That’s the Big Trek calendar out on sale now and if we do say so ourselves, they are pretty damned good. Great value too at £7.50 per calendar or 3 for £20.
The photo’s in the calendar are taken by myself, Ivan Hawick, my 3 sisters (Christine, Clare & Lorna), Dale Smith & Lisa Johnson.
We are selling them at the Tesco supermarket in Lerwick on Wednesday 30th November from 9am untill 9pm.
They are also available at the following places; (more shops will be added as we get the calendars out)
Lerwick – Harry’s Dept Store, Geroge Robertsons( on the Hillhead), & Isleburgh Community Centre.
Country shops – Sandwick Bake Shop, Ollaberry Shop, Aywick Shop, Linkshouse stores(Mid Yell), R Robertson & Son’s (Ulsta, Yell),
We can also post them to you. Please e-mail us at email@example.com with your address and number of calendars you would like. Payments can be made through our donations link on the front page of our website or cheques can be sent if you prefer (we can e-mail you our address). £1 should be added to meet postage costs.
We still have to get the end of the Big Trek finished, which is Foula and the ‘finishing line section’ of the mainland we left up around Fethaland. We were unable to get into Foula at our first attempt due to weather and then Ewan had to go away for 5 weeks to train for his new job. We are finding it hard to get in to Foula as the 2011 annual leave cupboard is bare, we work different shifts to each other and Foula isn’t an easy place to nip in and out of in and quickly walk around, in the middle of winter.
We will get it finished at our first opportunity and due to a slight under estimation of our milage we have actually covered the amount of miles that we thought would see us all the way around to the finishing line. It has been a very demanding challenge but one that was worth the twisted ankles, shot knees, blisters and lack of a normal life for a big chunk of the middle of 2011. If you have not already made holiday plans for 2012 you should consider a holiday exploring Shetland. If you already live here….have a staycation! There are so many wonderful things about Shetland that we’d need to write a little guide book to explain them all. Mmmm…watch this space!
Saturday 24th September
It was an early start today, well it was for Ewan. I had a Up Helly Aa Jarl squad quiz on Friday night so decided it would be best to err on the side of caution and be chauffeured to the ‘Garden of Shetland‘. We arrived in Fetlar at 11am and by the time we got ourselves settled in to the Camping Bod and headed to Hamers Ness to set off, it was 12.30. Our guide for the day had also partaken in some social activities the previous night and was in a similar condition to myself. She however, had no obligation to walk anywhere today, so she wisely put her efforts into being a gracious hostess for the day. We were delighted to be greeted by sunshine on the way up to Fetlar and it stayed with us for the whole day. The only down side to this was that my sun cream and hat were in my car, which was sitting outside my house. This dawned on me about 3 hours in when I felt a bit of a glow coming on and had to fashion some sort of Lawrence of Arabia head gear out of a t-shirt. This saved the day, although I can’t see it catching on!
We set off walking from the ferry terminal at Hamers Ness and planned to get to Funzie before darkness set in. Daylight was a new concern for us. In the 2 months that we have had off between our last walk and this one, night time has descended on Shetland. In June, the latest we walked was midnight but now at the end of September about 7pm was going to be the limit. The walk around the north and east coast of the island was a joy, even when suffering from the previous evening’s social excesses. The first mile was a bit damp but after that the going was good and the terrain was enough of a challenge to make it feel like you had worked hard enough to deserve the beautiful views you were rewarded with. The walk from Busta Hill, in around the Wick of Gruting and down the east coast past Baa-neap, felt like it had past so quickly, we thought we must have gotten lost when we came upon the houses of Funzie. It’s amazing what a bit of sun, some good banter, even better scenery and a few cheeky ‘fun sized’ tins of pear cider can do! The odd fantastic place name thrown in doesn’t hurt either. There have been a few beauties we’ve encountered so far but the Sand of Paradise (in the Wick of Gruting) must be right up there. It was quite a nice spot, not sure that it exactly lives up to the name but it was a very nice place to stop for a ham roll and a crunchie. The Wham is another Fetlar gem making into the top ten place names list, imagine having that as part of your address.
