Thursday, 2 May 2013

Notes from Shetland: Part 4

The weather forecast for today was not promising and our Plan A was to spend the morning in the Shetland Museum at Lerwick.  Many people had recommended it as well worth a visit but we got there to find that it would not be open for another couple of hours. Hanging around on a wet Sabbath morning in Lerwick was not particularly attractive so we switched to Plan B (organised or what?) and headed for the north-west corner of the island. Eshaness was the place we wanted: a remote spot with a good walk along the cliffs. We parked at the old lighthouse and followed the cliff edge for a couple of miles or so north. The cliffs were bespeckled with nesting fulmars and the occasional Arctic skua, Great skua and Arctic tern soaring over head. We were lucky enough to get a good view of a raven’s nest, with three fledglings, perched precariously on a ledge about 100 foot above the water in Calder's Geo, a huge cleft cut deep into the cliffs. And then the hail came down! Hail of the small stinging kind. Luckily it didn’t last too long before it was replaced by bog standard driving rain. And this, in turn, was fairly quickly followed by a dry windy spell which was with us for pretty much the rest of the walk. Not unpleasant at all but it was nice to have the thermal underwear on.

As well as the birdlife, the walk had some tremendous views, both seawards and landwards. To our north there was a line of sheer cliffs which must have been 200-300 ft high and stretching for at least a mile. They were catching the full brunt of the rough seas and the waves regularly reached two thirds of the way up.

We turned inland at an odd looking ignimbrite beach (I know what that means but do you?), skirted a lochan (small loch) to reach a blowhole, the Hole of Scraada, set well back from the cliff edge. This results from an underground channel forced through the rocks and emerging inland. Deeply impressive. Thence past three old water mills joined by a leat (but different from the ones we see on Dartmoor in that their wheels worked horizontally rather than vertically. Maybe it was only me that found these interesting?) to an iron-age broch on an islet on the Loch of Houlland. From there back to our starting point to end an invigorating excursion. Well worth doing.

But the day was not over yet as there were two more diversions. The first was a visit to the Tangwick Haa Folk Museum, which featured material on the history and life on this part of Shetland. It may be small but it was full of interesting artifacts and a very friendly custodian (I should clarify that the custodian did not fill the buiilding although she was probably not unfamiliar with a regular plate of haggis). The second diversion took us to
Frankie’s Fish and Chips. It's Britain’s most northerly fish and chip cafe and takeaway and can be found in the village of Brae overlooking Busta Voe. Excellent battered haddock, crisp chips and tasty mushy peas - greasy food doesn't get any better than this! And others agree as it has won many national and international prizes, including the highly prestigious (?) Young Fish Fryer of the Year award for 2013. Were our chips fried by the winner? Did I really detect a juvenile hand in the way that the potatoes were delicately shaped? Or were they the product of a more heavy handed senior fish fryer? I should have asked, shouldn't I?

And finally, lovers of words will find the place names of Shetland fascinating.  Here's just a few we came across on this day out: Drid Geo, Mavis Grind, Holes of Scraada, Blackhead of Breigeo, Navir Grind, Gro Taing, Utstabi..... I was half expecting Frodo Baggins and his friends to pop out from behind a rock.

Calder's Geo, a cleft about 1/2 mile deep cut into the cliffs. Although it's not obvious, there were hundreds of fulmars nesting on narrow ledges on the cliffs.
Waves crashing on cliffs in the distance. This shot shows about a third of the overall length of the cliffs at this point.
The Hole of Scraada. The sea emerges here about 1/2 mile from the cliffs. The guide book says that it's possible to negotiate the passage by canoe in the right conditions - but not by me!
Sunlight on the Loch of Houlland and the iron age causeway to the island.

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