It’s not so grim up north

This gallery contains 12 photos.

We had another lovely day out at Eshaness yesterday – heading to the north of the island to distribute leaflets this time. We stopped off at the Braewick campsite cafe and had lentil soup for lunch, and then had a great day’s wildlife spotting – red-throated divers, an absolutely gorgeous otter scoffing a fish with […]

We’re all going on a puffin hunt!

We saw our first puffins of the year yesterday.

We’d had the first lot of our professionally printed leaflets delivered, and, eager to get them out to as many places as possible, we did a drive down the length of mainland, dropping them off at appropriate places along the way.

The weather was doing that madly changeable thing it does in Shetland – rain thundering on the roof of the car and working the wipers to within an inch of their lives one minute, sun beating down and forcing us to open the windows the next.

We stopped next to Sumburgh airport to give Bert a chance to have a run around at Virkie beach, and there we saw shelducks and dunlin as well as fulmars looking very odd and out of place, lying on the sand. I guess there’s a shortage of cliffs round there…

Virkie beach

Virkie beach

It’s quite odd to be walking along the beach with a windsock just above you, and FlyBe jets taking off over your head. We did a bit of cockling again, and it was much more successful than our previous attempt, at least in the sense that the ones we found were actually alive. We still only found four of them, though, so we put them back.

We stopped off at the Sumburgh Hotel to drop off some leaflets and a poster and have one of their very excellent hot chocolates, and decided that, since we were there and we knew the puffins had arrived, it would be worth going up to the lighthouse for a look.

It was worth going just for the view of Fitful Head from the lighthouse, cloud shadows and patches of light chasing across the headland.

A puffin!

A puffin!

It’s not just the puffins that have arrived – the auks are all here in force, the guillemots and razorbills colonising the cliffs already. Even the major building work that’s going on at the lighthouse itself doesn’t seem to have dissuaded them. And, lo and behold, there was a funny-looking little fella with his colourful beak and sad pierrot eye emerging from a burrow, muddy faced and pigeon-toed. I don’t think you can ever get tired of looking at puffins.


Rain can really hurt, sometimes. Mostly if it’s being lashed at you by a gale-force wind. So stinging it feels solid, like hail. I didn’t know that friendly, soft water can sting and burn like sharp nails.

And then the rain stops and you turn around to look behind you and there’s a beautiful, complete rainbow, right across the bay. Not so bad after all.

Somewhere over the…

What a cockle-up!

Graham decided it would be a good idea to go cockling this morning. It was a dull, grey, blustery, drizzly day – perfect for pulling on wellies and going fishing about up to your elbows in freezing cold seawater. Not.

We’re not very experienced shellfisher-people (one day I’ll repost my old blog from Canna about our lobster creeling adventure, but you need a strong stomach for that one). Clearly, we don’t really have a clue about where cockles ought to be. We went to a bay where we’ve seen gazillions of old and empty cockle shells, assuming that, as the tide went out, that’s where gazillions of fresh new living ones would be.

A cockle shell. Sadly empty.

A cockle shell. Sadly empty.

Humph. While Bertie chased around in the heather searching for rabbits, we waded through the shallows, dipping in to grab likely looking suspects. When we compared spoils after an hour’s trawling around the shore, I had one clam shell that turned out to be empty, and one cockleshell that turned out to contain a load of mud. And Graham had three more cockleshells that also turned out to contain nothing but mud.

Oh well, it got us out of the house and was a bit of exercise before lunchtime. Bertie enjoyed himself, anyway…

Woodn’t it be nice…?

It is a common and oft-quoted myth that there are no trees in Shetland. Certainly there aren’t many, but they can be found, and if you head out past the Bonhoga gallery on Westside to Kergord, there are about half a dozen plantations of pines and larches, in varying stages of decay and dilapidation, to be explored.

We’d driven by them a number of times, enjoying the novelty of seeing Shetland’s only rookery, then one day a workmate at the bakery told me her children were going on a school field trip to a ‘forest’ (which is stretching the point just a little bit!) and were being taken to Kergord.

So, driving by today, we decided to stop off and take a look. The plantations are not managed at all; apparently they used to be looked after by the Amenity Trust, but as none of the trees are native, the trust has – probably quite justifiably – decided there are better things to spend its money on, and so the woods are in a bit of a state. Fallen trees and rotten stumps are everywhere, covered in mosses and lichens. There are areas you can’t even get close to for the undergrowth, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be in among those trees in high winds – it feels and sounds like they could all come crashing down around you at any time.

Bertie in among the celandines

Bertie in among the celandines

But it is, nonetheless, lovely. Suddenly we came upon a patch of newly budding wood sorrel (got to go back and get some pictures of those in a week or so) and in one of the more open plantations, the ground was a carpet of yellow celandines. We could hear the seeping of what we think must have been goldcrests in the treetops, though we couldn’t spot them. There’s the remains of an old building, with the remnants of a recent fire – presumably for the children’s benefit – and there are a number of dens built out of old logs.

A carpet of celandines

A carpet of yellow

I can imagine the children thrilling to the slight creepiness of the woods, the dankness of the darker bits, ravens cronking overhead, the gnarled and twisted trees looking like they might get up and walk at any minute. I hadn’t really thought about it until we got there, but suddenly I realised I missed woods, so it’s great to know that they’re there. It may not quite be a forest, but it’ll do. Think we’ll go back for a picnic.

Oh yeah for Uyea

Looking through my files for photos to illustrate a feature on walking in Shetland (look out for that in an upcoming issue of 60 North), I realised that I’ve not posted or uploaded any photos from our day out at Uyea in Northmavine. Uyea (pronounced, I think, as if you were telling somebody, such as a small dog, off for pinching your biscuit: ‘Oy-ah!’) is both the little bit of mainland and the tiny island that is connected at low tide by a stunningly beautiful, soft sandy beach.

The beach at Uyea

The beach at Uyea

The beach is reached by a long, tortuous drive – or walk if you’re feeling very fit and have plenty of time – along a bumpy, twisting track across open moorland, then a walk around clifftops and a scramble down a short, precipitous slope. If you want to get on to the island itself, you have to wait for low tide and cross – or, if you get impatient, you can paddle…

Paddling across to Uyea island

Paddling across to Uyea island

It’s a place of remarkable contrasts. You arrive at the serene-looking white-sand beach, and find rocks standing in the clearest, stillest waters, covered in thousand of tiny mussels no bigger than your little fingernail, and shags sunning themselves out on the stacks. But head just around the corner, between the cliffs, and you’re at a beach where the sea is forcing its way between rock stacks and through arches and it’s a thunderous, violent world of boiling, tormented waters.

Making tracks on the beach at Uyea

Making tracks on the beach at Uyea

We made it across to the island. We were too impatient to wait for the tide to go right out, so we paddled through the icy, clear water, with the tide still sucking and pulling round our calves, the potential strength and violence of the sea still very near the surface. I had a moment of panic as Bertie started heading towards the deeper water, envisaging him being washed out to sea. However, as it had been a spur of the moment decision to go there at all, we hadn’t researched the tides and, beautiful though it is, we didn’t particularly fancy the idea of spending the night on the island, so we paddled back across (Bert on Graham’s shoulders this time) with the promise that we’ll go back and visit the island properly next time…