We were met at Funzie by the lovely Joanne and Duncan, who whisked us up to the family home, where we were treated to fantastic hospitality from Neil & Marie. Anyone who knows me can imagine the look on my face when we were told that Mama Coutts was whipping up a Chinese feast. Ewan was pretty chuffed too! After some tasty food, a few drams, some stories and a quick pint in the hall, we very sensibly called it a night and headed for an early bed. It’s not very often either of us are in bed before midnight on a Saturday but we were planning a pretty early start, so for once let sense prevail and headed for the Bod to get our heads down. I got a pretty solid 6 hours sleep, Ewan, thanks to my chain saw impersonation got quite a bit less.
Sunday 25th September
We got an early start and were packed up and walking by the back of 7am. Things were pretty wet from Hamers Ness, all the way down the west side of Fetlar. After about a mile we stopped worrying about getting our feet wet and focused on keeping above the knee dry instead. We had a quick look around Brough Lodge and were quite shocked by the state of disrepair it is in. Funding of around £4 million is being sought to renovate the former lairds home but I do not envy either the fund raisers or the renovation team. That said, there is no doubt that if restored, it would be a great asset to Fetlar.
After passing Brough Lodge, you come to the wonderfully named ‘Sand of Sand’. Fetlar does it again. The views down towards Lamb Hoga were undoubtedly worth the wet feet. We stopped at the old houses at Helliersness for some food and enjoyed the wonderful views over to my home town of Otterswick. Although there is a commune of nuns in Fetlar, the views were over Colgrave Sound to Yell were much more heavenly. We were quite taken by how remote these houses at Helliersness were but were later informed that these were houses that were only stayed in during the peat cutting, raising and taking home.
As you come around Lamb Hoga into the Wick of Tresta, the terrain becomes a bit trickier but again, the views make up for it. The Sand of Tresta is a fantastic spot, and the walk all the way around the Wick of Aith and out to Funzie Ness is as enjoyable a walk as you’ll find. Another of Fetlar’s great place names is found here, The Snap! Brilliant. As we came past Muckle Birriers Geo and Houlls Sound, on the home straight to Funzie again, we were hit by that old familiar wave of relief that you get when you finish a big walk. We hadn’t put in a big mileage today compared with what were doing in June & July, around 18 miles by the time we finished. We were, however, out of practice and 32 miles in the space of 26 hours reminded, me in particular, that it would be a good idea to eat & drink a bit less, and exercise a bit more before we tackle Unst in 2 weekends time.
If you have never been to Fetlar before, or haven’t been in a while, we would whole heartedly recommend it. The coastal scenery is exceptional and the welcome is warm. The camping Bod is a great place to stay, although if you go, you need to switch on the emersion water heater if you want a hot shower. We never noticed the big sign telling us to do so and were rewarded with very ‘refreshing’ showers as a consequence.
It was great to get going with the trek again and we can’t wait to get our teeth stuck into Unst, Foula and Fethaland. We can’t really expect many more days like this for our remaining walks and were extremely grateful for the luck we got this weekend. A massive thanks must go to the Coutts clan for their hospitality and also to everyone at the hall for their kind donations and hopefully we’ll enjoy our visit to Unst as much as we did our visit to Fetlar.
It is nearly time to don our walking boots again. Ewan has returned from training for his new job and we are ready and raring to get the last few legs of the Big trek done.
We are going to be walking around Fetlar this weekend and then Unst 2 weekends later. We still have to get a date for Foula, although there will need to be a degree of flexibility as we will be at the mercy of the weather gods. We also have a day of walking left in Northmaven and would like to leave this as our last walk as it is the most accessible of the 4 walks we have left and there are a few folk keen to join us.
