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The crossing from Shetland was indeed quite rough last night and I was glad that I had invested in some seasickness tablets before I went on holiday, just in case. They seemed to work really well and I felt absolutely fine (unlike most of the other passengers!) even when the ferry was crashing against waves so strong that it was difficult to stand up. The waves did become a bit less violent after Fair Isle as promised, although it wasn't until we started getting closer to the coast of Orkney that the sea truly became calm. We arrived in Kirkwall shortly before 11pm and promptly drove the couple of miles to the hotel we were staying at in the town centre. At £130 for a night, this hotel was definitely well above my normal holiday budget, but I had chosen it on the basis that it was one out of only two hotels in Kirkwall which said they had a 24-hour reception. Reception was indeed still open when we arrived. We checked in and found that the room was perfectly nice, but I'm not sure it was worth £130! We got up this morning and attempted to get our money's worth out of breakfast, before setting out to drive across to Stromness on the opposite side of Orkney's Mainland. That journey only took 15 minutes or so and so shortly after 10am we were checking in for our boat back to the real Scottish mainland at Stromness ferry terminal. I was rather concerned when, during the check-in process, we were handed the following piece of paper. Personally I had thought that yesterday's crossing was quite rough, but we hadn't been given a piece of paper warning us about it. Did that mean that today's crossing was going to be worse?! I spent the next 45 minutes or so until we were able to board panicking slightly Happily, in the end it turned out not to be too bad. There were definitely some big waves, but I don't think the sea was rougher than it was on the journey from Lerwick last night. It was a bright sunny day as we left Orkney and we got another view of the sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy, in the distance as the boat pulled out. Tim took a video out on deck to try and capture what the big waves were like. We did reach the port of Scrabster, just outside Thurso, about an hour behind schedule in the end, so perhaps that was the reason they'd given us the paper warning about delays in Stromness. Although we were now back on dry land, our journey for the day was only partially complete. We still had a significant amount of driving to do before we reached our ultimate destination of Ullapool for the night. We were driving across the north coast of Scotland as far as the village of Durness, which is essentially as far northwest as you can drive, before turning south towards Ullapool. The views as we did so were fantastic. Although we were technically driving along a main A road, in mainly places the route was only a single track. That meant it was often slow progress, as we had to keep pulling into passing places to allow vehicles coming the other way to get past us. The road felt a lot busier than when we'd driven along here before in 2010 and 2011, and in particular there were a lot more caravans and camper vans. That's because, since we were last here, the road has become part of a tourist attraction called NC500 (North Coast 500), a scenic 500-mile route around the north of Scotland, designed by the tourism authorities to bring more visitors to this remote part of the country. They certainly seem to have succeeded, to the extent that when we ultimately reached Durness we found that there weren't any parking spaces left and we couldn't actually stop. It was still a beautiful drive, well worth doing though And we still managed to get a glimpse of the golden sands on this part of the coast, even if we weren't able to park and walk down to them this time. Once we'd passed Durness and began to drive south towards Ullapool, the weather took a turn for the worse. We still had some great views, but it was clearly becoming cloudier. The weather looked quite threatening over the mountains in the distance. By the time we reached Ullapool it was properly pouring with rain. There appears to be a yellow weather warning for rain over this part of Scotland tomorrow, so I don't think things are going to get any brighter! We found the apartment I'd booked and checked in without any difficulties, although it's a bit of an unusual one. We've got quite a large living area... ...plus two bedrooms like this (and a bathroom), but no kitchen; there's just a microwave and a fridge in the corner of the living room. It's fine for one night though and accommodation is so difficult to come by in Ullapool that at the point I booked it was a choice between this or two single rooms in a hotel! The apartment is on the edge of town and once we'd settled in we decided to walk towards the centre in search of somewhere to get dinner. Rather than walk along the main road, we followed a sign for a riverside path. There was certainly a lot of water in the river! Within 10 minutes or so we were in the town centre. We remembered from the previous times we've visited that Ullapool is in a really pretty location It doesn't have much in the way of eating establishments though and I think the fact that it was a Saturday night, combined with the facts that capacity is reduced due to social distancing and some places weren't fully open, meant that we failed to get into a restaurant. Never mind, we had passed a Tesco on the walk in so we adopted plan B of picking up some ready meals to microwave in the living room Not a very glamorous end to what has otherwise been a fun day!
