Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Shetland, the final day

The slowest start to any day in Shetland yet which saw Will up and doing before me. It was well after ten when we had packed up, handed the keys back to the custodian and hit the road to Lerwick. Following the additional bag debacle at Aberdeen airport I decided to try an alternative. To get an extra bag on standby from Sumburgh to Aberdeen costs ten quid, remember that there is no guarantee that the bag will actually arrive at the same time. Also, considering that we may not be able to hang around long enough to wait for the arrival of our wayward luggage an alternative was necessary. Parcelforce delivery to Gosport £15, Flybe extra bag £10 on standbay, Easyjet extra bag £18, no competition.
Breakfast consisted of a couple of bacon baps from Faerdi Maet, not brilliant but very welcome. Will was still hopeful of seeing a seal of three in the harbour but was, once again, left disappointed. I hoped that a visit to Sumburgh Head and the sight of hundreds of Puffins would pacify him somewhat.

On the way to Sumburgh we took the opportunity to stop at Quendale, a rather large but dull beach. The highlight of this fleeting visit was the washed up skeleton of a sheep, no photos of this grisly find but a few of the beach.

We pushed on to Sumburgh Head and did see dozens of Puffins. Will went a little bit mad I think and became snap happy with the camera taking far more pictures of Puffins than we really needed.

With the seals forgotten Will was surprised at the size of a couple of whale skulls that were on display alongside the path to the light-house. He was now upset at the lack of whales, there's no pleasing some people.

With still some time to kill before check-in we stopped off at a couple of beaches, Grutness, very stinky seaweed and West Voe. Will spent some time perfecting his somersaults on the sand before we left for the airport.

Checking in was so different from the experience at Aberdeen with the clerk, what do you call them, suggesting the best luggage options to ensure that my slightly over-sized and overweight cabin luggage was allowed onboard.

The journey home was uneventful although it was well after 2AM before I managed to fall asleep.
I really look forward to my next visit to The Shetland Islands, fishing and wildlife next.

NB No photos at the moment as my camera is still in my pack at home. Will update this evening.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Replacement parts and new Olympic disciplines

A number of times over the past few days I have experienced a certain degree of knee pain, usually after walking, swimming or leaping off very hugh sand dunes. Finally, today, Will expressed his irritation and concern stating that I really do need to visit the doctors and get my knees sorted out. I will do this under certain conditions. I know that when someone goes in for domestic surgery, a nose or boob job for example they are presented with a number of possibilities and they select their personally preferred option. If I do indeed end up requiring a knee replacement operation then I want to be given a comprehensive catalogue of available knees. At the moment I would like a flamingo knee on my left leg and a dogs knee on my right. In fact if this is possible then I assume that this would be the case for all joint replacement, could be interesting. Squid shoulder joints, do they have shoulders even? An owls neck would be pretty good, the possibilities are endless.

On another note, I am currently sitting awaiting my flight from Aberdeen to Gatwick, in front of a TV that is forcing me to watch the Olympics, hence my complete nonsense. Over the last few weeks I have heard various bits on the TV and radio concerning now defunct Olympic disciplines such as bicycle polo, real pigeon shooting, tug-of-war, real tennis, rugby union and cricket to name but a few. It has occurred to me that if sports or disciplines can be discontinued then it must follow that new ones can be added, which they have. I, for one would like to see the following included; bog swimming, lilo river running, British Bulldog, stuck in the mud and Buckaroo. Come on Olympics committee get your shit together and make future events worth watching.

Sunday in the Shetlands

 Another slow start to the day, grotty weather and only three sausages each for brekky which prompted us to visit Tesco once more to ensure we had sufficient supplies to see us through the next twenty-four hours (how pathetic is that, we are so used to buying food as and when we need it, no forward planning at all!) but not before paying Jay a visit at Skeld Creamery. It was good to hear that business was booming with demand far exceeding current production, I bought some Carraway Truckle and set off for Lerwick. After a brief stop at the supermarket we were soon on our way to our first beach of the day, Burra Minn at the south end of West Burra. Once again reaching our destination looked far easier on Google Earth than it proved to be in reality. We reached the end of the road and sat in the car waiting for the rain to stop which it did after ten minutes, the dark clouds, however, remained. A short walk down a gravel path later and Burra Minn beach lay before us.

The narrow beach forms a causeway between the two larger land masses of West Burra, we walked the length of the sandy beach facing the bay and back along the rocky shore on the reverse of the causeway. With rain threatening we set off for one of the best beaches I have ever seen at Meal.