The weather and dark nights are closing in so we will be much more limited with the distance we can walk in a day. The terrain will also be more tricky now as the ground has had to deal with a lot of water since July. But we only have 140 miles left to do – we’ve done 750 miles, so it really feels like we’re on the home straight.
We’ve not done much on the fund raising side during the time we have had off from walking. To be honest it was good to have a break and catch up with the other areas of our lives that we had probably been neglecting. We have started to arrange a calendar though, which will include many of the pictures that we have taken on the walk and also a few that other people that have joined us have taken.
If there are any businesses out there that would like to take out a small advert in the calendar, we have a few spaces left so please contact us at
firstname.lastname@example.org or on our facebook page.
There will be 1000 produced and we are looking for a 1 company to sponsor each month and the cost would be around £165 each.
Thanks for taking the time to keep up to date with the Big Trek and the next blog will be up around Wednesday next week.
Saturday 23rd July 2011
We started the day off comparing the swelling, bruises and total lack of mobility in our ankles and knees. Neither of us probably should have been walking anywhere today but a new tin of deep-freeze ice spray and more Codeine tablets had been added to the first aid kit, the weather was better than yesterday and we were back together after Ewan’s injury lay off, so we were desperate to try and get enough miles covered to make it into Lerwick tomorrow. There were several stretches of the walk today that we had to walk separately while the other person got their boots off and rested and tended to their ankles and knees. We started at the point I finished yesterday and the stretch of coastline all the way down to Gletness was beautiful despite the drizzly conditions. Linga Ness, Eswick and Gletness are all places that will be added to the ’places to visit on a nice day’ list.
The scenery in and around Catfirth and Wadbister wasn’t quite as stunning but it felt great to be making headway and edging closer to town. At Wadbister we thought that a last push around into the Strand at the end of Lax Firth would probably do us for the night but I got the bright idea to keep going around Breiwick. Ewan wasn’t able to move anymore but I was fired up ad didn’t want to give up yet. Hawks Ness was longer than expected and by the time I got out to the end it was starting to get pretty dark, well it was nearly 11pm and very cloudy. I had no torch and wasn’t really sure how far was left ,as I’d left the map in the car and the batteries in the GPS were too low for the backlight to come on…nothing like being prepared! I completed the last couple of miles in around Foraness Voe to Breiwick at a speed that hadn’t been achieved in about a week. It’s amazing the effect an over active imagination, the ruins of an old croft house and a sheep running out in front of you can have on your pain barrier.
A quick stop at Ewan’s sister house for some tasty saucermeat rolls and cup of tea was a good end to our night before heading home to get some rest for our long awaited walk into Lerwick.
It had been a pretty late night and waking up to a morning of torrential rain meant it was a bit of a thought to get out of bed. The fact that this was our last days walking until the middle of September and by lunch time we should be sitting in the Tall Ships Beer Tent having a celebratory beer did assist in raising us from our respective slumbers. We met up in town and were just about to head out to Breiwick, when I noticed I had left my walking boots at home. This was possibly a sub-conscious effort to get out of walking but unfortunately my father in law was kind enough to take them up to town and we set off a little later than planned for our last few miles in to Lerwick.
The weather decided to give us a bit of a kicking on this final leg. It started of wet and windy and got steadily worse. By the time we got to the end of Dales Voe we were totally soaked and then had a head wind all the way up past the Waste to Heat Plant. The one bonus we had was being joined by Emily at the new dump, which really lifted our spirits. Having someone else to talk to besides Ewan is a great thing, he may be exceptional fair weather company but in bad weather he is even more ‘pleepsy’ than me.
The walk into Lerwick around the road past the Power Station felt very strange. It was hard to believe that we had come this far and there was some trepidation setting in. Part of you was thinking….Yes!!! No more walking, time to get back to normality and spend sometime with somebody else besides your sweaty, blistered friend. The other part of you couldn’t believe that you didn’t have to get up in the morning and head out for a new challenge, go somewhere you’d never been before, spend the whole day walking and talking utter nonsense with your best friend. Although, when I wakened up on Monday morning, I was leaning much closer to the former than the latter!
