Sunday, 27 May 2012

Shetland - Yell for the White Woman

So after 3 nights in South Mainland it is time to move north - in fact as far north as possible. This is the island of Unst but first we had to cross Yell to get there.

We didn't have a lot of time to spend exploring Yell properly although I suspect that we spent more time there than many visitors. Most of the traffic rolls off the ferry at the southern point and takes the main road north to the next ferry for Unst. We thought we'd try and see at least a little bit of the island before moving on to Unst for the night.

So we took the scenic road off to the right to hunt down a mysterious sign to the "white wife"....

She was further away than we had anticipated but no matter. We were in no great rush. The roads on Yell are even quieter than on the mainland and we didn't see more than a couple of other cars once away from the main thoroughfare.

The signs for the white wife pointed us down ever more narrow and twisty roads until we reached the end of a track where we parked and set out on foot. The weather was "interesting". I wasn't exactly raining but it was mighty cold and the wind was blowing. So what is it?

It's a ship's figurehead of course! Erected to mark the foundering of the Bohus in 1924 ( her real name is apparently Bertha).

The memorial is at Otterswick so we thought that there might just be a chance of seeing an otter in the sea as we had been unlucky up til now. However lucky we were and one of the elusive beasties was spotted on the rocks just below Bertha. Unfortunately he ( or she) proved very camera shy so although I can spot it in my pictures I don't think anyone else will!

Time now to catch the ferry on to Unst. Although we planned to head straight to the hotel we made a small detour or two to visit  a few sites on the way.

Firstly the Clivocast  standing stone. Measuring just under 10ft it is said to mark the spot where the viking Harald Hafager was killed circa 900CE.

Next up was Muness Castle, the most northerly castle in the UK. Not so much a castle, rather a fortified residence with three stories built in 1598.

The castle is now managed by Historic Scotland and entry is free. As with Mousa Broch they have thoughtfully provided torches to help with the exploration of the passages and rooms of the ground floor.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Mousa and its broch

The big question was would the wind drop in time before we had to move to the north of the Islands?  After the high winds of yesterday it was our only chance to make the trip to the island before we had to head north.

An anxious call to the ferryman gave the welcome news that the wind had dropped enough and the sailing was planned unless the wind picked up again. In Shetland this was a distinct possibility so it was with some relief that we boarded the boat and with half a dozen other hardy souls  made the short trip to the island and our objective - the broch.

A broch is a stone building consisting of two concentric circles with a staircase between them. They are believed to have been residential as well as defensive and the one at Mousa is the most completely preserved, still standing to its full height of 44ft.

This is a massive construction in every sense of the word. It is built entirely of drystone, so no mortar at all and is believed to date from 100BCE so some 2100 years old. The state of preservation is astonishing. 

 First things first and it is up the stair we go. Historic Scotland have kindly provided torches for visitors to use and you need them.

Although the stairwell looks well lit here thanks to the camera flash, it was extremely dark with the only light provided by small occasional "windows" into the centre of the structure. If the roof had still been there then there would have been virtually no natural light at all for the original inhabitants.

They must have had very small feet. Each step was only about 3 or 4 inches deep and I wasn't looking forward to coming down them despite the handrail that has been installed.

Looking down from the half way point. All around the perimeter are small rooms/cubby holes.

 Inside one of the cubbyholes.

 These were pitch dark. It was a case of aim the camera in, fire off the flash and then see what you had! I generally try to avoid using flash in my pictures as I get far better results without. Sometime though there is no choice!

The entrance to the staircase and some of the little rooms. This also shows one of the occasional openings to let light into the staircase ( just above the lintel).

Leaving the broch we continued the circumnavigation of the island. The ferry allows a couple of hours before it leaves again for the mainland and the island is an RSPB bird sanctuary. We saw many skuas but sadly it is a little too early for the Storm Petrels who shelter in the external stonework of the broch. A highlight was watching the selkies ( seals)  with their pups on one of the sheltered inlets. Although a favourite haunt of otters too we were not lucky enough to see them.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Shetland - St Ninian and a White Staine

Day two and the wind is so strong that the ferry to Mousa isn't running - must be bad then! Plans hastily rearranged and a few other things added.

St Ninian's Isle is connected to the mainland by a tombolo - that strip of sand. It is only completely covered at very high tides so access to the island is almost always possible.

Although the sky is blue look at the rain storm heading our way! It hit when we were about half way across.

The island has some spectacular cliffs which are home to seabirds. The cliffs are precipitous and with a howling gale blowing I had visions of taking flight off the edge..... The sea really did look that blue

Blown back to the tombolo we came across the ruins of St Ninian's chapel. This is 12 century  but remains of a pre Norse site were also found.

The Chapel is famous for the discovery of a cache of 8 century CE  secular silver which was discovered literally marked with a cross. We were able to see copies of the treasure which is ranked as some of the finest Scottish silver found in the museum at Lerwick; the originals are now in Edinburgh.

Next on the list was a more demanding walk. In Scotland there is a general "right to roam" so provided you cause no damage you can walk just about anywhere; no need to stick to footpaths or get the landowner's permission first. We took full advantage of this to climb up to a burial mound overlooking Mousa Sound.

Our objective was not visible from the road so leaving Zebedee in a convenient layby we trusted the map and headed up. And up. And up.

