Shetland Islands 2013

Walls to Voe - Tuesday, 18th June

The water heater was switched on ready for another shower. I made breakfast of sausage and beans and tea and tidied up a bit. The ferry was due in Walls at about 11.45 am and this was confirmed by the recorded message when I rung the voice bank line. I read some more of my book before venturing out. A noticeable south westerly wind heralded a most unwelcome change in the weather.

I cycled to the shop to buy something to have with my second pie for dinner. It was immediately apparent that the weather was worse, the sea looked decidedly choppy even in the comparative shelter of Vaila Sound.

At 12 noon, the ferry had still not appeared so I decided to ring the information number for an update. Gordon told me that the ferry was just approaching and had been delayed slightly for some reason but would depart for Foula at one thirty. I consumed my lunch, filled the flask and packed up ready for the ride down to the terminal. I took some photos of the ferry with the zoom lens.

Then my phone rang. Gordon told me of a change in plan, the weather was worsening and the crew were anxious to return as soon as possible. He asked if I could go straight down to the terminal and be ready to go, but that the Master was not happy about taking passengers. Apparently, they'd brought a lad across who'd been very sick and they weren't prepared to clean up the cabin again on the return.

So in a slight rushed panic, I clipped up the bags, attached them to the bike, pushed the bike out of the door and put the key in the box as Larry had asked. Good job that I'd been basically ready. There then followed a mad dash down the hill and along Pier Road to the ferry tied up at the end of the dock. There was nobody around but the wind was howling, I sheltered behind the terminal building and waited.

The crew arrived in a red pickup and began loading the boat, they'd been to the shop. One of them seemed quite small and on closer inspection appeared to be a girl. It was hard to tell in the red overalls and pulled down hood but she worked hard jumping in and out of the boat carrying stuff.

The Master immediately started to describe the atrocious conditions outside the Sound and made it clear that they wouldn't be taking passengers, it was just too dangerous and he'd already turned away four people.

Disappointed didn't cover it as I was actually relishing the chance to experience a rough crossing. I told the Master that I was a good sailer, he asked if I'd sailed round Cape Horn, he might have considered it if I'd been "a fisherman for thirty years". Each of the other crew members added their own take on the sea state, one warned that I'd be clearing up my own vomit.

In the end, I was persuaded when the Master said that they'd have to look after me on the way across. Given that they'd probably have their hands full anyway, I understood that they didn't need me to endanger things further. One of the crew actually thanked me for my decision.

Gordon said that it still looked promising for later in the week and that he'd re-book me on Thursday's crossing and the return on Saturday. I hoped that he was right, given that I was booked on Saturday night's boat to Aberdeen.

As I prepared to leave the lea of the building, a car approached on the dock and a woman got out ready to board the boat. She began to remonstrate with the Master when it became clear she wasn't going anywhere. He pointed to the stripes on his lapels whilst asserting his rank and responsibilities, she complained that she had no accommodation booked in Walls. It dawned on me that my presence wasn't helping, if he allowed her on then he must have thought I'd try again to gain passage. I wished the crew luck and cycled off into the wind and rain.

Travel plan B kicked into action. In my disappointment and with a keen sense of deja vu, I set off for Voe with a following wind.

The road back to Bixter was becoming familiar and it arrived in quick time. The left turn to Aith was just before the village and signalled a stiff climb up the hillside, but with nice views back over Western Shetland. The tarmac had been renewed as part of a road scheme and the low friction, gentle decline and following wind resulted in a very pleasant run towards Aith. The road narrowed as older tarmac took over before I swept past the shop and around the village.

It was very pleasant cycling alongside Aith Voe with gentle ups and downs to the East Burrafirth turning. Then the climb began and so did the rain, not so pleasant over the first pass before the road dropped down to reveal views over Gon Firth. Another longer climb took me up to Loch of Gonfirth at 134 metres, where I stopped by a large metal water tank. I couldn't decide which was the lea side as the wind and horizontal rain swirled around across the water. The hot flask tea was very welcome together with chocolate and flapjack.

There was no let up in the weather so I pushed the bike back onto the road and started to freewheel down the hill. My eyes began to sting unexpectedly and touching my face revealed the lack of glasses. After some heavy braking, I turned round and climbed back up to the water tank to retrieve my glasses. After a slightly out of control descent down the B9071, the Sail Loft Böd came into view on the right.

The door was locked but a notice in the window gave the custodian's details and instructions where to find a key. I found the place after a short walk round the back of the bakery and a bloke came out to meet me as I retrieved a key from the post box. Clive introduced himself as the custodian and was very helpful. I explained that I hadn't booked and would be staying one night, he told me that I'd be the only resident and how to pay.

It was slightly strange to find the Böd so empty when on both occasions that I'd stayed there before it had been nearly full. Once again I searched through my change for pound coins for the slot meter before finding the hot water switch.

I lit the fire in the stove in the smaller room with some chunks of wood that I cut into kindling with a saw. There were some remnants of peat in a couple of bags and I soon had a blaze going, warming the room nicely. I arranged my wet clothing on the washing line hung in the rafters above the stove. I squeezed out my socks with a satisfying hiss as rain water turned instantly to steam on the stove top. Worst were my shoes which I placed on top of a plank set on the stove.

After consuming the rest of my emergency tea and chocolate, I had a most wonderful shower and felt recuperated. I chose a bunk in the larger but colder room, in the corner so that I'd be away from the peat smoke. I unpacked the rest of my stuff and set the bags on chairs against the wall to dry off. The Arkel panniers had proved themselves watertight once again.

My shoes were still damp even though it had been a struggle to keep the soles from melting on the stove. Eventually I put them on to have a stroll around the pier. It was still raining slightly.

Later I went over the road to the Pierhead Pub for a meal, Clive and a few others were at the bar. I ordered a pint of bitter and the barman Stuart recommended a local bottled brew from the Valhalla Brewery, the most northern brewery in the UK based at Haroldswick on Unst.

From a choice of three, I picked the least % and went for a bottle of Island Bere. Its a "quality beer brewed from bere - a heritage that Vikings are thought to have introduced to Britain in the 8th century". Apparently its the first time that bere has been used as the main ingredient in commercial brewing. Very nice it was too!

Clive came over for a chat and checked that I'd settled in ok. I ordered a bag of peat from him to keep the fire going. Feeling sustained by my pork stroganoff and chips, I paid Stuart and wandered back to the Sail Loft. Sure enough, a new bag of peat was waiting for me by the stove.

Day five