Wednesday 20th & Thursday 21st July
We felt pretty good about things when we set off from my parents house for our third day in Yell, especially considering this was day 27 of consecutive walking days and day 34 of total walking days. An extremely hearty breakfast courtesy of mother, a great nights sleep, a mild day and the fact that our better halves were coming up to meet us with some lunch in Gutcher led to an optimistic feeling on the drive up to Cullivoe. This should have immediately set the alarm bells ringing!
We parked up at the graveyard between Breckon and Cullivoe and while the weather wasn’t too good for all the tourists and visiting Tall Ships, it was quite good conditions for walking. The walk around Cullivoe was much more picturesque than we expected and the beach at Breckon is famous as one of Shetlands best. There are two other beaches that are quite nice at Brough and Papil, although they are not in the same league as Breckon. The views over Bluemull Sound towards Unst are impressive, especially from down at the coastline. We walked past the remains of the Sail Yell Tall Ships event at the Cullivoe Pier, where the volunteers were clearing up. It had been a bit of a wash out weather wise but it would have taken a much more severe serving of wind and rain to dampen the party spirit, a very good time had been had by all.
The going had been very good so far and we were on the way to Gutcher in pretty good time. Spirits were still high and we were about a mile away from our lunch date when the inevitable fall from grace struck, literally. A rather small depression in the ground managed to make quite a big impression on Ewan’s ankle and after I managed to stop laughing at his comically slow motion fall, it became obvious that he may not be able to walk much further. He had gone over on his ankle pretty badly and could hardly put any weight on it, but the road thankfully wasn’t to far away, so he hobbled up to it and hitched a lift. I walked around to Gutcher and found a very sad looking Ewan sitting by the car and we went up to the Hillhead for our lunch date. Some good food and even better company made for a very enjoyable stop, possibly too enjoyable as by the time I got up to getting going again everything had seized up. Still, I was able to take comfort from the fact that I was in better shape than Ewan and I left him on the couch at the Hillhead with a swollen and very sore ankle.
The walk from Gutcher around to Burra Ness was easy going the whole way and the views were great. However, my camera was refusing to take any pictures (although my phone had enough harge in it to take 2 pictures, this one above is of the Broch) and I was feeling a bit apprehensive about the injury Ewan had sustained and how long it would keep him out for, so I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I should have. The Broch at Burra Ness is one of the better Broch’s we’ve encountered and while it is not in the same league as Mousa or Clickimin it is on par with Culswick or Levenwick and the walking conditions are good, so it is certainly worth a visit. Coming in around to Kirkabister I was quite amused by the collection of around 30 odd shoes and boots that had been set up on the beach.
My ankle was starting to play up now, so at Gunnister I had to move up to the road, put on some Deep Ice spray, take some painkillers and I stayed on the road until I got to the end of the voe at the Dalsetter junction. Ewan had managed to prise himself of the couch by now and came to meet me with a top up of food, painkillers and energy based drinks. There were a couple of evenly spaced out meeting points from here to the head of Mid Yell Voe so I ditched the big back pack and we set on for Ewan to meet me at these intervals with top ups.
The walk from the end of the Voe around to Basta wasn’t too spectacular but the going was okay and the painkillers were really kicking in so I was starting to make a lot better headway. From Basta in around to North-a-voe the walking was fine, although the Head of Hevdagarth was quite steep. Kaywick was a fantastic little spot, one of those hidden gems that you stumble upon unexpectedly and get some great photo’s….or would if your camera wasn’t broken! I may have to go back and take a few photo’s when spare time and photographic equipment are in alignment. From Camb in around to the head of Mid Yell Voe was a delight. There is something very enjoyable about the last mile of a long days walking, especially if you have a clear line of sight to your car or lift and, as was the case here, knew you were going to be treated to a medicinal tin of cider. In fact this knowledge inspired a bit of a jog for last few hundred meters! After that it was home time and as usual a feast awaited at Otterswick. A hearty helping of Mam’s Roast Beef and several more medicinal ciders soothed the aches and pains away.
The plan for the next day was to finish off the 3 mile Ulsta to Hamnavoe section that we hadn’t yet completed in the South of Yell and then to walk from Cullivoe to the end of Whale Firth, which was going to be around the 19 mile mark. A relatively early night was had and we hoped for the best come morning, but it was looking like I’d be walking solo tomorrow.
When morning came the weather was almost as uninspiring as Ewan’s face. There was no way he would be able to walk on his ankle but he wanted to give it a try so he gave the small leg from Ulsta to Hamnavoe a blast. He walked that section in the morning by himself ( I would go back and do this section later by myself) and hobbled around in at a pace which demonstrated that he really should have just gone home and not have tried to walk. He is, however, a stubborn sod and I think he felt better for having got something done, even if his ankle didn’t. Thankfully he would learn his lesson from this and we decided that he would take a full rest day tomorrow and would then hopefully be fit to join me in completing from Laxo to Lerwick on Saturday and Sunday.
Another change of plan when we rose in the morning happened when my dear mother announced that I was going to be joined by my Dad. She said he had never been to West-a-firth or Vigon and if he didn’t take the chance to come now he probably never would. I would like to think that this was the case but I suspect, much like when my sister arranged a ‘guide’ for us in Muckle Roe, that there was an element of ‘baby sitting’ involved. Dad has always been an extremely fit person and even though he was muttering about hoping he would be able to make the distance as he had a bit of a sore hip, I can categorically state that this leg was completed faster and with substantially less bitching, moaning and catastrophes’ than any of the similar sized legs we have done. A quality that he has that I have always admired in him is the ability to just get on with things. I have been known to be a bit of a pleeps at times ( Pleeps basically means to have a bit of a grump and groan about things) and there has been times on this walk that both me and Ewan have done our fair share of pleepsing. Dad, who is 70 in September (he’ll not thank me for publicising that!), just shoved on his wellies, marched out the North West Quarter of Yell and was still going at the same speed at the end as he was at the start and didn’t complain once. I made a mental note that I needed to be more like my dad. On several occasions over the next couple of days I tried and often failed at doing so.
