After weeks of preparation and packing, a long journey faced us as we set off for our overnight train from Euston to Aberdeen on Wednesday night. We woke up to the view of the sun rising over the sea as our train crossed the famous Forth Bridge and took in the beautiful Scottish coast between Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
At 7:30 in the morning on Thursday, we arrived in Aberdeen and explored the city for hours, getting used to our heavy rucksacks and taking advantage of the last McDonald’s we’d see for a while. Our ferry departed at 17:00 and we were on our way to Lerwick, the main town on the Shetland Islands.
Arriving early on Friday morning, we left the ferry and headed to the only large supermarket in the Shetlands for food and water supplies, then walked through the town centre to Viking Bus Station for our bus to the Northern Isle of Yell. We were dropped off in the village of Unst, and walked through the rugged, hilly landscape to Burravoe, where we found our campsite for the night. Unpacking and pitching the tent as the darkness closed in took longer than anticipated, and in the rush to have a shower and get to sleep, I made the foolish mistake of leaving the lamp on inside the tent, so when we came back to it, we were greeted with a swarm of insects attracted to the light. We couldn’t deal with the insects in the dark, so resorted to a terrible night’s sleep in the campsite’s hut. Things weren’t off to a good start.
We woke up in the early hours of Saturday morning and went to get rid of the bugs as soon as the sun rose. We went to our tent for a rest after getting so little sleep the night before, but ended up waking up in the late afternoon. Our plan of walking for that day was already out of the window, so we decided to head into the village to experience Burravoe Hall’s Fish and Chip night – a weekly event in many Shetland village halls where the community comes together to eat and socialise.
On Sunday, we set out on our walk to Mid Yell – the largest village on Yell, where we ate a lovely meal at a local diner, by which time it was time to find a place to camp. We left the village and walked towards the bus stop we were aiming for the next morning, and after discovering the boggy meadows were unsuitable for camping in, we ended up pitching the tent right next to the bus stop – which was almost in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by enormous hills and open sky, as well as the odd sheep.
Monday morning saw us scrambling to pack up our rucksacks in time to make the 7:30 bus to Gutcher (the ferry terminal to the isle of Unst), only to wait for a bus that never arrived. By 8:00 we decided we would have to see if we could hitch a ride, and the first person who stopped for us was a very nice man who offered to drive us all the way to Baltasound, where he works as a teacher. We took up his offer and were on our way to Unst – ‘The Island Above All Others’. In Baltasound, we stocked up on supplies at the local shops and walked around the village and local area. According to the weather, it was going to be raining heavily for 24 hours, which ruined our plan of camping at Skaw beach, as we had to resort to staying in a hostel in Haroldswick that night.
On Tuesday, we headed into Haroldswick to get something to eat. Due to the rain, we sadly could not make it to Herma Ness – the most northerly tip of Unst and the whole of Britain, although we were so close. We walked back to Baltasound, via a Viking longship and a field of Shetland ponies, and stopped to see the famous ‘Bobby’s Bus Shelter’ – a disused bus shelter that’s fitted out with furnishings of a different theme each year. As we headed out of the village and towards the ferry, the sun was already getting low and it wasn’t looking likely we’d get back to Burravoe in time, until another kind man stopped to offer us a lift. We arrived at the campsite with just enough time to pitch the tent before it got dark, and this time we were sure to not leave the lamp on!
We woke up early on Wednesday morning and left our tent at the campsite to walk around the village and see the coast. In Burravoe we visited the Old Haa Museum and went down to the pier, where we took in the fresh sea air and watched birds dive into the water for fish. We continued our walk, going through the campsite and along the coast on to Heoga Ness, where we struggled through boggy terrain, but were rewarded with spectacular views of the sea and the mainland in the distance.
On Thursday, we made our way back down to Lerwick to begin our long journey home.
Although not everything went to plan, we achieved a lot in the Shetlands (especially as it was our first time doing something quite like this), and found the opportunity to be a real challenge, but a truly amazing experience. We thank the Mark Evison Foundation for giving us the chance to carry out this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.