We were quite a bit late getting into Victoria Pier, thanks to boot delays, under estimating the distance, long heather and tired, sore legs. We got into the beer tent by lunch time and were greeted by a group of family and friends. After a few medicinal ciders, scallops, Chinese lunch trays and paparazzi shot’s (thanks Ivan), we called it a day and headed home. The Pier was almost a complete wash out, it was raining harder than you could have feared it would in the middle of January, let alone July! It was maybe a good thing though. If the sun had been shinning and the party in full swing, it would have been very hard to have gone home and gotten an early night for an 8.30 start at work the next day.
The support we have received from so many people has been heart warming. There have been too many to list here….that will be for a whole other blog, but we would like to say a massive thank you to everyone that has supported us during this last month or so. We would loved to have been completely finished by the time we walked into Victoria Pier again but it wasn’t to be. At 23.25 miles per day we were only 1.75 miles per day down on our hoped mileage. The 2.5 days extra that we had to spend in Fair Isle due to the fog we’re totally out with our control as were the amount of ankle and knee knocks that we took meant that we were both unable to walk a few different parts of the coast. But sitting here looking back on what we achieved so far we feel we can hold our heads high and know that we could not have given anymore.
We will be returning to our Big Trek when Ewan has returned from training for his new job. The remaining walks of Foula, Fetlar, Unst and a days walking in Northmaven will have to fit around our shift patterns and fading daylight so it won’t be as easy to get these finished, but we hope to have it done by the middle of October.
We have both been told that we should think twice before we commit to any challenges again. Although, saying that would imply that there was a serious amount of thought that went in to this before we actually announced that we would do it….and I can say with conviction that there was very little of that! We both have a new found respect for people that undertake large challenges now. What we were near to completing by this stage was more than either of us will probably ever care to do again. That is not to say it is not something that we would advise people to do, we would whole heartedly encourage this, but if you do feel the need….find something that lasts for a day, a week, something that you train for and it is over quickly and for goodness sake if you are going to walk the coast of Shetland….don’t try and do it in one summer!
Friday 22nd July 2011
Ewan was having a break from walking today as his ankle wasn’t up to the task. Don’t waste any pity on him though, as thanks to his new position with the Dogs Against Drugs Charity, he got the chance to attend a champagne and canapés party on a Tall Ship and spent the day in the lap of luxury. It was my wedding anniversary today, so it really should have been the other way around but like the little trooper I am, I trudged on! Another hearty Yell breakfast was had and I got the ferry out and met my sister Claire at South Nesting, where I left the car and she drove me back to the Ayre of Atler where we had reached on the Lunnasting leg.
The amount of miles covered and the niggling injuries on the ankles and knees were really starting to take their toll now, which meant walking was rather unpleasant. The weather was also pretty rotten so the enthusiasm levels weren’t what you would call sky high. Getting my boots completely soaked while trying to cross the head of the Dury Voe begun a sequence of events that lead to me feeling quite sorry for myself. At one stage over the next 14 miles I was able to stop, laugh off my pitiful mood and get going again, but to be honest, I spent the majority of this walk feeling more negative and de-motivated than I had at any other stage on the whole walk.
The first of my series of mini ‘disasters’, as they felt like at the time, was when I was afflicted with an upset stomach. This was something that had been planned for and there was a supply tablets stored away in the little first aid kit to deal with such events. Unfortunately I had forgotten to pack this and it was still in the my car, which was about 10 miles away. I did however have a lot of packets of balsam hankies and a good sized packet of moist toilettes so all was not lost. A few more minor feeling sorry for myself moments occurred before I stumbled upon a sheep that fallen on its back into a bit o a hole and whilst lifting it out it managed give me a good kick to the shin. Now, I now what some of you reading this will think….the old ’a man from Yell happens to stumble upon a helpless ewe and gets a bruise on his shin from trying to help her to her feet’ routine but I promise you my intentions were nothing but pure.
