A Travellerspoint blog

26: Brochs

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Had pretty good weather today! After breakfast, we again decided to go and visit our mates, the seals, at the bottom of the garden and so spent the whole morning clambering over rocks trying to get close enough to the sleeping slugs to get a good shot. There must be over a dozen seals that live in the small bay near the house and they are all very inquisitive and keen to see what we are doing. They aren’t tame enough for us to get too close but they are certainly happy to swim around and watch us, just not tame enough to come up onto the rocks where we were.

After watching our new found friends for a while we decided to hop in the car and head south to Sumburgh Nature Reserve to try and see puffins! Puffins are the main reason I decided to come to Shetland… Unfortunately you can only really see Puffins in the summer months when they come on shore (into their little burrows) to nest.. this time of the year all we really saw on the bird cliffs were some stray sea gulls, rabbits and a sheep that had decided it was actually a mountain goat and had gotten lost!

Very disappointing but really hardly surprising that I couldn’t see puffins! I did get to see some archaeological digs though at Jarlshof. Jarlshof has human habitation remains dating well back to around 2000 BC. These are remains from the first Shetland inhabitants (which they think are likely to be early Picts) and we were able to walk amongst their brochs. ‘Broch’ (pronounced Brrro—don’t really pronounce the ‘c’ sound and roll the ‘r’) is the early houses of the original inhabitants and are circular with two walls; an outer wall, a small gap and then an inner wall. The two walls are thought to be for insulation. The walls and roofs were made out of native grey stone with sod on top of the roof for further insulation. No cement or any other sort of “sticky stuff” just grey slate style shingles all piled together to make the walls and roofs… Incredible huh? There were also Viking remains at Jarlshof as well as the 11th century ruin of a manor house, people have continually lived at this location for thousands of years and their remains still exist for us to view!

We had planned to go and see the Mousa Broch (the biggest Broch left standing in the UK) straight after our visit to Jarlshof until we discovered that the ferry over to Mousa doesn’t run after Sept so we were going to have to luck out! (also luck out on seeing the otter colony that apparently lives over on the island) So we spent the arvo sitting in a local pub catching up on postcard writing, until we headed back home for some dinner and an early night.

Posted by weary_feet 10:02 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

25: Leisure Centres

semi-overcast 14 °C
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We spent our day today driving right up to the northern most point of the Shetlands (and the UK) Hermanesse National Park. As per usual we had a leisurely start before jumping in the car (armed with morning tea and lunch—we learnt our lesson yesterday) and starting the surprisingly long drive right up to the northern most island and the northern most point of the Shetlands. To get to Unst (the northern most island) we had to also pass through Yell (another island) so we had two tastes at using the local car ferries. Considering we are in the back end of nowhere the ferries run every 30min or so, so we didn’t have to wait too long at each terminal.

On the way we did our usual stop and look for Otters (still no luck) as well as stopping to see some of the other ‘notable’ sites on our way. Point in fact was our lunch stop today. We ate lunch at the foot of the ‘haunted house’ (which didn’t look super haunted but was in pretty poor repair—and isn’t a tourist attraction even though it is one of the ‘main’ things to do in the Shetlands…..) again it was pouring with rain so our lunch was eaten inside the car.. great picnic huh? The other interesting thing we discovered today is leisure centres. As I mentioned yesterday, many of these ‘towns’ are actually just a house or two and maybe a knit wear shop (knit wear shops seem to be all the rage), so I was quite surprised to discover that most towns have a leisure centre. These centres appear to be indoor basketball courts and maybe a swimming pool and there is at least one on every island (sometimes a couple!!)… now considering the population of each island numbers in the hundreds it seems like overkill to have such good sporting facilities!! I guess this is where the UK tax payer’s money is going to—very small island community centres!!! One thing I do have to say is that I’m not complaining purely because they are open and have toilets and when you need to go………..

