An Island Called Yell

We all have places we are so familiar with, that we disregard them and take them for granted. That’s what Yell was to me. An important stepping stone on an onward journey. Yell sits on the north of Shetland and is part of a trio of inhabited islands. Yell, Fetlar and Unst. Yell is the closest of the three to the Shetland mainland meaning you have to get onto Yell to board a ferry onto Fetlar and Unst. Therefore, having visited and explored both Fetlar and Unst, I’d shamelessly only used Yell as a means to getting to these other islands.

Yell is the largest inhabited island after the Mainland in Shetland at 82 square miles but with a population of just under one thousand, most of the islanders are spread out in three settlements in the north of the isle, the middle and the south, giving the isle a feel of three individual communities sharing one island. When you disembark the ferry at Ulsta, you drive the length of the isle to get to the next ferry at Gutcher. In this 30 minute drive you don’t drive though any of the settlements and pass just a few houses, including the formidable haunted ‘Windhouse’ which stares at you from the top of a hill as you hit the accelerator as you pass by. Hear one of many yarns about the Windhouse from Yell man Brucie Henderson here. By the time you reach the next ferry terminal at Gutcher you’d be forgiven to assume there isn’t much to Yell. The lonely main road seems to go on forever as you dodge the road hog sheep on the way, it being November they were often seen licking salt off the road.

However, this weekend I boarded the ferry to Yell and took a right off that highway through Yell and  began to explore the island. I’d been to a wedding in Yell once, but it was dark, and to a country hall as a teenager on the spree, but I struggled to think of any other time I’d just gone to Yell to be in Yell. So it was about time I spent some time here and seen what it had to offer.

On route via the ferry

We set off at 10am from Lerwick arriving at the Toft ferry terminal at 10.45am to catch the 11 ferry to Ulsta, Yell. The ferry crossing takes 20 minutes and the ferries are the best we have in Shetland. They offer a lovely lounge with balcony access so you can enjoy your crossing indoors or out in the fresh sea air. On the crossing we got word there were two humpback whales just around a mile from the ferry. Having seen them in Lerwick the previous Saturday I couldn’t believe my luck. Therefore, our plans were put on hold to go and track down these amazing creatures in the wilds of the North Sea. We set off from the ferry and scoured the coast, but couldn’t see them. They don’t tend to move too fast so we kept going, eyes peeled with high suspense. We didn’t find them, so figured we’d need to get on with our planned walked, but popped into the famous ‘Mary’s Shop’ for some treats on the way. On leaving the Aladdin’s Cave of Yell, there they were – right in front of the car outside the Aywick Shop! As we stood and watched the whales, locals were wandering in and out of their local shop for their Saturday messages and I had to appreciate the lightsome, un-phased mutters: “Is dir a Whale oot yunder or someteen?” “Yis, twa Humpbacks” Can you imagine the hysteria if there had been any tourists or if two Humpbacks appeared outside M&S on the Scottish mainland? This familiar, calm but blyde reception to what is in fact to most people a once in a lifetime experience is one of the special things about Shetlanders, and how they appreciate what island life brings them without being animated about it. I like to think the whales know they can relax in Shetland’s waters without being bothered, followed or hunted. Maybe that’s why we are seeing more and more of them coming close into the coast. In the last few years there has been Humpback Whale sighting around Shetland’s coast at this same time of year. It is known that North Atlantic Humpback Whales migrate south to the warmer waters of Cape Verde and the Caribbean, making huge ocean crossings, Shetland must be a fine stop off. Find out more here.

On leaving the whales we travelled up the east coast of Yell enjoying the stunning views out over to Fetlar on this flat calm winters day. The temperature was reading 2oC, but there wasn’t a whisper of wind meaning all the Lochs were like mirrors. The frosty air and the low sunlight of November made the red heather on the hills glow and the setting was nothing short of a picture perfect winter scene.

We arrived in Cullivoe 20 minutes later and made our way to The Sands of Breckon. A place I never knew existed until last year. What I was about to discover was this is one of Shetland’s best kept secrets. Due to its very rural position on Yell and it’s hard to reach location this beach is hands down one of the most beautiful beaches, yet probably one of the least walked beaches in Shetland. But maybe that’s one of many factors which makes this beach so appealing. With its crystal clear, turquoise waters and sparkling white soft sands, this beach sprawls out and grows as you make your way down onto it through the dunes. It’s deep, long and plentiful in its beauty. Due to its location, the waters come off the currents where the North Sea and Atlantic meet at the North of Shetland, throwing in powerful waves which break and foam by the second offering a beautiful show from nature. North of Breckon there is nothing over the horizon until you reach the Arctic.

Of course, as always I was prepared and excited to get Leah’s culinary skills in the hills on the go, so we found the perfect spot to set up the outdoor kitchen and in the November sun I cooked up some lamb burgers from my uncle’s farm and served them up in some rolls from the Skibhoul Bakery, on the neighbouring island of Unst, with some Orkney cheese. Who said beaches and burgers were a summer thing?

On from lunch we walked the dramatic coastline and ventured through what had once been a Viking settlement. This exposed, windswept area looks directly out towards Norway and you couldn’t help but imagine what it would have been like. Keeping in mind, the landscape is still exactly the same to this day as it would have been then. We grow up in Shetland knowing the Vikings are a huge part of our history. We know our heritage and culture is a mix of both Scottish and Nordic influences, but actually standing on an ancient Viking settlement in the exact surroundings those people would also have experienced hundreds of years ago is very powerful. On this site the island of Unst peers over to you and you feel like you could touch it from the cliff side. You can see Tonga and Hermaness out in the distance. It’s a very interesting and distinctive spot to take a pew and absorb the geology, the scenery and history.

We then moved onto Gloup via the ancient grave yard where the stones tell a sad story of how hard island life was not even a hundred years ago. So many children and young people lost to the harshness of reality. This was proven all too poignantly at the Fisherman’s Memorial which stands tall and powerful at Gloup with a mother and her baby looking out to sea searching for all the sons, brothers, husbands, fathers and grandfathers who didn’t make it home. In July 1881, the Gloup Fishing Disaster occurred, in which 58 fishermen were killed by an unexpected summer storm coming from the direction of Iceland. In 1981, a hundred years after the event a memorial was erected to commemorate the victims. Ten boats were lost into the storm which decimated a small island community. A reminder that our beautiful coast line has cost the lives of far too many.

By now it was late afternoon, and the sun was setting fast. Unfortunately a beautiful day was being cut short due to the darkness rolling in. With winter comes shortened days and long nights. So we made our way to LJ’s Diner to defrost and eat! A hard frost had set in during the short 15 minute drive and it was now dark. So a bowl of chips (made with Shetland tatties) and a homemade pizza was a pleasing way to refuel before the concert at night. Bellies full and fingers thawed, we made our way to the Burravoe Hall for an evening of Shetland’s best.

