Orkney & Shetland Tour – Day 5

Woke this morning feeling better than I did yesterday.  It was disappointing to look out the window and see a very thick fog, as the views from our windows were superb.   I hoped that it would clear, as it had done on previous days, so that our photographs would remain unspoilt.  And, so it was to be.

I made my way downstairs and found our hostess.  I told her about the pen incident and she asked me to leave her alone, as she was angry owing to the fact that the bedspread was indeed expensive and one had already been ruined by a previous occupant, also with ink.   I offered her my calling card so that she could contact me for compensation, but she was fuming.  I felt so awful about the whole incident and became a little upset.   After a time, the landlady came to me and asked what the damage actually was and I told her five ink blots from the knib.  She admonished me for not being clearer as she had thought I had spilled a whole bottle of ink.  It was then she told me that Fae had spoken to her and explained that the marks could be removed with some clever dry cleaning.    The landlady chuckled at my distress, saying I was making mountains out of molehills.  She was very kind to me.

That morning, Neil gave us some free time in the town before setting off to see the sites.  It was hot and muggy, despite the fog, and the only thing I could muster was a quick trip down to the tourist office to buy some postcards and stamps and I purchased a small trolley bag for my souvenirs.  When I got back to the guest house, no-one was about.   After some time, Neil turned up and I ventured to get the keys to the van in order to sort out the plastic bags holding my souvenirs.  I packed everything that I wouldn’t need on the ferry or until I got home in the new trolley bag, including guidebooks.

The hill from the main street back up to the guest house was steep and I found it difficult to carry everything up and down the first time, so while I regained my composure sitting on a nearby fence, Fae volunteered to get me some water before the day’s outings.   Soon the whole group assembled; we were all packed and ready to go and we set off to collect Barbara and Jo from the other guest house.   Our aim was to make our way to the far north of the mainland.

Our first stop of the morning was at Clickhimin Broch.  We had a great time scrambling around the site and the only other visitors were a European family.  Simon & I sent some of the kids into little alcoves to determine if they were worth the effort of crawling in.   Simon ventured into some, but I refrained, having not fully recovered from the back breaking efforts to enter Maeshowe, a few days’ previous.

We ventured on towards Tingwall Kirk, passing a lone standing stone sitting by the road overlooking a golf course. No-one seems to know if this was prehistoric or a recent placement, as Neil informed us that they still erect standing stones on Shetland during road works.   There is a picture of it at my Flickr site, here, should anyone be interested in identifying it.

We motored on and arrived at Tingwall Kirk to see roadworks being undertaken and groundsmen (and women) tidying up the grounds surrounding the various headstones.  It was a well kept kirk, and it was pleasing to see they only had to tidy up foliage, etc. rather than the graffiti and destruction one finds so often in southern England in churchyards and cemetaries.   There were marvellous views down to the islet known as Law Ting Holm where the Norse once held their parliament.

We wandered around the grounds for a short while and then Neil called us over to an underground cavern hidden behind some camoflauged mesh.   Inside there were headstones, some sporting the forerunner to the jolly roger – the skull and crossbones.   Neil pointed out that these are thought to have masonic links, but I tuned out at that point and concentrated on capturing some of the detail of the headstones on my digital camera.  Once again, the results can be viewed at my Flickr account.

We left Tingwall Kirk and drove, almost continuously, to the north of the island.   Some of us were in dire need of a toilet break and when Neil asked if we needed a pit stop, we called out, but he didn’t appear to hear us.  We passed over the narrow isthmus known as Mavis Grind, where, it is said, you can throw a stone from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea.   We also passed a group of houses, where one resident had removed the wings from an airliner and put it in his front yard.

It was some time before we made it to Sandvoe (so I’m told the beach is called) and I felt the need to “go naturally”.   Once again, the water in Sandvoe (Northmavine) was beautifully clear and it was weird seeing such a wonderful, sandy beach so far north, surrounded by two small farms.   Neil had mentioned that if you continued through the gap at the top of the bay, the next stop would be Iceland, so we were officially at the northern most point of the British Isles.   Though, I am sure I noted another island in the Shetland archipelago which was a little further north.   Even so, I walked on the wet sand to the far end of the beach in order to get a shot of the sea beyond the bay.

Simon was the brave one who took off his shoes and ventured into the freezing (he claims) water.  I dipped my hand in and noted it was somewhat warmer than St Ninian’s had been the day before.  I thought it a little odd.    I did take a snap of Simon lifting up a pipe he found in the water and we joked he was wrecking an oil pipeline.

As I walked along, I kept an eye out for any stones that might catch my eye, because I had promised a friend I would bring her back a stone from the beach.   There was a lot of quartz and plenty of green, tumbled glass to choose from.   There also appeared to be a lot of fool’s gold as plenty of the pebbles and rocks appeared to glitter.  The beach was also littered with crab shells.  I imagine they must be good eating in Shetland.   I was halfway along the beach when I heard Barbara calling.  I turned around to see three sheep progressing along the beach.   It was a bit of a strange sight, I must say.