About 7 miles in I managed to go over the top of my ankle quite badly. I hoped it was something that could be walked off and I tried for the next 7 miles but was not in luck. I was still 4 miles from the car when I came to Kirkabister but was limping quite badly so I moved up to the road. The road is pretty close to the sea so I didn’t feel to bad about it. I made the decision that I would not flag any passing cars down but if someone stopped I would take a lift back to my car. I thought there wouldn’t be too many cars in rural Shetland that would pass a poor, hobbling soul in his charity walking t-shirt without stopping to ask if he was okay (I was obviously still feeling very sorry for myself)! It took about 15 cars & vans on this stretch of single track road before somebody did. In fact one uncharitable lady went past me 3 times! There were a few unpleasant phrases that were uttered on the 2nd and (especially) 3rd time she drove past. My faith in humanity was restored when a fantastic family stopped and gave me a life back to the car. Not only did they give me a lift but they also sponsored us as well. This along with the scoot stop tablets from the first aid pack that I had left in the boot of the car, made life seem much better!
It was difficult to judge the scenery and walking here in relation to other places. The grey, wet and windy conditions often mask our coastlines beauty and how you feel whilst walking can have an effect on your perception of the terrain. In fairness the North Nesting area, while I had decided at one of my more pitiful moments to call this blog ‘North Nesting can officially **** off!’, that was much more to do with my temporary Victor Meldrew moment than North Nesting. On a nicer day, with a bit of a spring in your step, I’m sure this would have been a great walk.
That was the end of the walking for the day. I had done less miles than hoped and my ankles and knees were in tatters but I was going out a night with my lovely wife to celebrate our anniversary at The Levellers concert at the Tall Ships event and hopefully Ewan would be fit to join me tomorrow. I met up with Ewan at the concert and I was limping more than him, which was good, as he felt guilty enough to buy me a Venison Burger and a Steak Burger from the over priced food stalls.
I am writing this blog quite a piece later and can now look back and see how much psychology was involved in this challenge. At the time I found it hard to understand why I was letting little setbacks or thoughts get the better of me but looking back it was a culmination of several factors. There was an element of disappointment that we had been held up and weren’t going to be able to get the whole Big Trek finished by the date we’d planned but it wasn’t helped by the fact that this was the first days walking alone since near the very start. This day made me appreciate just how much we had managed to push each other on, we’d both had low moments when it felt like we would never get the challenge finished but you kept each other going. When I was by myself, tired, sore, ill, a month in to the challenge and feeling out of inspiration, it was much harder than I’d ever imagined it would be to, as a good friend of ours says “Have a word with yourself“ and get on with it!
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?
Monday 18th & Tuesday 19th July
As a born and bred Yell man I’d been really looking forward to seeing parts of the island that I’d never been to but heard a lot about. Ewan came up to Yell for a few adventures in our youth but it is maybe best to leave it at that.
It had been a pretty poor few days of weather with a lot of rain, which meant we were going to encounter some quite damp conditions. We were both feeling our ankles and knees quite tender after the conditions of the previous few days so we were slightly apprehensive about the week ahead and how our lower limbs would cope.
After we had set up base camp in Otterswick with my Mum and Dad, Alan & Sunniva, we had some food and set off from the head of Mid Yell Voe down around the east coast. We avoided the temptation to stop at the Hilltop bar and headed around to Vatsetter. The walking conditions between Lusetter and Vatsetter were terrible. The ground hasn’t been grazed in a long time and the grass was unbelievably long with a lot of moss mixed in with it and was like walking through deep snow. I managed to find a couple of holes to fall down, one of them was a real killer that swallowed my whole leg. Ewan like a true pal, stopped, helped me up and checked I was okay. When Ewan managed to half dissapear down a hole, it doesn’t say much for me as a person that my first instinct was to take a picture of him!