Meal was as beautiful and tranquil as I remembered from our visit earlier in the year when we travelled to Shetland to take part in Up Helly Aa. This time, however, we did not have the beach to ourselves, two women and a number of kids were enjoying themselves on the beach by turning hand-springs and somersaults by leaping on large gym balls half submerged in the white sands. Rather than disturb them Will and I clambered over the rocks along one side of the beach. Will declared some frustration at not seeing much wildlife on this visit so I suggested that we try Sandness as I had come across a couple of seals at quite close quarters.

It took the best part of an hour to reach Sandness, with a few stops along the way, thankfully the weather had brightened somewhat allowing us to spend some time in the sun among the rock-pools and sand of 'The Crook' at Sandness. The seals, alas, failed to make an appearance.

We had decided to have dinner out on our final night but I wanted to get changed before we did so, which meant a stop at the Bod. On the way back we passed the sign for 'Stanydale Temple' a neolithic village excavated a few years ago. I had attempted to reach this on my first visit but with daylight fading I opted not to continue, this time we had ample time. After following a rather soggy trail marked with black and white posts we arrived at the stone-age settlement. Not a lot to see but visible proof of human habitation on the Islands over four thousand years ago, and still no KFC, good going.

We stopped at the bod only long enough for me to get changed and then we were off for dinner. I did want to stop off and say hello to John Lines on the way past but, unfortunately he wasn't in, in retrospect I should have stopped off on Saturday, not to worry I will catch up later. I rang Emma and enlisted her help to Google for a decent restaurant in Lerwick, she cam up with the Queen's Hotel, I knew where that was, bonus. We parked up and scrutinised the harbour area for wildlife, no luck. The Queen's Hotel is a austere looking granite building at the end of Commercial Road, the menu looked interesting but in the words of Terry Pratchett, there was far too much 'avec' for Will, who likes his food simpler. In the end we had a burger in a pizzeria on the main drag, not bad as burgers go.

Before returning to Skeld, Will still wanted to see a seal so I parked within the reach of the free ferry-port Wi-Fi to blog and Will mooched about the docks, he's never have got away with that in Portsmouth, too many sailors if you know what I mean.

A few drinks and then to bed. Still no sign of the Northern lights, arse.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Saturday's account of the latest Shetland visit

I awoke to a reasonably bright morning with a light Southerly wind and a few clouds blotting out the sun. The aim of the day was to travel North to the most Northerly beach on the islands and thus the Britain, we were, however a little light on cash and supplies so a trip to Lerwick was necessary. The detour to Tesco was short but it was nearly 11AM when we pulled out of the service station with a full tank of fuel and set off in earnest for the tip of Unst.

The drive to the ferry-port at Toft was uneventful but we had to wait half an hour before the ferry arrived to take us to Yell. I had forgotten how apparently expensive the ferry was, a little over fifteen pounds, but was soon to realise that this was the total price for a return trip all the way to Unst, that's two ferries, so perhaps not too bad. Yell is exactly as I remembered, dull an un-inspiring, that's based on my view from the main highway at least. The ferry port at Gutcher, North-East Yell sits in a tranquil little bay and serves both Fetlar and Unst.

We had over an hour to kill so after a walk along the shoreline we repaired to the colourful Wind Dog Cafe. The cafe was cosy and a little peculiar. I was apparent from the books, jigsaws and other more exotic means to spend time, that this cafe was used to people having to endure extended periods of time awaiting their ferry. We remained only long enough to drink a cup of tea, then as the time to depart approached we returned to the car. It still surprises me that even at this isolated staging post on the route to our goal on Unst there should be the facility for free Wi-Fi, indeed this is the case at all ferry-ports on Shetland, very civilised.
It was half-past two when we approached Nor Wick beach, there were a large number of cars in the small car park that served the beach so it seemed sensible to continue onto Skaw beach, the most Northerly beach in the British Isles.

The track from Nor Wick to Skaw was narrow, treacherous and at times precariously close to a steep drop. Skaw itself nestles into a small bay and has a wonderfully sandy beach. I was taken aback slightly when a cardboard model of the Olympic rings was incongruously stuck into the sand in the middle of the beach. Even here I could not escape the bloody event, I did take the photo opportunity, however. We mooched around the rocks for a while before returning to Nor Wick.

There were now even more stationary cars at the beach which made finding a spot difficult. Eventually we halted the smallest car in the world on some thick grass near where a small crowd thronged the lip of the dunes facing the bay. I joined them to see what was drawing their attention. A number of small open boats were dotted around the bay, all full and motionless. Puzzled, Will and I found a spot to drink our soup and watch. A few moments later there was sharp retort from a starting pistol and they were off, the boats that is. We were witnessing some sort of race, I have still yet to find out what it was all about.

