Shetland and Orkney - July/August 2009


This is the diary of a 6-day trip to the Shetland and Orkney Islands which lie North of Scotland. The tour was organised by Garry with help from Brightwater Holidays. Click here for the itinerary and interactive maps. Click here for the complete slideshow.

So now read on...

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Briefly, here's how we spent each day:

Monday, 27 JulyFlight to Aberdeen
Tuesday, 28 JulyLerwick and Sumburgh
Wednesday, 29 JulyEshaness and Scalloway
Thursday, 30 JulyItalian Chapel and Kirkwall
Friday, 31 JulyOrkney Archaelogy
Satrday,1 AugustReturn Home

SummaryNext day Monday, 27th July - Flight to Aberdeen

We are picked up by Felix with Garry and Amanda and driven to Eastleigh, where after buying coffees we quickly board, with our coffees, the 10am Flybe flight to Aberdeen. When we get to Aberdeen 90 minutes later it is sunny and warm and we are early, We have time to sample the Deuchars IPA and some white wine sitting on the benches outside the terminal building. At 12:30 we were picked up by Bill, a taxi driver from the Bridge of Don. He is an angler with a strong Scottish accent. He takes us to the dock via the beach in North Aberdeen. We leave our luggage at the Northlink ferry office and amble into town to find the Prince of Wales (more...) pub which Bill had recommended to us. We have some more beer and Graham has the speciality of the region – mince and skirlie. The rest eat conventional steak and kidney pie. It starts to rain but that does not put off a woman across the street from smoking a four inch cigarette in two minutes flat. It is an amazing sight. After we have finished eating, drinking and watching the cabaret we leave and it starts raining more so we go in search of books and umbrellas. The ones in BHS are £5 whereas those in Boots are £16. We walk back to the terminal and wait with others. By now it had stopped raining. At 5pm the Brightwater coach arrives and we load our luggage onto it and clamber onto the coach. Our guide Andrea (call me Andy) introduces herself and gives us our boarding passes and breakfast tickets. We get off the coach and board the boat, the M V Hrossey. After dumping our luggage in our rooms we make our way to the cafeteria where we dine with the other forty five people in the party. After the meal we adjourn to a bar, have a coffee and retire to bed at 10pm. The sun has just gone down and the sea is pretty calm.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Tuesday, 28th July - Lerwick and Sumburgh

The crossing was pretty calm. We are awoken by an announcement at 6:30am. The boat is making its way up the East coast of Shetland. Eventually we get to Lerwick(more...) which is sheltered by the island of Brassay. We have breakfast in the cafeteria and get on the coach at 8:30am. The coach takes us down the town to where a cruise ship, the SS Columbus, has docked. It is a bright sunny day. We get off the coach and walk South around the Knab promentary, past a par-3 golf course and end up at the Clickimin Broch (more...) . This is a circular stone building started in 1000BC and renovated in the 19th century. There are many brochs on Shetland and nobody knows exactly why they were built where they are. We walk back into the city of 7,000 inhabitants (about a third of the islands population) and end up at the Shetland Museum Museum (more...). After a round of liquid refreshments we explore the museum and have lunch in the cafe. We wander back to the coach via Fort Charlotte and several Closses (small streets and alley ways). The coach takes us to the South of the mainland and across the runway of Sumburgh International Airport. We arrive at the Sumburgh hotel and wander among the nearby Jarlshof (more...) archaeological remains which are very old and interesting. We get back in the coach and climb up close to the lighthouse at Sumburgh Head and wander around the cliff edges looking for puffins, a few of which we see along with gannets giving us a diving display. We get back to the hotel and find our bags are already waiting outside our rooms. We have a short rest and eat en masse in the restaurant. The tour party has taken over the whole hotel for the night. After the meal we take a short stroll to the beach in the very blowy wind and watch the sun set over the hills to the West.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wednesday, 29th July - Eshaness and Scalloway

