Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Walking for Health

I've recently been getting involved in my local area's Walking for Health scheme. I've done a couple of walks with one of the groups and discovered some lovely places on my doorstep that I never knew were there. Last week I spent a day attending a training course to become a Health Walks leader. This is a voluntary role so I can feel all altruistic and magnanimous whilst getting to know new people, finding good walking places near my house and, most importantly, getting some experience leading adults. As most of my walk leading experience has so far been with teenagers, I'm keen to build up some age-group variety before I apply for my Walking Group Leaders' qualification. And it's good to experience a completely different style of walking to that which I usually do myself or with groups of Duke of Edinburgh Award youngsters.

So what is Walking for Health?

Walking for Health is England's largest network of health walk schemes, helping all kinds of people to lead a more active lifestyle. I'm quoting from my training manual there.

The scheme was originally set up in 1995 by a doctor who ran the scheme for his patients as he believed in the benefits of walking for general good health. By 2000 the scheme had been adopted nationally and was run by the British Heart Foundation and Natural England. That Natural England were one of the first sponsors probably explains why it's only ever been an English scheme and hasn't reached the rest of Britain. In 2002 Natural England pulled out and the funding was taken over by The Ramblers and Macmillan

Why these two?

The Ramblers is probably an obvious sponsor as their aim as a pressure group is to promote and facilitate walking. Macmillan might seem to be a less likely candidate but their statistics show that out of two million people with cancer, at least 1.5 million of these are not active enough. Research is showing that those who are active (albeit it in a reduced way) throughout their treatment have a higher and faster recovery rate and lower rate of the cancer recurring. The  routine promotion of (gentle) exercise isn't something oncologists are currently known for, but Macmillan are trying to change this. 

But I don't have cancer ...

There is also some evidence to show that active people and people who get into the outdoors (walking's a great way of combining the two) are less likely to develop cancer in the first place.  

Is it only for people with cancer / who have had cancer / who want to avoid cancer?
No, walking is also recommended for a whole range of physical ailments and mental health issues. Regular physical activity such as walking can reduce:

  • coronary heart disease by 20-35%
  • type 2 diabetes by 20-35%
  • colon cancer by 30-50%
  • breast cancer by 20%
  • hip fracture by 36-68%
  • depression by 20-30%
  • alzheimer's by 60%

The list goes on. It can help with lowering blood pressure, increasing levels of 'good' cholesterol (HDL), managing weight, coping with stress and anxiety, recovering from heart attacks and strokes ...

In fact, a former Chief Medical Officer of England said, If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity, it would be regarded as a 'wonder drug' or a 'miracle cure'.

How many people don't get enough regular activity in the UK?
Around two-thirds of all people are not meeting the UK Chief Medical Officers recommendation that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.  Ideally this is split over at least five days a week with sessions lasting at least 30 minutes. For children, the recommendation is at least an hour a day.

What is moderate activity?

Moderate activity makes you breathe harder and your heart beat faster, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation. Walking is the ideal moderate activity. (As an aside, on the course we were told to use the word 'activity' rather than 'exercise' as although most people aren't against the idea of getting fitter, the concept of 'exercise' is scary and off-putting - it's too easy to imagine a gym full of bronzed and toned bodies and superfit people who you won't fit in with at all and be completely intimidated by)

So how can people be encouraged to take part in a Health Walk?

Firstly, they have to be accessible and to ensure that they are four things need to be considered:

  • Location - walks are available in towns, city centres and villages throughout the country. The Walking for Health website will show the walks that are available in your local area. They all start and finish near car parking and on a public transport route.
  • Timing - Walks are held at different times on different days of the week including weekends. The lengths of the walks differ too.
  • Cost - Health Walks are free. As they are local it shouldn't cost much (if anything at all) to get to the start and finish point.
  • Ability - some walks are only a mile long and last just half an hour. Others are 3-4 miles in length and last 2-3 hours. All are on relatively easy terrain.

Although the point of the walks is to raise everyone's heartbeat, the walks are not so strenuous that it becomes impossible to hold a conversation. So the opportunity to meet new like-minded friends, increase your social circle, even get to know people if you're new to an area is all part of the attraction.