The weather forecast hadn't looked great for today and when we woke up this morning we could hear the wind howling and the rain pouring down outside. We decided to make a relaxed start to the morning and go to get breakfast at the Fjara cafe where we'd eaten on Wednesday morning. It felt like longer than that since we'd arrived on Shetland! The view from the car park outside the cafe was still pretty, but the sea looked a lot choppier than it had yesterday. Typical when we have a ferry crossing this evening Breakfast was just as good as it had been on Wednesday and by the time we'd finished eating, it looked like the weather might be starting to clear up. We had plenty of time before checking in for our ferry to Kirkwall at 16.30, so we decided to start by driving down to Sumburgh on the southern tip of the island again. We enjoyed seeing the views again, although the sea looked pretty choppy here too. As we were driving back down from the lighthouse at Sumburgh, we caught sight of an amazing rainbow above the airport. It looked even more beautiful above the beach. Our main plan for the day was to drive to the northwestern peninsula of Northmavine. As ever on Shetland, wherever we drove the views were wonderful. In some places the weather still looked quite dark and cloudy... ...but overall the day was brighter than the forecast had led me to believe. The Eshaness peninsula is famous for its cliffs and it wasn't long before we started getting views which suggested that we were heading in the right direction. We drove through a heavy burst of rain as we followed the signposts towards Eshaness, but once we got to the car park things were looking sunny again. First impressions were that the cliffs were indeed very impressive. A signpost directed us to a coastal walk around the top of the cliffs. It was quite windy, but the wind was blowing us away from the cliffs rather than towards them, so we were able to get close enough for some good photos I thought the path might be short, but actually we were able to walk for a really long way. The route led us all the way around this large rocky inlet. From here we could see back up to the Eshaness lighthouse where we'd started. From here the path continued far into the distance along the cliff tops. The views were really stunning As we walked we also passed numerous pretty little lakes like this one. Overall the ground was quite boggy, so we were glad that we'd changed into walking boots. We turned a corner and saw more amazing views. It was hard to resist taking photograph after photograph. The waves in the sea were absolutely incredible.... ...as was the white water swirling beneath these cliffs. The sky was a bright shade of blue now so the colour of the water was gorgeous, but I was hoping that the waves might calm down a bit before it was time for us to board the ferry to Orkney It was tempting to just keep following the path indefinitely. It was mid afternoon by this point though so I knew that sometime soon we were going to have to turn around. Cliff top walks are beautiful, but they're not circular When we did start walking back towards the lighthouse car park, we noticed that the sky was looking greyer. Somehow the weather managed to turn from brilliant sunshine to violent hailstorm within five minutes, and we got completely soaked on the journey back! Never mind, it was a wonderful walk and a great end to our time on Shetland Tim turned up the heating in the car to help us dry out and we began driving back towards Lerwick. Looking at the views now, you wouldn't know that it had ever rained! We arrived back in Lerwick around 16.30, just on time to check in for the ferry which set sail on schedule at 17.30. The journey back to Kirkwall seems to be slightly shorter than the journey out, so we'll be arriving on Orkney around 11pm this evening. The captain warned that the sea might be rough as far as Fair Isle, but so far it doesn't feel as rough as the weather we had on the way from Scrabster to Stromness the other day We're staying overnight tonight in a hotel in Kirkwall, before driving across to Stromness tomorrow morning and taking the ferry back to the mainland to continue our journey around the north of Scotland.