We wake up and look out of the window at the airport runways. It's a bit hazy today. We have breakfast, check out and board the coach at 8:30am. We stop just before the runway and visit Scatness (more...) which has a reconstructed Iron-age stone house close by a partial genuine broch where some of the walls are supported by sand bags. The haze has disappeared and it's a bright sunny day. We are driven North on the A970, over Latitude 60N marked by yellow posts at the side of the road, through Lerwick and Brae, the second largest town and on to the part of the island called North Mavine. There are very few trees on the island. Those that exist appear to be in private gardens. We arrive at the lighthouse of Eshaness (more...) and get out to view the wonderful scenery and sea birds. We get back in the coach and take a brief stop at Mavis Grind more...) at the Southern end of North Mavine where the Atlantic Ocean is 100 yards from the North Sea. The coach takes us south to the old capital of Scalloway (more...) on the Western coast opposite Lerwick. Here we have lunch in the Fish College (more...) with no sign of fish in the soup or the sandwiches. After the break we are driven to the fish harbour and walk the short distance to Scalloway Castle (more...) , built in 1610 and now a well preserved ruin with a large hall on the first floor. After the castle we stroll into the town and read all about the Shetland Bus (more...) which ferried escaping British and Norwegians to these islands during WWII. We return to the museum which is rather like a bric a brac shop with no items for sale. We decide it's time for a leisurely beer sitting on the pavement outside the Scalloway Hotel . We return to the coach to discover that Garry had left his camera bag and contents at the hotel. He ran back and was given a round of applause when he returned to the coach with his bag. We are driven over the island to Lerwick and board the M V Hjartland. It departs at 5:30pm. We dine on board. It's a bit less calm than the last time. We passed Fairisle and watch the sun set at 9:30pm. We arrive in the Orkneys and are driven to the Kirkwall Hotel (more...) where we will stay for two nights. Our rooms are on the third floor. Jane selects the bed which allows Graham to see the television - it's that sort of room

Previous DaySummaryNext day Thursday, 30th July - Italian Chapel and Kirkwall

Today we have a lie in but it is disturbed by sea gulls marching across the roof. It is cloudy today but not raining. The sun is trying hard to come out. We have breakfast at 9am and board the coach at 10am. We are driven South over the Churchill Barriers (more...) which were built during WWII to block off the Eastern entrance to Scapa Flow. The 5 and 10 ton concrete blocks were put in place by Balfour Beatty and a load of Italian POWs. A road causeway was built over the top of the blocks joining up the islands. We visit the Italian Chapel (more...) on Lambsholm. It is a fantastic piece of POW construction which disguises two Nissen huts into a well decorated chapel. Outside there is a statue of St George made from barbed wire sprayed with concrete. We get back in the coach and pass the Orkney Wine Company with no vineyard in sight. We arrive at the Highland Park distillery on the outskirts of Kirkwall and get off the coach. Unfortunately we cannot take a tour as there are too many of us and one of the tour guides is sick so we watch a short video and have a wee dram (£1.50 each). We walk back into the town an end up at the Shore Hotel and have lunch. A new word enters our vocabulary. Peedie means small, 21,000 people live on the Orkneys, slightly less than on the Shetland Islands. After lunch we wander back through the narrow streets to St Magnus's Cathedral (more...), a massive sandstone building started in 1137. It is narrower than Chichester Cathedral where 14 chairs can be got in between the main pillars of the aisle. There is only room for six in St Magnus's. We leave the cathedral and wander around the rabbit warren of the Orkney Museum. We walk round the gardens and seek a place for tea but instead have ice creams. We return to the hotel for a short rest before the evening meal at 6:30pm. We all eat on the first floor in the Writing Room next to the Reading Room which is used as a lounge. After the meal we go outside for a stroll but it is cut short by a shower, something we haven't had since Aberdeen. We seek haven in the St Ola Hotel. We have a couple of drinks and then return to our hotel fifty yards East.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Friday, 31st July - Orkney Archaelogy