So far, I've really enjoyed the walks I've taken part in. Although not challenging, they haven't been as short or slow as I originally expected, though I have only done the longer ones which appeal to the slightly fitter walkers. Over the next few weeks I have to shadow a current Health Walks leader and then lead a walk of my own. After that I'll be let loose to help England get fitter!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Thinking about New York

New York has been on my list of things to do since long before I ever had a list. I keep my eye on prices of flights, accommodation, etc. and always give a slow shake of my head thinking 'no way'. The cost of flights during school holidays can be astronomical and I really wouldn't want to pay that much for a week somewhere. I could go for longer, even the whole six weeks of the summer holidays, and that would make the cost seem a little more bearable if I divide the price by the number of weeks holiday I'd be getting (anything to make it seem more like a bargain), but then the cost of actually being in New York is so high I don't see how I could afford to stay more than a week. So my New York wish has remained firmly on the wishlist.

Recently I saw someone mention on their blog that they'd booked really cheap flights to New York with United. Interested, I looked at United's website and searched for flights outside of school holidays and way in the future. They weren't anything like so cheap as the other blogger had mentioned, but they were cheaper than flights I'd looked at previously. And that was only one airline.

For some reason all the cheap flights went via Washington DC. Hm, seems a shame not to jump off and have a look round there too. And I hear all the museums are free. So I changed my search to see if I could maybe have a week in Washington DC and then a week in New York. Now I wanted to go to Washington and actually get off the plane, all the cheap flights went via New York. Huh? (That's an American term - I'm practising).

Ok, so it was looking like if I do this I have to change at Washington in both directions but won't actually get to see it. But if I'm thinking of 2 weeks maybe I could do 2 weeks in New York and have time to see more than just the main touristy stuff. Hell, (another American term) maybe I could spend a whole month there and have the time to get myself a regular coffee shop where I can sit, read, write, watch the world go by. And possibly drink some coffee. Though Amercian style buckets of watered down, lets add a whole cow's worth of milk, coffee really annoy me. Maybe they'll taste better when they're in the right setting.

I was already liking this plan, but wasn't sure if I'd be able to spend a month camping in Central Park unnoticed, so thought I should look for some paid accommodation. First stop, the YHA website. How much??? Jeez (yet, another Americanism - I'm starting to feel fluent), is this the Youth HOSTEL Association or the Youth HILTON Association? Next, I looked at private hostels. They were cheaper, but still way too expensive for a month.

Ok, so how do I really wanna (there I go again) do this? If I want to spend a month and try to get under the skin (I know, I know, it's only a month, but it's four times better than a week), then I should really get an apartment and pretend to be a real New Yorker.

So next up, was the AirBnB website. I'd heard of this, but never had reason to use it before. It seems to be people basically renting out rooms in their homes (or sometimes their whole homes) on a short-term basis. There are some luxurious places on there, but they didn't grab me. And although they are probably a great price in the big scheme of things, they are way out of my price range. Then I found a wonderful apartment with three bedrooms that are rented out separately. The apartment is in Brooklyn which I like the sound of ('I live in Brooklyn' sounds so much more me than 'I live in Manhattan'). The apartment is small but quirky and rather than the stylish designer pads I'd been looking at, this one reminded of Monica's apartment in Friends. I know I could be at home there, I know I could. The price was ok and even a bit cheaper if staying for a month.

So I've found a flight (November seems to be cheapest) and I've found an apartment. Now I just need to find the money to pay for it. If prices have gone up by the time I get the money together, I won't be going in November. But now I know I can do it, I will be going sometime. I'm already working on my itinerary.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Up Helly Aa 2015 (the night)

As I watched the flames die down and the burning galley turn to ash, I was buzzing with everything I'd seen, heard, felt and smelt so far this evening. It was after 9pm, but the night was only just beginning. It would be at least 12 hours until I'd get to bed. With exhilaration coursing through my veins and anticipation tingling my nerve endings I made my way to the primary school where the evening's entertainment was just beginning.

It was already busy when I arrived. I gave my name at the door and, thanks to Linda, the daughter-in-law of the man I'd met earlier at the galley, my name was on the list and in exchange for 25 quid I was given a wristband. Up Helly Aa is expensive. The costs involved in making the detailed costumes and weaponry and building the galley are no mean amount. I don't know if any of my £25 went into a general Up Helly Aa fund or if it was all to cover the costs of the evening, but either way by 8am I definitely felt I'd got my money's worth.

A disrespectful tribute to Elvis. He was sat on the toilet which flushed each time the music changed.

I headed first for the toilets to peel off a few layers of clothing. A couple of girls were fluffing their hair and applying extra make-up. They looked very glamorous and in my trousers and plain top I felt very under-dressed. I mentally kicked myself for not having packed an outfit on the off chance I got lucky enough to be invited to a hall. Fortunately I'm not one for letting the wrong outfit get in the way of enjoying myself and I made my down to the far end of the school corridor where I stashed my bag and extra clothing. 