As I reached the end of the beach where you could see beyond the bay, I saw a small crab scuttling along in the shallows.  I pointed him out to Liz, but by the time she looked, he had attached himself to some seaweed and would not come out again.   I have three pictures of him at my Flickr account.  I also took some touristy pictures of Rosemary, Neil & Simon and then a short video of Liz walking in the freezing waters of Sand Voe bay.

It was a lovely outing and I didn’t particularly want to leave, but we were under warning from our landlady that she was going out at 4 p.m. and we had to be back by then to pick up our luggage and get to the ferry.   So, we set off back down towards the south of the island.  We had not, as yet, had lunch and, because of our late start (11 a.m.), it was already 2.30 p.m. when we left Sandvoe.

We zoomed along, but got caught by a delivery driver and then a tractor.  As we went along, I got out my little Samsung L830 camera and snapped pictures of the glorious landscapes in Shetland through the bus window.    I did try to get a snapshot of Mavis Grind, as both Simon and I missed it on the drive north, but, once again, it proved elusive.  I think I took a photo, but I have no idea which one it is on my Flickr account.  So, if you can identify the eastern side of Mavis Grind from my pictures, let me know so I can correctly name it.  I also noticed the scars on the hills from recent peat harvests; its seems the economic downturn was even hitting the oil rich Shetlanders.

We made it to the Brae Hotel where we stopped to get some lunch.  Originally, we escorted into a small room decorated with shields of varying colours, but we made our way into the bar once we had placed our orders.   Unfortunately, by the time we were served, it was very late indeed and we literally had to scoff our food, which was actually rather nice, aside from having cheese and onion crisps served as a side with my tuna sandwich.   It has to be said, that the Brae Hotel does not appeal at first glance as the paint is peeling and its staff were outside smoking on the steps, but its looks are deceiving as a warm welcome awaits inside.   The staff were very kind and offered to post my cards for me, too, which I hastily finished whilst waiting for my order to arrive.

We rushed away from the Brae Hotel, leaving our hosts wondering at our pace.   We made it back to the guest house, picked up our luggage and once again, alighted our ferry, though, this time, as foot passengers.   I went to the desk and got my room assignment, knowing it was bunk beds, to be pleasantly surprised to find papers (Fae was to be happy about having crosswords), chocolates and other niceties awaiting me.

I dropped my bags, put a camera battery on charge and took my Samsung and my Canon with me up to the highest viewing deck.  I snapped some photographs and saw a seal, but he was too far away to capture, even with my zoom lens.   I was sat looking at Lerwick with Fae next to me, when who should appear but the footballer from the ferry two nights ago.   It was a pleasant surprise and no sooner had we asked him why he was back on the ferry, then his wife appeared with their two children and he explained they were going on their holiday “down south”.  By that, he meant Orkney and then Aberdeenshire.

Fae ventured to ask if he had ever been “down south” and he said he had been to Northumberland, which tickled Fae’s sense of humour.   I never did catch this gentleman’s name, nor his wife’s – the wind was blowing in my ear, but we chatted for quite some time, even as the ferry departed Lerwick Harbour.  They were both very helpful, telling us about Atlantic Airways, which has direct flights from London Stansted to Sumburgh in the summer.  Mostly for the oil workers, if you book early enough the flights are cheap and then he gave us the name of some cheap, hire car companies in Lerwick so that we could return under our own steam.

His wife assured me that winters were not as horrific as one might think, given the gulf stream and that their children enjoyed a safe, outdoor life in Shetland.   Certainly, Shetland appeared to be well maintained, and I never saw another place where every dwelling/building had at least some kind of view, either over water or over the hills.   What’s more it did retain small areas of woodland and the landscape was as stunning as any I had seen elsewhere in the Highlands of mainland Scotland.    The day we arrived at Jarlshof, the hotel was running a quad bike activity for some of the guests and I imagine there was all manner of outdoor pursuits available to visitors.  Our landlady at the Eddlewood Guest House left a number of leaflets of various activities available in Shetland in our welcome pack, which led me to believe that people really were healthier in Shetland than on the mainland.   I only remember seeing one overweight person, aside from myself, on the islands.

As the ferry departed and the wind picked-up, we parted company with the Footballer and his family.   Soon, others left, too, especially as we were once again enclosed by fog.  The water was glassily smooth, even beyond the harbour.   Eventually, I went in and decided that as tomorrow was to be my last day on the tour, I was going to have salad and forget my colitis.  I even ventured to dessert.

Some of our group considered the movie, but I was not particularly interested.  I stayed out on the deck as long as I could, though I did not go upstairs, as it was too wet by this time.   I ventured into the onboard shop a few times and considered purchasing the Shetland and Orkney Guides, but didn’t.   This was a mistake I would later regret.   I purchased some fudge thinking I might give it as a gift and a packet of biscuits for the next day’s journey, as I figured we had so many miles to cover back to Preston, we might not have time to stop.    I also purchased another minature bottle of whiskey for himself, since both crossings had been smooth.

It was 23.00 before I went to bed, but that was a mistake, because the ferry pulled into Kirkwall and the clanking and tannoy announcements were loud enough to wake the dead.   I think I fell asleep around 1 a.m. after realising that the motion at the very front of the ship was worse than anywhere else on board.

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