We breakfast at 8am following a night which included a couple of rain bursts but it is now dry outside. We board the coach at 9am and are driven West to park close to the Standing Stones of Stenness (more...) . We are ferried in a minibus to the Maeshowe (more...) visitor centre and then walk a couple of hundred yards to a burial mound. We wait for the first tour to complete and enter the mound via a 1.5 metre high and 15 metre long tunnel. Apparently it was designed like this so that people entering it were forced to show respect by bending down. When we straighten ourselves out we are standing in a large square chamber with three smaller chambers built off to the sides. Two dozen of us stand and are enthralled by our Geordie guide who explains all we need to know about the 4500-year old burial chamber. The sun shines through the doorway at the winter solstice. We make our way back to view the standings stones and then are driven to the port of Stromness. Unfortunately the street is too narrow for the coach but this is only discovered after we have been driven down a narrow lane for half a mile. The driver, Andrew, performs a remarkable job of reversing back the way we entered. We are dropped off at the ferry terminal. We walk along the port's narrow flag-stoned streets and as we find nowhere to eat we return to the ferry terminal and eat on a seat outside the Ferry Inn. We have a long chat with a German girl who has lived in the town for a couple of years and loves it. We get back on the coach and are taken to Skara Brae (more...) , a neolithic village on the coast. It is sunken in the ground. The walls, stone dressers, hearths and sleeping areas are all well preserved as they are made of stone The tops of the walls are covered with turfs. The village is 3200 years old and the best preserved in Northern Europe. We visit Skaill House (more...) owned by the Laird of Breckness on whose estate the neolithic village stands and tour its rooms. We end the visit with an ice cream. We get back on the coach and are taken to the Ring of Brodgar, , originally a circle of sixty stones but now only half that number. They stand at the edge of a 100 metre diameter circle and are 3000 years old. We then visit the Barnhouse Neolithic Village near the Standing Stones of Stenness. Feeling that we are Neolithed out we are taken to the Ayre Hotel in Kirkwall where we will eat tonight. We walk round the fishing port and talk to a fisherman who opens up a crate of his catch and shows us a mass of lobsters all with their claws bound with elastic bands. He will sell them to someone who will fatten them up in tanks and sell them at Christmas for £35 each. We amble along to the Kirkwall Hotel and have coffee. We return to the Ayre Hotel and after an hour's wait we have a decent meal. The speciality, which Graham has, is the Clootie Dumpling, something akin to spotted dick but with cinnamon to spice it up, Garry has his third lot of ice cream today. After the meal we leave to board the ferry which leaves from nearby Halston at close to midnight. The boat is the M V Hjartland, the same on that brought us to Kirkwall.

Previous DaySummary Saturday, 1st August - Return Home

We are awoken by a voice from the ceiling telling us it is 6:30am. At 7am we dock in Aberdeen. The crossing was smooth with a few undulations towards the end. We have breakfast and at 8am we disembark and board the coach. It is drizzling and overcast. Some people get off at the station and some at the airport. The coach stops just before 10am at Discovery Point, Dundee for us to have a comfort break and a coffee. We wait outside in the rain for the place to open up at 10am. We have coffee and take a photo of the Discovery moored adjacent. Some more people leave us and we continue South. Some leave at a service station near Kinross, some at Dunfermlin. The majority leave at the Marriott, near Edinburgh airport including our guide who has forgotten us! There are now 7 of us plus the driver. Four of us get off at the airport and the rest will travel to Glasgow. We enter the airport at 12:30 which gives us 4.5 hours to while away. We spend some of it in Wetherspoons downing some Deuchars IPA and lunch and then retire to comfortable seats by a window. The plane is delayed by twenty minutes. When we arrive in Southampton we are greeted by Felix who drives us home. We arrive home at about 7pm, exhausted having done no exercise all day.


A few observations:

  1. If there are no midges and no rain then the Shetlands and Orkneys are very delightful places to visit as we discovered.
  2. Nearly all the inhabitants are very welcoming and will take time to talk to you.
  3. The archealogical sites we visited were unknown to us before the trip. They are spectacular.
  4. The oil revenue from Sullom Voe has been well used. The roads in Shetland are good and there are better sports facilities than there are in Hampshire.
  5. The real ale is very acceptable. In Shetland it comes from the Valhalla Brewery (more...) on Unst and appears to be available only in bottles.
  6. The poem "Bloody Orkneys", written by a soldier stationed in the Orkneys during WWII, is no longer relevant.

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