A trip to the far north of Britain: Ferry to Lerwick … The harbour … Sumburgh Head … Sumburgh airport … Beach … Ward of Bressay … Heading south … Cliffs of Bressay … Fair Isle … Orkney sunset … Midnight in Lerwick
For a long time I'd wanted to make a trip to Shetland, and travel overland to get there. I was curious about what the far north of Britain was like, way up at the same latitude as southern Greenland.
When I felt like a summer weekend away, the travel plans worked out, and on a Thursday evening I got the sleeper train from Euston to Aberdeen. It was busy and I had a really bad seat, knee to knee with another traveller. But luckily there were two seats in the carriage which were reserved but not occupied, and I'm sure I was not the only one who noticed that but I made my move first, and grabbed them shortly after we pulled out of Euston.
London had been hot and humid but it was cool and grey when I arrived in Aberdeen. I spent a few hours there, getting extremely caffeinated to recover from one night journey and prepare for the next. At 6pm I headed for the port and boarded the MV Hjaltland for the 12 hour journey to the Shetland Islands.
It was sunny when I arrived in Shetland. When I'd checked the forecast before coming up it seemed that it was going to rain pretty much the whole time, but forecasts for more than 20 minutes ahead up here are probably mostly guesswork. I was tired after two nights on transport so the most I made of the weather was to have a coffee outside a nice cafe by the harbour.
What I really wanted to do here was head as far north as I could, across Mainland, Yell and Unst to the very top of Britain. But there was no public transport there on Sundays, and no car hire places were open either. So I headed south, just because there were buses going that way. I headed down to Sumburgh, the southernmost point of the island, and hiked around the head.
I climbed up to the lighthouse at the highest point on Sumburgh and looked out to sea. Supposedly there are whales around the head quite often, but I didn't see any today. I headed back down towards the airport.
I got back to the Sumburgh Hotel a bit before the bus to Lerwick was going to pass by. I headed to a nearby beach and relaxed in the warm sunshine for a bit. It was a Shetland heatwave, with temperatures breaking into the low twenties.
I got a ferry from Lerwick to Bressay, just a few minutes across the water. It was another beautiful day and I hiked up to the Ward of Bressay, the highest point on the island.
I got sunburnt hiking up to the Ward of Bressay. But by the time I got the ferry back to Aberdeen a few hours later, it looked like the good weather might be coming to an end and there were dark clouds behind the hill as we sailed south.
I settled down on the boat for the 13 hour journey back to Aberdeen. On the way up it had been so calm that I could hardly tell whether the boat was even moving or not. For the journey back it was not quite so calm but still smooth sailing.
We passed by Fair Isle on the way south. Lerwick seemed pretty rural with its population of a few thousand, Bressay much more so with 350 inhabitants, but they are urban metropolises compared to Fair Isle and its 50 residents.
The ferry called in at the Orkney Islands on the way to Aberdeen. The sun was setting as we reached the archipelago at about 10.30pm.
We left Orkney just before midnight. A few spots of rain were falling, but even in bad weather it was still far from dark at midnight. I don't know how people survive in winter up here but the summer days are pretty awesome.