In Shetland we have a great deal of musical talent and nothing proved it like the line-up of this gig. Freda Leask launched her new single ‘Magdalene’ Followed by a set from the beautiful Herkja who released their first EP. Then the night was concluded by one of Shetland most famous traditional bands, Haltadans who have released an album. What a superb variety concert packed with the most talented musicians. The perfect way to conclude the perfect Shetland day.

After spending a full 12 hours in Yell exploring, after just driving though it countless times before, it was clear that it had been my loss. I should have discovered Yell long before, but now I know it’s no longer just a stepping stone, it’s a platform of history, natural beauty and individuality. I’m glad to have discovered and experienced what Yell has to offer. You should to.

Unst Staycation

Back in April, I was preparing for a big trip to the other side of the world, which was consuming all of my savings and brain space. Work was busy, life was becoming a drag after a long winter and I needed some time out. However, with such a big trip on the horizon I couldn’t justify leaving Shetland until that time, but I needed to get away. Easter weekend was approaching so I messaged some family and friends to see if they were available over the long weekend to arrange something, but nobody’s availability seemed to be aligning with mine. I felt deflated and disappointed that my first ‘staycation’ of 2019 had already been a flop until the idea of going it alone crossed my mind… No, that wasn’t for me. I’d definitely get bored of my own company over the course of the weekend and I’m definitely not capable of setting off hiking myself. What a silly idea. I’d just stay home… or was it?

I had a meeting arranged with a client on the isle of Unst the Friday afternoon. I wondered if it would be ridiculous to just stay up a night after my meeting, have a nice dinner and enjoy a glass of wine looking out to sea as the sunset. Although it sounded idyllic, my brain does tend to have a wonderful imagination sometimes.

Then as if by fate, my phone flashed and I’d been tagged in a post – ‘Gardiesfauld Youth Hostel’ has shared your post. Oh how lovey, I always appreciate a share “We hope Leah might head north sometime soon, and share some of our many gems. Maybe she’ll even stop over for a night at Gardiesfauld while she’s up??” Well I couldn’t not go now could I… but I’d only every stayed there once when I was 12 on a school trip. How could I go back now as an adult alone?! It’s probably pretty obvious by now that this whole wild, solo traveling wasn’t something I’m familiar with. Nevertheless, I needed to get away, Gardiesfauld had basically invited me and I already had a meeting in Unst scheduled so my staycation was indeed aligning after all, just not how I’d initially assumed.

I emailed the hostel and booked myself a room for two nights (different room sizes and sharing options are available) I used the ‘Visit Unst’ website to plan my trip and decided upon a flexible schedule. I wanted most to just set foot on as many beaches as possible, see a beautiful sunset and switch off.

I set off on the Friday, first by catching the ferry from Shetland mainland at Toft to get to the island of Yell. Here you have to drive through Yell to catch the ferry into Unst. My travel to Unst consisted of:

Drive from Lerwick to Toft – 40 minutes

Ferry from Toft to Yell – 20 minutes

Drive through Yell – 30 minutes

Ferry from Yell to Unst – 10 minutes

Keep in mind, these are estimates depending on speed, sheep on the road in Yell and waiting on ferries in-between. You can find the ferry timetables on the Shetland Islands Council website.

After arriving in Unst I attended my meeting and spent the afternoon working. Then when five o’clock struck my staycation started. On the drive to my accommodation I was excited to be a tourist so I stopped off at the reconstructed longhouse and longship placed at Haroldswick which recreates the rich Viking history on Unst. Unst being situated close to Norway meant that many Vikings came across Unst before landing in mainland Shetland. “Unst is thought to be the first foot-fall of Vikings in the North Atlantic and there are remains of at least 60 longhouses on the island – the highest density of rural Viking sites anywhere in the world. Viking Unst is a project run by Shetland Amenity Trust. There are a number of places to visit to discover the true Viking history: The Skidbladner is a full size replica of the Gokstad ship, found in a Viking burial mound in Norway in 1880, and is built using the same materials in the clinker fashion.  The original ship is thought to have been built during the reign of Harald Fairhar, who is said to have landed in Unst, and after whom the bay of Haroldswick is named.” – Truly amazing huh?!

Afterwards, I arrived at Gardiesfauld Youth Hostel where I found my room that had a beautiful view out over the beach below. I couldn’t believe that at just £16 a night this was home for the weekend. On previous trips to Unst we’ve always rented houses. I’d never considered staying in the hostel before. More fool me. I took a look around to familiarise myself with the facilities and discovered a lovely conservatory looking out to sea, a large modern kitchen, laundry facilities and picnic benches in a beautiful garden. I was kind of chuffed I’d taken this plunge. This wasn’t what I expected a hostel to be at all. Very homely, clean and it had everything I needed to feel at home.

The view from my cozy room

I changed into some walking clothes, packed my rucksack and made my way down to St Olaf’s Kirk, where I parked up to take in my first dose of beaches on the walk to the Westing for sunset. The first and main beach is Lund which in low tide is a mixture of pebbles and stunning vast white sand. On walking this beach you get a real sense of Unst. It’s alone, it’s wild and it’s beautiful. At the end of the sand, if you venture up over the broo (small slope of a hill) and out to a point, you see another smaller white beach. Here is where I’d originally planned to cook my dinner, but I discovered the carcass of a whale that had washed up and come to rest. I decided to go and have a closer look, so I made my way down off the broo and shuffled my way down onto the beach to check out what was once a mighty mammal of the sea. It was so decomposed by this stage it was hard to tell what type of whale it had been. As captivating as the discovery was, I didn’t fancy eating dinner on a beach with a dead whale, so I followed the outline of the land and walked until I found another small beach. This time a very stony one, which was a mixture of big rounded boulders and small smooth pebbles. The variety of colours in the rocks made it interesting, but what took my attention was the stack which shot up out from the sea in the geo, where hundreds of kittiwakes were nesting. They weren’t so keen on my presence so I left them in peace and kept on moving. Keeping to the edge of the cliffs I could now look back and get an impressive front view of Lund and the voe which revealed the scatter of mini beaches picked into the coast line. It is here you discover the ‘secret beach’ which lies under the Cliffside boasting its superior natural beauty with deep white, crystal clean sand. The best kept secret of the Westing. I sat there as the daylight started to dip and realised I was miles from the car by this point, alone on the most northerly coast of Britain. The noise of the sea, the swoosh of the birds above, the beauty of the views. I’ve never felt so at ease, so at peace. I sat there in my own silence just absorbing the moment as the red sun started to set. I made my way back to the pebble beach and by then the birds had settled a bit. It was less chaotic. The sunset had brought calm all around. The sea was still and the stack,  black in the shadow of the sunset. The raw, organic beauty was mind blowing and I didn’t seem to care I was out there alone with no phone signal. By this point I hadn’t even eaten, my hunger had disappeared because who has time to cook when all this is happening around you? By now I was half way back to the car and because it was April the night sky was kind to me and allowed me to make it back in reasonable light. Guided by a full moon like a torch illuminating the coastline, I’d now made it back to Lund beach, but the tide had come in since I’d left, meaning half way across the beach the sand just came to an abrupt end and a tall wall of rock was blocking my route back to the car. In fact I couldn’t even see the car. How long had I been out here for this to happen? Whipping out my best rock climbing skills I laughed at myself as I scaled up over this surprise challenge. Up and over, the car was in sight at the kirk and suddenly I was knackered and hungry but completely fed on fresh air and high on what had been an exceptional evening. Everything and more that I’d pined for.

