After some great help from Archaeology Shetland volunteers I had all of my fieldwork completed this summer with a day spare – some good guesstimating of how long I would need to get everything done! I was worried 11 days might be too little time if the weather turned bad!
This left me two half days free, after some catching up at the Shetland Museum and Shetland Amenity Trust with my supervisor Val, to do some exploring for myself! Having never had the chance to explore Shetland (due to work!) there was an overwhelming amount of choice of what to do! I figured as I’ve been working in the south Mainland in all my time there, it would be a good idea to explore north. Eshaness is an area famous for its dramatic geology and cliffs, so with a borrowed OS map in tow (thanks Val!) I headed on up for an afternoon of exploring.
It’s a very epic drive up from Lerwick! The landscape really feels different to the south of Shetland, especially as you just reach Northmavine and pass some massive geological features. It feels a bit like being in one of those car commercials where you’re the only driver on a curving swooping road through some pretty amazing scenery somewhere in Scandinavia, only passing impressive lochs instead!
The sun was still shining as I reached the café at Braewick, which does enormous scones and has a great view out to The Drongs sea stack. As I headed on towards Eshaness Lighthouse, the clouds starting coming in. I wanted to do the popular Eshaness Circular walk, which goes along the spectacular volcanic cliffs and geos, where the sea has carved deep inlets in the rock. As someone who isn’t really afraid of heights, I was surprised at how much peering over the edge of Calder’s Geo gave me the collywobbles! I decided to walk around it with a few metres between me and the very edge!
I carried on past more massive geos, seeing seabirds swooping past at head height really gave a sense of just how high up I was. The fog really started rolling in (just seen in the above photo) and after seeing the Moo Stack sea caves and a bit beyond, I figured it would be a good idea to head round soon before visibility got much worse – especially as I passed only two other walkers all the way!
On the way back I walked around the Loch of Houlland, where a ruined broch sits out in a small holm (island) connected by a causeway. With the mist swirling around and not another soul in sight it didn’t half feel like exploring the wilderness of Skyrim (if you play videogames) and discovering lost ancient places (which I suppose I was, if only for myself!).
On the way back I managed to get a bit lost. With the fog rolling past it was beginning to feel a bit horror-movie. Fortunately, I spotted a small graveyard which I remembered passing on the drive up (yup, still felt quite creepy!) but knowing that I knew the way back, past a road full of some very daft sheep (less creepy!) and got back to the lighthouse.
Driving back south, the fog wasn’t really shaking off until I hit Lerwick – amazing how different the Shetland weather can be. I decided to stop by Scalloway since I’ve never had a chance to go there before. I had a very quick explore around the town (it was early evening so quite quiet) and saw the castle but didn’t have time to go in.
The day after I had a morning to myself before catching the ferry back to Aberdeen, so I decided to head back to Sumburgh to check out the lighthouse, since I hadn’t been inside the various buildings there. Shetland Amenity Trust runs the place and it has some really nice and varied exhibitions inside the various rooms. My favourite was the marine life exhibit with scale models of different whales that can be seen in Shetland, which really gives a sense of just how massive orcas are!
A quick stop off at the crofthouse museum (also SAT) before the ferry turned out to be a longer enjoyable experience as I chatted to the guide about all the different features of the little house, which is very well restored. It really gives a good sense of how life would have been like for some Shetlanders in the past. After that it was back to Lerwick to catch the Northlink ferry home. It was a pleasant overnight crossing back to Aberdeen. A very early start meant I was driving off at 7am. It was a long but pretty uneventful drive (apart from a stopover at Gretna Green services – the busiest I’ve ever been to…). I didn’t intentionally pick it out, it just happened to be close by around lunchtime. How foolish I was! When the queues to get in to the car park start at the turning off point I should have got the hint it would be busy…!
I got back to Bradford late in the afternoon on Friday 13th, to be struck by the heatwave that I’d blissfully missed for the last two weeks up in the Northern Isles! I had a long restful weekend after all that!