Shetland Islands 2011

Whalsay to West Burra - Friday 27th May

I'd had the best night's sleep so far. It was cold in the Böd, the fire having gone out a long time before. My morning routine had now become established, I made breakfast, packed up and loaded the bike. The ferry timetable revealed that the next crossing would be 10.30 so I still had plenty of time. I filled in the visitors' book and was slightly surprised by how few entries had been made since my 25th May 2010 visit.

I gave the key back to the custodian and promised him that I'd pay for the Böd when I got home as I already owed Shetland Amenities for the Sail Loft stay. I was soon down the hill and cycling round to the ferry, the other one was in, the MV Hendra. The sun came out as I chatted to two cyclists who'd just arrived for a day's cycling around Whalsay. They were staying at a cottage in Aith. They told me about cycling in the Orkneys which they recommended, fewer hills! They also said that they'd been watching an otter by the Laxo terminal whilst waiting for the ferry.

The Hendra's passenger lounge was under the water line so not too interesting, I had some coffee from the Klix machine. The boat slowed for Laxo and the crew went back in for waterproofs on discovering that it was raining. I was last off, I rode up to the waiting room block where I left the bike before starting my otter search. At first I assumed it would be on the other side of the breakwater out of the way of the boat, then I spotted the otter doing back flips in the water right alongside the ferry. I started taking photographs before going back to the bike for my zoom lens, then I snapped away happily as the ferry departed and the otter swam around entertaining his audience. Remarkable.

The rain didn't last long although the sky was filled with towering storm clouds. I took the North Delting turn to follow the route I'd missed out last year. The sun even came out for a while. Gorgeous views were the reward for climbing the first steep hill, then round at South Nesting a wonderful sea panorama opened up. The road climbed out of the bay and I stopped at the shop for chicken pie and Irn Bru, the shop lady kindly microwaved the pie for me. The Garmin Sat Nav died.

I rejoined the main road south and made impressive progress to Veensgarth after making only one bus shelter stop to avoid a downpour. On a whim, I called at Tingwall Airport again to see if there were any available return flights to somewhere, two planes were on the tarmac. The first flight was to Fair Isle, leaving at 15.00 but it was full. There was a Foula flight but it was a little too late in the day for me which was a shame. I talked to one of the pilots outside who'd obviously been out for milk. He told me helpfully that April had been a much better month weatherwise. I pedalled away thinking how he must have one of the best jobs in the world.

Passing Tingwall Loch the sun illuminated the hillsides making the trip towards Scalloway very pleasant. I was heading for West Burra which I'd identified as a possible wild camp site at the early planning stage, the unfortunate missing out on Foula now made this a possibility. On reaching Scalloway I took the road over the bridge to Trondra then a second bridge to West Burra. These were single lane bridges and I soon learned it was preferable to start the run down when there wasn't a fuel tanker coming the other way! I stopped at a bus shelter at the turn for Setter, for something to eat plus flask tea. I went into Hamnavoe and bought evening meal and breakfast ingredients from Andrew Halcrow's shop.

Not really having an idea about camping locations I just kept cycling, eventually deciding to follow interesting brown signs pointing to somewhere called Bannaminn. I passed some very nice beaches and dropped down to the turning for East Burra, all the time looking for possible pitches out of the wind. At the end of the road after Papil a rough track led down to an astonishingly magnificent white crescent sandy beach, Bannaminn.

photograph - Bannaminn campsite

I pushed the bike along the back of the beach where I met the farmer driving the other way in his four by four. I asked if it was ok to camp and he pointed out some likely spots on land at the other end of the beach by some derelict crofts. The farmer's wife followed on a quad-bike and she helpfully said that I could camp anywhere and indicated some flatter sites. I chose a spot overlooking West Voe on a flat field, wonderful.

I walked all around the southern end of West Burra and found stunning cliffs on the western side, plus Fugla Stack alive with sea birds. Climbing to the top of The Ward gave a 360 degree view of the edge of the world with Foula out on the horizon. The crescent beach seemed to me to be formed by the sea breaking through collapsed cliffs on the western side.

Back at the tent I made tea and ate a considerable meal in the sunshine. This was wild camping at its best and finally I'd found a slice of paradise. This was relatively short lived as high whispy clouds gradually moved in overhead heralding the arrival of a weather front and worsening weather. The rain started and my sheltered spot became slightly more exposed to the south westerly gale that blew up. It was going to be another stormy night under canvas (rip-stop nylon).

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Day eight