The other day we did quite a big walk – it was a full afternoon out at Muckle Roe.
The Hamms – the deep, spectacular, cliff-ringed bays where the fishermen (and smugglers) once plied their trade – are quite a well-known tourist attraction and plenty of people park up at the end of the road and walk the 4km Land Rover track cutting through the heathery hillside.
Those in the know, however, turn their backs on the obvious route, and head down to the lovely rocky and sandy beach with its bubbling stream that cuts right through the middle, and out to the lighthouse, with views across to Vementry island, picking their way around the stunning coastline.
We’ve done the walk to the lighthouse a few times before, so we cut out that bit of headland to make the walk more manageable, and turned inland from the beach. It turned out to be a good decision, because it was up above one of the many little inland lochs that we had our first unexpected sighting of the day – a beautiful Painted Lady, the first one we’d seen in Shetland, and in fact only the third species of butterfly I’ve seen since moving here. (The others, if you want to know, were Large White and Red Admiral.)
She (it’s a Painted Lady so it has to be a she…) obligingly landed, wings open, and sat still for us, enjoying a few moments of sunshiney warmth while we took some photos, and then continued on her journey, no doubt heading back down to the Continent to escape the fast-approaching Shetland autumn.
We then found some rather lovely field mushrooms, arranged like a family going out for a picnic, as well as some bright yellow fungus that we later identified as yellow club fungus, clavulinopsis.
After that, the day was all about spectacular scenery and wild and windy seas crashing in, rock stacks and daunting cliffs. We found one bay with two enormous rock stacks, one thin like a needle, the other a big, bent hummock, with waves thrashing against them and spraying up. We scrambled down a precarious slippery track to the beach and discovered that as well as the stacks there was an enormous tunnel through the cliff with the water squeezing in and out as the tide ebbed and flowed. All this in just one bay.
At South Hamm there are the forlorn remains of fishermen’s cottages, long abandoned and roofless now. But you can still look through the windows and imagine how it might have been to live here in this perfectly wild and windblown place, with the constant sound of the sea at your ear and the long, long views out to an open, empty ocean.
By the time we reached North Hamm, with its imposing cliff on one side and red sand and shingly beach, I was starting to flag. If you continue round the coastline from here, there’s an almost-island which defied us not to go for a look, challenged us to just go that one bit further. But “Let’s save it for next time,” I wimped out.
After all, we still had the 4km walk back along the Land Rover track to the car park. Which was fine, and scenic and heathery enough. But those tourists who just go there and back along it really don’t know what they’re missing.