My walking route out to the Westing from St Olaf’s Kirk

The following day I claimed the conservatory at the hostel. I sat in the baking hot sun, like lady muck in my glass room, looking out to sea on this splendid island. Relaxed and tuned out from the real world. It was too much effort to endure the painfully slow Wi-Fi so I was delighted to disconnect from the world and UN-communicate. After enjoying breakfast in this ideal setting I set off to discover more of Unst. I’d always heard of this ‘Hermaness’ place, but like a lot of Shetlanders we are often guilty of never venturing to these places which tourists pay thousands of pounds to come and see. And since last night’s adventure had given me the confidence to find my inner Dora the Explorer, I was well up for finding my way to Hermaness where there are over 25,000 pairs of gannets, but I wanted to see my pals the Tammie Nories (puffins) who had returned to Shetland for the summer. On route to Hermaness I stopped off at Burrafirth beach which sits under the towering Cliffside road which leads you to Hermaness. This beach is a very unique beach. Firstly its sand is like a huge flat oil slick of yellows, oranges, greys and ivory’s but if you place your hand in the sand it will sparkle and glint as the beach is covered in natures glitter.

After a stroll along the beach, being chased by nesting birds, I made my way up to the walkway which leads you to Hermaness, home to more than 100,000 breeding seabirds – one of the UK’s largest seabird colonies.You can follow a boardwalk path for the majority of the walk over the moorlands and choose the 8km or 12 km route. You can find out more by clicking here. I set off on an extremely windy day fully exposed to the harsh North Atlantic Ocean. But I’d committed to going and forced my way through the gusts, out into the wilds of nature. I kept walking, forcing my way up over the hill, feeling like this was the route to nowhere. I met a few tourists on their way back “be careful out there, it’s really windy at the cliffs” I guess they weren’t to know this is normal for me. But as I reached the overwhelming sight of this extraordinary bird colony, I was made all too aware of just how windy it was. My back pack kept catching in the wind, dragging me with it. I was alone, on the most northerly tip of the UK with no phone signal. Suddenly my know-it-all cockiness stood for nothing, this was dangerous. But I’d made it all the way here and my Tamie Norrie pals had spotted me, so I had to go say hello! I took off my rucksack and stowed it under a ridge so I had more stability and I carefully found a sheltered spot on the cliff side to sit and converse with my pals. I’d worn red socks because a guy who works for the SNH had once told me they are attracted to them. So I dangled my legs their way to carry out the red sock challenge. Tammie Norrie’s are inquisitive creatures with big personalities. If you are calm and quiet they will brave getting close to you. I sat there for a bit as they all started to pop out of their burrows to see who this visitor was. The cliff sides were smothered in thousands of pairs. It’s an extraordinary sight to watch as they carry out their flight and squawk to one another returning for a beak bashing and a ruffle of the feathers. My red socks had been noticed by one little guy in particular. He was fascinated and slowly made his way towards me, being watched closely by his pals. I sat there, still and relaxed, avoided taking pictures in case it would deter his progress. Eventually he was there. Closely followed by his pals. I was sat at Hermaness surrounded by these amazing little birds full of character and charm. They hung around, sussing out my presence, waddled around, accepted me being there and were cool with this massive human sitting on their patch. When you see puffins in magazines or on postcards or posters you’d be fooled into thinking they are quite big birds, but in real life they are so petite. Their colours are vibrant and their personalities are cracking. I’m by no means a bird person, but watching Tammie Norrie’s to me is delightful. I could sit and watch them for hours.

But unfortunately on this day the piercing cold wind was getting the better of me. I went back to the broo where my rucksack was and discovered it was lea under there, so I set up my outdoor kitchen and prepared dinner as the sun set over the sea. I toasted marshmallows and drank tea until it was getting dark, when I remembered I had to find my way back to the car, so I headed home after what had been a totally unique and new experience up at astounding Hermaness.

The previous two days had been full of adventure and new experiences. I was starting to feel quite at home alone in Unst. No concept of time, constant fresh air and scenery to keep me amused and the benefits of a digital detox were starting to work its magic. The third and final day of my trip took me to a couple more beaches. First stop was the iconic Norwick Beach: known for its ever changing burn, the natural course of the burn often changes direction and ‘the taing’ is a unique piece of rock which jolts out form the long white beach which also makes Norwick Beach special. The unique geology of this beach is what makes it a must see attraction. The beach has information boards situated for you to learn more about its unique rock formation – I won’t ruin the surprise.

After a morning stroll along Norwick I headed to Skaw beach which is the most northerly beach in the UK (hence why I didn’t take my bikini) it’s rural location, down a long and winding road leads you to a view  out into the wilds of the North Sea. Your next stop is Bulandet, Norway. Here I cooked up some Tapas for lunch while taking in the last of my staycation tranquility. I enjoyed the beauty of my location and the novelty of this rather posh picnic, much to the amusement of a tourist as he passed by- he was just jealous he was probably having a pre-packed ham sandwich for his lunch. I then made my way back south of the isle towards the ferry, but I wasn’t ready to leave just yet… so I drove to Muness Castle for a quick pit stop before the ferry to enjoy one last piece of history. Muness Castle is tucked away on the South East side of Unst. Like everything in Unst it’s “The UK’s most northerly….” And in this case Castle, a remarkably fine tower house of the late 1500s. Its structure still stands remarkable strong given its exposed and weather beaten location. It’s really a very lovely little castle and I’d highly recommend finding it.

But like all good things, they must come to an end and the next ferry out was here to take me on my two part ferry crossing back to mainland Shetland. I’d had the most amazing time and due to the sheer amount of things I’d done and seen in my short visit to Unst, I felt like I’d been gone a week. I returned rested, detoxed and revived. I was so glad I’d challenged myself to take this trip alone and explore not only a place, but who I was as a person. I learned so much on my trip to Unst and felt excited to plan my next solo staycation. I couldn’t recommend it more!

To summarise my stay, if I were to describe to you the feeling of being on Unst I’d have to say I felt free and at ease. Totally relaxed and calm. For such a small place, the range and quality of experiences are huge. I took a very holistic approach to my stay to allow myself to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of Unst, but there is so much more to see and do. On previous trips I’ve visited the Boat Haven which houses an impressive historical collection of Shetland traditional boats used over the years. I’ve enjoyed the Gin tour at the Shetland Reel Gin distillery. I’ve learned about the history of Unst at the Heritage Centre. Been humored by the famous bus shelter. Had high tea at Victoria’s Tea Room. Made use of the facilities at the Leisure Centre and much more. You literally could never be bored in Unst. I’m already looking forward to my next visit. Roll on Unst 2020.

