Shetland Islands 2013

Durham to Lerwick - Saturday, 15th June

I arrived ten minutes early for the 8:23 East Coast train to Aberdeen, the Station Master kindly guided me to walk to the very front of the platform ready for the guard's van to pull alongside.

A very helpful East Coast lady kindly assisted me on with the bike, I dangled it by its front wheel on the hook as she stacked the bags in the corner alongside. I dashed down the platform to reduce the train corridor walk until the guard told me to get on but still ended up picking my way through half the train to coach M. I found my place in first class, a double table seat facing forward, very nice.

Three lots of complimentary refreshments were served during the journey, after Morpeth, Edinburgh and Dundee. Tea, croissant, pastries and yoghurt for breakfast, very civilised. We crossed over the iconic Forth Rail Bridge with the Road Bridge alongside. The caissons for the new Queensferry Crossing were clearly visible.

The line clung to the north shore of the Forth with lovely views across to Edinburgh. We crossed over the Tay Bridge with the stumps of the old piers alongside.

Eventually we approached Aberdeen and I started to shorten the distance between me and the bike by picking my way carefully along the carriages. I retrieved the bike and loaded up the bags on the platform before following the throng through the station barrier. The adjacent Union Shopping Centre was busy as I wheeled down the right hand mall, through the shopping throng towards the car park. I started to ride along the parking lanes following signs for the exit, not expecting it to be barrier controlled.

Leaving the car park became a real problem due to the lack of a ticket. The sensible option would have been to walk round somewhere, instead I decided to follow another vehicle. Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough and the bike obviously didn't register on the under road sensors. I saw the barrier coming down, ducked and felt it strike the holdall strung across my back. Then I heard a crash and turned to the alarming sight of the plastic barrier arm bouncing along the tarmac.

All this was in front of two queues of cars waiting to enter the car park and my embarrassment level was at maximum. Feeling very guilty at breaking the barrier, I turned back and confessed to a car park lad. It seems that the thing is designed to fall off to lessen the impact of any collision. He then caught me up at the traffic lights and wrote down my details in his little black book, he told me that he was new in the job.

Riding round to Northlink was a relief, to extract myself from all the limelight.

It was only 1.30 pm and check-in didn't start until 3.00 pm, so I mooched around the docks and took some photographs of the ships, including the Hjaltland.

It turned out that no reservation had been made for the bike. The nice lady at Northlink's check-in desk kindly sorted everything including the return. After checking in at the little hut, I waited on the quayside with another cyclist who was going to Kirkwall and a group of motor cyclists. We were waved on to the car deck together and a stevedore pointed to a place on the left at the back to leave the bike. The Captain announced that the boat was ready for sea and the boat departed early. I ventured out on deck in the sunshine and took some photographs as we entered open water leaving Aberdeen behind.

The facilities onboard were excellent, I watched the Bourne Legacy and Mission Impossible 4 on the TV in the cabin. The executive cabin came with free access to the Magnus Lounge where complimentary drinks and biscuits were available. This was a Serco invention and was very nice. Later, in the Magnus Lounge I had Orkney steak pie, peas, carrots and coffee served at the table. Plentiful calories for the ride ahead.

The boat called in at Kirkwall on Orkney at 11.00 pm. I watched through the cabin window as the gangway drifted past and sleepy passengers disembarked into the night.

Day two