It was well after 3PM when we left Nor Wick and headed towards what would be our final destination for the day. As we approached Baltasound we passed a very odd looking bus shelter. Buses this far North must run very infrequently and as such waiting at a bare bus shelter would be unpleasant so someone had furnished this particular shelter to resemble a sitting room.

Bemused we set off once more and found our turning. The track ran out at a farm house, machinery parts and a car lay outside a low solid building where we parked our car and set off across the boggy fields in the general direction of the coast. Walls, fences and a small lock, Midga water, lay between us and the sea. It was heavy going at times, across rocky patches, boggy patches and around animals. For most of the mile and a half walk Will kept asking about the dangers of sheep in general and murderous rams in particular. Eventually the sea came into view and our goal, The Yei, in all of it splendour lay before us. As we descended it was evident that this secluded, isolated, almost, tombolo had other visitors.

I had honestly thought that without any direct access we would be completely on our own, wrong. Two young girls and their grand-parents had evidently spent the whole day there, swimming and observing the wildlife. Somewhat deflated I took the photos and Will and I retraced our steps back to the car.
The wait for ferries was thankfully minimal but it was approaching 8PM when we pulled into the parking space alongside the bod. No swimming, but plenty of photos and a decent walk still left both of us with a sense of achievement.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Swimming on Shetland beaches

For some strange reason I awoke with no confusion. Normally, the first time I wake up in a new location, even when I am visiting friends or family and the location is well known to me, I have a few memory issues upon the morning reboot. Not so today, I awoke before the students and before the multitude of mobile phone alarms played their 8AM chorus. I decided that this visit to the Shetlands should be sub-titled the 'no alarms tour' and that Will and I should wake and move as we see fit. I knew Will would sleep through this so I lay silently, listening to the hushed early morning banter, I assume they all felt a little guilty as their board game playing had been noisy the previous evening. They cycled through the bathroom and began their breakfast rituals. I stirred when the final of their party attended to their morning ablutions. Will began to stir, after some encouragement,we were both ready to hit the trail shortly after our erstwhile co-bodders had vacated the premises to continue their island bagging activities. Incidentally I Googled this whilst having the largest, cheapest full breakfast I have ever experienced, even in the days of the Full English Master; Prof. Andrew Briggs (Bp, Hb, HP and double bacon, no eggs though) and the results were surprising. Island bagging seems to be more popular than I had thought with many websites chronicling the exploits of similar groups.
The day began so gloomy and overcast that I wrote it off as a mooching about day with little prospect of getting any time in the sea. However, as we finally exited the low cloud cover on the road into Kalliness we were greeted with blue skies. Behind us the grey misty hills of Western Shetland seemed a memory as we climbed the road in our tiny vehicle high above the stunning vista of Whiteness. Lerwick was as bright as Skeld had been gloomy and it was with brighter moods Will and I ordered our full breakfast at a small greasy spoon in the shopping centre. The Tower Shopping centre in Lerwick is unique in many ways, not least because it is housed within three large, barn-like buildings, constructed from corrugated iron and painted red. Inside, however it resembles malls and shopping centres found anywhere in the UK. Conspicuous by their absence are the big names that populate those malls on the mainland UK. Large franchises; Starbucks, Costa, KFC, MacDonald’s, etc. After breakfast and posting the daily blog we were more than ready for our first day on the beaches of the Shetland Islands, I did, however need to pay a visit to the toilet. On my first visit to the Shetlands I posted regarding 'The Bards in the Bog' where poems were displayed on the backs of the doors within public toilets all over the Islands. I was pleased to see that this was still the case. Impressed I decided to take a photo. Not such a good idea. As the flash triggered I heard a shuffle then;

'Is everything all right in there?'
I grunted a reply and sat very, very still. God knows what he thought I was doing.

The plan for the remainder of the day was to visit a number of beaches in roughly the same area before selecting the best for snorkelling. With this aim in mind we found our way to St. Ninians Isle, Spiggie and Scousburgh. There was a small beach opposite the main beach in the bay of Scousburgh which was the best for snorkelling but as it was difficult to access we opted for the tombolo to Saint Ninians Isle.

