We had our last sunset in Eshaness, packed up and as our ferry was not due to leave until late afternoon the following day, slowly made our way to Lerwick with a stop in Scalloway en route. We were now back on two-lane roads. The castle was built in 1600 and sits in the natural harbour. The adjacent museum is very good and covers the links with Norway as well as local history. In World War 2 the ‘Shetland Bus’ travelled over regularly to support the Norwegians. Linking in with our recent visit to the Titanic Experience in Belfast, the person who first heard the May Day call of the Titanic was in Scalloway.
The ferry left Lerwick Harbour and after a meal and watching Shetland disappear in the mist we tried to sleep but that was difficult as the ferry stopped in Kirkwall on this trip and there was much clanging and banging as the ramp was lowered.
We arrived in Aberdeen harbour very early but as we did not need to meet the friends we were staying with that night until late afternoon, decided to drive slowly down the coast. The first stop was Stonehaven where a guy was trying to surf without much success.
The ducks looked a bit happier.
Just south of Stonehaven we entered the Dunottar Estate and woods. I was very glad to be back amongst trees after being in almost tree-less Shetland for a week. The Dunottar Estate and castle are privately owned, by one of the 500 people who own most of Scotland. It was raining but we looked around the castle and some of the grounds.
Further down the coast we passed the Todhead Lighthouse, Gourdoun, a harbour on Bervie Bay and in Johnshaven found an artwork for the bathroom in the Starfish Studio. It was dry enough for a walk by the time we reached the Nature Reserve at St Cyrus where poles stuck in the beach are the remains of old salmon net structures.
We had a very short walk on Lunan bay before the heavens opened again and we diverted inland to meet up with our friends before returning to four-lane motorways and traffic jams on the way home.
On our last full day in Shetland we woke to yet another sunny morning and decided to walk on the beach at Braewick. It is a mixture of shingle and sand and has good views to Da Drongs and the cliffs. We had it all to ourselves.
We had a coffee at the café & met the German woman we had spoken to at Tangwick and sat chatting with her for a while. Then drove over to Ollibary and then over to rejoin the A970 on a minor road before heading north to Sandvoe.
The beach here was also empty apart from a few sheep grazing.
As we left family with a toddler & bucket and spades were just arriving. At North Roe we chatted to a guy who was cleaning his ropes in the sea.
Heading back to the lighthouse via a minor road to Urafirth, we spotted this sculpture at the junction with the A970.
Hamnavoe is the site of Eshaness’ main pier. It was also home to John Williamson, a weaver who had no medical training but devised a method of inoculation against smallpox and gave this to 3000 people who all survived. This earned him the name of Johnny Notion and his cottage is now a camping böd.
We parked a little way out of the hamlet where the track to Tingon leaves the road. This is next to the Giant’s Stones which are thought to have been part of a stone circle. The local myth was that the two stones were the head and foot of a giant’s grave. Here is the smaller of the two.
Walking up the track there are some great views over the small lochs and the coast. We met a woman feeding her horses who confirmed that we could walk alongside a wall down to the Warie Gill where there is a waterfall. Today this was just a trickle but we had good views over to the stacks of Muckle Ossa, Little Ossa and Fladda offshore.
We then tried to make our way back down the coast to Hamnavoe. As this is a little-used route there is no path as such and only a couple of stiles over the fences. At one point, there was no stile over the fence to follow the coastline. While I spent my youth climbing over sheep fences, I now weigh considerably more and would not want to demolish one in the process so we diverted inland towards the road. Inevitably, I could not quite make the jump over a boggy section and landed in it while James managed to get over it s. Thankfully I was only ankle-deep and my camera was quite safe. Back at the lighthouse I cleaned myself and my boots up as James was complaining about the smell in the car on the way back.
That evening we headed back down the road, finally back to the two-lane bit to have our evening meal at Frankie’s Fish & Chips in Brae. It is the UK’s most northerly chip shop and won an award in 2015. One customer was wearing a skimpy T-shirt and shorts which I thought was a bit over the top as it was only 19 degrees. You can eat outside on the veranda but I thought it was too windy for that. The food was certainly worth the journey and I imagine it must be very busy in high season. The sun set that evening at 21.50 and it was still light after 23.00. James woke at 4.00 and looking out saw that it was light again.
