Shetland October 2010

Exploring the South end.

We spent the first half of October getting to know the house, and getting to know the south end of Shetland mainland better.  Over the last few years we've spent a lot of time around the south end staying either at the Sumburgh Hotel or at the Pool of Virkie - somehow the trip was different this time, we were exploring our new patch.

There are several bays, beaches and headlands either within walking distance or a few minutes drive away.

The real local area is the beach at Quendale - which was pretty reliable for both seals and porpoise, in addition to various and numerous seabirds - even in October.

Further west from Quendale are Garths Ness (where the Braer ran aground and broke up in 1993 - shedding 85,000 tonnes of crude oil into the water and onto the beaches) and Fitful Head.  Fitful Head, like all the high points around the southern end of Shetland is topped by both warning lights and radar stations.  One to ensure that planes can find the airport at all, the other to ensure that they avoid the hill tops on their approach.  The need for the warning lights is demonstrated by the memorial to the crew of a Halifax bomber that flew into the cliffs below Fitful Head in March 1942, heading back from Norway to their base at Kinloss.  Fitful Head is probably the only place from where it's possible to see both Fair Isle 25 miles to the south, and Foula 20 miles to the west.

Due south of our cottage is the Scatness head land - we visited there briefly a couple of times on previous trips but had not had very satisfying visits.  I can't recall why we weren't taken by it then - this time it was different.  We spent time watching the waves and picturing what life must have been like living in the old block house at Ness of Burgi.

Sumburgh Head and Compass Head are the southeastern corner of Shetland Sumburgh Head grabs the headlines with its lighthouse and RSPB monitored bird cliffs (even in October there are a surprising number of fulmars still around, presumable staking their claims for the prime nest sites next year) but Compass Head is actually higher and has the expected lights and radar installations and an excellent (close to pilots eye) view of the airport.  If you follow the coast north from Sumburgh Head you cross Compass Head, and then drop down to Grutness where the Fair Isle ferry sails from.  The little headland beyond Grutness is another beautiful spot to watch the waves at this time of year, and to dodge the aggressive terns during the spring and summer.

My other final favourite spot is St Ninians Isle the island is linked to the mainland by a magnificent shell sand tombolo and is dramatic at any state of the tide, and at any time of year.  It was recently voted Scotland favourite beach it not hard to see why.

No trip to Shetland would ever be complete without talking about the weather.  A pretty major storm stopped the Northlink Ferries at Lerwick just before we were due to travel north, so we wound up getting there 48 hours later than planned.  After that the weather was splendid several days of strong winds from the south meant dramatic seas and blue skies, and after that the winds dropped and eventually swung round to come from north.  To spend two weeks on Shetland in October with hardly a drop of rain must qualify as pretty fortunate.

A few photos from this trip are linked below.