Aberdeen to Home

We arrived on time in Aberdeen this morning. I got up and got dressed quickly, but Emma and the girls were a little slow in getting out of our cabin and going down to the lower car deck to move our car when we were called to do so, so I was named and shamed over the tannoy. Tsk!

We decided to drive back via Oxenhope and then head down the M1, rather than take the M6 all the way back home and risk hitting the Birmingham area at rush hour – this added a few miles to the journey, but meant that we could break it up a little more and would also probably be a little more picturesque, necessitating, as it did, a quick trip through the Dales.

Stopped off at Mum and Dad’s grave in Oxenhope to check that all was well there. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great, Murron was upset, and there was a general ‘down’ mood in the car, so it wasn’t the nicest journey home, but, after hitting the Bradford/Leeds area at the worst possible time, we did make it home at last – tired and ready for a good sleep.

Lerwick and shipped back to Aberdeen

Spent our final day in Shetland in Lerwick, where we bought a few last-minute souvenirs and gifts, before briefly heading back to Paul and Teresa’s and then onwards to the ferry terminal via the Shetland Museum, where Paul now works on a part-time basis.

We said our good-byes outside the museum, Kate and Murron becoming quite tearful and then made our way to the ferry terminal, and, after what seemed like a long wait, onto the Hjaltland, for the return journey to Aberdeen.

The trip back was slightly more rough than the trip over had been and Murron became sea-sick, blocking our sink in the process. Eventually, as we were about to arrive at our stop off in Kirkwall, Orkney, I told a member of the crew that our sink was blocked and they duly sent a crew member round to unblock it, which he did in very little time – obviously, it’s a common occurrence, but we were a bit annoyed with Murron for not spewing in the toilet, as we had instructed her.

The Shetland Bus

Today was given over to Shetland Bus day.

Having read about the Shetland Bus operation in David Howarth’s book after our visit last year, I wanted to visit the main places involved in the operation. Howarth himself was charged with organisation of the operation, which was an Special Operations Executive operation manned by Norwegians running a clandestine route between Shetland and Norway during World War 2.

The operation supplied Norwegian resistance with arms, sabotage specialists, and other resources, whilst evacuating from Norway men, women, and children who were in imminent danger. The Norwegian volunteers involved made the journey in small fishing boats in the worst sea conditions. Norwegian fishing boats were used to eliminate any suspicion on the part of the Germans. Many of the volunteers lost their lives in the process, more often due to conditions at sea than enemy action, but there are a few good stories around the whole operation and a film was made based on the story too.

Our initial destination was the first base for the operation in Lunna. Unfortunately, the house at Lunna which was used throughout the start of the operation was undergoing refurbishment, so we could only see it from the outside. However, we parked at the small nearby church, Lunna kirk, and found a couple of graves of the Norwegians who’d lost their lives as part of the operation, and a memorial to David Howarth, whose ashes were scattered on the waters of Lunna Bay after his death in 1991. We went inside the kirk too, which is a small, picturesque, and peaceful place of worship.

Having visited Lunna, we headed to Hillswick, hoping to get some lunch from the seal sanctuary there. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we headed instead to the lighthouse and cliffs at nearby Esha Ness.

Esha Ness lighthouse was designed by David Stevenson in 1929 and is unusual, having, as it does, a square tower – the idea being that it would be easier to source interior fittings.

Our next port of call on the way back south was Mavis Grind – a small piece of land, or isthmus, which was used by the Vikings as a short cut between the North Sea and the Atlantic. They used to drag their longships overland from one sea to the other, and it was a place that was visit on an annual basis by the Blue Peter team for a reconstruction of this event, until a local was rather rude to a member of the Blue Peter team, who haven’t been back since! It’s now used as a crossing place for otters.

Finally, we headed down to Shetland’s former capital, Scalloway, which is a pretty town on the western side of Mainland. Emma took quite a shine to the place. Scalloway was used as the base for the Shetland Bus operation once it outgrew Lunna. A slipway was built and a proper boathouse was used to maintain and repair the fishing boats involved in the operation. Eventually, later in the war, when the cover had pretty much been blown, the operation was given three ‘submarine chaser’ vessels by the U.S. navy and no more lives were lost as part of the operation. There is still a strong bond between the people of Scalloway in particular and Norway and there is now a permanent memorial to the brave individuals who took part in the Shetland Bus operation.

