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Short trip to the Orkney and Shetland Islands

We had a group this month walking on the Orkney and Shetland Islands. I travelled up to move our minibus from Orkney to Shetland, meet the owners of the guest houses we use on these islands and did three walks on Shetland.


No ferry on the day the group travels from Orkney to Shetland

We started our 2021 season with a small group doing both our Orkney and Shetland walking tours. We decided to use our own minibus for this trip. The problem was that there is no ferry from Orkney to Shetland on Fridays. I decided that this was a good excuse to travel up to Orkney and Shetland to move the minibus the day before. This was a kind of epic journey: by car to Stirling for the train to Inverness where I took the train to Thurso in the far north of mainland Scotland. From there it was a short taxi ride to Scrabster for the Northlink ferry to Stromness in Orkney. I was looking forward to this ferry ride, because it sails past the Old Man of Hoy sea stack and with the evening sun, it should be at its best. No luck this time, because the sun disappeared behind clouds when we sailed past, but still a great sight.

  • Cliffs southend Hoy, Orkney

    Cliffs at the south-end of Hoy basking in the sunshine.

  • Old Man of Hoy from the sea

    Old Man of Hoy seen from the ferry, taken a couple of years ago when the sun was shining. When will the top fall off?

  • Stromness, Orkney

    Arriving in Stromness

Old Man of Hoy

We walk to the Old Man of Hoy sea stack during our Orkney Walking Tour and I have done this often with private groups. This is a lovely walk from Rackwick. You start with a steep ascent before it levels out on a plateau. You get the first sight of the Old Man about halfway over the plateau. From the edge of the cliff it looks solid and you think that it is going to be there in all its glory for many generations to enjoy. How different it looks from the sea, where it is exposed to storms coming from the Atlantic. It looks very battered with big chunks of rock missing. You start wondering whether it might fall over in our lifetime. Probably not, but it is a huge contrast.

  • Rackwick Bay, Hoy

    Rackwick Bay, Hoy, where the walk to the Old Man starts.

  • The Old Man of Hoy walk

    THe Old Man of Hoy towering above the plateau.

  • Old Man of Hoy, Orkney

    Old Man of Hoy seen from Hoy, looking pretty solid.

Three hours on Orkney before the next ferry

On arrival I met the group in Kirkwall where they were having their meal in the Storehouse Restaurant. This is a relatively new restaurant in a beautifully renovated herring and pork curing store from 1880. A great place to go for a meal and you can even stay there. Fortunately they survived the closures due to Covid-19. There was time for a desert and a chat, before I dropped them off at Bellavista Guest House just outside Kirkwall, said hallo to Sandra who now runs the guest house and headed for the overnight ferry to Lerwick, Shetland. When I drove to the ferry terminal the ferry was already sailing in, but at check-in they said that there was a lot of freight to be loaded and unloaded, so boarding would be late and it was. It was about 15 minutes past midnight before I could reverse onto the ferry. I went straight to my cabin in order to get some sleep. It was a smooth crossing so that went well.

  • Stanydale Temple, Shetland

    Stanydale Temple, Shetland

  • Sprin Suill, Shetland

    Spring Squill turning the slopes blue.

  • Walking from Culswick, Shetland Islands

    Walk along the misty Culswick cliffs

Cliff walk near Culswick on Shetland

On arrival in Lerwick, I picked up my packed lunch from the Aald Harbour Bed & Breakfast we use on Shetland and where I was going to stay one night. I then drove north, west and south onto the Sandsting peninsula for my first walk of the day. The clouds were low and it was drizzling, but that did not lower my spirits. I love the Shetland Islands and it was so good to be back after almost two years. The first stop was Stanydale Temple, which is a short walk from the road. It was built between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago. There is uncertainty about the original purpose of the building, but its large size indicates some communal purpose, or that it might have been the home of an important person. Stanydale is surrounded by burial cairns and piles of stones marking sites of ancient houses.

My next stop was Culswick for a walk to the broch and along the coast with spectacular cliffs and sea stacks. The slopes surrounding Culswick broch were blue from the Spring Squill in full bloom. It was a wonderful walk in spite of the fact that the low clouds prevented a good view of the cliff scenery.

  • Walking on West Burra, Shetland

    West Burra walk, looking north

  • Thrift on The Heugg, Shetland

    Bankflooer or Thrift abundant at The Heugg, West Burra.

  • West Burra to Fitful Head

    Looking south from West Burra to Fitful Head.

West Burra walk

I went to West Burra in the afternoon for a walk around the Ketla Ness peninsula. The clouds had lifted and the sun was shining. Shetland at its best. It was very clear and I could even see the cliffs of my morning walk, about 10 miles to the north-west. This walk also has coastal scenery and the dominant flower here was Thrift or Bankflooer in Shetlands', colouring The Heugg pink.

I collected the group from the airport the following morning and waved them goodbye. I took the local bus back to Lerwick, because we can only take five people in our minibus under the Covid-19 rules, so there was no place left for me to drive with the group back to Lerwick. I spent the rest of the day meeting some people we work with on Shetland. Before boarding the overnight ferry to Aberdeen, I had time for a walk from Lerwick along the coast to Clickimin Broch just outside Lerwick. It sits on a small promontory in a loch with a causeway leading to the site. While Mousa Broch has no structures surrounding it, Clickimin Broch does, which makes it an interesting place to visit.

You will do the walks described in this blog when you join our Shetland Walking Tour. The visit to Clickimin Broch is not part of the tour but it is a 15 minute walk from your B&B, so you could go there in the evening and if you ask your guide, I am sure that he/she will take you there.

  • Clickimin Broch causeway, Lerwick, Shetland

    Causeway leading to Clickimin Broch, Lerwick, Shetland

  • Inside Clickimin Broch, Shetland

    Inside Clickimin Broch

  • Clickimin Broch structures, Shetland

    Structures outside Clickimin Broch