Once we got around to Vatsetter the ground conditions improved greatly and the walk around the coast to Aywick was really enjoyable with some nice scenery. Although it is a bit back from the coast, the Aywick shop is always worth a visit. The selection of goods never ceases to amaze and they are always one of the cheapest places for fuel in Shetland. Aywick around to Otterswick and on to Gossabrough was great, with the White Wife and the beach at Gossabrough the highlights there. I am obviously completely biased but I always think my parent’s house in Otterswick has one of the best views in Shetland. It sits high on the hill and looks out over the Ness of Queyon and the Ness of Gossabrough with a stunning panorama all the way from Unst down past Fetlar and on to Skerries and Whalsay. This leg of the walk was without a doubt the most nostalgic for me.
A big thank you must go out to Beatrice and David at Gossabrough for their hospitality. Beatrice’s tasty fruit squares provided the energy to push on around to Burravoe and Hamnavoe and David was able to provide some great local history. We’ve really appreciated when people have taken the time to speak to us, feed us and give us some motivation. There have been several occasions that we have not had time to accept people’s offers of hospitality and we hope that we haven’t caused offence to anyone but we have often been on a very tight timescale, in fact we’ve often been behind schedule, so have not been in a position to stop. Nothing goes against our fundamental beliefs as much as having to pass up the offer of tea, cake, bacon rolls or a tin of beer, so the inability to accept these invitations was at times very distressing for us! This often resulted in 2 or 3 hours of moaning about the hardships we faced until we got the next bottle of lucozade and mars bar ingested and ‘manned up’.
The walk from Gossabrough to Burravoe is a must, the Horse of Burravoe is worth the walk alone. There is a new campsite at the Burravoe Marina and it is a great little spot with the crème da la crème of Shetlands public toilet/shower facilities. Heoga Ness should be avoided at this time of year if you have an aversion to being dive bombed by birds, although this doesn’t faze such seasoned walkers as us. We are now completed versed in the defence mechanisms for survival of such vicious attacks. One walking pole is to be either held above the head or wedged in the top of your backpack, a slight and totally ineffective crouching position is to be adopted and a fast walk straight out of Monty Python will guide you clear of all danger.
By the time Hamnavoe was reached it was getting pretty late so we decided to call it a day and heading back to Otterswick for some much needed nourishment, refreshments and entertainment. Yell often gets a hard time for being a ‘bland peat bog’ or the ‘highway to Unst’. If you just travel on the main road from Ulsta to Gutcher you won’t see much fantastic scenery. You really need to get off the beaten track to see the best of Yell and you are without a doubt rewarded in style if you make the effort, the coastal scenery we saw today was proof of that.
We decided on day 2 of Yell that we would finish off the south end of Yell as the Burravoe Hall was doing Pub Lunches as part of the Sail Yell calendar. We set off from West Sandwick and headed south towards Ulsta. The weather wasn’t on our side, with drizzly showers, interspersed by full blown rain being the theme of the day. The walking conditions from the head of Southladie Voe down around West Yell and on to Ulsta were great and I’m sure if the weather was better and our ankles and knees hurt less, the walk would actually have been enjoyable. There are some great views over Yell Sound and you get a completely different perspective on the area walking along the coast than you do from the road.
After we got to Ulsta we decided we were in need of a pit stop and headed to Burravoe for the pub lunches at the hall. We have spent a lot of days so far eating total and utter rubbish, especially days that we’ve been off the beaten path so the delicious feast of Lasagne & Chips and Apple Crumble & Ice Cream was extremely welcome. Thank you very much to everyone at the hall for their hospitality and to everyone that sponsored us.