Beach opposite Scousburgh Sands

Near St. Ninians Isle



Will had difficulty with his mask and I found it difficult to dive with the added buoyancy of the wet-suit so we very soon abandoned the idea of snorkelling, deciding instead to use the growing swell to body-surf. This shortly led to a conversation with the father of a family of four, who had established themselves on the beach next to us. They had tried to cover all options bringing, kayaks, surf-boards, snorkelling equipment and body-boards. He suggested that there were a number of beaches on Yell that were perfect for body-boarding. The purpose of the visit had now changed.
In Lerwick we found a sports shop that sold body-boards, but, as the cheapest was £40 and considering we would have to leave them behind, we abandoned that idea and notionally decided to teach Will to body-surf.

On the way back to the bod we visited three more beaches, walking and photographing beaches seems to have become the prime activity by now, Sand, Redayre and Raewick, the latter was the most impressive. Calm, clear waters lapped soundlessly onto a smooth red sand, as tranquil as any Caribbean equivalent.




Back in Skeld, Will and I sat for some time in the nature hide next to the marina until hunger got the better of us and we retired to the bod for dinner and a few beers.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Shetland day 1, for another trip

After various unfortunate incidents on the journey back to the Shetland Islands, check notes for FlyBe nonsense, we arrived at our booked accommodation, the rather pleasant camping bod near Skeld marina. NOTE ON BODS. We had already visited ubiquitous Tesco and as such had most of the supplies we needed and were prepared for our first night. The wood burner, which would in fact be burning wedges of dried peat, NOTE ON PEAT BURNING, was a great prospect but without firelighters or a lighter getting it going would prove difficult, off we drove to the nearest town, twenty minutes travel to the West for the bits we needed. The weather remained overcast with rain threatening constantly. On our return Will volunteered to light the fire while I began cooking some Reggae Reggae chicken, yeah man. It was at this point that our fellow 'bodders' arrived, a group of four students who were embarking on a quest to visit as many of the Islands dotted around the shores of the country. They had already visited the Scilly Islands and the Western Isles and were now attempting to take in as many of the most Northern islands as possible on their flying visit. Will and I had been up since four-thirty and as such were more than ready for an early night. The students were still talking, huddled around the warmth of the peat fire at the opposite of the large central room, when Will and I fell asleep.

The Bod at Skeld.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Summer holidays...aaaaargh!!! Olympics...similar!!!

It's that time of year when the roads are empty, I can get to work in a fraction of the time, leaving the seasonal stress behind at home, poor Emma. This year we have an additional two family members, Lucy and Jessica Rutter, surprisingly it's far less stressed than I expected, the girls are fun to be around and really take the pressure off keeping Eddy and Beth occupied. That said I do feel a little guilty, I leave for the Shetlands on Wednesday night and will be away for the weekend, swimming and hiking around the most wonderful countryside I have ever encountered, photos to follow. On this visit I will finally, finally, finally, get my mitts on some unique sausages. Barbara has promised to keep some back from her latest batch of piggy-back pork. It may be inappropriate but, I am probably more excited about these sausages than any so far. I am looking forward to the whole trip, if I could find a reason and a means to support the horde, I would move to the Shetlands tomorrow. This trip will also form the final chapter of the Shetland section in the book, for which the rewrite has started. I have completely abandoned the pompous journal approach and decided to write it more along the lines of a first person account of events with added humour and wit, or not, time will tell.

It is no coincidence that I have chosen this weekend as the time to journey North in search of clear waters, sausages and the Aurora Borealis. The London Olympics open on the 27th of July, the first day Will and I are up North, which more than contributed to the decision to travel to a point as far as possible form the proceedings yet remain within the British Isles. Sausages, snorkelling and no Olympics, what fantastic prospect.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A grand nonsense

After a rather busy weekend, football of Friday and Thorpe Park on Saturday, it was back to work with a heavy heart and no motivation. As I drove through the back roads to Oakhanger I questioned my current professional position and realised that I didn't like it much, but more of that later.

I have always craved a busy lifestyle, my greatest fear is that tomorrow will be the same as today and with that in mind I have been so lucky with my understanding and fun loving family. They have all, to a greater or lesser degree bought into my, sometimes, crackpot ideas and we have all had some pretty good times in the process. Even after all of the daft things I have spent my time pursuing I still loathe theme parks. Thorpe Park is an awful, vile place to visit. From the mindless queuing to the brainless music pumped around the thoroughfares at a ridiculous high volume in a pathetic attempt to force punters to have fun, the whole location is a vacuous shit-hole. Will, his friends, Sam and myself were presented with this dystopian view of thrills from ten thirty until just before the park closed at six, that is a little over seven hours. During our time there we visited an average of six rides, most through the fast track system, with each lasting an average of two minutes. Rounding this figure up slightly this allows fifteen minutes attendance at the pinnacle of fun, fifteen minutes riding the machines built to attract the millions, the thrill seeking populace of these islands, and loads of foreign tourists. The mathematics (not the 'kin math) are simple, fifteen minutes from seven hours leaves six and three quarter hours queuing, walking and spending extortionate amounts of money on food, tea, lockers and other such bollocks. I'm not going to enter into detail over the rides themselves as You Tube exists, but, my enduring memory is of the amount of extremely obese kids waddling around with their 'bottomless' soft drink flasks around their neck grinning with wide eyed excitement and followed by vacant eyed parents. Conclusion: can't wait to get back to The Shetlands!!!!