In addition to the St Magnus Bay Hotel, Hillswick has a community shop where we picked up a few items and I found some sea glass on the small pebble beach on the Ura Firth side while James was posting the postcards. It also has the headquarters of the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary based in a building which was built as a trading booth in 1684 and then became Shetland’s oldest pub. We then walked past the old graveyard, through a field of sheep, stepping over run rigs and down onto West Ayre beach. You can walk all around the Hillswick Ness (about four miles) but we just walked part of the way up the hill where there are views across Sandwick to the Heads of Grocken. We only met one other person who was continuing to walk around the Ness.
Fulmars nest on the cliffs.
After wandering on the empty beach for a while we hopped back into the car to drive to Tangwick. The Northmavine Museum is here in the late 17th century former laird’s house. It also holds the local archives and has various exhibitions in addition to permanent displays. On our visit the exhibition was on shops, many of which had disappeared as the area suffered depopulation, people acquiring cars and travelling to Brae and Lerwick and more recently, internet shopping. In addition to Hillswick, the shop at Ollabery is also a community shop. There is a self-service mini-café at the museum and after getting the caffeine levels up it was time to wander down to the beach here.
There were birds feeding on the shore and a pair of Eider ducks on the water. Several grey seals were lying on a rock and one was in the water looking at me, trying to decide whether to come ashore. Even when I retreated, he stayed in the water.
We met a German woman who was planning to walk all round Eshaness the following day and had decided upon a great place to camp in the shelter of the abandoned building on the bay. On the way back to the lighthouse we discovered that it is not just sheep who wander on the roads around here.
We woke to sun and light cloud on our first full day in Shetland. Rain was forecast later and having spent so much time yesterday in the car, we decided to explore on foot. A little further back down the road is the Cross Kirk Churchyard which is still in use as a burial ground. The Roman Catholic Cross Kirk continued after the reformation but gained a reputation as a place of ‘superstitious pilgrimage’ and it was burnt to the ground in the 17th century by the minister of Northmavine, Hercules Sinclair who was a Protestant zealot. Some of the older stones apparently commemorate local notables but after a wet winter they were covered with lichens and I could not read them.
Back to the coast we descended to Stenness which was a Haaf (deep water) Station where fisherman went 40 miles offshore to fish for cod and ling with lines. The ruins of their summer lodges remain on the beach. Any sand on the beach is dark and along with all the black rocks, clues to the area’s volcanic past.
We wandered back along the coastal trail on the cliffs. Just south of the lighthouse is the Kirn O’Slettans. It is thought to have been one of the side vents of the volcano and when the waves are high enough they blow up it and the spray drenches the lighthouse. Back at the lighthouse we had lunch and then set off to Brae as James felt the need to find a newspaper (we had no internet at the lighthouse and the only thing on the TV news was the cyber attack). Mission accomplished, we stopped off at the Mavis Grind on the way back. Deserted by people but with sheep grazing, we walked along the shore and I picked up some wool for a future project.
After dinner, I sat outside and waited for the 21.40ish sunset.
Our second full day at the lighthouse was sunny but the wind had returned. We decided to walk up the coastal path to the north of the lighthouse. The trail is marked at stiles and occasionally signposts but mostly you follow the coast on sheep tracks and don’t get too close to the edge. Following sheep tracks reminded me of my childhood on the Ochil Hills. I spent hours just exploring on sheep tracks. We first reached the Hols O’Scrada, a 100m passage which was a long cave where the pressure of the water opened it to the sky. There used to be two holes but the bridge between them collapsed in 1873.
We diverted off the trail a little to visit the Broch O’Houlland where the remains of a defensive broch sit on a peninsula on the loch.
Further on up the coast there is a large gap in the cliffs at Grind O’ Da Navir.
