There were seven passengers on the return voyage. As well as Sheila and Brian, another couple sounded like they came from West Yorkshire and an older woman was with a young girl. The girl looked decidedly pale as she clutched a precautionary sick bag. It was however, very enjoyable sitting in the open at the back of the ferry, braced against the rocking and rolling. I watched the spray froth by whilst sheltering behind the large metal safe, the sky and sea merged at a dark horizon.
Mainland Shetland grew in the distance and eventually we entered the calmer waters of Vaila Sound and navigated on towards Walls. The ferry circled round to the left and lined up with the pier. We all climbed up the rusty ladder onto the concrete dockside and waited for the metal safe to be swung ashore. The bike was handed up and I eventually retrieved the bags and prepared for the final cycling leg to Lerwick. I paid my five pounds to Gordon, said good-bye to my fellow travellers and set off for the shop.
I'd been looking forward to the fresh westerly breeze blowing me back to Lerwick. In the event, the short trip to the shop proved this to be be purely wishful thinking. If anything, the breeze was coming directly from the east and progress was unexpectedly slow. The ferry crew followed me to the shop in Gordon's pickup.
It seemed a good idea to top up supplies; chocolate, bananas and milk replenished my stocks of carbohydrate. The man in the shop was now a familiar face and he commented that it should be a pleasant day for cycling and that I'd probably end up wetter on the inside than the outside on my trip to Lerwick. How wrong could he have been.
The headwind was ridiculous. Whilst the 24 miles to Lerwick should have been relatively easy, the weather was deteriorating fast and the couple of hours expected was now looking more like four. It was midday though, so there was still plenty of time, in theory.
Having cycled the route many times, I could foresee the four impending climbs ahead and mentally split the journey up into manageable chunks; the level run to Tresta, Tresta-Wadbister, Wadbister-Veensgarth, Veensgarth-Bridge of Fitch, Bridge of Fitch-Lerwick. The rain started and added insult to the headwind's injury, speed was cut to less than seven miles per hour on the flat. Then the Garmin ran out of power and died a few miles short of Bixter, I was cycling 'blind'.
The gradient started at Tresta for the long climb over to Weisdale and it was a struggle to maintain forward motion. It really was fairly unpleasant and visibility was cut by the spray from passing vehicles. The countryside was lovely though and views improved in proportion to the elevation. After a long steady grind, the summit was rounded and the long run down the valley side was the reward. This was largely north and after rounding the voe, largely south; welcome respite from the wind.
The whole scenario was repeated for the climb out of Weisdale, beginning at the Nesbister turning. Its a strange thing but I tend not to take photographs in bad weather. As a result, such days seem to disappear from the record leaving an impression of constant sunshine. This day was a case in point, I was soaked to the skin by the time I reached Veensgarth.
I noticed another touring cyclist behind me as I started the climb by the Herrislea House Hotel. He and his partner had been touring the northern islands and were now heading for Quarff. They decided to stop at the hotel for refreshments. I decided to turn on the Garmin to make it record the present location using its meagre battery life, then it died again.
After the slightly scary run down to Bridge of Fitch in the rain, spray and fog, I decided to stop in a lay-by above the golf course. The last of the emergency tea was very welcome and I marvelled at the flask's enhancement of my touring kit. A few chocolate lumps later I was grinding up the last hill before Lerwick.
In the appalling weather, it seemed like a good idea to turn right at the top onto Ladies Drive, following national cycling route 1. This not only avoided the traffic but also allowed for any possible embarrassment following wet braking difficulty on the descent. The welcome sight of Holmsgarth ferry terminal hove into view but to my shock, horror and disbelief, the ferry was obvious by its absence.
A million thoughts and fears flashed through my head; had it disembarked early; was I late; was it still in Aberdeen; had it sunk? In a slight but growing panic, I sprinted into the car park, propped up the bike and ventured into the terminal building.
Two leather clad motor cyclists were walking away from the check-in desk and told me helpfully that I'd missed the boat. The nice lady at the desk calmed my fears, the ferry was in fact out on event taking people on an afternoon cruise around Bressay. It was due back at 4.00 pm and as if by magic, it appeared behind her through the window.