Exploring the Shetlands – Lerwick and the main island

Cinema room on board the ferry
My bed and ‘private’ room for the night

On the ferry from Kirkwall we were joining the people that had left from Aberdeen a few hours earlier so there were already many people on board. I found the cinema and settled in one of the seats, expecting other people to enter. Nobody did so I ended up having the whole cinema to myself! The seats were somewhat reclinable, but I still had a hard time finding a comfortable position.

Lerwick, Jarlshof and Sumburgh Head

The night ferry arrived in Shetland at around 7 in the morning. After cleaning up in the bathroom, I made my way out of the boat, waited for my bag to arrive on the trolley, and headed for the Islesburgh Hostel. It was a 15 minutes walk with just a little bit of rain, so it was actually pretty good. I hadn’t really looked at the directions, but I found it easily.

Islesburgh Hostel
Islesburgh Hostel

I entered the building at the same time as a couple from New Zealand. Some people were already waiting to check in, so the reception guy decided to take us on a tour of the building, showing us everything we needed to know. After the 2-3 check-ins that had arrived before me and what felt like forever, I got my key and went to my room. I was exhausted and barely coherent but managed to talk with one of the girls in my dorm. I took a shower, had breakfast, and once I felt like a human being again, set up for a walk to VisitScotland offices to gather information on where I wanted to go and the ways to get there. The guy was very useful and he knew exactly the answers to my questions.

Archaeological site of Jarlshof

I walked in the older part of the city, going from shop to shop trying to find a raincover for my daypack, but oddly enough, nobody seemed to keep them in store. I went to the Viking bus station to catch the bus to Jarlshof. Jarlshof is another area of the northern islands that had been inhabited for over 4500 years.

view from the top of the tower, overlooking the ruins of the different areas of the site
Jarlshof and some of the different ruins

Over the years, the different arrivals shaped different building, sometimes stacking them onto what had been previously built. Even nowadays, there is still a village of farmers nearby. These ruins were discovered when they were exposed after a great gale. The site provides a very interesting audio tour and takes visitors around, from the first settlements to the 16th century Laird’s house (now in ruins). During the audio tour, we actually get to go inside the buildings, and it felt like a much more complete experience than Skara Brae. I was lucky, it was sunny during my tour, very windy but quite sunny.

inside one of the houses

After visiting the archeological site, I decided to walk to the lighthouse. Instead of walking on the road, I followed the advice of the guy working at the reception of Jarlshof, and did the coastal walk.

Fenced bull area to go through in order to get to the lighthouse
Bull area to go through in order to get to the lighthouse

The beginning of the walk involved going over some fences and in a bull area. Fortunately, there was no bull in sight in the fenced area at the moment I was there, but I was still quite nervous going through the field. The fact that I couldn’t see a bull didn’t mean he was not there somewhere!

shags on a rock

The wind was becoming much stronger and the rain started. I saw a lot of shags, cormorants and other water birds nesting on the cliffs. The wind was so strong that I would hide behind the stone wall, standing up only to take some pictures of the many birds. When I arrived at the Sumburgh Lighthouse the sun came back and while I was enjoying the sea views, I looked down and was pleasantly surprised to see my first puffins!! There were right on the other side of the rock fence, and I spent a good amount of time taking pictures and struggling to restrain myself from picking one up, cuddling and bringing it back as a pet! They are simply so adorable! And they sure know how to fly. For such clumsy looking creatures, they are really well adapted to the area.

puffin posing for the camera
Simply adorable!

After a short break from walking, I decided to head back with a little detour on the hill overlooking Jarlshof and the lighthouse. I followed an older man as he went up. I had never experienced so much wind!! I understood the guy’s earlier advice not to stand too close to the edge when it’s that windy because it would be easy to fall off into the ocean. It was so hard to walk straight that I had no problem believing him.

View from the top of the hill, rolling hills and water
The windiest place so far, the top of the hill!

After a while, I had enough and cut through the land in between the sheep and back to the main road, towards the hotel and bus stop. I went to the bathroom in the hotel and as I was getting ready to head back to the bus and wait for 45 minutes, the older men arrived and offered me a ride back to Lerwick. I gladly accepted once again. He had gone for another walk in the morning and had learned about a very scenic little detour, where he took me. It was absolutely stunning and totally worth it. We chatted the whole way back to the city and he dropped me off next to my hostel.

People dressed as Vikings getting out of a car
Strange sighting

The next day I walked to the port. There was a huge sailing vessel, which looked more like a cruise ship. I encountered a strange sight: some Vikings getting their stuff out of the car! While waiting for the ferry to return from Bressay I enjoyed the stillness and quietness of the place. At 10 am, I got on the very short ferry ride to Bressay and headed north. I was thinking I would run into the standing stone according to the map, but they turned out to be fairly far out of the way. I did, however, see Old Haa of Cruster, or at least I think that’s what I saw!

Ferry arriving in Bressay
Ferry arriving in Bressay

I turned around and decided to head back south. I walked all the way to Bressay Lighthouse and was looking for the Natural Arch next to it (according to the map once again). I couldn’t see it from the lighthouse so I decided to climb a small cliff, instead of going over some wired fence, and walked on the cliff for a while, looking for the arch. When I was ready to give up, I turned around and obviously the arch was right behind me… next to the lighthouse.

The lighthouse... and the arch!
The lighthouse… and the arch!

I enjoyed watching the seabirds fly around their nests for a while, before heading back to the ferry. When I was almost there, reaching the main ‘road’, a guy going in that direction asked me if I wanted a ride to the ferry, which I said yes. It wasn’t that far but it did save me a lot of steps.

Bench overlooking the sea
Nice spot to have lunch

A day later, after doing travel research on my laptop for most of the morning. I met Astrid, a Norwegian girl who had just arrived from Bergen on the amazing huge sailboat I had seen the day before. We walked around Lerwick for most of the afternoon, going to the ferry terminal to book our upcoming ferries. We arrived there at 2pm only to see that the office was open from 7:30 to 9:30 and 3 to 5pm. After walking around some more we went back to the ferry and booked our places. It was a quieter day, which felt pretty good.

Baby Shetland pony
Doesn’t really get any cuter than a baby Shetland pony!

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