Bench series: Scall-Air

Spotted in Scalloway, Shetland, this summer:

Scall-Air Departure Lounge
Scall-Air Departure Lounge

Out in the bay, your flight awaits:


You go ahead, I’ll hang on for the ferry. It looks like a better option!


Linked to Jude’s Bench Series, which for November is looking for benches with writing on them.


Lighthouses and cliffs: three Shetland walks

Our last few days in Shetland were spent at Busta House in the North Mainland. From there, we did three great walks, all featuring lighthouses and spectacular cliffs.

Esha Ness

Esha Ness Lighthouse
Esha Ness Lighthouse

From the lighthouse at Esha Ness, a circular walk takes you past multiple features. The deep, dark inlet of Calder’s Geo and Moo Stack:

Loch of Houlland and its broch:

The Hole of Scraada, a blowhole where the ground has collapsed. At one end, a burn runs into it; at the other a tunnel leads to the sea which appears dramatically 300 yards inland from the cliffs:

Dore Holm, a sea-stack with a huge natural arch, which is said to look like a horse drinking, and then back to the lighthouse (with the ubiquitous sheep):

Muckle Roe

Muckle Roe is a separate island, but it’s so close to the Mainland that you can reach it by a short bridge. There’s only one road, and when it ends a very pretty walk leads to the lighthouse.

Point of Fethaland

Fethaland is the most northerly point on Shetland’s Mainland. To get to the Point and its lighthouse, once again drive till the road ends and either follow the farm track or a coastal path (we went out by the former and back by the latter) before crossing onto an island via a spit of boulders and pebbles. Here, there are a dozen or so ruined fishing lodges used up until the early 20th century. On the way back, we visited the small churchyard of St Magnus with some unusual wooden grave “stones” – the one in the gallery below is for a two-year old boy who died in 1898.

And so ends our adventure on Shetland. Next stop – Orkney!

(This post is linked to Jo’s Monday Walks. Take a look for some round-the-world rambles.)

Lunna, Scalloway and the Shetland Bus

The Shetland Bus

The Shetland Bus was a World War II resistance movement taking wireless operators, armaments and combatants into Nazi occupied Norway and returning with refugees and members of the resistance. It was originally based in Lunna but later moved to Scalloway. We visited both.


Lunna House
Lunna House
Lunna House was the original HQ of the Shetland Bus from the invasion of Norway in 1940 until 1942. It housed 30-40 agents who set out in all conditions in little fishing boats to perform their heroic deeds. Today it’s a B&B, so not open to the general public, but the church (1753 – the oldest still used in Shetland) is worth a look, as is the pretty harbour and beehive-shaped limekiln. The modern gravestone is inscribed: Calum Forbes Mackenzie. Died January 27th 2012. Aged 54. Doctor in these islands he loved. I found that touching on many levels.


Shetland Bus Memorial
Shetland Bus Memorial
In 1942, the Bus moved to the more central location of Scalloway, with better communications and a purpose-built slipway for repairing the boats. Dinapore House was the new HQ – it and the slipway can both be seen today.

In almost 100 missions using the small fishing vessels, 10 boats and 44 men were lost. Later, the American Navy donated three American sub-chasers which undertook a further 115 missions without loss. In 2003, these brave men were honoured by a memorial in Scalloway and the excellent museum has a large, and very moving, display devoted to them.

Scalloway is Shetland’s second largest settlement after Lerwick and was once the capital. It’s a pretty little town to wander round and has a ruined castle to visit too. This was built by forced labour in 1600 for the infamous Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney, Lord of Shetland and a half-brother of Mary Queen of Scots. We’ll meet him again on our travels. Stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s a Scalloway Gallery.

Shetland’s Westside

Sandness on Mainland Shetland’s Westside

After a few days in Lerwick we moved north to Busta House, exploring the Mainland’s Westside on the way. It has a couple of Neolithic sites – Scord of Brouster, a settlement from c 2000 BC, and Staneydale Temple from c 3000 BC. The latter name was made up by the archaeologist who excavated it, but it almost certainly wasn’t a temple – more likely a communal building or the house of a chieftain.

After exploring the ruins, we had worked up an appetite but there aren’t many cafés on the Westside – in Walls, the café is a moveable feast and that day it was based in the Methodist Church. It was so busy that we couldn’t find anywhere to sit, so we headed into the village and purchased a typical (?) Scottish lunch from the bakery. Macaroni pie! Surprisingly tasty. There had also been a wedding locally and we admired models of the happy couple.