When we first planned our trip to Shetland, our intention was to stay on the Mainland island. But when we were killing time in a bar in Kirkwall on Tuesday night, the barman recommended to us that we try visiting two of the other islands, Yell and Unst, explaining that it was really easy to get across to them on the ferry. Once we were settled into our apartment in Lerwick last night, we started doing a bit of research on the ferries to see whether the journey really would be doable. Some of the details were a bit confusing, in particular the timetables, but it did look like it ought to be possible to travel from Lerwick all the way to the top of Unst and back again as a day trip. The ferries between the islands are run by the local Shetlands Council and the fares seemed pretty reasonable, with a return fare from Mainland to Unst via Yell costing just £20.30 for the pair of us, plus the car. Effectively you are only charged for the first journey from Mainland to Yell, and you would only be charged for the journey from Yell to Unst if you hadn't originally travelled from Mainland that day. One critical point we picked up from the internet though was that the fare can only be paid in cash and no change is given, so you need the correct amount. We didn't have any cash on us at all, having used up the small amount we did have in paying various car parking charges, so after breakfast we set out into the centre of Lerwick to try and find a cashpoint. The centre of Lerwick turned out to be really pretty. This was the main street, but it didn't feel very busy. We found a bank without too much difficulty and got the cash we needed. We then needed to find a shop to break one of the notes in; we'd taken out £30 so with the fare being £20.30 and the ferry not giving change, we needed to acquire some coins too. That wasn't the simplest of tasks, as it seemed like most places in Lerwick didn't open until 10am, but we managed to find a post office and break £10 buying some chocolate. With that sorted, we got in the car and drove north across the Mainland island. The ferry to Yell leaves from a place called Toft in the northern part of the Mainland island. Unfortunately, when we put Toft into our Sat Nav we got zero results (which has been the case with several places on Orkney and Shetland). But there really aren't that many roads around here and the main routes are pretty well signposted, so we managed to make our way towards Toft without any difficulties regardless. It was another very scenic drive We arrived at Toft having just missed a ferry at 10.45. Luckily, the crossing to Yell is quite short (around 20 minutes) so we didn't have long to wait before another ferry arrived. We had been quite confused on the local website about whether you needed to book a place in advance on the ferry or not, but when we arrived at the ferry terminal it all seemed quite simple. There were separate lanes to queue in, depending on whether you were booked or unbooked. The booked vehicles were then allowed to board the ferry first, with the unbooked vehicles following. There was plenty of room for all and, because the crossing was so short, everyone remained in their vehicles throughout, ready to drive straight off the ferry again once we reached the other side. It was around 11.30 when we arrived on Yell. This is the second largest of the Shetland islands, around 19 miles from end to end. The population of the entire island is less than 1,000 people The guidebook had made it clear that Yell wasn't exactly brimming over with sights. Two thirds of the islands is covered in what the author described as "uninspiring peat moorland". There was definitely a lot of that, but we found it quite pretty nevertheless The biggest settlement on the island is the village of Mid Yell. We stopped there on our journey across the island because it was getting close to lunchtime and the guidebook had mentioned that there was a pub here. We had a look but couldn't see any sign of it. We did find a beach though While we were admiring the views, a local came to speak to us and we learned from her that the pub had closed down last year. She recommended that we climb up a bit of a hill outside the town for some better views. It was really pretty up here She also recommended a beach for us to visit but we were keen to press on to Unst, so weren't sure whether we would have time to fit it in. We left Mid Yell behind, driving north across the island to a ferry terminal at a place called Gutcher. We arrived about 5 minutes too late for the 12.35 ferry, which was the final one before a lunchtime pause. Oops With no ferry and also nowhere to have lunch (the closed pub had previously been the only place to eat out on Yell!) it turned out we did now have time to explore the beach. The beach is known as the Sands of Breckon. We parked in a small carpark beside a farm and followed a trail downwards. There was a sign at the start of the walk warning people to stick to the trail as the sand dunes are fragile. We concentrated very hard on sticking to the trail but somehow ended up being on the wrong trail or, at least, on a trail which never quite led us down to the actual beach We did get close enough for some lovely views though Visiting the beach successfully occupied the time until we could catch the 2pm ferry to Unst. This was an even shorter ferry journey, taking only around 10 minutes. Unst is the third largest of the Shetland islands and the most northern inhabited island in the UK. Our aim was to drive across Unst to Hermaness, which is the northernmost headland