The walk from Cullivoe to Gloup was good, with the sands of Breckon one of Yell’s obvious treasures. If you’ve not been before, there are few beaches in Shetland as worthy of visiting! if you come to Yell and combine a visit to Breckon with a jaunt to the West Sandwick beach, you’ve got a trip to satisfy even the most demanding of sand worshippers. I will make no promises about the weather you may encounter though.
As we came around Gloup Ness we walked up to the coastal watch hut and I got a bit of a fright, I really wasn’t expecting to find someone sitting in the hut on ‘watch’! As you head in Gloup Voe you come upon the memorial dedicated to the 58 fishermen that lost their lives in the 1881 disaster, which is one of Shetland’s most poignant memorials and it is well worth a visit if you are in Yell. The men from Gloup would row out to the fishing grounds, which could be over 40 miles out to sea in small boats (Sixareens), something that seems almost impossible to comprehend, especially when you think of the comparison from this to the modern fishing fleet and what life must have been like for a ‘Haaf’ fisherman and their families.
The east side of Gloup Voe, the Easter Lee of Gloup, is steep but manageable, unlike the Wester Lee of Gloup. If you are going to venture try this walk I would whole heartedly recommend that you walk along the top of the West side of the Voe and do not try to walk it at the shore, unless you have ankles made of titanium or one leg much sorter than the other. West-a-firth is another poignant reminder of Shetland’s past. In 1861 there 120 people living there but by 1871 the population had been reduced to 4, by John Walker, the factor for the laird, in order to make room for sheep. In fact, my great, great grandmother was one of these people. One of the houses was re-roofed some time ago for use during lambing time but the last house to be perminantly inhabited was in 1949. From here around the North Neaps and all the way down the West side to the Dale of Lumbister , the walking conditions were every bit as good as the scenery. The view of Gloup Holm and the Birrier were the highlights on the North corner and both me and dad were quite taken with the old homestead at Vigon. It hasn’t been lived in for around 150 years but is still amazingly sound of structure.
Once you have gone past Gloup there are no inhabited houses until you reach Setter, at the end of Whale Firth. There are abandoned settlements at West-a-firth, Vigon, Lumbister and Vollister but the remains of the iron age fort at Burgi Geos are the most spectacular. While there’s not just too much of the fort remaining, the there’s just enough to get your imagination fired up and make you stop and wonder what it would have been like here a thousand years ago. The causeway that joins the fort to the mainland is lined with stones, giving you a walkway of miniature standing stones that have a pretty dramatic effect, as do the remains of the stone circles, dykes and buildings that are scattered around the surrounding area. There is a real feeling of history here. Lawrence Tulloch told me a few stories and legends from this part of Yell that were greatly entertaining, but I’m prattling on enough with out adding another couple of paragraphs so, if you can possibly bear too, you’ll just have to wait until we release our book until you here them! I’m sure that the thought of parting with your hard earned cash for a book written by someone with as questionable literary skills as myself is not too appealing, but just think of the sick children and injured fire fighters. Watch this space for information on where and when to invest in a future classic. We’ll even sign them if you pop another couple of quid in the charity box, bargain eh? In all seriousness, it will probably take us a fair while to get our idea’s translated onto paper and then printed so I wouldn’t expect to see it in time for Christmas, although there will be a calendar out for then to keep you Big Trek-ies happy!
The Dale of Lumbister is a fantastic spot and definitely worth a visit. If you walk from the main road at Colvister ( between Basta and Sellafirth) it is only around 6 miles there and back, there’s even some good loch fishing on the way of that sort of thing tickles your fancy.
The views coming in Whale Firth, over to the Northmaven and the opposite side of the Firth, are great, although the terrain wasn’t quite as easy going as it had been. From the old settlement of Vollister into the end of Whale Firth the scenery wasn’t as great but when you reach the road you get a view of ominous Windhouse, Yell’s most famous building. It is now little more than a shell, with virtually all of the roof having collapsed, so it’s not as ominous as it used to be. Saying that, I wouldn’t be too keen to have had to have camped there over night, the old stories of ghosts and murder would have led to a pretty sleepless night I’m sure.
Yell was now completed. The map upon the kitchen wall could now have a black line around the 100 odd miles of Yell. It hadn’t been smooth sailing but it had undoubtedly been worth the effort. I can now vigorously and knowledgably defend Yell’s honour when it is slated by the uneducated, that dub it the ’highway to Unst’ or ‘a bleak peat bog’. The coastline of Yell is one ninth of the total distance that we will walk on our Big Trek and I can say with pride that it has a wealth and depth scenery, geology and history that few places in Shetland can match. There are some brilliant walks in Yell and I was delighted to get the chance to walk the last bit with Dad, it was without a doubt one of the days I enjoyed the most.
As of tomorrow, there’s only two days walking left until we get into Lerwick now, which is a very good feeling. Tomorrow will be pretty hard without Ewan, it’s much harder to feel motivated to push on past the pain, keep the speed up and push out the big miles by yourself, but a days walking with Dad today has reminded me that there’s a lot to be said for just stopping pleepsing and getting on with it. I’ll maybe need to write that on the back of my hand before I set off?