The Muckle Roe Light

When they restored the Muckle Roe light and reconstructed it down at Sumburgh Head for preservation, my Nana was delighted. She drove down to Sumburgh to see the new (but very old) attraction and returned in awe of this special piece of heritage. It turned out her Grandad had been the keeper, so as a child you can only imagine how fascinating this would have been to grow up hearing the stories and knowing your Grandad kept the many sailors safe from running aground. Below is a short clip which gives you an insight to the history of the light:

Peter Wood would have been my Great, Great Grandad. He, his wife and family lived on their croft at Little Ayre, Muckle Roe. The most idyllic, picturesque setting. Surrounded by pure Shetland beauty, tucked away at the very end of a long and winding track. With The Hams of Muckle Roe and the beautiful cliffs and beaches under the Burki banks, this patch of Shetland is quite exceptional. Many forget Muckle Roe is actually an island, connected by a small bridge in 1905.

The Hams of Muckle Roe is a special place to my family and whenever visiting family travel up to Shetland it’s always the first place they want to go. I guess that the historic connection to this beautiful corner of Shetland is still very much appreciated today. The Hams of Muckle Roe is from Old Norse and translates as the Havens (or Harbours) of the Big Red island.

Me at the Hams of Muckle Roe summer 2018

However, although I’ve been out to the The Hams a few times, I’d never been to the Muckle Roe light. The place my ancestor had walked out to day after day to light the paraffin light, committed to keeping the passing boats safe and well from the jagged, granite cliffs.

So when my friend Maurice mentioned he was planning a walk out to the light I was eager to join him.

Following Mid-Summer weekend, the nights remain light around the clock, so we set off after work to retrace the steps of my Great, Great Grandfather on what would have been his commute to work.

Setting off from the family home at Little Ayre we followed the path past the Muckle Ayre, a large red beach (where my Brother in Law to be proposed to my little sister) and then up the side of the cliffs which frame the beach towards the cairn on top of the hill. Here you get a lovely view over the Muckle Ayre beach and you can see the many paths that lead into the Hams circular.

Little Ayre, the family home. Still inhabited today by a cousin.

The Muckle Ayre on approach and from up on top of the hill:

A short pitch over the hill, we followed the ingrained path made by the many trips back and forth to the light, this makes it easier and more accessible to comfortably take this walk. When over the stile of the fence, the tops of the ornamental stacks of the Burki banks appear, but don’t pass them by! For those of you able and comfortable with leaving the path and carefully moving down closer to the edge of the cliffs, you will get the most spectacular view of this hidden, unspoiled red beach decorated by red granite stacks. I’d never seen or heard of this beach and was completely blown away with its surprise appearance. The formation of the beach is like a shade card, with the sand flowing form beige to red into the bright turquoise sea. I could have just stayed there and looked at this sight all night… but we needed to reach our destination!

After buxing back up from the cliff side though the heather, we reached the path to take us back on track to the light. Passing further along Burki hill to the Burki Skerries more ornamental stacks appeared along the coast line. But inland there is a spread of lochs as far as the eye can see. Gilsa Water and Muckla Water being the closest.

Up over another small broo led conveniently by the path you get a good view across to the uninhabited isle of Vementry where two six inch navel guns and magazine were placed in the First World War. The guns are still clearly visible standing hauntingly strong on the cliff top where they protected the entrance to Swarbacks Minn. This was used as an alternative overflow anchorage to Scapa Flow for the British Navy. Then just to the right, on a clear night the island Papa Stour stands very strong in the horizon and when dusk set we could see the house lights come on.

And then there she is… The Muckle Roe light. Now a modern, solar powered version, but still standing in the very view my Great, Great Grandfather would have seen as he made his way to maintain the original structure. Set between the Hole of Hellier which echoed loud with a variety of sea birds and the Murbie Stacks this light is located in the most beautiful setting.

When we reached the light, in the ruins of the old hut I set up my little kitchen and prepared dinner. As I chopped up the veg looking out across to Papa, I couldn’t help but notice how perfectly square the island sat framed by the window. Whoever built the hut MUST have had a fondness or connection to the isle. I have to say it made for an ideal location for ‘Leah’s culinary skills in the hills’ what an enjoyable view to cook and enjoy some Channerwick fillet steak from. (thank you Ewen and Emma)

An ideal Simmer Dim evening for ‘Leah’s Culinary Skills In The Hills’
Backing track: Maurice Henderson – Aandowin At Da Bow (traditional Shetland fiddle tune from Muckle Roe)

After taking my time to prepare the fillet steak with onions, mushrooms and tomato it was Simmer Dim bliss to sit on the cliff side spoiled with such a view. The evening was calm and the dusk light allowed for us to sit after dinner and enjoy a cup of tea out there in the wilds of Muckle Roe. I could have sat there all night, but it was now 10pm on a school night, so we wandered back to the car delighted with a lovely evening of amazing views and good food.

I highly recommend this walk. If like us you are just looking for a lightsome walk one evening it’s ideal, or you can do the full circular route and see more of this spectacular coast line. Out of all my walks I’ve done around and across Shetland I’ve never experienced so much variety compacted into a relatively short distance. There is literally never a point in which there is not something new to see. In 2 kilometres you are treated to two beaches, sea stacks, gorgeous red cliffs, lochs, wildlife, wild flowers, unique rock formation at the Hole of Hellier, history and heritage at the light, views over to the world war one guns, views over to the island of Papa Stour and the Vee Skerries. What more can one ask for in an after work wander? Jeez we are spoilt…

You can view the full photo album from the ‘Muckle Roe Light’ walk on the Shetland Islands with Leah Facebook page.

Garths Croft, Bressay

Bressay… Lerwick’s little sister.

Bressay lies to the east of Lerwick, shielding the town from the mighty North Sea. Bressay is Shetland’s fifth largest island at 11 square miles, and is home to around 360 lovely people.

One of my most memorable walks. In the far distance you can see the Bard where I cooked up dinner at the WW1 gun looking over to the Island of Noss which sits behind Bressay.

Because Bressay is so accessible given it’s just a 7 minute ferry crossing from Lerwick, it can often be dismissed as a destination to go and check out. But don’t be fooled by its ‘toonie’ connections, Bressay is an island rich in splendor. With its seabird population residing on the notable cliffs that boast a number of sea caves and arches, a dozen freshwater lochs, a stunning retired but refurbished lighthouse, a heritage centre, a friendly local café and a pub, restaurant and hotel Bressay definitely is a place to be visited and explored.

Bressay has always been the protective sister to Lerwick throughout its existence – in the 20th century that role turned especially seriously when, during World War One, two naval guns were placed on either end of the isle to protect Lerwick form any unwanted visitors approaching via the sea. We’d learned our lesson with the Vikings, this wasn’t going to be an option again!

One of two WW1 guns placed on Bressay in the 20th century. Note the island of Noss in the distance.