We finally reached the northerly most point, the Hermanesse National Park. This is home to Puffins and many other sea birds and also has the most northerly lighthouse in the UK. Today it was raining, windy and cold and the visitor centre was closed for the winter. The time was creeping on to 3pm and to get to the northerly most point we needed to hike a couple of miles. I wasn’t feeling well today (very hot and a headache) so I begged off on the trip and we decided to turn around and return to the digs. As it turned out this proved to be a good idea because it still took us til after 7pm to get home (we spent 40mins playing eye spy at one of the ferry terminals on the way back!) So, unfortunately, we spent another fruitless day looking for puffins and otters…….

Posted by weary_feet 09:36 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

24: Leprechaun Gold

sunny 15 °C
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I had an early start today as the sun woke me up early-ish (7am) so I jumped up grabbed my camera and took some photos of the sun rising over the bay! The view is pretty nice from our digs.. rabbits are playing in the back yard, seals are swimming in the bay and sheep are dotted over the hills behind the house… pretty sweet!

After having brekky we started by wandering down to the bay to see the seals at play. The seals here in this bay are very inquisitive; the whole time we were wandering the shore and taking photos of them they were swimming just off shore and watching our every move! Just awesome. We continued along the bay southward (clambering through neighbouring paddocks- over barbed wire fences etc) with our friendly seals following our every move! We finally got sick of climbing through thick grass and through mud so returned to our digs to eat some lunch before setting out in the car for the western side of the isle in search of otters.

Sea otters are some of the other inhabitants on the island but apparently quite difficult to see, however, armed with our trusty guide map of the island, we thought we were a shoe in to see some of the cute brown little dudes… No such luck! We drove to all of the likely spots but couldn’t see any little otters!! We also discovered that any sort of refreshment was out of the question as the only real shops are in Lerwick.. the other ‘towns’ that are listed on the map are just 1 or 2 houses grouped together!!!! It reminded me of looking at a map of Australia thinking that a coffee shop is going to be available in of all the ‘towns’ that are out in the outback!! 

During our drive, the rain started (surprise, surprise) so we were also treated to a beautiful rainbow with the pot of gold only a couple of meters from the car!!! I didn’t want to deprive the leprechauns of their gold so didn’t bother to get out of the car. Finally, as the sun was setting, we left the western side of the island to return to our digs and a tasty home cooked stir fry!

Posted by weary_feet 10:55 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

23: Free Sheep

semi-overcast 15 °C
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V early start today as I had to catch the 8.30 bus from London to make it to Luton Airport on time for the flight. Like all buses we were running late so I think I just made the check in cut off! After check in we had the usual wait for ever to get through security and even with us not stopping for a break we only just made the gate on time!

Flight to Aberdeen was uneventful and then we had a three hour wait on the ground for our connecting flight to the Shetlands. We settled in to a hardy English lunch (chicken pie for me, fish and chips for Scott) before we got on our flight for Sumburgh Airport on the main island of the Shetlands. We boarded this tiny prop driven plane for the 1 and a bit hour flight to the Shetland Islands. (The plane reminded me of the small ones that go in and out of Kempsey airport for Sydney!!)

Touched down and found our rent a car and set off to look for our accom. Sumburgh airport is on the southern tip of the island and our accom is about a third of the way up the island so about 40min later we arrived at our accommodation. The landscape is quite interesting here on the island—rolling hills that seem to be devoid of trees.. just small stunted bushes and what looks like heather? Fences don’t seem to be too popular and it seems that the local sheep are free to wander where they will! Could make for some hairy driving!!! The main road goes up via the coast (well it seems that the island isn’t really that big so I guess all of the roads follow the coasts!!) and our accom is this nice house overlooking a small rocky bay.. should be good for some exploring tomorrow!

