Exploring Shetland – Unst

Bus-ferry-bus-ferry-bus to the Northernmost island of the UK

After leaving the hostel to get to the Viking Bus Station, I met a few fellow tourists waiting for the bus to the other end if the island. It took about 1.5 hours to get to the first ferry. Luckily, one of the guys on the bus (who had a Sea Shepherd backpack!) was a local going back home after 2 weeks of work, so we were able to follow him and know where to go. The first ferry was pretty quick, and once on Yell, we hoped on the bus. This time it was not a city bus but a big comfortable coach. The driver was really friendly and he pointed out things to see along the way. When we arrived at the other end of Yell, we had to wait for a few minutes because the original ferry had troubles. While we waited for the second ferry to come pick us up, the local guy and us tourists, were wondering if there was still going to be a bus on the other side as we were now very late. But somebody had called the driver and he was waiting for us. The quiet driver of the minibus dropped us off to our different destinations.

One of the two ferries to Unst
One of the two ferries to Unst

I checked-in at Saxa Vord Resort and as I was going towards the restaurant to use the little internet available, I met Jim,the Irish guy from the reception. He was driving down to Baltasound and he offered me a ride.

Northernmost UK post office
Northernmost UK post office

I got dropped over at the Baltasound Hotel and started to walk in the village. The views were amazing and it was very quiet. I saw the northernmost UK post office and the adorable Unst bus shelter, decorated with a regularly changing theme. This time, the theme was puffins. I walked back to Haroldswick enjoying the very sunny day.

Bus shelter decorated with puffins
Loveliest bus shelter

On my way, I stopped at the reconstructed Viking ship. Later on, as I was taking a picture of an abandoned house with lots of flower in front of it, a small cat came out. At first, I wasn’t sure if he was going to be friendly, but it turns out, he was very friendly and cuddly and I ended up petting him for a while.

Petting a cat, blue flowers in the background
New furry friend

I came back to the hostel, relaxed for a few minutes and because it was still sunny, I decided to go to Norwick Beach. It was amazing. And so relaxing. The whole day was actually very relaxing, and I do understand now why in one of the booklets it said that it was good to get away from the bustle of the city of Lerwick. Lerwick is not that big of a city, but when you arrive on an island where you can very easily not see anybody all day, it puts things into perspective! All the islanders were very friendly and waved hello to everybody.

Norwick Beach
Norwick Beach

Haroldswick, Unst

I woke up this morning to a rainy day but when I was done preparing my breakfast and sandwiches, it was sunny again, the joy and unpredictability of Scotland’s weather! I left the hostel and started walking towards Hermaness National Nature Reserve.

small road leading to the visitor centre
Hermaness Visitor Centre

It rained on the way there and I was hoping somebody would pity me, but nobody drove by except for a minibus already full. I must have been too late for locals (or more likely going in the wrong direction) and too early for visitors. It took me about one hour to get to Hermaness Visitor Centre.

Bonxie protecting her nest
Cozy Bonxie

I took a few minutes to read about the birds I could see in the Reserve, and started my ascent to the cliff. It was fairly easy, and I got to see a lot of Great Skuas, or Bonxies, as they call them here.

puffin flying off the cliff
Flying puffin

The views from the cliffs were amazing. As I was heading north it was very windy and so cold; I had to add a layer of clothing. I saw lots of gannets and fulmars. I also saw one lone puffin flying around. He must have had other friends but because they nest in old rabbit warrens and fly by fast, they are especially hard to see from the top of the cliffs.

Rolling green hills and cliffs
Beautiful cliffs

I found myself an almost dry area to sit and have lunch while enjoying the never-ending flying ballet of the gannets. The soil on the island is made of bog with deep peat. In the old days, the peat was collected, dried and burned to heat houses. Peat is mostly water with just a little bit of partially decayed vegetation, so when you step in it, you can lose your footing easily, while getting your shoes wet of course. I had read about it, but my feet decided to try it anyway when I lost my balance and almost fell right in. It was indeed very wet and soggy!

selfie with cliffs and gannets
Sweet smell of bird poo and very strong wind!

I walked for a while and eventually I smelled what reminded me of Antarctica, the ‘sweet’ smell of bird poo! I knew I was onto something. Little did I know I had just walked in on a huge gannetrie, with the odd fulmar and another puffin. It was amazing to watch the gannets fly by, at great speed, using the wind to their advantage. Their wingspan can be up to 6 feet, making this a fairly big bird! The adult gannets are very stylish and it looks like they wear makeup. Their chicks are dark grey and can take up to five years to get the white plumage!

Gannets hanging on to the side of the cliff
Gorgeous Gannets

Haroldswick, Unst

It was a rainy morning again, but I decided to go for a walk anyway. I ventured towards Burwick, but this time, I decided I was going to walk until I reached Skaw, as recommended by the guy at the hostel reception. Skaw was a radar station during World War II. On my way there, I stopped in the last bus shelter. I thought it might be a good idea to wear my rain pants for once… What a great idea it turned out to be! They are great against the rain but also very good against the wind and made my walk much more enjoyable.

small road, fence with Danger Road Closed sign
Road Closed

The road to Skaw was marked as closed, but I decided to go over the fence and see if it was really that dangerous. A few minutes later, I understood why it was closed for vehicles, as there is a good chunk of the road that had fallen down.

small road with holes and grass poking through
Understanding why the road is now closed to vehicles!