As someone who actually resided in Bressay for an all too short time I have a soft spot for the isle and its locals. There is a strong sense of community in Bressay. Although it is very much a commuting isle being so close to Lerwick, the community works hard to preserve that special island lifestyle. Although I left the isle a few years ago, I regularly go back to events in the hall, or to the local for a dram, or for a cycle or walk which I loved to do so much when I lived there. I still feel very much part of it and at home when I get on that ferry. The people in Bressay are some of the most welcoming and genuine people I’ve been lucky enough to know.

Which brings me to introducing you to one of them. This is Chris. Chris is originally from the south of England and moved to Shetland thirteen years ago and has been in Bressay eleven years now:

Chris delivering the goods at Bressay Up Helly Aa. Bannocks with salt beef is a traditional Shetland supper which is paired with reested mutton tattie soup – the best!

“I liked that there were lots of folk I could ask for crofting advice, and folk gave me an opportunity to help out, volunteer and work to get more experience in Shetland agriculture.”


Chris lives on and runs ‘Garths Croft’ which is the quaintest, tidiest and most beautiful story book croft I’ve ever seen. He takes great pride in his set up which is reflected in his happy and friendly animals who are delighted to welcome their visitors. His beautiful white croft house, sprawling land, fruitful polytunnel and stunning views out over the sea to Lerwick makes for the ideal modern day croft life. 

Garths Croft, Bressay

When Chris got in touch to announce the arrival of some new additions I got over to Bressay as soon as I could. How adorable it was to see some brand new piglets:

Chris has a keen interest in breeding top quality animals and prefers to focus less on mass-market breeds but more on native and heritage breeds. His main focus is on his Saddleback, Tamworth and Iron Age pigs, which he cleverly uses to plough and fertilise his land before reseeding. This method is working well for Chris – you can visibly see how beneficial this system is working for his land, beautifully complemented by the hundreds of tons of drystone dyking undertaken to create a new yard, garden and shelter for existing and newly planted trees – hopefully one day to be a woodland! The dykes provide shelter for the amazing polycrub that’s growing plums, cherries, apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, grapes and then, outside in the beds, you’ll find veg, tatties, corn and salads growing….. I told you this was story book stuff!

Pollycrub dreams…

Other residents on the croft include our adorable native Shetland sheep who are bred for their uniquely coloured fleeces, some Norfolk Bronze turkeys, and Shetland and Orpington hens who just strut around unphased by visitors.

Shetland sheep. Famous for their unique fleeces which provide beautiful natural colours. The wool has been used for knitting traditional Fair Isle garments for centuries. Shetland wool uniquely keeps you cool and warm and has been used for generations to make ganzies for fishermen and crofters and still today is very popular locally. Shetland Sheep are also reliable flocks and during lambing are renound for being very able and independent.

Chris works in conjunction with local restaurateurs The String to supply produce for their seasonal, local menu and to the cafe at the marts. Chris aims to supply more local restaurants, cafes and hotels with his produce to provide excellent fresh low-mileage ingredients to feature  on menus across Shetland.

Chris’s traditional croft with a contemporary twist is well worth a visit. It’s a delight and a welcome addition to Bressay’s offerings.

“I’ve developed and diversified the croft to incorporate croft tours as part of the business model. I welcome and encourage visitors keen to visit and look around and learn about native, heritage breeds and crofting and sustainable agriculture to come and get up close and personal with the animals, fleeces etc. This started with Shetland Wool Week but I now work with a number of local tour operators,  and I’m enthusiastic to welcome further future visitors. All they have to do is call me on 07748 926454 to arrange.”

The best photobomb ever?

Garths Croft is en route to the Bressay lighthouse which makes for the perfect combined afternoon visit to Bressay, or as part of a much larger exploration of the island. Go check it out and experience this quaint and happy place.

You can stay at this lighthouse which offers stunning sea views and the opportunity to stay on Bressay for a holiday or staycation. Find out more information by clicking here.

Have you ever noticed how the sun is always shining down on Bressay?

Shetland Islands with Leah

For more information on the Bressay ferry timetable click here

Back Where It All Began…

Back where it all began…

When you grow up in Shetland the majority of us are lucky enough to experience a care free childhood where we could roam in the hills, play at the beach and enjoy the freedom of island life. Even although we moved to Lerwick (the capital) from the isle of Whalsay when I was small, there was still a beach just across and down the road, and hills all around. Then in the school holidays we’d spend weeks up in Whalsay at my grandparents where we’d explore the hills building gang huts and making up our own games from our imagination. When you are that small you don’t realise that this freedom isn’t the norm for most children, that this lifestyle is a complete privilege.

I have lots of happy memories of being at the beach as a child, playing with my sisters, cousins and parents friends children. Here I am at Meal beach in Burra when I was around 8 years old. It’s funny that I came across this picture, because I was at this beach yesterday walking the dog.

Then you hit your teenage years and all you want to do is leave Shetland because your rebellious teenage attitude believes that you are being deprived of a much more exciting teenage life. To an extent this is true, but with everything in life you have to measure the good with the bad. As a teenager, along with my friends we had complete liberty to do what we wanted. We were always safe and in an environment our parents knew that if we couldn’t look after ourselves, someone would be there that would. I guess now as an adult I can appreciate that as a teenager I was in the best place!

Then, as many do, I did leave. I moved to Edinburgh to study at University and I completely loved it.

A few years later I returned to Shetland for a job and felt a bit oppressed to adjusting back into island life. The job was an opportunity I’d always wanted, but I struggled to find my place again in Shetland. I’d left Shetland as a teenager and returned as an adult and I didn’t really know what to do with myself. The friends who were still here had settled down and those who hadn’t returned after uni… well they weren’t here.

Then one night after work a colleague of mine invited me to come on a hike with him and a couple of his friends. “A hike?!” needless to say I hadn’t walked the length of myself before. Nevertheless, I wasn’t doing anything else and could do with some people to hang out with. Living back in Shetland was becoming very lonely. “What do I wear? What do I take? What if I can’t keep up?” believe it or not I was completely overcome with anxiety at the thought of this, I was completely out of my depth and comfort zone. On a quick dash home with my list of what to bring I found a pair of pink trainers and a little polka dot rucksack I’d bought on a whim and never used. They’d have to do. So off I went… and on that evening, on my very first hike we took on Ronas Hill and The Lang Ayre (no biggy)  

Here I am in my little pink trainers 4 years ago delighted to have made it down onto the The Lang Ayre.

I’d never experienced Shetland from this perspective before. Yes I was a pretty unbound child who would disappear for hours, only to return when hungry. But this was a whole new experience. I’d never seen a panorama quite like it. I’d never been this high before unless in an aeroplane. Therefore, that night for me was a bit of a game changer. Without sounding too Hollywood movie, it really did remind me that, actually, being back home was pretty special. It was like I’d been awoken to what a privilege it was to live here and how I needed to get out and see exactly what Shetland had to offer outwith Lerwick.