By the time we got back West Sandwick to tackle the WS to the end of Whale Firth leg my right leg had given up and refused to be subjected to any more so Ewan did this leg by himself. He said that the scenery was fantastic in places, with the West Sandwick beach being an obvious highlight. One aspect of this walk that is worth pointing out is the high voltage electric fences. We took the advisable step of talking to the land owner in the North Haa who was kind enough to switch them off to give Ewan time to get over them. Alternatively you could just walk from the beach up around Graveland. The walking conditions are not as easy going as they were in the first half of the day and it is a good 4 hour walk. It is a worthwhile walk but there are many better stretches of coastline that can be accessed with more ease.
So by the end of day 2 in Yell there had been a good stretch of coast covered and the enthusiasm and energy levels were good, unfortunately the legs were not fairing quite so well. We hoped that the next 2 days would be kind to us and we’d get Yell finished off by Thursday and get down to start the next mainland legs by Friday so we could see some of the Tall Ships….as they say…watch this space.
We couldn’t have realistically hoped to get through this month without some good old Shetland rain and wind paying us a visit. We did though.
Saturday 16th July
We decided that we would start at Sullom Voe Terminal and work our way past Brae and back up in to Northmaven. It was raining or drizzling for most of the walk but in some ways that can help you. You don’t stop to take many pictures or take in the scenery, it’s just a case of head down and get on with it. Ewan was having some ankle trouble and I was having some knee and ankle trouble so we ended up having to do half a day each and even with that we still didn’t manage to get the mileage done that we had hoped. It’s not something that we had wanted to do when we started and we have done most of it together but there have been times when that has not been possible. Walking day, after day, without any chance to recovery from going over your ankles or a bit of a twist of the knee hasn’t been easy but thankfully we have managed to avoid a serious injuries or accidents so we are thankful for that.
There were almost no pictures taken today as it was so wet and my camera has suffered more damage than both our knees and ankles together. The camera was therefore left in the van due to its inability to deal with the elements. It is hard to judge the coastal scenery of an area impartially on days like this. After seeing Uyea and the Lang Ayre on a beautiful day yesterday, Sullom Voe seemed rather un-exhilarating on a grey, miserable, wet day. I know this is not the case from previous encounters with the area but I found it interesting to look at it as if it was being seen for the first time, in the way a visitor or tourist might. It is easy to see why some visitors leave Shetland with such a range of opinions on its beauty.
The road from SVT to Scatsta was first then around the coast to Voxter where the road was taken until just before Brae. The walking conditions on the coast were fine and this carried on around to Mavis Grind and Sullom. There were stretches of long grass around Sullom but the tide was out and this meant it was easier to get around the shore in many parts.
To finish off was a quick leg from the Ayre of Swinister to the end of Dales Voe at the Dales Lee’s.
Then it was off to my wife’s birthday party, she’s been a absolute super star during this walk. She has had to not only had to put up with being virtually abandoned for the last few weeks but has also had to deal with my moaning about aches and pains most nights. Happy birthday Katie. I think I should also point out that Ewan’s fiancé, Jenny, has been a superstar too and Ewan is as grateful as I am that we are lucky enough to have such fantastic partners.
Sunday 17th July
It was another terrible day and we decided to put wellies on today to save our feet and walking boots getting so wet. This worked from the point of our feet remaining dry but did not help support them. We both ended up with pretty sore ankles again by the end of the day. We walked from Skae down to the Collafirth pier before being joined by my son Stuart. We wondered if he would be put off by the weather but he bounced out delighted to join in and really raised our spirits…and average miles per hour. After a very satisfying and delicious Sunday lunch at Stuarts Granny and Grandad’s in Queyfirth (thank you Jessie) we set off from East Ness in the south of Ollaberry and back to Queyfirth. Even though the weather wasn’t great, it was a good walk and would be a great sunny Sunday afternoon walk.
We didn’t get as many miles done as we’d hoped but given the conditions we were happy with what we got done. We are going up to the island that I am originally from, Yell, tomorrow for 4 days. We will be staying with my mum and dad, which will give Katie and Jenny some blessed relief from our moans, groans and the stink of our boots.