Work. I honestly believe that my current job is taken for granted, not just by me but by all currently working on the same project. This is a once in a lifetime job, we have all been allowed to expand a set of unique knowledge and are paid ridiculous amounts of money for this. It is easy to forget that this will not last forever, that it is this gravy train that allows all of us to engage our secondary interests with such fervour and passion. For myself I have to remind myself that the 'Sausage Trail' is not a best seller, I am not a writer, nor am I likely to attain celebrity status for travelling and ostensibly enjoying myself. Reality is often a shocking place to live, but it is the only one where you don't have to pretend.

I will continue with my book and I will finish it. I have had too much support and met too many kind, helpful and wonderful people, making and rediscovering friends in the process. I do have to accept, however, that I may be suffering a classic mid-life crisis and will have to explore this.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Sub-aqua sausages

In the midst of researching and writing 'The Sausage Trail' I do find time to do other things, sometimes this is necessary for my sanity as well as to try new and exciting activities. At the end of the month Will and I are travelling back to Shetland to try our hand at snorkelling. Why Shetland? Easy. Following my first visit in November last year I fell in love with the place and met some amazing people who proved to me that there are still places where community, kindness and consideration are still important traits. I went back a couple of months later at the insistence of Barbara Lines with Charlotte, Will and Beth for Up Helly Aa, what a fantastic experience. We all pledged to return as soon as we could, probably for the Folk festival in May, needless to say that due to circumstances in France we were unable to make it for this particular event. Time to reschedule and to rethink.

As mentioned in the book, I have always felt drawn to the idea of a frontier existing at the edges of the British Isles appeals to me. OK, frontier it may not be in reality, but compared to the soft, easy world of Gosport it is vastly different and a good different at that. I have always enjoyed the idea of diving and have tried both scuba and snorkelling during my time in the Navy. Remembering the fantastic visibility of the waters around the Shetland Islands I performed a little online research and decided that I would return to the Islands for a few days to try my hand at snorkelling at some of the best beaches in the world.

I emailed Barbara regarding my plans and received an update; it was all change with her. Erica, her 16 year old daughter, was off to Finland as an au-pair for a year, what a brave and exciting decision. It has been said that there are very few rights of passage to mark the change from child to adult, such as the time that I and many of my school mates spent in the armed forces, but it appears that the Shetlands breeds 'em tough. Best of luck Erica.

WIll and I leave for the Shetlands at the end of July, a day before the poxy Olympic nonsense is due to start, and we will be staying at a camping Bod.  A Bod is an ex-fishermans hut converted into a communal camping bunk-house with varying degrees of comfort depending on the individual Bod. Thankfully ours id in a really fantastic village with a Marina and close to some of the beaches we aim to swim from. Additionally, the Bod is round the corner from Barbara, awesome.

We have our kit, well most of it, and also an underwater camera, so feel prepared.

A great break prior to the next sausage event, La Pourcailhade in deepest darkest French France.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Rewrite about to start on The Sausage Trail

Following feedback from some rather informed and professional people, as well as finally listening to the responses from those rather closer to me, I have realised that the current draft of 'The Sausage Trail',  is a bit shit. With this in mind I have accepted that I need to re-think the whole approach and start from scratch, no issue, and I can induce more humour and reduce more boredom.

Apart from that, there are a lot of other issues right now. The rewrite aside Will and I are off back to The Shetland Islands to try our hand at snorkelling, which will provided a short break in the work schedule and give me some time to relax before the French stage of 'The Sausage Trail'.

The book is going reasonably well, that is to say I have a firm idea on how to proceed with a new approach and will persevere. The end is in sight, well I now have all of the events and festivals organised and booked. I feel that it is time to approach agents properly and perhaps publishers. Beyond that I am already planning my next challenge and related book. The plan is to take a year to learn to sail, fly, dive and ride at the end of which I will pick the one of which I hold the most aptitude and challenge myself in the extreme.