After putting in our stuff we headed further up the island to the town of Lerwick (the capital of the Shetlands) to get some supplies. The town is quite small (maybe a thousand or two?) and all of the buildings are made out of this grey stone- not sure what type- with grey slate roofs. It clearly is and was a shipping village with large trawlers parked in the bay. Today I understand that the town is the main port for some of the north sea oil tankers so I guess oil is now the main industry on the island. After driving around the town (which took us less than 10 mins) we grabbed ourselves some indian take out for dinner and headed back to our digs for dinner and a well deserved sleep!

Posted by weary_feet 02:19 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

22: Holiday Depression

sunny 19 °C
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Had a very interesting (but depressing) start to my day to day. I got up and had my usual morning chat to the ladies sharing my dorm.. You know, nothing exciting just the obligatory “good morning, how did you sleep? Weather looks good today” type of conversation. Three of my fellow roomy’s gave the usual reply “I’m well, slept ok, yep looks like a great day today” my other roomy gave me a fairly unusual reply. She had gotten up very, very early this morning (I could hear the shower going before 5 am) and at the time I assumed her and her daughter (who is also staying in the room) must have been taking an early flight or train from Oxford to somewhere. Her reply was that she was well and slept very poorly. She then continued by telling me that staying in a hostel probably wasn’t a good idea for her and her daughter (English isn’t her first language and her daughter could speak none of the language). I thought she meant that it isn’t a good environment for a little girl to be in (a room full of adult women where she doesn’t speak the language) so I hastened to assure her that everyone would look after her daughter and would watch out for her etc.

I didn’t think too much more of it and went downstairs to have brekky (telling the lady on the way that I was going downstairs to eat). Probably 15 mins or so later I was back in the room and starting to pack up my stuff so that I could get going and see some of Oxford before heading back into London. The lady was quite shocked that I had returned so quickly and in fact was quite suspicious of me.. she questioned me on how quickly I ate etc… Anyway she continued on the same dialogue as she had when I left for brekky talking about how hard it was for her not having a job and how expensive the hostel was to stay in etc etc. At least an hour later I was still sitting in the hostel room and by now had worked out that this lady is somehow on the run from either the law or her family or… and that she had very little money and only had her daughter left. She was basically without hope except it was clear that she wanted to make something of the remainder of her life for the sake of her daughter.. Eventually I had to just leave this poor woman in the room with her daughter. I offered everything I could think of, other options for somewhere to stay, welfare support for herself (help to find a house etc), women’s refuge type stuff.. the poor woman had apparently tried some of these avenues and the avenues had told her family (or whoever was looking for her) so that she had to run again.. It was like a really awful movie.. How are you supposed to help someone who doesn’t actually want help but is desperately afraid and clearly wants anyone to help her (I mean she spoke to me forever and she didn’t know me from a bar of soap) but at the same time doesn’t actually want help????? This poor woman was that afraid that she wouldn’t even tell me her name or her daughter’s name and responded when I asked what their names were with “I don’t know who you are so why should I tell you my name?” (she didn’t say it in a mean awful way but in a scared way)

I know I’ve said it before but I swear I walk around with a sign around my neck saying “I’m a sucker and will happily talk to you about any topic that you desire”. I’ve got to learn to not be so friendly to people who I just don’t know!

To say that this woman’s plight had soured my day is probably the understatement of the century. I felt so depressed, helpless and at the same time felt terrible that I had potentially abandoned a woman who really needed my help, that I ditched my site seeing plan for Oxford got straight in the car and headed to London. I think this was a great plan because by the time I got to London I was so caught up in the ‘need to find my rental car return place and then the tube station’ that by the time I got to my hostel I wasn’t feeling quite so poor and spent the remainder of the arvo surfing the web and planning the rest of my trip after the Shetlands. Moral to today’s story- don’t get emotionally involved with a complete stranger’s problems, you are on holiday and you are not a trained psychiatrist!!!!!

Off to the Shetland’s tomorrow with Scott from the Arctic trip-- Puffins and seals here I come!

Posted by weary_feet 02:10 Archived in England Comments (0)

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