Buxom ladies at a local cafe

This area was doubling as the 'bar' area and people were sat around tables enjoying a beer, glass of wine or something a little stronger. No alcohol is sold in the halls so it's strictly BYO. Most people were very well prepared, with stacks of plastic glasses as well as the booze of their choice. Alcohol is not allowed in the main hall so throughout the evening people were disappearing back here to return a while later with an extra glow to their cheeks. 

Tea-dancing OAPs find themselves in an aerobic class

I found my way to the main hall and pushed through men in fancy dresses to enter. The 48 squads make their way around the 11 participating halls and put on a short performance in each. There are two to three squads in each hall at a time and once they've all performed, the band strikes up and everyone is pulled up onto the dance floor to be whirled around in a series of traditional dances with names like Strip the Willow, Eightsome Reel and St Bernard's Waltz

Green Been / Red to Come - the numbers representing the squads

A board behind the band held the numbers representing each squad. The numbers started out red and were changed to green once the squad had performed. 

'I Don't Look Good Naked Anymore'

As the squads are all male and many performances require female characters, the squads adhere to the traditions of theatre from years' past and enthusiastically embrace cross-dressing. It is said that lingerie shops in Lerwick do a roaring trade in the month before Up Helly Aa with all the butch builders, plumbers and roadworkers piling in to buy their bras. Shakespeare would have been proud.

The Jarl's squad arrived at about 12.30am

As the squads are meant to be in disguise most performers wear masks, heavy make-up or dark glasses, only revealing their identities once their performance is finished.  

They must've been feeling hot

The performances are outlandish and tend to be risqué with the squads having names like Fat Bottomed Girls (pink frocks and well-endowed bottoms) and Horny Germans (lederhosen and William Tell hats). Some acts had performers removing clothes, thrusting their pelvises and generally behaving in ways you wouldn't want your granny to see. Except the grannies here had seen it all many times before and didn't bat an eyelid. Other performances poked fun at local issues, one such being the skit performed by the Clangers. The squad were dressed as the pink woolly Clangers from the 1970's children's TV programme and in the style of the programme, which was quite subversive in some of the issues it alluded to, pulled no punches in referring to all the 'clangers' they say Shetland Islands Council have been responsible for. 

'Fat Bottomed Girls'

As well as performances and dancing and trips to the bar there were visits to the buffet. Hot soup was being served along with unlimited mugs of tea. Plates were continually being replenished with sandwiches, cakes and biscuits. The tea was welcome, especially when it got to about 5am and I was starting to flag. A couple of mugs of tea and I was raring to go again. 

A 'Fat Bottomed Girl' watching 'Putindabootin' Russian dancers

It did strike me that, despite all the merriment, party-spirit and alcohol, no-one seemed really drunk. There was none of the falling around you see on Saturday nights in city centres. No-one burst into tears or started a fight. And I didn't see one person throw up. I don't know if it was because of the mixed age group or because everyone knows everyone else or just because of the laid-back character Shetlanders all seem to share, but I do know I liked it. 

He wasn't really naked

By the time the last squads had performed, the last tunes had been danced to, and the last mugs of tea had been supped it was 8am. There weren't quite as many people as there had been earlier, but there were still a lot. Everyone was still cheerful as they made their way out, shouting their byes and dispersing to their beds. 

In need of a bikini wax

I walked back to Tesco car park where I'd left my van. I was surprised to see the burger van in the car park was open for business and had a customer. How could anyone still be hungry after all the food in the halls? I wasn't surprised however, to see the customer was a man wearing a tutu. 

In need of a diet

Note: my photos are RUBBISH. Trying to take photos of fast-moving performers indoors whilst facing a spotlight was a challenge way beyond my photographic abilities. I've included a few here anyway as they at least give an idea of what some of the performances were like.

To read about Up Helly Aa day click here.

I've written about the history and traditions of Up Helly Aa here and here.

The main Up Helly Aa website is here.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Up Helly Aa 2015 (the day)

The Up Helly Aa flag flying over the town hall
It looked as though it was going to rain, but I wasn't worried. Up Helly Aa NEVER gets cancelled because of the weather. Only world wars have been able to stop it (and that was probably due only to the lack of men). It was postponed at the last minute for Winston Churchill's funeral but no-one was very happy about that (and still aren't if the lack of interest in his 50th anniversary was anything to go by). Far too many sandwiches went to waste and people who'd come up specially ended up missing it. So that'll never happen again.

