Travels in the North

Musings on arctic holidays

Reliving an old trip – 12 June 2005 – Stormy Shetland

The crossing was fine last night in the end, a bit choppy but I’d taken a couple of seasick pills which seemed to do the job. Probably got about five hours sleep which wasn’t too bad going. There was a bar and restaurant on board but I was too tired to go to either.

I woke up at 4:30am just as the ferry was passing Fair Isle. Even at this ungodly hour I was impressed with the scenery and the remoteness of it. I didn’t get back to sleep, but before long Sumburgh head at the Southern tip of Shetland came into view. Immediately I was struck by the lack of trees, which makes Shetland look very bleak, certainly when combined with the concrete houses in Lerwick which seems to be the dominant architectural style here (no Faroe Islands brightness for the houses!)


The ferry docked in Lerwick at 7:30, I walked to the campsite and pitched my tent. Eager to start exploring I made my way into town via Clickimin Broch (which was interesting in an unremarkable kind of way)

Clickimin Broch

Sunday morning is evidently not the time to visit Lerwick. Other than the helpful tourist information centre, everything was closed. I checked out Fort Charlotte, and am sorry to say I was somewhat unimpressed – a few walls and cannons but not much to really hold my interest.

Somerfield supermarket back near the campsite was at least open so I was able to get some breakfast and stock up on food.

It’s a bit of a culture shock nothing being open – I guess I’m used to London life but when you think Lerwick is the “big smoke” of the whole of Shetland, I wonder how people manage! Then again I suppose it’s not so different to how a lot of towns across Britain were 20 odd years ago before Sunday trading took off.

So after something of a slow start to the day, I got a bus down to Jarlshof, the viking settlement. This I was really impressed with, more so than I thought I would be. As the audio guide (one of those walk around with headphones efforts) pointed out, I was viewing several thousand years worth of architectural history, some of which was unique to the North Isles and North West Scotland. I hope I get the chance to see Mousa Broch while I’m up here, which is the best preserved Broch around here (Brochs are old cylindrical forts unique to this region).


Just as I’d finished looking around Jarlshof, it started raining. It got heavier and heavier as I walked to the puffin colony at Sumburgh head. Impossible to believe it’s June, it felt like the lake district in March. Still though the walk to Sumburgh head was well worth it, I saw plenty of puffins, all looking very cute because they tend to look a little sad! On the way there some other birds (arctic terns?) were trying to attack me, I’d obviously ventured too near their nesting ground and they were squawking like mad and trying to dive bomb me – first time I’d experienced anything like it!

A Puffin at Sumbrugh Head

I sheltered from the rain at a bus stop but had a rather depressing 50 minute wait for a bus back to Lerwick – to be expected in this part of the world I suppose, and although they’re infrequent they do seem reliable.

Arrived absolutely drenched back at my tent and realised I could be in for a tough three weeks! The tent was leaking a little, obviously wasn’t built to withstand Shetland rain. This got me down a bit, not even one camping night into the holiday – would I have to give up and stay in B&Bs from here on?

I dropped my bag off and wandered back into town and mercifully found an Indian restaurant open for dinner. The food and service were distinctly average, as my guidebook warned “Shetland is no place for Gastronomes”.

Afterwards I checked out the number one drinking establishment in Lerwick, “The Lounge”, which is a little shabby but in a nice way, and attracts a good crowd. Really I was just grateful to be out of the rain for a bit.

The Lounge Lerwick

The Lounge, Lerwick

On the way back to the campsite I saw an estate agent where they had a 2 bedroom mid terrace for sale at £50k – having been dreaming of getting onto the property ladder in the South of England for years it made me wonder if I was just looking in the wrong place!


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