of the island. It didn't take long before we saw the headland appearing in the distance. On the way we passed more beautiful golden beaches. The quality of beaches on Shetland has really surprised me Progress along the main road to Hermaness was slow at times We made it to the car park in the end though and then walked down towards this white building, which was the visitor centre for the nature reserve which covers the headland. Unfortunately it was closed because of the pandemic, so we had to climb back up the road again. There were some good views of the sea from the bottom though. From the end of the car park a signposted path led upwards onto the moorland. The underlying ground was very wet and boggy, but luckily there was a wooden boardwalk along most of the route. We hoped that the path was leading us towards some cliffs, at which point we would officially be at the most northerly point of Unst. We weren't sure how long it was going to take to get there, though. The path led us up steps... ...and across seemingly endless moors. A certain frisson of excitement was added to the proceedings by the fact that one of the reasons that Hermaness is a nature reserve is because it is home to the world's third largest colony of great skuas. These are large, ground-nesting birds with a nasty habit of diving at the heads of anyone who accidentally gets too close to their nests. I was hoping that they weren't going to be in an aggressive frame of mind given that it was September and any chicks must be long since grown up, but still... The walk was actually only a mile and a half but because it was fairly steeply uphill (105 staircases today!) it felt a lot longer. Finally we made it and got our first view of the cliffs There were some beautiful views of the sea. And it was quite amazing to stand here and know that there is no other land directly north of these rocks. It was definitely exciting to be here We did encounter a couple of other groups of walkers, but overall it felt incredibly remote. Definitely no problems with social distancing here Once we'd finished admiring the views, we had to retrace our steps back to the car. As we did so, we did encounter a few great skuas in the distance. Luckily they didn't seem in the mood to attack! Soon the car was in sight. Then all that remained was to drive back across Unst, take the ferry to Yell, drive across Yell again and back to the mainland, where we might finally get some food! As we were crossing Unst, we passed this unusual site which looked like a Viking village and longboat! We made it back to Lerwick without incident and found an Indian takeaway not far from where we're staying. It's been another exciting day on Shetland Tomorrow is our final day here, with a ferry back to Orkney in the evening followed by a brief overnight stop on Orkney before we return to the Scottish mainland on Saturday.
The sea was quite calm as we left Orkney and I think we both fell asleep fairly quickly, despite the fact that we could hear a chorus of car alarms going off somewhere underneath us. As we were boarding the ferry, one of things we'd been asked to do was to disable the alarm on our car. We weren't sure whether the car had an alarm, much less how to disable it. The helpful staff member had recommended that, if we weren't sure, we should follow a number of steps including leaving the car window slightly open to override the alarm system. At the point at which we were going to sleep, Tim remembered that he'd forgotten one of the steps: leaving the car unlocked. Unfortunately, I didn't think it was allowed to go back down to the car deck once the ferry was in motion, so we just decided to leave it an hope for the best. Shortly after we'd fallen asleep, we were woken up again by someone knocking on our door to tell us that ours was one of the car alarms going off. Oops Luckily the staff member was very helpful and, when Tim explained what had happened, took the keys and went back down to the car deck to unlock the car for us, leaving them behind reception for Tim to collect again in the morning. After all the car alarms had been similarly sorted out, the night was a lot more peaceful! At some point in the early hours of the morning when we were further out to sea, the sea did become a lot rougher and we were both woken up at various points by huge waves. Sleeping on a boat felt harder than sleeping on a train, because the movement of the waves was more unpredictable. But booking the cabin definitely made it possible to get some sleep at least The ferry was due to arrive in Lerwick at 07.30 and I had my alarm set for 7am. That turned out to be unnecessary, because the captain made an announcement at 06.30 to wake everybody up I wasn't terribly impressed at losing some of my intended sleeping time, but once I'd come round a bit I had to admit that it was fun to be able to look out the window of our cabin and get a first glimpse of Shetland. We had a kettle in our cabin so we were able to have a coffee while we enjoyed the view. I also made use of the free onboard Wi-Fi to google "best place to have breakfast in Lerwick" and came up with a place called