Unst – Day 2

After breakfast and having packed our stuff back into the cars, Paul, Emma, Tristan, and I went to the Unst Boat Haven, while the others went to Muness castle. Following a short stop at a playground afterwards, we headed to the beach near Haroldswick.

On the way back to catch the ferry afterwards, we stopped off at the Viking boat, Skidbladnir, which is a part of the Viking Unst project (http://www.vikingshetland.com/), run by Bradford University, and sits amid a whole host of Viking archaelogy on the island, including as yet uncovered Viking longhouses.

The Skidbladnir is worth a visit – it’s staffed by Keith Prosser and Tony Sherratt – enthusiastic members of the Viking Unst team and offers a real hands-on experience of Viking skills, all in the setting of a replica longship, which had been due to cross the Atlantic from Sweden to North America as part of a flotilla of Viking Longships a few years ago, but had to drop out when it ran into a few problems.

Following our visit to the Skidbladnir, we made the dash across Unst to catch our ferry back to Yell, and then back to Mainland, arriving back at Paul and Teresa’s mid-evening.

Unst – Day 1

Today, we made the journey from the Shetland mainland up to Unst. The journey involves driving to the top of the mainland, taking a ferry to the island of Yell (approx 20 minutes), driving across Yell, and then taking a short ferry crossing from Yell to Unst.

Paul and Teresa booked us into two family rooms at the Gardiesfauld Youth Hostel at Uyeasound for an overnight stop tonight, which means that we don’t have to rush back down to the mainland and gives us longer to enjoy Unst.

On our arrival in Unst, we headed straight up to the Northernmost part, near the former RAF early warning base at Saxa Vord, near Haroldswick, and to the most northerly house in Britain. Nearby is Skaw beach, again, the most northerly in Britain, which we visited last year in rather windier conditions. Today, the sun shone and we had a couple of hours more or less to ourselves on the beach.

Emma and I (along with Tristan in his baby carrier) walked up to the watchposts, used in WW2 and perhaps more recently to keep an eye out for enemy submarines. Then it started to rain, so we all headed back to the cars and down to the youth hostel at Uyeasound.

Once we’d checked in there an sorted out our rooms (we each had a family room, which Paul and Teresa had booked in advance), Murron, Philippa and I headed to the former Saxa Vord RAF base residential area, which is starting to be redeveloped for small businesses and tourists since it was decommissioned a couple of years ago. We went to the Foords Chocolates factory to have a look around. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see, as they weren’t conducting tours today, but we took the opportunity to have a drink and snack, before returning to the youth hostel.

On our return, the kids went down to the bay front to play. We had our evening meal and then spent the rest of the evening playing the card game Uno, which became quite comptetitive between Paul and me.

Lerwick and swimming

Initially went into Lerwick with Emma, Murron, Maddy, and Tristan this morning. Murron and Maddy are getting on very well and both ended up buying the same set of clothes with their money.

We met up with Paul, Kate, Tom, and Philippa afterwards and all went swimming afterwards at the Clickimin Leisure Centre in Lerwick. Good fun was had all round on the slides and the river section of the pool. Tristan had the toddler’s pool pretty much to himself, as there weren’t any other babies around.

St Ninian’s and Sumburgh Head

Not a great start to the day weather-wise today, but by the mid afternoon the sun had burnt off the clouds and the weather had turned very nice, so we headed over to St Ninian’s Isle and the beach that joins the island (or peninsula) to the mainland by the largest active tombolo in the UK.

Had a very pleasant time there. The kids played in the sea and we had a few beach-based games, including a game of beach cricket, which became quite tiring pretty quickly, due to the softness of the sand. Last year, Emma and I had paid a fleeting visit here, but had not stayed, because we were in full bike gear. This time, it was great to be able to enjoy the beach – and nobody got sunburnt, mainly due to the application of copious amounts of sun cream.

Afterwards, we headed to Sumburgh Head and walked up to the lighthouse to see the puffins and other birds that make the rock faces their home.