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.

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