Clift Hills… it’s been my favourite cup of tea spot since Maurice dragged me up there four years ago, one summer’s night after work. I remember sitting there in my T-shirt, cup of tea in hand, seeing Shetland on a whole new scale for the first time.
“Shetland reminds you JUST how lucky you are to be stood on its incomparable land”
So, back in January after what had been a very jolly Yule, the first venture out into the fresh air was well needed. We set off late one Saturday morning. There was snow on the ground and the air was as crystal clear as it could possibly be.
Wrapped up, backpack packed, and good to go, we approached our hike from the Blett road at 11am. Already over 300 feet above sea level, it was cold, but beautifully crisp as the sun shone down highlighting the hills and sea.
We followed the track heading towards the Scroo. The conditions on this hill are on the boggy side, which is tricky when the ground is covered in snow making it that bit harder to navigate across it without ending up in a guttery mess.You could feel the damp paet bog cracking under your body weight as we sprikled across like Bambi on ice. Generally we picked our way up as close to the fence as possible to avoid wet feet.
The sun was beating down, so the layers of ganzies, Fair Isle gloves and toories quickly became unbearable. On stopping to de-layer we were now standing at just over 800 feet above sea level. As I turned back to face east the gradual incline had suddenly revealed a clear panoramic view over the islands of Mousa, Bressay, and right over to Whalsay and Skerries. That’s just how clear it was. Amazing. Bressay looked so powerful standing strong with its sharp profile coming to an abrupt end at the Bard.
Now feeling a little lighter and cooler we crunched our way up over the Scroo towards Holm Field. Although it was just another 140 feet to climb, it’s a little piece to go until you see the small stone cairn on top of the Holm appear, marking you’ve made it!
On the way the banks were sparkling with impressive icicles which were quickly melting as the late morning sun became stronger. It really was just the most amazing winter’s day.
As we reached the top at 12.30pm peeping between the folds of the hills appeared the tiny island of South Havra like a mini welcome to what becomes the most eye-popping bird’s eye view of the southwest of Shetland. Suddenly my legs could move twice as fast as I paced towards Havra, which is one of Shetland’s most historically prized little gems.
When, slowly, Fitful Head appears over in the south beyond Havra, it’s as if someone switched on the lights and, as your eyes scan from left to right, suddenly Foula appears in all its glory… Burra, Trondra, Scalloway, Tingwall, as far as the stacks of Westerwick and then, boom… there’s Ronas Hill! She was completely white with snow. In one scan of the eye you are questioning how is this even possible?! Is this too much all at once? Yes… a cup of tea is essential at this point to sit down and take it all in!
It was absolutely freezing now that we’d stopped walking. Snow on the ground, icicles hanging six inches thick from the banks, but that really didn’t matter. It was time for ‘Leah’s Culinary Skills in the Hills’ – I’d packed some caramelised onion and Shetland lamb sausages from the Scalloway butcher and some classic Sandwick bakery softies, and boy was that a treat! I pitched my little outdoor kitchen facing the sun and fried up the sausages which sizzled good style in the pan, rich in flavours to suit the outdoors, while the kettle boiled. Then we enjoyed lunch in the clean, crisp air with the winter sunlight glowing down on a panoramic view of Shetland’s Atlantic coast. The atmosphere was just so relaxing and inviting. The cold seemed to simply disappear to give us a chance to enjoy the flawless view and pure rewards of our hike.
Below us in Clift Sound we watched as the mussel and salmon farmers worked away in the most idyllic setting and conditions. It’s really no wonder we provide the world with top class seafood.
As they say, all good things must come to an end and, as the adrenaline started to drop, the cold set back in and it became apparent we needed to make a move and bux our way back down to Earth. The walk back once again revealed a view of the east, but the conditions had quickly changed. Bearing in mind this was back in January, daylight doesn’t last long here in Shetland. Now 2.30pm, the sun had turned dusky and the day was darkening quickly meaning the temperature plummeted further. Thank goodness I packed that ganzie after all… Shetland wool honestly is superior insulation!
Returning to the car at the back of three I felt like I’d kick-started my year in the right sort of way. It was one of those days in Shetland where you just recognise that feeling of what Shetland truly is. Often patronised, joked about, belittled… But when you are stood 953 feet above the world and the islands are literally shining with pride all around you; the clean, beautiful air so pure and unspoiled; the masses of land and cliffs, sea and beaches consuming your vision, almost too powerful to take in all at once. It is then that Shetland reminds you JUST how lucky you are to be stood on its incomparable land. BUT… this feeling is a reward only for those appreciative enough to go seeking it.
All the photos from the hike are available on the Facebook page
5 thoughts on “Clift Hills”
Such a great account of the walk. I cannot wait for lockdown to be lifted so I can really come to see your beautiful island.
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I went to Orkney and Shetland six or seven years ago and did so again this September just gone. That trip reinforced my view that i much prefer Shetland to Orkney (!) I walked the coast in Northmavine and was just knocked out. Walking along such a spectacular coast and then I come to the remains of a broch by a loch and what must surely vie with Windhouse as one of the creepiest places in Shetland in the near distance….Could it really get any better? Yes it could. There was the wildlife too, both on land and at sea.
Staying on campsites was fun too both there, and further south in Levenwick (where I went to another broch not long after visiting the incredible Mousa). I always like to hear the local gossip and what I heard was hilarious. Better not tell you who it was about though. I might not live in Shetland but I know it well enough to know that you might know the person concerned………!
I might come up to Shetland this winter so if you see someone who looks a little like Rick Wakeman camping out somewhere, obvlivious to the rain or the snow and just looking out at the stormy sea it’ll be me.
Enjoy Shetland you are lucky to live in that marvellous place.
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Thank you for such a great comment. I’m so glad you’ve had such an amazing experience and that you got out and seen real Shetland. The coastline up north is phenomenal, my personal favourite. The red cliffs are unreal. I’m so glad you want to come back, but do know camping in winter can be dangerous and has resulted in tragedy in the past, so always have a plan B if the weather picks up. Enjoy your time back!
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