The Westside coast is beautiful, as we found on a circular walk from Huxter. (See Sandness at the top of the post for another example.) We started at a row of ruined watermills, such as this one:

Huxter mill
Huxter mill

We then walked along the cliff tops till we could go no further without climbing higher and higher…

…until we could look down over Banks Head.

Banks Head
Banks Head

From there, we made our way along the ridge and dropped back down to Huxter via Scammi Dale, savouring the great views to the island of Papa Stour.

Scammi Dale
Scammi Dale

The Westside ends at the pretty harbour of Voe – you couldn’t walk too far along the pier for fear of disturbing the inhabitants.


Busta House, our home for the next three nights, is somewhere we have stayed before. Nineteen years ago, it felt as though it was in the middle of nowhere. Now the town of Brae, home to many of the workers at Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, is creeping out to meet it.

Once inside, you are surrounded by history. The earliest part of the house was built in 1588 by the Gifford family, who gained in wealth until the 18th century when a death and a disputed marriage dissipated their fortune. The wronged wife, Barbara Pitcairn, allegedly haunts Busta, though I never saw any signs! You can read the full story on the hotel’s website.

The house was bought in the 1950s by Sir Basil Neven Spence, the local MP. He rescued some gargoyles from the House of Commons in London which were about to be discarded because they were damaged by wartime bombing. These gargoyles are still in the gardens of Busta House – you can see one in the gallery above.

The northern part of Shetland’s Mainland is lovely for walking (isn’t it all?) as you’ll find out in a later post.


St Ninian’s Isle

"Pesky humans disturbing our peace again!"
“Pesky humans disturbing our peace again!”

St Ninian’s Isle is connected to Mainland Shetland by a tombolo (isthmus) of sand formed by wave action from opposing directions. Once on the island, it’s a 3-mile walk round the perimeter and, if you need a rest before returning, there’s a handy bench by the ruins of a 12th century chapel where you can take the weight off your feet. Or you can paddle back – that would definitely give you a tingle. The water’s freezing.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking. They’re all by John, except the sheep. I like sheep. The sheep are mine.

Jarlshof to Sumburgh Head

Medieval farmhouse
Jarlshof and the Sumburgh Hotel
On a glorious morning we set out for the southern tip of Mainland Shetland to visit Jarlshof and Sumburgh Head – there’s a lovely cliff walk between the two sites. We started off with morning coffee in the Sumburgh Hotel and thought we might be back in time for lunch, but there was so much to do that we only made it in time for afternoon tea and cakes. Not complaining….

You might think Jarlshof sounds like a Viking name, but it was actually coined by Sir Walter Scott. It’s my favourite of all the archeological sites we visited on Orkney and Shetland because its multiple layers cover such a long period from the late Bronze Age to the Middle Ages. The picture at the top of the post shows the remains of a medieval farmhouse. There are also oval-shaped Bronze Age houses, an Iron Age broch and wheelhouses, Viking long houses and a 16th century laird’s house. The site is run by Historic Scotland and includes a small visitor centre.


Norse house
Norse house

Laird's House
Laird’s House
After a wander round Jarlshof, we set off along the cliff-top path, with the lighthouse at Sumburgh Head clearly in view ahead of us.

It’s not very far, but there were many stops to look over the cliff edges (safely!) to see birds – so many birds. The puffins are my favourite – and presumably John’s too as he took umpteen photos of them.

We spent a lot more time at the lighthouse than we expected – I don’t remember there being such an extensive visitor centre last time we were there. You can even rent holiday accommodation there if you wish (though not in the tower itself).

Finally, it was time to turn round and return to the Sumburgh Hotel via the other side of the Head. As the lighthouse retreated into the distance behind us, Sumburgh Airport came into view ahead, and from there it was a short drop down to the hotel.

I’m linking this post to Jo’s Monday Walks. I wonder where everyone else is taking us this week?

A stroll round Lerwick

We spent our first few nights on Shetland in Lerwick, its main town. Our hotel (Kveldsro – pronounced Keldro, meaning “evening peace” in Old Norse) was very centrally placed, so let me take you on a clock-wise tour of the town from there.

A shortcut takes us down onto Commercial Street. Turning right, we first pass The Knowe, with an upturned boat for a garage roof, and continue along a coastal path to a rocky out crop known as the Knab.

