Saturday, 25 August 2012

Shetland Isles

So who knew that there was a small Island right in between Orkney and Shetland?

It wasn't until I was on the ferry going from Orkney to Shetland that I was looking at the map on my GPS, when I discovered there was a small island that sits pretty much right in the middle of the mainland islands of Orkney and Shetland. I had nothing that told me anything about it, just a little dot on my map with the writing "Fair Isle" next to it. I didn't have any other information and had no means of getting any, but I was able to work out that the Ferry would be sailing passed it about 4am.
So I set my alarm.

The sun had not quite risen yet, but you could see a little bit of light coming from the North East horizon. I didn't know if the island would be flat or have cliffs or even if anyone lived there, but when it appeared I was quite impressed with the big sea cliffs. It really set me off in a good mood for the rest of that day.

A few hours later the ferry arrived in Lerwick and I was on my way North to the most Northerly point in the UK, which is close to an area that I sailed passed a short time before while on the way back from Iceland.

I had 2 more ferry crossings before I could get to this most Northerly point. 

My mood for the day was about as laid back as you can get. I arrived at the ferry port at the North end of the mainland of Shetland to take the ferry to and island called Yell. It was about then I discover I had no cash left, so I headed south again in search of a cash point. Back at the ferry port now with some cash, some bacon and some eggs for breakfast. I relaxed in the sun and cooked and replied to a back log of emails with the free WIFI at the ferry port. I probably missed 6 or so ferries in the process.

Waiting For The Ferry To Yell in scotland

It was early afternoon before took the short 15 minute ferry ride over to Yell. I rode to the North end of the island and took another ferry over to another Island, Unst, and rode to the North side of it.

It's times like these that I envy car drivers a bit. When it comes to leaving my bike to go walking, it is never a simple operation. My camera gear always comes with me and the empty space it leaves is taken up by my motorbike clothes. It sounds simple enough to say here, but the whole operation of moving this gear over and getting changed never seems to happen as quickly as I think it should.

I was walking towards the most Northerly Lighthouse in the UK. I had no way to actually get to the lighthouse as it was built on top of a rock which is several hundred metres North of the most Northerly part of Unst. The path I followed took me around the west side of the peninsula. Puffins! Wow, I saw hundreds of Puffins. They also don't seem to be too bothered by human presense as you can get quite close without them getting scared. Of course you should always respect them and give them some room to do their nesting chores.

This place is a haven for sea birds, there are thousands of them! Some large rocks off shore are completely covered in nesting birds. Puffins have got to be the most entertaining of them to watch.

Puffins near Muckle Flugga in scotland

Friday, 24 August 2012

The long way to Shetland

It was only a little over a month ago that I was on my way back from Iceland on the ferry. I had been travelling on my motorbike around Iceland and it was now time to start the slow journey home to Scotland. It takes 2 days for this Ferry to get from Iceland to Denmark! 2 days! Not that the ferry is slow or anything, it is just a long way. I found the most depressing part of the journey, for me was that we sailed right passed Shetland, a group of islands just off the North coast of Scotland. Now... when I say sailed passed, actually the islands are in the way and the ferry has to make a small detour from a direct route to Denmark to avoid crashing into them. I woke up in the morning the day after the ferry left the Faroe Islands only to see that we were sailing right passed Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, at the most Northerly point in the UK. I picked up a mobile phone signal from Shetland and phoned my brother, for free for the first time in months. The whole experience of watching your destination country disappear over the horizon made me a little uneasy, if the ferry could have just let me off I could have been home the next day instead of in 4 days. As the islands finally disappeared and my phone signal dropped out I began to think about Shetland... despite having been born in Scotland and having lived there most of my life... the furthest North I had been was Dunnet Head, which is the most Northerly point of the mainland of the UK.... I've never been to Shetland before!
I really wanted to get to Shetland to see what was there, but also find out if there was some way I could, one day, get on a boat there and get myself to the Faroe Islands so that I could get the ship back to Iceland and see some of the places that I missed.

Finally I arrived home 4 days later having ridden 1000km (600 miles) from the Ferry terminal in Denmark to the Ferry port near Amsterdam in Holland and taking the overnight Ferry to Newcastle in the North of England then riding home (another 250 km (150 miles)).

Once home, I found I didn't really have much to do there... I had a day to be photographer at a friend's wedding, then another few days to finish working on all the photos. I was bored by that time and decided that it is still summer time... I shouldn't waste too much more of it at home. I decided it was time to get back on the bike again and visit that little group of Islands that I had sailed passed just a week or so before.

