Life in the Shetland Islands

My first few days in the Shetland Islands consisted mainly of getting some exposure to the culture of the islands. While some of this exposure was from the museum, most came from the couple who generously hosted me at their croft and gave me a more direct introduction to life in the area.
It’s been particularly interesting to get the exposure to a more self sufficient lifestyle, something I’d quite like to duplicate later in life.
Even with the extremely changeable weather and lack of the big hills I normally enjoy its a beautiful part of the world.
The people are universally friendly and look out for each other in a way I’ve never experienced, and even the children are happy and polite.
It’s been a lovely time and a great change of pace. Next up is a bit more exploring and some walking on the nearby island of Unst, the most northern island in the UK.


Day 1
Took the overnight ferry to Lerwick, nice calm crossing and arrived at 7:30am. Not particularly impressive sight. Managed a few hours sleep but not feeling mega fresh.
Headed up to the Isleburgh Hostel pretty much straight away to drop my bag.
Guy running the hostel was incredibly friendly, really nice welcome to the Shetlands.
Wandered the town for a bit and picked up a couple of maps in the tourism office. Employee waxed lyrical for a bit about how you could walk anywhere here, bit dubious that the reality would match the theory.
Decided to try it out and wandered north out of that town and up into the hills beyond.
Found my scepticism justified quickly by number of barbed wire fences between me and open moors. Not easy to get around.
Weather changed from sunshine to strong wind driven rain as soon as I got any height. Views were not great, coastline littered with ships, buildings and wind farms. Seems like a bit too populated an area for good walking.
Headed back to the hostel after a couple of hours and had a relaxed evening and early night.

Day 2
Had some time to kill before getting the bus up to the island of Yell so I went around town again, this time to see a few of the attractions.
First off I went looking for a decent outdoors shop and finally found somewhere called Cee and Jays on the waterfront. I mention it as it didn’t appear to a Google search, so useful to note for future reference.
From there went across to Clickimin Broch, an iron age roundhouse on an islet in a loch. Impressive construction given the materials being used, but they must have been midgets. Bent poverty almost double to get through the doorways.
Afterwards went over to the Shetlands Museum at Hay’s Dock. Had fairly low expectations but really enjoyed it, excellent exhibits including a surprisingly intriguing piece on the geology of the region.
Spent much longer than planned here and ended up having to dash for the bus.
Pleasant journey up through mainland, across the ferry to Yell and up to the township of Cullivoe where I was warmly welcomed by the friends of my parents that I’ll be staying with.

Day 3
Got introduced to the pigs, chickens and cows on the farm and helped one of my hosts move a bit of electric fence.
Went for a walk along the coast afterwards, beautiful stretch with plenty of photo opportunities.
Walked back along to Breckon Sands, lovely beach with bright blue waters. Must be amazing in the summer.
Got back to the croft a few hours later and got ready to go out to a community social event, giving out awards to local crofters on a vast range of categories. My hosts received two awards, best cockerell and best poultry overall.
After a fairly long presentation process there was dancing, dinner and more dancing with copious amounts of alcohol.
Really get the sense the everyone knows each other very well, it’s a really close knit community. The other interesting thing was the dancing, which was fairly formal with everyone (even the children) knowing the steps to the live fiddle and accordion music.
Party finally wraped up around 1:30am, with the children still running about full of energy.

Day 4
After sleeping late, woke up to a massive fried brunch courtesy of my hosts, just the thing after a late night even though I wasn’t drinking heavily.
Afterwards we went to a nearby dock to fish for our supper. Having never done much fishing I didn’t expect much success. Much to my surprise the fish were suicidal, leaping onto the hooks with every cast. The line had 5 hooks and I was catching 3-4 every time, as were my hosts with another rod.
By the time they’d stopped biting with such a frenzy we’d filled a 17litre bucket with fish. I’m not sure it’s something I could duplicate in the future, rather was due to some good local knowledge!
After getting back to the croft and gutting some of the fish (the majority of them going to the pigs due to the quantity caught) I went out for a run along the coast.
Still, quiet evening with excellent views, one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve been on in a while.
Finished the day with lightly fried fresh fish. Exciting to be eating something caught / killed / prepared myself.

Day 5
Started off the day preparing some of my hosts home reared pork for dinner, goibg to be serving up my world famous pulled pork.
With dinner set to cook slowly through the day we headed up to the peat banks to gather the winter fuel.
They’d already cut and bagged it on a previous occasion, so just had to shift it from the working down to where it could be picked up by the land-rover.
Easier said than done. Roughly 2 tons of peat to move across 200m of boggy, uneven ground with a wheelbarrow. Only took a couple of hours but I was certainly feeling it. Fortunately the weather was beautiful, great day to be working outside.
After a lunch break we got on with the next stage and ferried the peat from the staging area down to the croft, relatively easy job.
That done I finished off dinner (definite success) and sat down for a well desrved rekaxed evening with a couple of cans of cider.
Wind is really getting up and that forecast for the next few days is pretty grim, shame as I’m meant to be off to Unst for some walking. Will make a decision on that in the morning.

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