From there, we head towards the edge of town to visit Clickimin Broch. Last time I mentioned a broch (c 2000 year old tower home) I got some questions, so I’ve included the information board for this one.

From Clickimin, we head for Hay’s Dock, site of the Shetland Museum. This has relocated since our last trip to Shetland, and is one of the best museums I have visited for a long time. It also has an excellent café – we enjoyed our meal so much we booked to go back for dinner the following night.

Heading back into town, I can’t resist visiting the Library. Any library-lovers amongst you can find out more about it and its beautiful banners on my other blog, Adventures of a Retired Librarian, but a couple of photos will do here.

Across the road from the library is the Town Hall. Dating from 1883, it has some rather unwelcoming fish at the entrance and some beautiful stained glass inside.

Heading downhill, we come to Fort Charlotte, built in the 1660s for Charles II.

Fort Charlotte
Fort Charlotte

Below that, we are back on Commercial Street and its associated Lanes. Coffee and Keetchin is a lovely stop for lunch.

From there, it’s a quick hop down to the harbour. What an assortment of crafts! A Viking boat, static ocean-liners housing the workers at a massive gas plant being built at Sullom Voe, and tourist boats.

Shall we take a trip on the Galathea with Underwater Shetland? Why not? Alan and Robbi are fabulous hosts and introduce you to wildlife both above and below the water with their underwater video camera. Here’s Charlie, a veteran seal, and a bonxie (Great Skua) which flies in to take a biscuit from Robbi’s hand.

Back on dry land, head along Commercial Street again past the lodberries (jetties) and Bain’s Beach where (allegedly) smugglers’ tunnels run under the street, then return to the Kveldsro.

Coming next: a lighthouse, puffins and an archaeological site spanning 3000 years of settlement.

Orkney and Shetland – 1996 and 2015

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Look at the map of Scotland on the left. See the two sets of islands at the top right corner? That’s where we spent our holidays this summer. The archipelago at the north-east tip of Scotland is Orkney and the one further north still is Shetland. They have only been part of Scotland since the 1460s when the impoverished Christian I of Norway mortgaged them in lieu of dowry for his daughter, Margaret, who married James III. The mortgage has never been redeemed, but there’s still a strong Nordic influence.

We last visited in 1996 and vowed to return – though it has obviously taken us a while. So what has changed and what has stayed the same over 19 years?

The journey

MV Hrossey
MV Hrossey

We followed exactly the same route as last time – overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Shetland, a five-hour crossing from there to Orkney and a final short hop back to Scrabster on the mainland. However, the ships have improved somewhat. My memory of the overnight crossing 19 years ago is of bunk beds and a trek down the corridor to the facilities. This time, we had a rather nice en suite cabin to enjoy. Well, until someone visited the bathroom in the night and, because of the small space and the sea-swell, set the hairdryer going by knocking it off the wall. By the time he worked out how to put it back (for it was the follicly challenged one – he doesn’t need to know these things normally) the whole ship was probably awake.

The sights

Mareel, Lerwick, Shetland
Mareel, Lerwick, Shetland

Neolithic sites don’t change much, and there’ll be plenty about those in subsequent posts. The change we did notice was that many places we had visited 19 years ago now had new, or upgraded, visitor centres, museums and other cultural buildings. For example The Mareel, above, is a music, cinema and creative industries centre on one of Lerwick’s quaysides. Tourism felt more professional, but sometimes that meant the loss of a quirky charm.


Anabel 1996
Anabel 1996

Here I am on the ferry leaving Stromness (Orkney) in 1996. I’m now (obviously) older, heavier, greyer, and with poorer eyesight. Much the same is true of John. But some things haven’t changed! I bought that jacket for the 1996 trip – and it’s still my go-to hill-walking jacket. In fact, I took it with me this year but only wore it once because the weather was warmer. Not only that, but I was carrying the same small rucksack and John was wearing one of the same pairs of walking trousers. (Alas, they have now had their day. He sat on a rock and tore them on a jaggy bit when he stood up.) I don’t say this to make us sound parsimonious (maybe we are) but to say congratulations Paramo, Eagle Creek and Rohan – your products last!

Finally, we have less energy than 19 years ago. When I read my old diary and see the number of things we did each day I think we must have been up at the crack of dawn. I prefer a more leisurely start these days, but we still packed a fair amount in and John (mostly) took hundreds of photographs. Stay tuned for more, starting with Lerwick in Shetland tomorrow.