Thursday, 1 December 2016

The end of the road

I woke to see dawn breaking over what I think must have been the southernmost tip of the island of Bressay.

After breakfast on the ferry I set off to cycle the length of Shetland mainland. The hills were long and occasionally steep, but it was Sunday and there wasn't too much traffic. At lunchtime I reached the ferry to the island of Yell, but the ferry was delayed as an ambulance had gone across to the other side and the ferry had to wait there for its return. I sat in the sunshine for two and a half hours eating my lunch and watching a seal watching me.

Once I was on Yell it was a fairly short ride to my Bed and Breakfast on a farm at Quam.  I walked down to the beach at West Sandwick where a woman was swimming in the sea. It looked cold, but it was a beautiful beach.

Next morning was the final day of my journey around the North Sea.  I would still have to get back to Lerwick, but today I was making for Hermaness, the most northerly place in Britain apart from the island of Muckle Flugga that lies just offshore. There was thick mist everywhere when I set off on the road that crosses Yell, and it came and went throughout the day.

Once again the hills were long and fairly steep. I crossed on the ferry to Unst and left my bags at the hostel there before cycling north .  Birdwatchers were everywhere on Unst, standing in the fields in camouflage gear beside cameras and telescopes mounted on tripods, staring into the misty distance. I did some shopping in  Baltasound in a warehouse-like shop that sold everything, then carried on past a small herd of Shetland ponies until I reached the Hermaness nature reserve, where I took to my feet to walk the last few miles.

The footpath crosses the moors where Great Skuas live and then follows a steep grassy clifftop path past sea-stacks covered in gannets before the island of Muckle Flugga appears ahead with its lighthouse on the very tip. Lady Franklin was rowed out here to watch for her husband's return from the Arctic. After reading John Rae's biography I was less inclined to sympathise with her. When Rae returned from Canada with evidence of the end of the Franklin expedition, which included the gruesome find of human bones that had been gnawed by human teeth, she did everything she could to undermine his reputation.

I sat on the small grassy platform overlooking the island, for a few minutes the most northerly person in Britain. It felt like the right place to finish the journey, but there was still the small matter of visiting the northern terminus of National Cycle Route 1, and the North Sea Cycle Route, at Northwick on the other side of Unst. I stood for a while on Northwick beach, thinking of Bergen, far closer now than London, just across the sea.

Northwick beach - the beginning, or end, of the NSCR

Then I cycled back to Lerwick, caught the ferry to Aberdeen the following night, and the train to London the next morning.

It was the last day in September.

Maps:  Lerwick to Quam;  Quam to Norwick and Hermaness  NB Elevation data in these two maps has gone crazy!

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