I wasn't in any particular hurry as I knew the Jarl's squad were getting breakfast and facial tattoos in Islesburgh Community Centre and I wouldn't be allowed in. I've been able to pass myself off as a lot of things, but I don't think even I'd pull off impersonating a large bearded Viking. After breakfast the squad were taking the galley down to the waterfront for an official photo session and then leaving it there for the rest of the day whilst they went around town visiting care homes, schools and the hospital. I thought the waterfront would be too crowded so instead waited near the town hall. Afterwards, when I saw how good the photos of the whole squad atop the galley looked, I wished I had gone myself. Instead, the first I saw of them was when they came marching up the road to the town hall, roaring and generally making a lot of noise. They did look rather magnificent. 

The Vikings are here!
Raven wings and a mighty beard

So much care had been put into the costumes and weaponry: textiles, chainmail, carved, highly polished wood, intricately patterned metalwork, and of the course the Jarl's helmet resplendent with it's raven wings. Once they'd all gone into the town hall I went down to the harbour to look at the galley. This was equally magnificent. The level of detail equally intricate. 


There were still quite a few people around and as I waited for a chance to take a people-free photo, I got chatting to the man who was looking after the galley. He told me his son will be Guizer Jarl next year and so this time next year he will be touring the care homes in full Viking dress rather than standing in a raincoat guarding the galley. 

Named after a penguin named after a Viking

He was dismayed to hear I wouldn't be going to any of the halls. The halls are a really important part of Up Helly Aa, but all are privately run. The festival is a really special time for Shetlanders. If islanders who have moved away are going to come home only once in the year, it will often be for Up Helly Aa. People I spoke to told me it's more important and a bigger event than Christmas, Easter or birthdays. It's easy to understand then why, although they're happy for outsiders to watch the parade, the halls are private and for friends and family only. To have a load of tourists in your hall would be the equivalent of having a load of tourists come round to your house on Christmas Day morning to watch you open your presents. You probably don't mind the tourists coming along to the carol concert or midnight mass, but there is a line you don't want them to step over. I understood this and accepted that, as much as I would like to, I wouldn't be going to any halls.

Spot the penguin

I should have known better. This is Shetland after all. People are friendly and rules are just there to, yeah, well, whatever. John told me his daughter-in-law (wife of next's years Jarl) was running one of the halls and that when he got home he would ask her if there was a spare ticket for me. He took my mobile number so he could let me know. Just in case he called over some other people and got me the phone number of someone running a different hall, so I had a backup plan if his daughter-in-law didn't have any tickets. 

Even the boats have beards

I spent part of the afternoon wandering round town. The window displays in the shops all had an Up Helly Aa theme. Even Specsavers had joined in with a poster depicting a Viking squad hauling a fishing boat along to the burning place instead of their galley, unaware of the irate fisherman chasing them; the caption was, of course, 'Should've gone to Specsavers'. As well as Vikings, there was quite a penguin theme. This was because the Guizer Jarl is known by the nickname 'Penguin'. There was a penguin design painted onto the galley which was named Nils Olav after a penguin in Edinburgh zoo with the same name.

The Bill had been attached to the market cross earlier that morning. It's a carefully hand-inscribed proclamation satirising local events and notable people from the past year. In red and black painted text it lampoons the discussion around school closures, the unreliability of the Northlink ferries and the controvesial Mareel arts centre. It took me several readings to understand most of it, but even though I try to keep up with Shetland news, there were still parts that were over my head. 

Crowding into the museum

The Jarl's squad was due at the museum in the late afternoon, so I made my way over in plenty of time. The entrance hall was already quite crowded with people waiting to see Vikings. A couple of guys were keeping everyone entertained with live music. The Jarl's band arrived first and they squeezed in with their bulky instruments and got set up. Then the rest of the Vikings arrived. Before they came in I would have said it was impossible to fit seventy Vikings all in bulky costumes into the already crowded space. But fit they did. More and more of them pushed through the doors and spectators were crushed back to the walls. They could have shown rush hour commuters on London Underground a trick or two.  

For their theme song, they had chosen Daydream Believer, albeit with a few word changes. As their voices reverberated around the hall, big grins on their faces, light glinting of their chain mail, swords and double-headed axes, I knew I'll never be able to hear that song again without thinking of Vikings.

