We may have returned from our world tour of Asia but that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped exploring. In a quest to discover more about the great nation that we call home, it was time to set sail for the farthest reaches of Great Britain!
Portobello beach, Edinburgh at 8pm on a Friday night. Perched on the promenade wall, eating our haddock and chips with the sun stretching our shadows along the sandy coastline we began to contemplate our options for our first night’s accommodation. We had chosen to overnight in Edinburgh so as to get in some parkrun tourism on the Saturday morning and decided our tent would suffice for that night. We were now hunting for the most inconspicuous location for it. The beach seemed reasonable, though still busy with the long evenings attracting dog walkers and families. Next we wandered like vagabonds to Figgate park and settled on a location, suitably hidden behind a hedge. But it was not even nine pm and still an hours daylight remained, what better excuse to head to the local pub, and they don’t come much more local than the Portobello Bar. No sooner had I taken a sip from my pint of Tennants were we being quizzed by the half dozen regulars as to our journey so far. As the beer flowed and the night drew in, our vague answers to their questions on our evening’s sleeping plans began to concern them, and with no option of refusing we were heading home with Leigh-Ann and Stevie to spend the night in their son’s bed. They could not have been more generous. We popped into the shed/extra living space to thank Lewis for giving over his room, then got the full tour of the town house, with pizza and Irn Bru cider to wash it down. By half one we were heading to a much cosier bed than we had expected, though there was not enough time to enjoy it before we were at the start line of Portobello parkrun! A lovely coffee followed in the company of two beautiful ladies new to parkrun, if not to running! Then it was back to let ourselves into our new home for a hot shower and farewell. In this day and age when we imagine that life is always better elsewhere, I couldn’t think of a time during our year in Asia when we had been shown such warmth from complete strangers.
Heading back to Edinburgh train station the following day we boarded our next train to take us further north to Aberdeen and the overnight ferry to Shetland. Having booked our train tickets for our journeys north before we had even returned to the UK we took advantage of advance fares and a two together railcard to take up to 80% off the expensive cost of rail travel. Come 7.30am the next morning we had left the warmer climes of southern England well behind us and had arrived in a colder and wetter Lerwick, Shetland. Once again we opted for the cheap option of the reclining seats rather than a comfier and much more expensive pod or cabin. We had after all survived many overnight bus journeys during the previous year, so another trip on a reclining seat should be a breeze along as the wind was the same, as in spite of his ancestral genes Mike’s stomach still can’t weather rolling seas!
My first impression of Shetland was true to form, wetter and colder than back home, with rolling hills and not a tree in sight! We were met by Doreen, one of Mike’s many aunts, and whisked off to Hamnavoe. Now I grew up in what would be considered a small village in England, but Hamnavoe, the natural arc of land on the northern tip of Burra Isles where Mike’s maternal side of the family are from, is tiny. We were biding with another aunt, Greta, and her house looks out to the bay, where watching the fishing boats coming and going at the pier provides the daily entertainment. Our first few days were spent in the company of the many relatives dotted about the Voe and being a sooth-moother at times it was like being in a foreign country trying to understand everyone!
On our first day we walked out to the nearby lighthouse with Mike pointing out the features he remembered from his childhood visits. Having packed our tent we had half a plan to explore some of the islands on foot, pitching our tent somewhere at the end of the day, however, a couple of rainy days postponed those plans and we explored Scalloway and Lerwick instead. The islands have a rich history to discover and Lerwick museum and Scalloway castle kept us entertained for a couple of afternoons, not forgetting a 4000 year old Broch every few miles to explore as well.
Spotting a couple of nicer looking days we grabbed our rucksacks and headed down to Sumburgh head, the most southerly point on the main island. Home to a lighthouse and a nature reserve, we hoped to catch a glimpse of some puffins nestled in the rocks and if we were very lucky some orcas. No joy with the whales but a few puffins popped their heads out to brave the winds only metres away from us. Along the coast we explored the ancient viking site of Jarlshof, bimbled across the runway at Sumburgh airport and skipped across miles of beaches that we had to ourselves, and no bloomin’ surprise it was cold!
As the simmer dim drew in, our thoughts turned to where to spend the night. Having heard so much about St. Ninian’s Isle and it’s location just off the western side of the mainland, a spot overlooking the largest active sand tombolo in the UK sounded perfect. We pitched our tent on a grassy prominent, with plunging 20 metre cliffs down to the sea and cooked up a feast of couscous, chorizo and olives #middleclassmicroadventure !
A fine if chilly evening was had overlooking the sacred isle but nature had other plans for the next day and shortly after capturing a photo of sunrise, the rain began! The gentle early spots became heavy downpours and the winds grew stronger and stronger. After waiting it out in the tent until a reasonable hour of 8 am, we packed up just before the poles buckled in the winds and braved the conditions for a walk across the famous tombolo. Our venture (and Helen’s lack of waterproof trousers) proved foolhardy in the rain, and as we were neither on scout camp nor a D of E expedition, we decided that it was no longer fun being soaked through so waited at the nearby bus stop for the next bus to Lerwick. It wasn’t all plain sailing from here as the bus then drove straight past us, fortuitously a local came to the rescue and gave us a lift to the main road allowing us to make a convoluted retreat back to Greta’s by myriad buses. We arrived back with the eager anticipation of a warm shower only to be greeted by a broken boiler and news that the plumber had flown off on holiday that morning.
We couldn’t come all this way just for one week, not having a proper job yet does have some benefits after all! We have another week left to explore more of Shetland, fit in another race for Mike and of course there’s always more family members to meet!