, where we
breaked for lunch.

That's no ordinary rabbit!

I like the bottom bird's expression.

Some people, for scale.

The coastline of Noss.

Like mother, like daughter.

Mama with one scared lamb, one curious lamb (with very
pink ears).

The port to get the ferry back from Bressay to Lerwick.

The next day we tour a guided tour of Unst - Britain's most
northerly island. We got the bus from Lerwick, which took
us up to this ferry terminal to get the ferry to Yell. (I was delighted
by the sign along the coast: 'don't just walk off the edge'? There,
we got the bus across Yell, which took us to the ferry terminal
to get the ferry to Unst, where Sarah (our guide) picked us up.
She was an interesting woman, to say the least. But she was a
good tour guide. 

Britain's most decorated bus stop - it's changed every so often
with various themes.

We stopped at a field with ponies, one of whom came over to
say hello/ask for food. 

This (in the mist) is Britain's most northerly lighthouse.

This is Britain's most northerly beach.

Beach, again. We also stopped at Britain's most northerly
post office, where Margaret and I both sent postcards - the
postmark is a puffin!


After seeing a bunch more stuff in Unst, Sarah drove us back
down to Lerwick. Of course, the drive included two ferry rides.
On the one between Yell and the mainland, she asked one of
the crew members if we could go up where the captain is. He
agreed, so Margaret and I got to sit in big captain-y chairs in
front of a big control panel. Here's Margaret.

One of the guys told me to turn the little wheel (with the five
indents) until the screen said 222. I turned it, and then the whole
ferry turned! I got very excited! A little while later, he had me
turn it again, and the ferry turned again! Then I got to press a
bunch of buttons, which gave another guy control of the ferry
as we came into the port.

From where I was sitting.

The other guy steering the ferry to the dock.

The screen showing where we were along the course.
Margaret and I decided this ferry ride was the highlight of
our day.

Sunset over Lerwick.

Our last day in Shetland, we took the bus down to the south
mainland. We saw some more ponies, and then went for a hike
along the coast.


This is where our hike started. We saw this and thought: Uh-oh.
What do you do when you encounter a bull?? But fortunately,
there was no bull in sight.
South mainland.

Flowers! From the coast you could see out to Fair Isle - an
1.5 hour "stomach-churning" (as we saw it described) ferry
ride away - since it was a (relatively speaking) clear day.

Coastline of Shetland.

Most delightful about Sumburgh Head (the southern tip of
the mainland) was the abundance of puffins.

They look very silly when they fly. Their bodies are really
short and fat.

Along the coast.

Hello there!

We really lucked out weather-wise. Our last day it rained a bit,
but not enough to really dampen our spirits. At the end of our
hike, we were trying to get back to the bus stop to get back to
Lerwick. We could see where we were trying to go, but following
the road seemed awfully long and out of the way. Instead, we
hopped a stone wall and tramped across a field of knee-high (and
higher) grass to get there. It made our day a bit more exciting.

I thought this "Warning Drop" sign was pretty good...

...until I saw this one.

Mainland Shetland's most southerly lighthouse.

Sunset from the ferry back to Aberdeen. It never got completely
dark - it's called the summer dim. This photo was taken after
11pm. The return ferry ride was a bit better - we decided to copy
someone we saw on the previous ferry (clearly a veteran traveller)
and steal the cushions from the chairs in the bar to create a
make-shift mattress on the floor. It wasn't particularly
comfortable, but it was infinitely better than sleeping on the
floor itself. It didn't help that both ferry rides were FREEZING
on board. But the ride went fine and we had a couple hours in
the Aberdeen train station before our 7-hour train ride back
to London. 

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