Just 2 Vikings having a chat

Following the sing-song everyone piled outside where the Vikings lit their torches for a TV interview. Dousing the fire in the harbour, they then did what all good Vikings do and drove off on their bus.

TV interview

The Junior Jarl's galley
Wandering back up to the town hall I was in time to see the Junior Jarl's squad setting off on their parade. The schoolboys also have real torches and proudly set off marching, pulling their galley to the playing fields where they would burn it. It was just starting to rain, but didn't manage more than a few drops before stopping again in plenty of time for the main parade.

Schoolboys with a burning mission

I went back to my van which I'd moved to Tesco car park so I wouldn't have too far to walk at the end of the night. As I got my layers on ready to stand around for a few hours watching the main parade and galley burning my phone rang. Yes! I had a ticket. It's the custom to dress up for the halls but as I hadn't expected to go to one I didn't have any posh clothes with me. I wasn't going to let a little thing like that stop me though. I put a slightly nicer top on over my thermals and considered myself ready. 


By 7pm the streets were heaving. I think Shetland's entire 22,000 strong population, along with several thousand visitors had all congregated on the same few streets. I'm not used to crowds in Shetland. All 48 squads take part in the main parade. As they are nearly all holding burning torches, not all of them are wearing their costumes (or disguises). If the outfit is likely to be flammable (or affected by the weather) they wear ordinary clothes on the march and change before starting their rounds of the halls. The torches are lit, the streetlights go out.

At 7.30pm a rocket is fired from the town hall and they're off. As 1000 men wind their way round the route a ring of fire encircles the spectators. It's dark, in the distance only the line of fire can be seen. Even when they are marching behind buildings, the sky is strangely lit up in shades of flickering oranges and reds like an all-encompassing sunset.


 I had a great spot right at the kerbside. The smell of paraffin, the heat from the blazing torches, the singing and Viking yells, a thousand men marching past, flames flickering, everything seeming to move so quickly my eyes struggled to focus, let alone my camera. I felt like every one of my senses was being overloaded and maxed out. Still they marched. Still they yelled. Still the flames flared devouring the oxygen from the street.

Earlier John had pointed out that nowhere else could you give a thousand men a bottle of whisky each and not expect trouble. Here, they not only give them a bottle of whisky but a flaming torch and then plonk them down in the middle of this heady atmosphere. Trouble? Of course not. I don't know if it's due to the laidback Shetland attitude or if it's because this is such an important tradition. Although there's plenty of alcohol involved, it's taken far too seriously and with too much respect to be turned into a free-for-all piss-up.

Finally the squads made their way through the gates into the playing fields and stood around the galley waiting for the Jarl to disembark and give the signal for the torches to be hurled onto the galley. It caught light quickly and a year's work was turned into a bonfire. I'd moved to the road above the playing fields but was struggling to see over people's heads. Standing on tip-toe I peered over shoulders. The boat took a long time to burn and people started to move away whilst the blaze was still roaring. I got a better view then and watched as the dragon head slowly drooped and fell, succumbing to the flames.

I stayed till the fire was almost out. Most people had left by then, but I wasn't in any hurry as I didn't have to be at the hall till 9.30pm. I wandered round to the other side of the playing fields. Most of the squads had left as they needed to get into their costumes. A few men were left watching the last of the flames die down. For some reason one of them decided to do the Haka - the Maori war dance made famous outside of New Zealand by the All Blacks who perform it at the start of their rugby games. A Viking doing the Haka; now that's a cultural mish-mash I wasn't expecting to see. 

I chatted to an older guy who told me he'd spent some of his younger years around Manchester and Lancashire and then slowly made my way to the hall, buzzing from what I'd experienced so far and excited about what was to come.


To be continued ...

To find the continuation in which I write about the Up Helly Aa night in the halls click here.

I wrote about the Up Helly Aa traditions here and about the history here.

You can find the main Up Helly Aa website here.

Monday, 2 February 2015

A Winter's Day in Unst

Unst is my favourite island. I couldn't go to Shetland without a trip up to the very top of the British Isles. I woke up at lunchtime on the day after Up Helly Aa (or should that be four hours after Up Helly Aa?) to find everything covered in white including a thick layer over the windscreen. I took a few photos - Lerwick looked so pretty in the snow - and then headed slowly up the winding road out of Lerwick on my way to Unst. 