June 2014, my first experience of seeing Shetland from a different view point
4 years on I was back, but better equipped and wiser

Four years later, here I am. Still here. My list of Shetland adventures are endless. Without looking back through photos I can’t even remember everything I’ve done. Something in me that evening changed. I went from the girl in a pair of pink trainers struggling up the face of The Lang Ayre to ‘Shetland Islands with Leah’. Owning a pair of hiking boots is something I never thought I’d ever need and now I have all the gear. Sometimes as I’m packing for an adventure I laugh at myself and wonder how different I was back then. It’s been a learning curve of what’s best to pack, what comes in handy, how to keep it light, how to stay warm and cool at the same time, but I think I have it sussed!

So my point here is: when you come from a place you can sometimes overlook and not appreciate the little things in life. You can become so familiar with your surroundings and conversant with certain circles you fail to move out with your comfort zone. Getting out and exploring is not only good for you physically, but delightful for your mental health. The beauty, the fresh air, the sense of calm you experience is priceless and only rewarded if you accept the invitation to go and see Shetland in its true glory. These spots are hidden in the hills and down over the cliffs because they are special and you need to go to them, they will not come to you.

Also, venturing to the many islands, taking part in group adventures, going on ‘staycations’ in Shetland has all lead to me meeting new, different and interesting people and mixing in different circles has inevitably made me feel ‘more at home’ in my own home.

So, to conclude this discomforted heartfelt splurge, I guess I want to remind anyone who is reading this whether you came from here, moved here, visited here or want to visit Shetland that this place is unbelievably special and unique and I’m so grateful to my friend Maurice for dragging me out for that hike which changed my attitude towards life for me in Shetland.

June 2014, enjoying a G&T at the Lang Ayre to mark my first ever hike

So go explore. Go grasp what’s waiting for you.

Shetland Islands with Leah was an idea I’d had on the back burner for years. I was racking up a good archive of adventures documented with stunning photos and memories which repeatedly happened but disappeared into a photo folder.

People would see I’d been somewhere on social media and message me questions or meet me desperately inquisitive. Subsequently, I was seeing a need from both people out with Shetland and local people to have a platform to engage in my adventures. But more essentially I just wanted to have a place I could record and store all my memories and if anyone wanted to have a peep they could.

So I did and with that triggered this trip down memory lane. How on earth did this all start? So it only seemed right to go back to where this all started: Ronas Hill and The Lang Ayre…

The route we took WNW

On a Saturday afternoon we set off from the Collafirth mast. But not up Ronas Hill like the first time (the route most commonly taken) we headed WNW in the direction just south of the Swabie Water along the contour of the hill. Along this route you look out across a plateau where you could walk all day from loch to loch, the landscape broken up by heathery, rocky knowes and small burns flowing with crystal clear water. The lochs have some great names such as Loch of the Hadd, Many Crooks, Clubbi Shuns and an area known as da Maadle Swankie.

 We walked for 3 miles before reaching the first view point, whch is marked on the map as ‘Haa of Stong’ This is one view that truly takes your breath away. It’s not the most common view of The Lange Ayre as people tend to go down over Ronas Hill and see it from further south. But personally I think this view point is the best because you get to see the full curvature and stretch of the mile long, red beach, from a vantage point of almost 700 feet on top of the weathered red granite Stonga Banks.

After sitting for a while lapping up the red cliffs, sea birds and the sound of the turquoise Atlantic oceans surf pasting the beach we moved along the cliffs for another third of a mile until we approached the more common view point. This was a steep incline and one you need to be very careful on as the towering cliffs hold no mercy to irresponsible treaders.

Following on from the view point we moved a little inland before descending down the steep decline between two hills, following the burn until there is a steep drop which allows for a space to clamber down onto The Lang Ayre beach with the aid of a rope. The ground is loose with falling gravel, so it’s not a journey to be taken alone. Be careful and take it slowly.

Nevertheless, as you climb down you do so next to a little waterfall which almost stands like a little warm welcome to what becomes the most mind blowing beach experience you are likely to get. Once down on the shingle safely the beach isn’t revealed until you walk out from the water fall onto the beach which opens up into the most spectacular sweeping panoramic view of overwhelming splendour, red cliff sides and red sand going on far into the distance drawn to an end by some beautiful stacks popping out of the Atlantic Ocean like ornaments. The Lang Ayre has a definite ‘Game of Thrones’ feel about it. It’s ancient, it’s mighty and it’s powerful. It’s truly stunning and entirely unique.

Therefore, it was only fair to treat this experience with appreciation so I chose my spot to rest and cook up some dinner while taking in my mighty surroundings. This was a dream location for ‘Leah’s Culinary Skills in the Hills’ (but on the beach) so I’d taken with me some mackerel my Dad had caught which I fried up on my little gas stove and served with some fresh local bread and butter and a side of salad. Sitting in the lea guarded by the mighty red cliffs the sun shone down as we enjoyed a feast after the trek to get here. It was marvellous. Topped off by a Gin and Tonic which was commendable because I’d had one the first time I’d made it to this beach. It wouldn’t be right not to follow on the tradition…

I sent my Dad a picture to show him where I was enjoying his fry to which he responded: “Mackerel on da Lang Ayre, see da stack in de foto, it’s called da Cleiver. We got 400 ton o mackerel just aff it whin I wis on da Zephyr” to think I’d dragged fillets of mackerel all the way in my ruck sack when they are there right in front of me in the sea amused me.

The photo I sent to Dad

But as they say, all good things must come to an end and as supper was finished and a G&T enjoyed the sun was starting to set meaning we needed to make tracks. We’d come down off the cliff side like mountain goats and there was only one way to get home… to climb back up and so we did… right to the top of Ronas Hill from sea level. Now keeping in mind we’d already done a full on hike to get to the Lang Ayre the thought of climbing a 1,476 foot Marilyn from sea level was slightly intimidating and the very thought exhausting. But although I’d “climbed” Ronas Hill four years ago, I hadn’t really because when you set off from the Collafirth mast (like everyone does) you have already technically driven half way up the hill, so I had to do Ronas Hill properly. So back up the rope I went determined to be able to say I’d aptly climbed Ronas Hill.

Ronas Hill
a 1,476 foot Marilyn

Half way up the hill the sun was setting behind us as we pitched our way up. On stopping for a water break we looked out across the ocean and the sun rays shone down on two oil rigs far in the distance silhouetted by the sun rays. It was beautiful and amazing to see such a sight because in normal day life in Shetland we know they are out there somewhere, but you never get to see them. The image was beautiful.

On reaching the top the sun was well and truly set and it was cold up there! But we’d done it and I was delighted to have made it to the cairn which holds the visitor book. The lights of Sullom Voe oil terminal were shining in the distance, but this day had drawn to a close. As we made our way back down off the hill there was very little day light left and Maurice proceeded to tell Trowie stories as we made our way back. I don’t know if you believe in Trows, but when you are on the side of a hill in the dark suddenly they feel very real I can tell you!

Reaching the top of Ronas Hill. You can see the lights of Sullom Voe Oil Terminal in the distance.