Café society was on the pavement, students were sunbathing on the Meadows and sunglasses required on our first morning in Edinburgh. We had 36 hours there for business and pleasure: seeing our solicitor, picking up supplies and having a very enjoyable dinner with a friend before and early start to drive to Aberdeen the next morning. We had hoped to be driving over the Forth on the new Queensferry Crossing which was originally scheduled to open in May but has been delayed so that will have to wait for another trip. There were several signs on the A90 warning that deer might be crossing the road, even in the middle of Dundee. However, it was not until we were on a minor road to Fettercairn that a Roe hind ran across in front of us and disappeared into the forest. The diversion to Fettercairn was to photograph another distillery for the photobook of all those in the British Isles.
The unicorn comes from the Ramsay family crest: they founded the distillery. Noticing signs to the arch I had to ask about that and was told that it had been erected to commemorate a visit to Fettercairn by Queen Victoria in the early 1860s. The arch is dated 1864.
Just south of Aberdeen there are extensive roadworks as a city bypass is being constructed. Looking at the map I could see that its route might be contentious especially through Deeside and the friends we met for lunch in the city confirmed this. Interestingly Aberdeen also missed the chance to develop the waterfront with historic buildings behind it and instead has an enormous shopping centre. Our friend also showed me some street art which is in a small back street and I would never have found it without her help.
Pottering around the city centre before we had to board the boat I discovered a good-sized Oxfam book and music shop on Back Wynd, just off Union Street. I added a volume to my New Naturalist collection and James found some music. A little while later we were on the ship. It was built in Finland and the harbour had boats registered in Bergen, Panama, Limassol and Monrovia that I could see. We cast off and as Aberdeen disappeared in the mist, the pilot boat left us and we sailed past the last light on the harbour wall.
We arrived into Lerwick on time and after picking up more supplies at the Co-op, stopped at a coastal espresso bar. They directed us to the nearest petrol station more reliably than the car’s satnav and James was given a free can of Irnbru after filling up there. While he was doing that, I noticed Clickimin Broch across the road. It was built over 2,000 years ago and no-one knows whether it was a fortress or merely a residence. It remained partially submerged until 1874 when the loch water level dropped. various excavations have taken place since the 1860s.
Driving north on the A970 we passed abandoned crofts and Voe where the last clearances took place in 1799. The residents farming the land were removed so that larger scale sheep farming could be introduced. We reached Mavis Grind, just south of Brae. The name means ‘gateway of the narrow isthmus’ and the just over 100m wide strip of land separates St Magnus Bay and the Atlantic Ocean on one side with Ell Wick, Sullom Voe and the North Sea on the other. Until the 1950s it was used as a boat drag to enable rapid travel from one sea to the other. On our visit locals were trying to clean up the shore, disentangling plastic from seaweed. A lot of it comes from fishing nets and creels. I spoke to one of the women who said that as a child she would pick broken glass from the net floats off the beach but that now it was all waste plastic. There is a path around the area but as it was extremely windy and the car thermometer was reading 1 degree, we decided to leave that for another day. A little further on we stopped for a picnic lunch. We stayed in the car as the thermometer now read -1 degree. This did not last as we continued into Northmavine but as the thermometer rose, the rain fell. A small diversion from our route took us to the St Magnus Bay Hotel in Hillswick where we ensconced ourselves in the bar until we could get into the lighthouse. Renovation was under way and the proprietor told us that this was the first time for 50 years. He explained that the building was listed and this was delaying work. The toilets have already been re-vamped and I have never seen a sparkly toilet seat before. We eventually reached Eshaness Lighthouse which was ready for us. It is the last Northern Lighthouse constructed by the Stevenson family and was automated in 1974. The light keepers house fell into private hands and in 1999 an American author Sharma Krauskopf bought it. She wrote a book about living on Eshaness called ‘The Last Lighthouse’. I must try and find that. In 2005, the Shetland Amenity Trust purchased the cottage and now rent it out as holiday accommodation. They do not have access to the tower. We settled in hoping that the mist would lift later.