Shetland Islands 2013

Whiteness to Walls - Monday, 17th June

The wind had increased through the night rattling the tent. It was more overcast when I stuck my head out at 8.30 am. I made breakfast and started to tidy up in preparation for leaving, which included making an extra brew for the flask. A Britten Norman Islander plane flew overhead presumably on its way to Foula. After a wash and shave I was ready to start packing, everything was dry so this made the task a lot easier.

By 10.30 am I was pushing the bike back over rough ground up to the road, once more de-bagging the bike for the lift over the gate. The sheep made way as I passed through two further gates onto tarmac. Back over the climbs and dips, I caught sight of Nesbister Böd before arriving back at the shop. Shetland Jewellery arrived further on on the right. I'd seen some of their work on the Northlink boat but the shop had been closed on previous visits, so this was my opportunity to have a look around.

Inside, the man turned on the display case lights for me and the room glistened with silvery sparkle. The pieces inspired by the northern lights were very attractive as were the shetland pony brooches. I asked the man if I could take a closer look at some earrings and a pony and he proceeded to fetch them from the cabinets. Instead of handing them over though, he started keying them through the till. I hand't the heart to tell him I was only looking, so pulled out my credit card and paid as he packaged them up.

I was just marvelling at this sales technique when the shop suddenly became engulfed by a coach load of Americans. Outside, I spoke with a couple who explained that they'd arrived in Lerwick that morning by cruise ship, the guy sounded Dutch. They were crossing the North Sea next to Norway, having already been to Ireland and other places. They asked me about my own journey and commented on all the hills, I pointed to my next climb up the side of the voe opposite. They didn't require any jewellery, although I pondered afterwards that they possible should have bought some to support local enterprise. The thought of my own purchases made me glow inside.

The road rounded the loch before ascending the aforementioned climb, it was a long pull with gradient ranging between 3% and 9%. The reward however was the view from the lay-by at the top, over Whiteness to the southern end of Shetland.

Another glorious descent down to Tresta, round the top of The Firth and on up into Bixter. The sun was shining as I pulled up outside CG Williamson's shop for a mid morning snack. The nice lady warmed up my chicken pie in the microwave, which was washed down with a pint of milk (I've become more partial to milk ever since the start of my banana milk addiction during last year's LEJOG stage to Inverness). I saved the apple for later. I watched as the shop man wound the spare wheel back up under his van.

Bixter seems like the gateway to the west of Shetland and the A971 follows a fairly level course through to Walls. I crossed the charmingly named Bridge of Twatt and on to the derelict yet imposing Park Hall on the right. Then I noticed an interesting brown tourist road sign pointing left to Stanydale Temple, one and a half miles. Given the lack of any time pressure, I decided to take a look. After one and a half miles, another brown sign declared that the temple was still one and a half miles away and pointed to a gate.

I propped the bike up inside the gate, took out my camera bag, put the Garmin in my pocket and struck out across the moorland. An interpretation board described the scene and showed the route to the temple, which was marked out by blue poles.

Another interpretation board gave information about the Stanyland settlement where a family of neolithic farmers lived around 2,500 BC, with several houses forming a community associated with the temple. A third board told how the site had been excavated in 1949 and that the 'temple' was similar in size and plan to Maltese and other Mediterranean temples of a similar date. The site is in one of the few places in Shetland from where the sea cannot be seen.

Back at the bike I noticed whilst refitting the Garmin, that I had no pump. I stared at the empty holder holder on the bottle cage, then realised that I'd never fitted it in Lerwick. The pump was still in the bag at left luggage, I crossed my fingers to ward off punctures.

Instead of retracing my route back to the main road, I decided to navigate directly across to Bridge of Walls and found myself on the road from Skeld that I'd used on my last Shetland visit. I remembered the 12%+ hill at Scutta Voe and anticipated the push, before that though was the fast descent past Gruting. The Garmin's gradient reading went from 8% negative to zero to positive as the hill unwound, at 10% the momentum ran out and so did my legs. I leant the bike against the first bollard and surveyed the wonderful scenery all around.

Looking seaward, I gained my first real view of the Isle of Foula out on the horizon.

The severe incline required some strenuous pushing, then I remounted to cycle the last bit up to West Houlland. Another glorious descent followed as the road swung left past a farm before the short climb up to meet the A971 again. Round to Bridge of Walls, a short climb, then two miles brought me to the picturesque village of Walls.

I made my way to the shop and my eagerly awaited luncheon destination at the Baker's Rest Cafe. A hand written note in the bakery window brought bad news as disappointingly, the Baker's Rest Cafe was closed and by the look of it, for the foreseeable.

In accordance with Shetland Amenities instructions, I'd been trying to ring Larry, the custodian of Voe House Böd all morning as phone signal allowed, but without success. So I went into the shop to kill two birds, buy lunch and seek the whereabouts of Larry.

The man in the shop was very helpful and explained that Larry worked in the bakery next door and would be home soon. After paying for my lunch items, the shop man came outside with me and kindly pointed out Larry's house across the bay by the ferry terminal.

I consumed my sausage rolls and milk outside and was just starting on the apple when the shop man popped his head out of the door and pointed to Larry who was in fact walking home along the road.

With apple in mouth, I cycled after him, conscious that it might be quite unnerving to be chased by a bright yellow loaded bike with hi-viz clad rider. I approached slowly, explained who I was and that I'd been trying to contact him. Larry very kindly gave me a key to the Böd together with various instructions and helpful information, I was his only booking that night. I thanked him and rode off, up the short hill to Voe House.

The Böd is huge with accommodation on two floors. After an extensive look around, I decided on a ground floor bunk in the room next to the kitchen. Storage heaters kept the place warm as a house maintenance measure so there was no need to light the peat burning stove. Luckily, there were a number of pound coins in my change for the slot meter and after an hour of water heating, there was enough for a long reinvigorating shower.

I took the bike out for a mooch and went down to the ferry pier where there seemed to be a lot of building work going on. A new harbour was under construction and a large crane was lowering a cladding section into place, from all the interest I got the distinct impression that this was the final piece.

I went back to the shop to buy ingredients for a hot meal together with two days' worth of Foula supplies, mostly de-hydrated. Tea consisted of Wall's Bakery minced beef pie with baked beans, cooked using the Beko electric oven and hob, installed as part of Shetland Amenities' latest investment in the Böd network. Later as the sun went down, I went for a stroll around the marina.

Voe House has a lovely location, nestled on the hillside overlooking the village.

Returning to the Böd I felt very happy, the weather was clement and the forecast seemed ok for tomorrow's much anticipated Foula crossing.

Day four