We were able to follow a farm track for some of the way but still had to clamber up some very steep grassy hillside. I now understand why the wild haggis has the legs on one side of its body shorter than the other.  4 legs and the ability to emulate a mountain goat would have been useful. Fortunately although there were plenty of wire fences, barbed wire is rare and they were easily negotiated.

Finally we got to our objective and drew breath. It is now just a grassy rocky mound but definitely worth the climb. 

Nearby according to the map was a feature marked as "white staine". I wonder if we could spot it from the cairn?

 Ah so not so far away then- or so it seemed. In reality the intervening land is a good wet peat bog and avoiding it meant a surprisingly long detour but we got there eventually.

 Rather rashly we decided to make a round trip and try and find the "grey staine" but time was passing and after negotiating too many  peat bogs we headed back down hill to the car without success.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Images of Shetland

Plenty more to come from Shetland over the next few weeks but here are a small selection of pictures just to set the scene.

One very camera shy foal! Shetlands foal in May so most of the mares are yet to give birth.

This particular foal was determined to hide behind mum but I did  finally manage to capture some of him.

Still waiting here! These were taken in Unst, the most northerly of the inhabited islands.

Conditions here are harsh with the winds straight down from the arctic.

Sadly we saw some lambs that had succumbed to the weather.

 The Croft museum with the traditional roof held down by ropes and heavy rocks. This one was the only one we saw that still had this type of roof.

Most of the old crofts are now derelict shells and those that are still inhabited have modern stone/tile or even metal roofs.

 Inside  - a traditional peat fire and cooking utensils.

A traditional box bed.  Keeps out the drafts and provided some small degree of privacy; important where whole families would have lived in one or two small rooms. The top of the bed also gave additional storage space.

The other side of the room with the storage kist and a cradle

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Shetland - The Southern Mainland

It's true what they say about Shetland. You really can have all 4 seasons in the space of an hour! We landed at Samburgh in the teeth of an icy snow squall but ten minutes later the sky was blue again. The wind didn't drop though so it was bitterly cold - at least to this pair of southerners!

The first place to visit had of course to be Jarlshof and that was the first site we stopped at the following morning. This is an amazing site with remains from the neolithic period right up to the medieval  and later with  everything in between.

We were the only visitors there; it is early in the season and yes it was snowing again but this didn't detract from our enjoyment (much!). It is a compact site given the amount of history encompassed here and the visitors' centre was enormously helpful in the interpretation of the ruins. This is a picture I took inside the centre which gives a good overview of all the different settlements.

The oldest part of the site dating from the neolithic is mostly overlayed with later constructions and a balance has had to be struck with exposing the earliest remains whilst conserving the later constructions where the land has been reused.

We started in the oldest part. The houses are poorly preserved compared with those at Skara Brae in Orkney but are believed to be similar.

From the neolithic we moved on to the pictish Broch which is partially lost to the sea and the relatively  well preserved "wheel houses", shaped like the name suggests, a wheel with rooms arranged around a circular central living area.

After the Picts came the Vikings and there is an extensive settlement left. The Viking areas merges into a medieval farm. What was most noticeable was that the Picts favoured round and curved constructions whilst the Viking and later buildings were much more rectangular in shape.

The final development was the laird's house ( the large rectangular building in the first photograph) which is literally just plonked on the top of everything else. It has no foundations and just sits there. It was converted to a fortified house by Robert Stewart ( First Earl of Orkney). There is a staircase up to the top to allow a panoramic view from the top. However with no shelter from the arctic gale and more snow being blown horizontally at me I was in no mood to linger at the top!

Across the road from Jarlshof is Scatness, which is another iron age broch and village. This was unfortunately closed during our stay but it is very visible from the road and as it was no warmer than Jarlshof  we were happy to take a few pictures and move back to the warmth of the car.

This has been partially reconstructed to give an idea of what it might have been like. Again the village was inhabited for a long period of time with later constructions being superimposed on the original buildings.  

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Just a substitute for ...

.... the intended post. If you are reading this then I haven't been able to find an internet connection and I hate posting from the BlackBerry!

As to where I am - well all will be revealed on  my return to  broadband land.

In the meantime some pictures from Mitchell Fold in Shropshire. These were taken a good few years ago  so apologies for the picture quality. They were taken on an old camera phone I think and my photography has improved considerably in the meantime ( I hope!).

This wasn't a planned trip. We were going to stay with some friends at a guest house just over the Welsh border and had made better time than we expected.

As we were early we were in no particular hurry and a sign for a stone circle caught my eye. Well why not? So we followed it. It is a very rough track and I was worried my MX-5 would ground but despite a few hairy moments we made it to the car park.

The top of the hill is open moorland with super 360 degree views. I remember it as being bitingly cold and we weren't disposed to linger.

Looks cold doesn't it! We were the only visitors at the time but someone had left recent offerings of fresh flowers on some of the stones.

There are about 15 stones left but it was too big a circle to photograph in its entirety.

Mitchells Fold is associated with the famous legend of a fairy cow that would give an unlimited amount of milk which was a valuable source of food for the poor. One night however an evil witch milked her into a sieve. The cow promptly disappeared never to be seen again. This was a huge loss to the local population who turned the witch into a pillar of stone  with the other stones set to keep her imprisoned.

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