Officially spooked, sore and exhausted we’d made it back safe and well. Four years on, I was back where it all began…

2014, my first experience of finding one of Shetlands many hidden view points
2019, Back where it all began….

You can view the full ‘Ronas Hill and The Lang Ayre’ photo album on the Shetland Islands with Leah Facebook page.

This Day Was A Beautiful Storm

People really struggle to imagine what living in Shetland is like. Trying to explain it can be quite tricky when people have this image in their head of this barren, windswept island with nothing but sheep and Shetland ponies and, sometimes, I can’t blame them. Google image Shetland and that’s what you’ll get. Watch a documentary and all you’ll see is otters and puffins populating our islands. Even the Shetland crime drama (as good as it is) paints Shetland as this bleak, crime-ridden town where everyone speaks pure Glaswegian.

But what about the real Shetland? It’s rarely captured. Our festivals, our heritage, our sense of community… that’s what makes living here so special. Yes, the ponies are cute and I never take our wildlife for granted, but when you actually live here, there is so much more to Shetland.

Take Saturday for example. I woke up to a blustery day. One which you could be tempted to stay under the duvet for. In the city, days like that are for nothing more than staying home or taking shelter in a café. But for me, I had an opportunity to get out to the wilds and grasp what the day had to offer. It was cold, so after years of experiencing the northerly winds here I wrapped up warm resembling the Michelin man in my three layers of thermals and woollens.

A 37 mile drive, 45 minutes later we arrived in Eshaness. The sheer cliffs engulfed with raging, foaming sea so white you could see it in the distance as we approached. I shrieked and both Maurice and I couldn’t believe how spectacular the sight was.

The Eshaness cliffs are probably the most famous cliffs in Shetland because they are the most accessible. Towering 160 feet above the sea below, the Eshaness cliffs are a geologist’s dream. Coming to an abrupt end on the earth you are suddenly very small on the edge of the island standing looking out to the masses of Atlantic Ocean. “The spectacular cliffs you see today cut right through the flank of what was the Eshaness volcano. It has been described as ‘the best section through the flank of a volcano in the British Isles” – Shetland Heritage Culture

I’ve been to Eshaness many times before, but never on a day like this. This was something extraordinary. Gusting 50 knots, smashing the waves onto the cliff sides creating the frothiest sea I’d ever seen, yet the sky was bright blue and calm. The sun at times was warm, yet the sea was raging. The thing is, we are often battered with storms here in Shetland, but usually that brings dark, heavy skies and poor visibility. But this day was a beautiful storm. The sky was bright blue, the sea was a gorgeous deep turquoise and the sun was shining though the storm. Now I want you to imagine this scene, but with howling winds taking your breath away and the sound of massive crashes and smashes as the Atlantic Ocean flung itself full force into the cliff side and rumbled into the many caves and subterranean passages below. Summer and winter were happening all at once.

Completely swathed, only my cheeks were exposed. I could feel the sea salt sting my skin as the cold gale attacked me. Constantly being drenched in sea spray from the waves and sometimes losing my breath to the howling wind, this was an experience you had to take responsibility in. Having grown up in Shetland it’s been drilled into me from a young age how dangerous the coast can be, so I’m well aware of my boundaries and I’m always cautious and sensible. I grew up playing on the banks or down at the beach, so I have a bit of wit and knowledge about me regarding these situations, but please don’t underestimate the dangers to consider if you are in Shetland exploring.  

Five hours were well spent enjoying the different viewpoints around Eshaness. At the lighthouse the blow hole was firing up the sea every few waves. The wind was strong, so I wedged myself between two rocks to gain some stability to capture some photos, although at times it was impossible to hold the camera up let alone still enough to take a decent shot. I didn’t seem to care that I was soaking wet with sea spray, I couldn’t believe how beautiful this show was, then, as if by magic in the heart of this craziness, a rainbow appeared in Calder’s Geo…

We moved along, down onto Stenness beach where we took shelter in the ruins of the old fishing böd to make a quick cup of tea before wandering along to the piece de la resistance of Eshaness. Crouched among the rocks for protection, we took our time admiring the Dore Holm in all its glory standing strong in the ocean as the sea charged at it over and over again.

One thousand shots later we headed out to the quirky bench which overlooks the Isle of Stenness, the headland is 90 feet that the waves were breaking over. Although it was freezing the adrenalin was enough to allow us to sit and enjoy this moment in which we were joined by an otter who popped up from the cliff side to see who was crazy enough to be out there on a day like this!

Eventually after gasping over and over again at a million waves, never getting bored of the sight and somehow never feeling the cold, we called it a day because I had to get back into town for an event I’d been invited to. With wind burnt cheeks, clothes thick with sea salt, cameras loaded with spectacular footage we headed back into town and with a quick turnaround I joined my friends at The String for a completely contrasting evening of fine food and wine.

The String is a new venue in Lerwick. Originally dreamt up (now I say dreamt up because at the start with literally no finances and just sheer determination, I don’t think any of these guys ever imagined this would become what it is today), a  group of friends had this vision ‘The String’ a restaurant, bar and venue all in one. So they made it happen…

The String was established and opened its doors in August 2018. It is a modern restaurant, bar and venue that places strong emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and produce, relying heavily on the bountiful seafood, meat and vegetables supplied by isles producers for fresh seasonal food menus. All with an ethical responsibility to provide a welcoming venue to everyone through their suspended coffee and soup

As a regular frequenter, a massive fan of the food Head Chef Akshay produces, and someone who is partial to a good wine I was thrilled to be invited to their wine tasting event in partnership with Great Grog wines. Akshay and his team had prepared a five course tasting menu which had been paired with wines to suit.

When I first moved back to Shetland after experiencing life in Edinburgh, Lerwick didn’t have much of the cosmopolitan vibe I’d become accustomed to. So if you’d said to me a few years back that one day I’d be having a Edinburgh standard five course meal in Lerwick with some wine tasting I’d definitely have laughed in your face!

Luckily for me (and many others) following the opening of Mareel, Fjara, The Dowry and The String. Lerwick can offer that much more modern environment. I can now wear my city heels out in town… life in Lerwick has changed considerably since I first moved back.

So back to dinner… I was starving after being exposed to salty sea air all day. Course one was a chunk of homely baked rosemary bread which I layered in the creamy Shetland butter. Paired with an Albarino Alba Vega, Clare from Great Grog explained this pairing was to awaken your taste buds and to start your mouth watering and heck it did!

Luckily, hot off the pan came Cajun-style Shetland lamb & panko bon bons with a beetroot & parmesan risotto paired with a soft and beautiful Paparuda Pinot Noir. This was exceptional. Afterwards Chef Akshay explained the process of preparing the local lamb which had taken hours to flavour and cook. The thought and effort that had gone into this dish delivered because it was bursting with essence and substance. It was the winner for me!

