Shetland Islands 2011

Papa Stour to Skeld - Monday, 23rd May

The sun woke me up early, I turned over and went back to sleep. At 7:30 the weather looked ok so I got up and made my way to the barn to take the bike out for a ride. The road on Papa Stour is only a mile or so long running between the ferry and the airstrip. The wind, still from the south west was keeping the wind sock at the airstrip fully inflated and horizontal. The road ran alongside the airstrip up to a large shed and water tanks, which offered a vantage point over the rest of the island, bleak but somehow wonderful.

The wind behind me on the way back made such a contrast even without the bags. I stopped to look at the Stofa, a partial reconstruction of a one room log cabin with its surrounding dry stone wall. The logs were worked in Bergen, Norway using tools and methods typical of the medieval period, before being shipped to Shetland and reconstructed on site. The Stofa discovered on Papa Stour during excavations is the only one known outside Norway and dated from between 1200 and 1400.

I made breakfast of Weetabix, scrambled egg on toast all washed down with apple juice and tea. I tidied round and packed up before loading the bike ready for the short journey back to the ferry. I left as the Snolda came into sight down in the bay. Peter and Esther were behind me in their four by four, they were meeting the boat as well to pick up their next guests, a couple who were the ferry's only passengers. I was its only passenger again on the crossing back to West Burrafirth, £3.90 there and £3.90 back. The ferryman pointed to the sky as I disembarked and commented that he hoped I wasn't going far, dark storm clouds were approaching on the ridiculously strong wind.

Head down, I retraced my route back to the main road, half my flask of emergency tea consumed at the first bus shelter respite stop. I turned east and began making woeful progress in atrocious weather, strong side winds and persistent rain made me grateful for having gone back for the glasses. I stopped at both bus shelters along the road, the flask was now empty. The wind and rain sapped away at my strength and it was painful all the way.

The turn south on the B9071 made conditions altogether worse and the next bus shelter couldn't come soon enough, it arrived at the turning for Sand. I ate lunch of chocolate peanut butter on crackers and poppy seed pound cake, which renewed my spirits. This was short lived, on leaving the bus shelter the gorgeous scenery was ignored due to the sheer effort of maintaining forward motion. It got so bad that I had to stop briefly for respite in the lea of a house wall.

Eventually, the road turned away from the coast and Skeld came into view across the bay. There was a steep climb up into the village then a turn left down towards the marina where I found the Böd. A little hand drawn map in the window showed the way to the custodian's house, so I rode back up through the village and retrieved the key from Karen and her very friendly and enthusiastic dog.

Skeld Böd was excellent, large, clean, well equipped and I was its only occupant.

photograph - Skeld Böd

I had a shower, changed into dry clothes and arranged the wet things around the peat burning stove. After warming up with a cup of tea I made myself at home whilst listening to Radio 4. It suddenly dawned on me that outside the sun was shining in a blue sky, unbelievable. I studied the map and decided on a route round to visit the coast at Silwick.

I took the bagless bike on a quick tour south into a strong but dry wind. It turned out to be an inspired choice as wonderful coastal views signalled the end of the road. I set off on foot following the footpath signs across the fields and arrived at an astonishing place. A deep gash in the land opened up into magnificent sea cliffs with sea stacks glistening offshore. The waves foamed around the base as the dying sun created an ethereal quality to reveal a totally surreal scene. As clouds started to wash out the sun, I walked back to the bike and was wind blown north back to Skeld, outrunning the cloud front moving in behind.

Back at the Böd I made tea of chicken stew with dumplings and hot chocolate. The peat stove burned fiercely and heated the place nicely. Later, I noticed that the weather had improved once again. I ventured outside and in total contrast to the rest of the day, the wind had dropped as if in the eye of a storm and Skeld was being illuminated by the setting sun. I strolled around the marina and along the harbour wall taking pictures. On the way back I saw the back end and tail of an otter as it slipped into the water. I looked in at Leonard's Hide, a nature spotting hut overlooking Skelda Voe and sat for a short while without seeing anything else.

The sun was nearly set as the light faded across the bay.

Day four