On foot, it was great and a very nice shortcut. I followed the cliff, looking at the birds and accidentally herding some sheep as I walked along. I kept telling them not to be scared of me, but they didn’t seem to trust me!

sheep walking ahead of me on a small flat road
Herding sheep

I entered one of the buildings that had been used during the war, and because I didn’t have my flashlight, I was slightly scared. The first building had boats, table and lots of tires in it. I kept walking along the cliff and entered the second building on my way back. I was nervous to walk in the dark, not knowing what I could walk on when I heard a noise. It startled me, to say the least. I waited to see what it was, heart thumping. It turns out, I had scared a bird by coming in, and in return it scared the hell out of me, by swiftly moving around in the dark! I quickly went back outside, preferring the safety of the open space and light to the dark and wet unknown building.

Some of the buildings used in World War II
Some of the buildings used in World War II

I had a quick bite to eat before heading back onto the closed road. When I arrived at the bottom of the hill, a tiny Shetland pony came rushing towards me, hoping I would give him something to eat. I let him smell my hand and he quickly realized I had nothing to offer, so he, unfortunately, went back to where he came from no even waiting long enough for a selfie!

Little black and white poney. walking away after he realized I was not going to feed him
Little pony. after he realized I was not going to feed him

Bus-ferry-bus-ferry-bus back to Lerwick

I woke up the next morning after a very exhausting night. For some reason, when I know I have to wake up in the morning, and I have put my alarm on, I get so scared of not waking up on time, that I barely get any sleep at all. It’s not logical whatsoever but happens every time. And it pisses me off, and I can’t sleep because I’m mad at myself… A never ending circle!

So after my almost sleepless night, I went in the hostel kitchen and met a family. I had talked to them a little bit before, and it was interesting to learn that they had lived on Unst when it was a military station. The kids (my age now) had actually grown up there, so it was very interesting to hear about how life on the island was back then, what had changed and what hadn’t.

little lake with a small boat
Lovely view waiting for the ferry

A good thing to know before getting to Unst is that the combined bus-ferry is actually much cheaper than the individual ticket. When the bus, or any vehicle, gets on the ferry, the price is only for the vehicle regardless of the number of people actually on board. And when you walk on the ferry, you have to pay for the crossing by itself. Odd, but once you know it ends up being half price.

Village view, cliffs in the background
So gorgeous and peaceful

I was very sad leaving Unst. I have liked it so much there and relaxed like I hardly ever do. I really wanted to stay there for much longer. I also did realize it was the last stop before the mainland, and it meant that I will start working very soon. I’m far from being sure that I’ll know how to readjust to the working life and the routine that comes with it. A lot of things were going through my mind as I sat on the bus this morning, which probably explain why I was feeling so sad and out of it for most of the day.

entrance to the main chambre of the Broch of Clickimin
Broch of Clickimin

After getting back to the hostel in Lerwick, I used the internet for a while as I was in no rush to get back outside. Later on, I went to see the Broch of Clikimin, conveniently located between the older part of the city and the newer part, and also right next to Tesco, where I was planning on buying some food. The broch is well preserved, but it lacks a little bit in interpretation, which makes the walk around quite quick.

sail boats in the marina
Can you spot the Canadian flag?

Later in the day, I decided to go for a short walk in the city as it was sunny and ‘warm’. When I arrived on the pier, the sailing boat with the Canadian flag I had noticed the day before was there, so not thinking any further, I went ahead and talked to the two Norwegian men (one of which is married to a French-Canadian, hence the flag). They had to leave for a few hours but they told me to come back later for a chat.

I came back to the hostel and about one hour later went back out there, and sure enough the nice Norwegian guys were waiting for me. I had expected to spend an hour or two on the boat, but I ended up spending the whole evening with them talking about sailing and the long term travelling life.

quiet sea with clouds reflecting in the water
Far from the hustle and bustle of the city

I had laughed at the ‘bustling’ city comment I had read, but after a few day on Unst, I can say, it was true and I felt like I was coming back to the hustle and bustle of a big city. And I did not like it. I was craving more silence, birds, overall quietness. Looking back, it was a wise choice to stay for one night in Lerwick instead of taking the ferry the same night, as Aberdeen would have definitely been a bigger shock right after Unst!

Scalloway and Ferry Lerwick-Aberdeen

I took my time in the morning and decided that because it was yet another mostly sunny day, it would be worth going to Scalloway and see the ruins of the castle. I went to the bus stop right in front of the hostel and met one of the Australian ladies with whom I was sharing the dorm. When I got on the bus, I saw Lilian, a French guy I had talked to earlier that morning so I sat next to him and we chatted on our way to Scalloway.

small marina with sail boats in Scalloway

All three of us ended up visiting the village together and having great conversations. The castle was already open so we did not have to go and fetch the key in one of the local businesses. The ruins of the castle were very similar to the ones I had visited in Birsay, on Orkney, which made sense as they were all built by the same Earls.

houses on a uphill street with a bench on the street corner

In the afternoon, after picking up my backpack from the hostel left-luggage room, I walked to the Shetland museum. I had liked the Orkney museum, because of all the artifacts, but this one was much better, with a more finished look. At around 4:15, I walked toward the ferry where I met again with Lilian. We watched the islands slowly disappear as the ferry left, and it was once again truly beautiful. Seeing the length of the island of Bressay, it made me realized why it took me so long and why I was so tired after my walk a few days back!

view of the island from the ferry
Sad to be leaving. One day I will return

We came back inside and settled into our seats on different sides of the ferry. There was a very loud snorer for the first half of the trip, but luckily enough, he moved to the other side of the ferry later on, so I got to get some sleep, regularly changing positions in order to try to find a suitable one. I had a much better night then my first time on the ferry, even though the sea was quite rough from Lerwick to Kirkwall. Many people looked like they were going to be sick but lucky for me my body seemed to be readjusting very well to rougher conditions, which is great giving that I do dream to buy myself a sailboat eventually!

three sheep staring
Curious little fellows

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