In between courses Clare discussed the wines, where they were from, the grapes used and why. It was really interesting to know about the wines and why she’d paired them with these particular dishes. It’s also refreshing that The String have put effort into sourcing wines that will complement their menu and give customers the best experience.

Then came the scallops. As a massive seafood fan, scallops are always a sure hit for me. Presented in a tadka dal sauce this combination worked beautifully. I’d never had curried scallops before, but it worked very well. The local scallops were fat and fleshy along with the thick, but smooth curry sauce was delicious. Washed down with a St Martin Chardonnay I was officially in heaven. But there was more…

The last of the savoury options was Garths Croft Bressay pork, celeriac veloute, Shetland mussels with picked apples and curry oil paired with a Tabali Pedregoso Gran Reserva Viognier. Is your mouth watering yet? This menu was bursting with local produce of such excellent quality, I can’t imagine why you’d want to eat anywhere that doesn’t offer that on these Isles? Once again, another tasty course.

Then the finale, I’d have thought by this point I’d have no room for pudding, but there is always room when food tastes this good. A classic lemon tart, so light it almost floated off my plate, with whipped crème fraiche paired with a sweet desert wine, Trentham Noble Taminga, to complement the tangy lemon. A super match to conclude what had been the best evening one could hope for following a day of adventures.

After dinner was finished I was invited to join a table upstairs for a dram -that’s completely normal in Shetland, there is always someone you can join so I did. Upstairs is the quaint bar where a very well-known folk musician and his pals were enjoying a little impromptu jam session. After doing the rounds for a little while catching up and chatting to a few familiar faces I called it a night and wandered home. Could an ordinary Saturday be any better?

What a treat to be able to indulge in what Shetland has to offer. From crashing waves and dramatic cliffs by day to fine dining utilising the best of local produce by night. This is what living in Shetland is really like for me…

You can find out more about The String on their website or call to make a reservation on 01595 694921 If you’d like to get in touch their email is you can also find them on Facebook and Instagram.

­If you are planning on visiting Shetland do not leave without visiting The String. It showcases everything Shetland has to offer.

As mentioned, The String is also a venue which hosts a multitude of different offerings. You can see what’s on via their ‘Events’ page. There really is something for everyone from beer tasting to yoga. Open mic to comedy. Local and visiting musicians. Check it out and never be bored for something to do.

A huge thank you to Mother Nature for a spectacular day and a massive thank you to everyone at The String for what was a wonderful evening.

Clift Hills

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. 

Setting off from the Blett road at 11am

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! 

Maurice on top of the Scroo. Notice Bressay and the peak of Noss East over

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. 

Fitful Head in the south. A highly recommended walk.

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! 

Beautiful winters sun beaming in from the south
Looking over Burra and out to the island of Foula in the far distance
Swooping around over the central mainland out to the west side and up north to Ronas Hill

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

Looking back on 2018

Nothing inspires me like looking back on a year’s adventures. Whether that be trips across the globe or how many hills I’ve hiked in Shetland. Both excite me equally. 

Therefore, it only seemed natural for me to introduce my blog by taking a look back at 2018 to give you a little flavour of what you can expect to see as you follow me on this adventure. 

In 2018 Shetland saw some of the best weather recorded since the 70s, making it easy to indulge in everything Shetland has to offer. 

As always, the Shetlander year starts by enjoying all the Up Helly Aas celebrated across the isles. There are 12 in total. We love a good spree here!

Then as the nights started to lighten and the bitter northerly winds eased I was waiting, backpack packed, ready to go!

The first walk of the year was a gentle one to ease back into buxing through the heather. My friend Maurice suggested the point of Trebister (you are going to hear Maurice being mentioned a lot. He’s my go-to exploring buddy. He provides the knowledge and yarns while I provide the picnic). As demonstrated here as I fry up some saucermaet rolls for a culinary experience on the edge of a cliff.

Then one stunning night after work (me and Maurice are also colleagues) we set off to the island of Bressay for a much more gruelling yet breath taking hike to the Bard of Bressay, where you’ll find a one hundred year old gun sat in the middle of nowhere which once would have defended Shetland from any unwanted visitors during the First World War. That walk was exceptional. As we scaled the cliff side a restored Norskie tall ship sailed past. It was such a beautiful, calm night we were able to welcome them to Shetland from 500 feet above. To this day I wonder if they thought we were a mirage. 

Then a special Friday evening was well spent kayaking through the mystical caves of Muckle Roe. A beautiful warm sunny night followed by a roll of mist which made the experience quite surreal. It felt like a Lord of the Rings scene. Weird and eerie, but beautiful and relaxing. A once in a lifetime experience. You can’t plan nights like that. 

Then, a Shetlander favourite- The Hams of Muckle Roe. Which is a special place to me and my family given the last little house on the track, ‘Little Ayre’, is where my Great Granny grew up. 

As summer started to draw in and the beautiful dusky light started to spread, a drive out to the Cake fridge to pick up some yummy home bakes to enjoy at the Burn a’ Lunklet is always a perfect end to a long day, and that was one of those nights I found myself sat there, cup of tea and fancy in hand, listening to a little waterfall as the sun set thinking “I couldn’t be more relaxed and content”.

Then BOOM… the island of Foula. Wow. What. A. Place. I’m going to keep you in suspense because I plan to go back in this year and take you along so you can see for yourselves why it’s so special. 

Then, as always the nights start to draw in here pretty early in the year. In early August Maurice was keen to set off into one of the most untouched and undiscovered areas of Shetland, ‘Lang Clodie Wick’ A gruelling walk into trowie knowe land which exposed me to a whole different side to Shetland I’d never seen before. Exploding with geology, covered in lochs and rewarding us with an elegant waterfall at the end. The walk resulted in a burst walking boot and us racing against time to hike back over the boulders and bogs to beat sunset. Making it back with our head torches on I was exhausted but exhilarated. An excellent way to conclude the adventures of 2018. 

Now a 2019 is on us and I have every intention of making the most of what Shetland has to offer. So come along and discover my Shetland.

A peerie glossary:

Spree:A Party. A jollification.  

Yarn: A good conversation or story.

Buxing: An expression used to describe a heavy wade through long grass or heathery hills.

Saucermaet: A Shetland favourite. Originally created out of necessity. A lavish does of dry spice and salt helped preserve minced, orground, meat, usually beef but sometimes lamb, during the cold winter months before the era of refrigeration. But saucermaet has out lived its original purpose, and the spiced meat remains the most iconic of Shetland dishes.

Fancy: A homebake, baked with love. Usually a cake or tray bake.

Trowie knowe: A trow is a malignant or mischievous fairy or spirit in the folkloric traditions of the Orkney and Shetland islands. Trows are generally inclined to be short of stature, ugly, and shy in nature. Trows are nocturnal creatures, like the troll of Scandinavian legend with which the trow shares many similarities. They venture out of their ‘trowie knowes’ (earthen mound dwellings) solely in the evening, and often enter households as the inhabitants sleep. Trows traditionally have a fondness for music, and folktales tell of their habit of kidnapping musicians or luring them to their dens.