My home in the South West of Scotland is about as far away from Shetland as you'll get and still be in Scotland. I really didn't want to just ride passed everything in between, so I rode up the West coast of Scotland taking a week before I got on the Ferry to the Orkney Isles.

As always I didn't really have much of a plan. I knew very little about Orkney and Shetland. The whole point of going there was to find out what was there.

About a week after leaving home, I finally reached a little town called Scrabster in the North of the mainland of Scotland. Going by my map there was a ferry link from here to Orkney, then another one from Orkney to Shetland. Visiting the ferry office I found out there was a ferry in a few hours and I managed to get myself and my motorbike booked onto that ferry despite it being one of Orkney's busiest weekends. While on the Ferry I learnt that some of the UK's biggest sea cliffs are here and that the tallest sea stack.. "The old man of Hoy" is here too.... I just had to go and see it!

Old man of hoy from the Ferry to Orkney

I spent that night in Stromness in Orkney and made some plans to get to a smaller Island called Hoy. This is Hoy, home to the "Old man of hoy".

At 11am the next day I was on Hoy with my Motorbike looking up towards the hills. Hoy seems to be the only island out of all of islands that make up Orkney that has any sort of hills. I wanted to climb to the top of Ward Hill, which is the highest hill on Orkney, but it was pointless as the cloud was down at about 100 metres and even the old man of Hoy would have been hidden. Today was just not a good day. I made an attempt to kill some time in order to give the weather a chance to improve.

I set off to explore the island, making it to the far west side, then the far east side. I felt like a fly in a jam jar. The island felt too small and I couldn't get in the right frame of mind to want to explore. Later in the day rode over a causeway onto another smaller island (Longhope) and found myself at a lighthouse. By this time I was not feeling great, I had picked up a cold or some sort of bug while at my friends wedding and it was still haunting me. I felt like I had no energy and to avoid falling asleep while riding my bike I decided to park and rest for a while. I woke up several hours later still on the seat but hunched over the petrol tank using my hands with the gloves still on as a pillow between the handle bars and the petrol tank. I was still feeling tired, but just didn't have the energy to put up my tent. I was also worried that if I fell asleep on the bike again, I'd end up falling over and the bike landing on top of me in my sleep. This time instead of staying on the bike, I lay down on the ground and used the front wheel as a pillow and slept for another few hours.

It was now 8pm, still light. I had been sleeping for 4 hours total. I quickly put up my tent and crawled inside.

I woke the next day at 11am having slept for about 21 hours. I felt better but still not 100%. The good news was that the cloud had lifted in the night and the sun was out. After packing up I made my way over to Rackwick, where the walking path starts for the old man of hoy.

One hour later I was sitting at the top of a 100 meter cliff watching some climbers climbing to the top of the old man. I watched them for a few hours and in the meantime I managed to work out the path they had taken down the cliff to get to the base. Once the climbers made it to the top and were on their way back down I made my way down the cliff to set up my camera on the tripod and get a panoramic photo of the scene. By this time the sun had come around to the west a bit more and lowered in the sky. The sun was lighting up the sea cliffs and the sandstone walls of the old man.

The Old Man Of Hoy in scotland

 The Old Man Of Hoy in Scotland

The following morning I made my way back to the mainland of Orkney and explored some more. I learnt about the Churchill Barriers and how the British naval fleet had used Orkney as a base during World War 2. I visited a small chapel which was built by some Italian prisoners of war.

Italian Chapel in scotland

Evening came and it got to that time of day that I felt like I should find a place to sleep for the night. I glanced at the Ferry timetable that I had picked up while waiting for the Ferry to Orkney and discovered that I could get the ferry to Shetland either tonight or I'd have to wait for 2 more days. Not really knowing what the rest of Orkney had in store for me and looking at the calendar and seeing that time was not really on my side, I decided to try to get myself on the Shetland Ferry which was due to arrive in Kirkwall just before midnight.

On arriving at the Ferry terminal I discovered that due to the busy weekend of events that were on in Orkney the ferry was fully booked. They said I could go on standby and if there was any space then I could travel.... I agreed to risk it and I waited around, the Ferry arrived about 11pm. It was very dark by this time and I wondered where I could sleep if I didn't get on the ferry. I watched as the ferry was loaded, having no idea if I would be getting on it or not. I had always thought that there was always space for motorbikes, they take up so little room! But these thoughts had been crushed when I was turned away from the "full" ferry to Skye only 1 week before.

I had no idea if I'd be on Shetland the following day and no idea what to do if I had to stay on Orkney...