I awoke very early, mostly because Fae and I had a cabin which appeared to be above some industrial part of the ship and we were blasted with the clanking of metal, not to mention the tannoy announcements informing us that drivers were allowed back on board, once disembarked, in order that they could be persuaded to part with cash for breakfast. I made my way to the on board eatery and had a very light breakfast, also purchasing a sandwich for later in the day in case lunch was difficult to find.
It wasn’t long before I realised all was not well. I was ill and had to keep taking myself off to use the facilities. Fae made me a rolly and we went outside to see the seals, but I just could not stay out there. Eventually, I retrieved my bag and, feeling decidedly nauseous, I made my way out to the bus. It was quite some time before everyone joined us and I had several visits to the bathroom in the terminal before all were assembled. I had to tell Neil I was not going to make it through the day and asked if he could leave me at the B&B. This would put the timetable back and ruin everyone’s day, but I was in no fit state to continue.
Once in the bus, I could feel my blood boiling and I jammed open the small window next to me as much as I could. For whatever reason, we had to stop in the main street and let Crystal Tits out, at which point I also disembarked the bus in order to find some local amenities. There were none and we met up with the bus again and went on to one of our guest houses for the night, the Eddlewood Guest House. I met the landlady, who was very kind but informed me that her other guests had not yet departed and there was nowhere for me to stay. I would just have to tough it out. We unloaded some of the bags to make Rosemary more comfortable, as her seat was at the back and the bags were all piled up around her, blocking some of her views and the air flow, after which, we started our tour of the island.
Neil drove us down to the southernmost tip of the main island, Sumburgh Head, to search for that (according to Neil) mythical creature, the Puffin. Along the way, we had to drive across the main runway of Sumburgh Airport; much as you do a railway crossing. I don’t know which disturbed me the most: the fact that the main road went across the runway, or that the runway seemed to run off the edge of the island into the North Sea.
We continued on the road until we could go no futher by bus. I was feeling much better having experienced a forceful blast of cooled air through the window of the bus. We walked about 100 metres up the path to an information board and it was then that the first puffin was spotted by Barry, who was looking towards the cliffs below my feet. Sure enough, there it was and it was sitting just below a rabbit.
We must have spent over an hour at the cliffs watching the wildlife. I took several photographs, all the while trying to capture a puffin flight. I sort of managed it and the results can be seen at my Flickr account. It was a lovely, sunny morning and I wish I had better camera skills. Even so, it was a joy seeing those odd little puffin birds and watching the Fulmars feed their young. And, I got to see those funnily named shags, too.
Eventually, we all rolled back into the bus and headed back across Sumburgh airstrip where I snapped the above picture and drove on to the Jarlshof complex.
We arrived at the Jarlshof complex and, by the time I got myself sorted, everyone had been milling about the visitor centre’s gift shop and information room for quite some time. I spent some time looking at items in the gift shop and purchased some postcards and stamps and, as always, I purchased the guide book to be read later. I moved on to the information room and promptly took some photographs of the distances we had travelled as shown by posters on the wall and then made my way out the door to the site.
It was confusing, at first, having stations that didn’t seem to flow. Its a vast place, with a few thousand years of continuous occupation (even until today where the hotel stands a few hundred yards away from the site of prehistoric and medieval buildings) and I wish I had read up on it first to get a sense of it. Like Skara Brae, this site was positioned with fabulous views to the sea. I spent some time looking at the various buildings outlined by the stone, but my mind was fuzzy as I had not fully recovered from our overnight sea journey.
I fixed my eye upon the horizon, snapped some photographs and, after a time, made my way back to the gift shop, picked up my bag of goodies and headed into the hotel for some ginger beer (despite having declined Simon’s kind offer of some stem ginger on the bus), but not before downing a whole glass of ice water first. Fae handed me a rolly and I instantly felt better.
From Jarlshof, we were to make our way back to Lerwick town centre for lunch. There was some debate as to where to go and what to have, but it seems we all ended up at the same place, Osla’s Cafe, where there were some wonderful, light and healthy options, as well as more robust delivery items available. By this time, I was starving and I opted for a tuna melt sandwich and salad with fries on the side, though I did share my fries with the whole table.
