Shetland interim write-up

This is way off a final blog post (there will be at least two – one for walking and one for sea kayaking), but I felt it important to hang a few photos out as early as possible…

Da Kist, Muckle Roe
Da Kist, Muckle Roe, just one of many spectacular stacks and arches in Shetland

We travelled to Shetland overnight June 18th/19th, and the crossing, in a force six gusting eight, did not bode well for the early part of the trip – especially the last forty miles in the dark between Fair Isle and Sumburgh. A hearty breakfast didn’t entirely restore us after the lack of sleep, and all we achieved was a short walk round Ness of Sound and a wander through the museum and archives in Lerwick.

Wednesday proved much better (as were we after a good night’s sleep), but there was still much swell on the west, so we took ferry to Bressay and paddled round Noss in a somewhat lively sea beneath clouds of circling Gannets. Photos in preparation…

The weather turned back for the worse on Thursday, so we walked round Ness of Hillswick in a very gusty wind, peering down at the crashing surf among the skerries and stacks. Friday saw no real upturn, so we walked first round St. Ninian’s Isle. Some then visited the Textile Museum in Lerwick while I wandered about bagging squares for geograph. On Saturday, we reccied Unst with a view to a future trip round Muckle Flugga (looking pretty unlikely this week) and visited the UK’s most northerly distillery (Gin – whisky takes longer to set up). By Sunday, we were able to get out in sheltered water, and paddled clockwise round East Burra. The southern tip was quite lively, but the east coast once again in shelter. Here we added a bit of drama by finding a lamb stranded at the foot of the cliffs and proceeded, via an exciting landing on the rocks, in getting the lamb driven along a ledge until Clive could snatch it into his cockpit and be towed backwards out the geo. He (with half the group) then paddled it a kilometre or so north until there was a safe landing whilst I struggled somewhat to get my boat back into the water with me in it… and eventually followed. We managed to tell two different sets of people about the venture, and both promised to make phone calls to try to get the lamb back to its mum.

Monday saw an early walk round Esha Ness, with a late put-on to paddle round Mousa with the intention of seeing Storm Petrels at dusk. The paddle went well, and I certainly heard the Storm Petrels, in considerable numbers, in their nests hidden under boulders, but it seems that 8 p.m. was still too early to see their mates returning with food.

Tuesday and we were venturing out a bit further, this time on the east side of Yell, where there are more caves and arches than you can shake a stack at. The Horse of Burravoe proved as spectacular as nine years ago, and once again, I found my way through a narrow rift right through a headland, leaving me to paddle back round to let the others know where I’d disappeared to.

Inside one of the big caves on the east of Yell
Inside one of the big caves on the east of Yell

On Wednesday, we were running out of time, so took the plunge of going exposed on the west. Although we couldn’t get close in among the stacks and skerries of Hillswick, we did nonetheless get right round the outside of the Drongs – a spectacular set of stacks about a kilometre out in St. Magnus Bay.

Clive paddling past the Drongs in a metre or two of swell
Clive paddling past the pink granite stacks of “The Drongs”

We cut inside the last skerry, heading towards Gordi Stack – even more impressive from the sea than from on the Ness, though, again, we couldn’t get close in among the skerries.


Heading for Baa Taing past Gordi Stack

Once past Baa Taing and the lighthouse, we quickly entered sheltered water and were even able to land for lunch with not an inch of surf. Thereafter, there were numerous caves and geos to explore until we returned to Hillswick.

We had time for only one more paddling day, and, since some had done Muckle Roe before, this was missed in favour of a trip from Easter Skeld. We had originally planned a shuttled trip to Scalloway, but with plenty of rock scenery to explore, had abandoned plan A in favour of a round trip as far as Hildasay.

One of many caves on today's trip
Mary heading through yet another cave

Yet more caves, stacks, geos and arches kept us busy all the way round the coast.


Mary heading for a cave at the Needles, south of Rea Wick

After a first lunch stop at Rea Wick, we headed across to the series of skerries which linked together into a chain leading to Hildasay, a rather larger island. The tide being low, many seals were in evidence on the skerries, and we were often surrounded by curious faces as we threaded our way between the rocks. Second lunch on Hildasay preceded a longer crossing back and a briefer tour of the granite cliffs as we made our way back to Easter Skeld.

No-one believed we would have time for a paddle once packed up for the journey home, as we needed to be at the ferry terminal in Lerwick for about four O’Clock. Various plans were mooted, but Mary, Ann and myself were not optimistic about these, so formed a breakaway faction and went for a walk on Muckle Roe to at least get a view from above of the stacks and arches we had not been able to paddle. This proved a success, with us seeing not only the middle of the island on the outward leg, but also most of the spectacular west coast on the return. The Devonian age granophyre forms particularly attractive red cliffs with many stacks, geos and more natural arches than we were able to see through – and there were plenty that we could. It’s not a bad place for spotting wildlife, either

Red-throated diver, seen from footpath on Muckle Roe
A Red-throated Diver on the beach of one of Muckle Roe’s lochans – her mate was further away on the water.

Back in time for the ferry, arrived in Aberdeen on time, with quiet roads early on Saturday morning, and home in time for tea.

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