Fjara Café Bar, just outside the centre of town. We disembarked from the ferry and headed straight there. It turned out to be a really lovely place, with great views out across the water, and the breakfast was so good I decided it was worth taking the overnight ferry just to eat here From the car park outside the cafe, we could see back towards the centre of Lerwick... ...as well as further out down the coast. Because we'd booked this trip at pretty short notice we didn't have firm plans for today, so while we were waiting for our food we spent some time reading the Shetland chapter of the Highlands & Islands guidebook. Having consulted that, we decided to drive west in the first instance, towards the town of Scalloway. The guidebook had said that the views upon approaching the town were spectacular, and indeed they were. We hadn't been on Shetland very long, but we'd already noticed that some of the houses looked far more Scandinavian in style than British. Looking at houses like this, we could easily have been in Iceland or Norway rather than Scotland. It was lovely to see some colourful houses too, because everything in Orkney yesterday had been very, very grey! We parked the car in Scalloway and had a walk around. It felt like a small village, but historically it was the capital of Shetland, losing out to Lerwick in 1708. During the Second World War, Scalloway was the headquarters for an operation known as the "Shetland Bus", which provided support to the resistance movement in occupied Norway. I wouldn't fancy crossing the sea to Norway in a small fishing boat, but technically Shetland is closer to Bergen than London The main landmark in Scalloway is the castle, whose ruins you can see in the picture below. While we were admiring the view towards the castle we got caught in a sudden burst of rain, so we jogged back to the car to move on to our next destination. When reading the guidebook this morning Tim had realised that from Scalloway you can drive across a bridge to another couple of small islands, Trondra and Burra, so that's where we were heading next. The weather brightened up considerably as we were driving along, and by the time we reached the bottom part of Burra the sun was shining. We parked the car in a small car park and followed a signpost towards a beach. This was Meal beach. I'm not quite sure what I expected from Shetland, but it definitely wasn't golden sands like this. It was a really beautiful place to visit Once we were back in the car, we drove back to the main island (also called Mainland!) and began driving south towards the sourthernmost tip of Shetland. We travelled at a slow pace, pausing to take pictures from roadside viewpoints. Away from the one main road, most of the other roads were single track. There wasn't a lot of other traffic though! We were exceptionally lucky with the weather today, getting views out towards smaller, presumably uninhabited islands... ...and also of cliffs on the coast of the main island. Several of the roadside parking places that we stopped in had signs asking people not to litter. At least, we assume that's what they're saying Every time we turned a corner, the views seemed more spectacular. We followed a turning down a small road, which was signposted "Loch of Spiggie". The loch itself didn't seem anything special... ...but the drive to get there had definitely been worth it. We took a diversion to another beautiful sandy beach... ...and then we were almost at Sumburgh Head, right at the bottom of the island. Sumburgh Head Lighthouse is right at the end of the road. The lighthouse itself is closed at the moment because of the pandemic, so we were the only people in the car park. It was worth coming for the views of the sea on both sides The cliffs here were pretty impressive too! In order to get anywhere else we had to retrace our steps pretty much as far as Lerwick. Leaving Sumburgh Head behind, we drove past Shetland's main airport. The road actually crosses the runway here and on the way to the lighthouse we'd had to wait at a level crossing barrier while a plane landed. We still had some time to kill before we were able to check into our apartment at 15.00, so we drove towards the west of the island. We were following a road towards a place called Sandness. There was absolutely nothing there, but the drive to get to it was spectacular. We passed several little lochs... ...mile and miles of countryside covered in heather... ...plus a large quantity of sheep, who had a tendency to wander out across the road! Once we got to Sandness we turned around and returned by the same route to Lerwick. Once in Lerwick we stopped at a small supermarket to stock up on some supplies, then headed to the accommodation to check in. It was another self check-in with key codes, so we managed to sneak in slightly early We're staying here for two nights and have got a lovely apartment. The bedroom has a desk, which has been useful for catching up on the blog And the living room has big windows with an amazing view of the hills behind Lerwick. Our first day on Shetland has been great and I'm definitely looking forward to exploring more tomorrow