After lunch, we made our way to St Ninian’s Isle, an island linked by a tombolo where, in 1958, a young lad by the name of Douglas Coutts found a haul of pictish treasure. Unfortunately, I was too tired and not yet well enough to do the whole walk over to the island, so I took off my shoes and waded into the water on the northern side of the tombolo. The beach was very crowded indeed with people soaking up the sun on their lunch break and what a beautiful place to have lunch. The water was not as cold as I expected, but the sand was prolific and stuck to me like glue.
After a time wading in the water, I remembered to pick up a stone for my friend back in London and then made my way up the grassy dunes to try and remove some sand and put my boots back on. Unfortunately, it took several makeshift grass brushes to remove the sand, not to mention a painful walk across the stony track before I deemed my feet clean enough to don my socks. In that time, I tried to take a few snaps, but the vehicles in the car park obscured the view. There was also a lovely boat on the water, but it was moving too swiftly for me to capture cleanly.
As the time came for everyone to return to the bus and they made their way across the tombolo, the weather took a turn, and as they reached the bus it began to spit. They informed me of what they had seen and I resolved to return one day and view the site properly and to see the artefacts in the Shetland Musuem – one of two places we missed entirely on our trip, the other being the Orkney Museum. Certainly, I did have plans to spend more time at the Orkney Museum on this trip, but it was not to be.
From St Ninian’s, we made our way to Scalloway Castle and while the group explored inside, I remained on the bus to book a single cabin with Northlink Ferries for our return journey to Aberdeen the next night. Fae had offered to pay half so that we could have a cabin to ourselves, as neither of us relished the idea of sharing a cabin – it was nothing personal, but both of us were used to having our own space. I had managed, on several occasions, to get away from the group and make local connections, but I think Fae was having a more difficult time. I managed to get the only cabin left, an executive cabin.
I left the bus and went in search of the group. I could hear no noise issuing from the castle, so I proceeded along the harbour towards the high street, always aware that the bus was not locked and people were issuing from the local factory. Eventually, the group emerged from the castle telling me they had spotted me through the windows and called out, but I was ignorant of it all.
We motored down to the harbour to see the monument to the Shetland Bus, a Shetland based boat operation to and from Norway, that took place during the Second World War (1939 – 1945) to assist the Norwegian resistance movement.
From here we made our way to the western isles of the Shetland Mainland, which were joined by bridge. Fae directed us to a stone circle and cairn complex at the top of a hill. Despite having made enquiries at the Megalithic Portal and the Modern Antiquarian websites, I am no closer to finding out the name, or even exact location of this particular site. I can tell you that there was a modern house sited on the road from which we gained access and it was overrun with rabbits – one, in particular, being purely black and obviously an escapee from someone’s household. It is possibly the one mentioned on Westings Hill in Shetland, but if anyone recognises the area, please let me know. This picture is facing west.
At the moment, one rather unhelpful poster at the Modern Antiquarian message boards is suggesting this is a mock-up, and not a prehistoric site. Honestly, just because the place was surrounded by peat bogs, we were swamped with midges and I had only the one lens on me doesn’t mean I mocked up the pictures. And, just because some rank amateurs are incapable of identifying it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It was marked on the Ordnance Survey map, because Fae spotted it and that’s why we made our way to it.
We spent some time on the high roads above these western isles, before heading back to Lerwick and our respective accommodations. Our group was split into three guest houses, two side-by-side and Barbara and Jo in another across town. As we made our way back into Lerwick, the hunt was on for a suitable Indian restaurant. Once again, I contrived to stay in and write up my postcards and journal.
Once we had settled in, and Fae and I explored the wonders of our room – me in the main room with a palatial ensuite annexed to it, and Fae in a hidden room behind the bookcase at the foot of my bed – Fae made herself ready for the evening ahead and departed, leaving me to run my first bath in three years. The bathroom was cavernous and I relished the long soak, listening to the gulls in the harbour below and warming my aches and pains. When I finally emerged from the soak, I looked out the window to see the fog was rolling in – yet again.
I reclined on my bed and started to write out my postcards while lounging on a comfortable bed covered by what appeared to be an antique bedspread. I soon found my hand aching, so turned on the television and watched something mindless, though I can’t remember now what it was. I could see the fog getting thicker through my window. I eventually resolved to get up and pack my things away for the next day, when I realised I had been sitting on my pen and the lid had separated from the nib and there were five ink patches on the delicate, white bedspread. I felt like an idiot. It would cost a fortune to remove those stains.
I resolved to tell the landlady the next morning and went to bed feeling rather anxious. Fae returned sometime later in the night, at least the clock said it was night, the light outside was barely dimmed.