Thursday, 2 May 2013

Notes from Shetland: Part 5

Our last full day on Shetland and we were off to the North Isles. We went from Mainland (the largest of the islands) to Yell on a ferry between Toft and Ulsta. From Ulsta we drove the length of Yell, which was all of 12 miles, to get the ferry from Gutcher to Belmont on Unst, the most northerly inhabited island in the UK. Both ferry crossings took less than 30 minutes and were run with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of efficiency. I guess this comes from them being the only way of getting from island to island for most people. And I must not forget that they were cheap! With a discount for OAPs!  Result!

Once on Unst we kept heading north to the Hermaness Nature Reserve right at its very tip. Here we took a fairly challenging moorland boardwalk walk to the cliff tops. What views! What birdlife!  Of particular note were some gannet colonies on some islands/rocks just off shore and the Arctic skuas or bonxies which were nesting in the moorland. Apparently this is one of the best places in the world to see them and they are only around between April and September - we were lucky to see so many.
The boardwalk over the moor at Hermaness, put in place to keep walkers away from the nesting sites of the Arctic skua. A bleak, windy place and, yes, it did rain when we were there.
The white patches on the rocks are the colonies of gannets I mentioned. There must be thousands of the birds nesting in this area. Spot the one in the distance looking like a snow-capped mountain. It rejoices in the name of Muckle Flugga. Lovely.
The reason why birders come to Hermaness - the Arctic skua or Bonxie. This has the reputation of being one of Britain's most aggressive birds. Get too close when there are chicks around and they will dive bomb you.
The wind always blows at Hermaness, or so they say, and it certainly did when we were there. I read somewhere that it holds the record for the strongest gust ever recorded in the UK - 172 mph was logged before the weather recorder was blown away.
Whilst on Unst we took the opportunity to visit the most northerly bus shelter in the UK.  Not any ordinary bus shelter, this one has themed decor which is changed regularly and its own website. Take a look at to learn more of the history. When we were there it was decorated on a sheep theme. A wonderful display of British eccentricity. There was more joy when we discovered that it was situated next to the John Peel Memorial Traffic Island. What a great tribute to a great man. You can keep your Nelson Columns and Albert Memorials: this tribute is the best.
More birds spotted on Shetland - this pair were roosting in the most northerly bus shelter in the UK.
The John Peel Memorial Traffic Island. If it was not for the rabbits, it would be covered in flowers but......
Lots of most northerlies on Unst. Most northerly point, most northerly bus shelter, most northerly coffee shop, most northerly petrol station etc etc. I even had my most northerly pee but I don't think that one will make the guide books.

After all this fun, we traced our route back across Unst and Yell to Mainland and our B & B, stoping on the way for a rather good meal at the Scalloway Hotel in, errr, Scalloway. Possibly the best megrim sole I've ever had.


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