The further north I got the less snow there was and the clearer the roads were. When I drove off the ferry in Yell I headed to the right on the small road that leads round to Burravoe Pier where there's a lovely little set-up for campers and boaters. A small building, with an old lifeboat for a roof, houses very sleek kitchen, laundry and shower facilities. I had a lovely hot shower, heated my evening meal up in the microwave and filled my flask with hot water. There's an honesty box for payment but no recommended price list for showers and kitchen use. As it's £1.60 to shower at the leisure centres, I chucked a couple of quid in figuring the extra 40p would cover my boiling of the kettle and three minute use of the microwave. 

Thus cleaned and fed I continued on the narrow road up the east coast of Yell. It was dark and the snow had now reached the north. I drove very slowly through a blizzard (at least it seemed like that in my headlights) until I reached the top of the island and the ferry to Unst. There is a wider road further west, but I didn't want to backtrack to get to it. I saw nothing on the drive up apart from a few hardy sheep. I had to be careful of them as they blended into the blizzard, their wool providing the perfect camouflage.

I was the only person on the ferry to Unst. As it was dark and there are toilet facilities at the pier, I parked up and spent the night there.

Next morning it was a bit rainy, a bit gloomy, but not snowy. I drove off to do a quick visit to some of my favourite places. I had thought about doing a short walk, but the peat bog which can be soggy-going to walk on at the best times, looked completely sodden. Instead I drove around taking pics and sat staring at the grey skies and grey seas from the comfort of my driver's seat. I'd wanted to come up here to see if I liked it as much in winter as in summer as part of me would really like to live here at some point. Although it's bleak and I realised it would be difficult to get any good walking done in winter, I still liked it. I sat in the self-service cafe in the Skibhoul bakery for lunch and found two other tourists in there who also had a campervan. Theirs was a proper motorhome type, so I felt I retained my self-imposed title of the craziest person in Shetland for sleeping in the back of a van in the middle of the North Atlantic winter. 

Self service really means self service

In the evening I headed back to the pier to catch the ferry back to Yell and did my journey (including the shower stop) in reverse arriving back in Lerwick later that evening.

Here are some pics showing Unst in winter ... 

 The hostel in Uyeasound is a wonderful place in summer. Full of interesting people. And it has a large well-equipped kitchen and a lovely conservatory in which many a late evening has been spent drinking Valhalla beer, chatting and watching the sun finally go down and darkness spread across the water. It's closed in winter and looks really forlorn. And it's strange not see my little green tent perched on the lawn. 

Views of the rocky beach in front of the hostel

Muness Castle was built around 1598 for Laurence Bruce who was half-brother to Robert Stewart, first Earl of Orkney. It burnt down in 1627, supposedly after being attacked by French raiders. Renovations were made, but by the late 1600s it was uninhabited. The Dutch East India Company rented it in 1713 and used it as a storage facility for salvaged cargo from a nearby wreck. It has been completely uninhabited and left to ruin since 1750. It's now owned and maintained by Historic Scotland. Entry is free and the castle is always open and unmanned. Torches are provided at the entrance. 
The old cottage with stone walls is next to the castle. 

Bobby's bus shelter is named after the little boy Bobby Macauley, who at the age of six got fed up waiting for the school bus in a dishevelled and draughty bus shelter and wrote to the council to ask for a new one. The council duly obliged and Bobby got his new bus shelter. Soon, various items of furniture and ornamentation appeared. No-one knows who started it, but the bus shelter soon gained curtains, a sofa (actually an old bus seat) and a TV. Over time, the decorating of Bobby's bus shelter became more formalised and there is now an 'executive committee' (as far as I can find out it's currently his mum) who decides on a theme each year and furnishes it accordingly. The themes are often topical such as an African theme the year Bobby (no longer a little boy) moved to Swaziland, or a World Cup or Queen's Jubilee theme. I'm assuming the theme I've just seen is still last year's and is in honour of Nelson Mandela as he died at the end of the previous year. I'm quite a fan of Nelson Mandela and so was pleased to see him commemorated in this way at what is just about the opposite end of the planet from South Africa.

Probably the world's most photographed bus shelter

These photos were taken at Norwick beach - one of my favourite beaches in Unst. Even on a grey, miserable day I could have stared at it for hours. Imagine living in the white house at the end of the bay and having this view all the time? 
The little 'island' is the Isle o May (I've never managed to find out why it's called that).

Over on the west side of the island is Westing beach and I finished my day here. It was starting to rain huge icy drops and the wind was spattering them over my camera lens. After a last longing look I headed for the ferry pleased to feel I could happily survive a winter here.