And then it was April. April in Shetland is a funny month. The daffodils pop up, lambs appear on the hills and the puffins return, but don’t be fooled by these cute spring additions. April usually brings bitter northerly winds and snow showers!
Nevertheless, the lovely thing about April is the lengthening daylight. The clocks have changed going into April bringing the start of the ‘the light nights’ which peak in mid-May to mid-July when the ‘simmer dim’ returns. When, if it’s been a fine day it’ll not get dark at all. The climate is totally unique up here – if you want to find out more, you can do so here. It’s really quite interesting.
Saturday brought us the first weekend of ‘the light nights’ allowing for a few extra hours of daylight to go out and explore. I’d had a pretty stuffy week in the office so was desperate to get out walking. I’d had a little circular walk in mind for a while so given the weather was gusting a north-easterly I thought it would be a lightsome one to try.
My chosen destination isn’t one usually associated with walking; it’s the Algarve of Shetland with its beautiful, white, dazzling beaches. The island of Burra is one of the most stunning areas of Shetland. With engrossing views over to the Clift Hills you get a very Scandinavian feel as you enter Burra over two bridges and drive along, with a mini fjord-like roll of hills alongside you. These formidable hills across the voe are very prominent as they stand tall in the distance towering over Burra. However, the flat land of south Burra allows for views down to Fitful Head, and the best view of the island of Foula from Hamnavoe.
We headed to the most southerly point of Burra to stunning Minn Beach. It was a flying gale, but wrapped and prepared it didn’t really bother me too much. Even little Pippa was delighted to be running free on the beach, rolling in the sand. It wasn’t a cold wind and it was a beautiful bright day.
If you walk the length of the beach there is what looks like an island at the other side, but it’s not an island, it’s just narrowly joined by the beach tombolo. This is Kettla Ness peninsula. Heading off anticlockwise along the banks you get a westerly view out towards the island of Foula. You’ll first see ‘Fugla Stack’ which is the scene of a shipwreck where a steamship ran aground in 1910. It now lies on the seabed only to be seen by divers. The famous ‘Sweetie Wreck’ was named by locals because so many tins of peppermints later washed ashore.
There then is a small hill to climb marked by a cairn. Although the incline doesn’t seem substantial, I was surprised at the 360 ̊view it revealed. On walking down the hill there is a picturesque loch with some nice cliff views at ‘The Heugg’ looking back towards the west of Burra. As you follow the banks of this walk you are led to Kettla Ness and Grot Ness where you can see the cliffs of Fitful Head standing in the distance in all their glory. Then, as you walk around on the east side, the views change from cliff side to East Burra appearing. Three quarters of the way around you’ll come across a scattering of old ruins which look to have once been an impressive crofting community.
We took shelter in one of the houses so I could prepare ‘Leah’s Culinary Skills in the Hills’ a title which has developed from ‘picnic queen’ as I’ve gradually become more adventurous in my outdoor cooking prospects. On the menu was some local fresh baked bread and scallops. Easily and quickly fried up on my peerie gas stove, it made for a perfect warm and comforting lunch as we squatted in the ruins completely sheltered form the wind. As we sat enjoying the scallops and a cup of tea we sat looking out the little house window which perfectly framed Minn beach. I wondered if the old occupiers had ever considered how precious their view was, or if they’d always been too busy crofting and fishing to sit and appreciate their surroundings like we can today.
At this point we’d been out for around three hours. My lungs were full to the brim with the freshest of fresh air and although my lugs were starting to suffer the consequences of a north easterly, I thought what a wonderful way to start my Saturday. But it wasn’t over yet…
Burra is an ancient fishing community. Scattered with a mixture of old croft houses and modern Scandinavian wooden mansions, you get a feel for the old and new Shetland. But now in Burra you can also get a feel for the Australian Shetland. Eh? I hear you think… Deep down in East Burra you’ll find ‘The Outpost’, home to a Shetland family with a twist. Dad Dave is Australian and on his croft you’ll find a more exotic range of animals than your usual sheep and Shetland ponies. Here you can experience a little bit of Australia in Burra. Dave has created a visitor friendly experience where you can go to see his wallabies, emus, possums and some Kunekune pigs, goats, rabbits, a cat and an adorable dog called Toffee for good measure. The enclosures are set up to allow visitors to come and feed the animals at their own leisure.
Then afterwards, if Dave is kicking about, he may even invite you into his personal, homemade bar for a refreshment. Dave is a keen brewer and I was lucky enough to be offered a little cider tasting experience where I was treated to everything from honey mead to chilli cider… There I was thinking the wallabies were random enough. I couldn’t have enjoyed my experience at the Outpost more.
Now, I must stress that this is not a business. Dave is providing an opportunity to allow locals and visitors to see and experience something a little less traditional Shetland. If you visit, please treat his property and animals with respect and adoration as he rears and cares for the animals with so much love. If you do visit be sure to take some donation money to slot into the feed boxes which are positioned at every enclosure. The Outpost is a truly unique and unexpected day out, but definitely now one of my favourites.
After spending the whole day in Burra I arrived home around 6pm with a huge smile on my face reflecting on the randomness of my day. A stunning beach, sharp cliffs, fresh scallops, wallabies, chilli cider, holding an emu egg… then the phone went off. I was summoned to help feed at my uncle’s farm. Suddenly baby lambs didn’t seem so exciting… I wonder if he’d consider some joeys next year…
Another unique and exciting day here in Shetland. Is it any wonder I find it hard to summarise living on these inimitable islands!?
You can find the full photo album on the Shetland Islands with Leah Facebook page.