Shetland Islands 2011

Skeld to Voe - Tuesday, 24th May

The alarm rang on my phone at 7.30, it had been stormy during the night and several heavy showers had gone over Skeld. I made breakfast of sausage and beans and tea, filled the flask, packed the bags and loaded the bike. As I washed up, I noticed bobbing heads in the bay, viewed through my zoom lens I could see a large group of seals splashing around and jumping in the water, remarkable.

I waited for the latest shower to pass then set off up the lane to drop the key off at the custodian's house. There was nobody around so I left the key plus money for the peat inside on the window ledge. The wind seemed more westerly and on turning towards Walls, much much stronger.

The short journey to Walls took forever and was interspersed with downpour after downpour pulsing across in waves, each accompanied by wind so strong it was difficult to stand up. The rain in the headwind was unbelievably horrible, the lack of shelter of any kind meant being fully exposed to the elements.

On one occasion I could see the rain curtain coming steadily closer as a black cloud with my name on it approached. I straddled the bike, unfurled my small black umbrella, brandished it like a shield and braced myself for impact. With the cloud directly overhead and wind speed at maximum, the umbrella spokes curled around my head and handlebars whilst horizontal rain soaked every other part of me.

photograph - Ups and owns

Many ups and downs around Gruting Voe eventually led to Bridge of Walls. I had planned on a circular tour towards Sandness then round to Walls Via Dale of Walls and Mid Walls. I started north east on the A971 and made it as far as the Scord of Brouster before I gave in. I just couldn't face the extra miles against the headwind so turned round and cycled straight to Walls.

I immediately went to the shop for supplies then next door to the Baker's Rest Cafe to dry off, I was its only customer. I ordered ham and cheese toasty, chips and tea. The cafe occupied a lovely spot overlooking the village and bay so I could see that there was no ferry at the little terminal, not really a surprise given the wind. The food was very tasty and the cafe excellent, highly recommended.

I mooched over to the terminal more in hope than expectation to enquire about the Foula ferry. Apparently it hadn't run for several days so here was confirmation that the Foula trip was off, I was now at a loss what to do. Voe House Böd in Walls was an option for the night so I enquired at the shop for directions. The shop keeper kindly pointed at the Böd for me across the bay.

The custodian's phone number was in the window so I went in search of a phone box, first going back to the shop again for change, still no phone signal. I left an answer phone message which was very daft given that the guy couldn't ring me back. A B&B sign gave another option but then I had an idea, use the wind to propel me north east and onwards to Sail Loft Böd in Voe. This would take me on the next leg of my intended plan after Foula anyway, I knew in all likelihood there'd be room and there's a pub over the road!

So I set off and for the first time the wind was not a problem, in fact in less than thirty minutes I was back at Bixter. The day before, this route had been so painful forcing stops at every bus shelter, amazingly it zipped by in no time at all. I turned left up the steep hill just before Bixter and enjoyed the wind assistance towards Aith and Voe. The bike sped on, the jet propulsion was wonderful. I was in sunshine, chasing the dark clouds ahead.

I had a look at Aith pier and the lifeboat. The East Burrafirth turning passed by then the climb up and over to Gonfirth before the real climb over to Voe. This is really a terrific road, distant views from the top of each summit plus gorgeous coastal scenery. The really tricky bit was the faster than comfortable descent down the hill into Voe itself.

photograph - Voe cycling post

I called at the Böd, there were a few guys in the kitchen who confirmed that there'd be room. Apparently, Denise at the pub was the person to see about making a booking. The Pierhead Pub was quiet, Denise had gone out but the chef said it'd be ok for me to stay at the Böd. I moved in, selected a bunk and unpacked. I had sausage rolls and the emergency tea in the flask. I wandered around the pier and took some photographs.

The four guys in the Böd were mobile phone tower engineers working around the islands, this being their central base. Their job on Bressay had been called off for the day due to 74 mph winds, seemingly you can't climb a tower in winds over 40 mph. The showery weather continued. Another resident Carol arrived, a med student staying at the Böd whilst working at the health centre in Brae. Later the guys made their tea so I went for mine at the pub. There were only a few people in. I ordered chicken curry with rice and chips plus a pint, the food was very welcome and the beer went down well.

Back at the Böd, we settled down to watch a film, True Grit on dvd. The electricity went off fifteen minutes into the film, so after a scramble to feed the slot meter, we watched the film from the beginning again due to the lack of a fast forward button. Funny really. The guys burned aerial packing cases in the stove to keep warm. My eyes were starting to feel very heavy during the film so I went straight to bed after it finished.

Day five