Brian Cheung
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Northbound

Thoughts, photos and anecdotes from my travels through Norway, Scotland and Finland.

Island Hopping

With so little time, I thought the best way to make the most of the car would be to take it as far north as possible. It just so happened that the coastline along the top end of Unst (the northernmost of the main islands) is pretty spectacular, so I set off super early the next day. Owing to the limited hours of light, I set my alarm for an ungodly hour and was in the car driving north in the dark by 6am. For the record it took about 3 and a half hours to go from the bottom to the top. 

To get to Unst I first had to take a ferry from Mainland to the connecting island of Yell. I was told by more than one person that Yell is boring and monotonous. Whether or not that’s true is beside the point, as I didn’t have time to see everything anyway. From the docks at the bottom I cleared Yell in about 25 minutes to reach the ferry bound for Unst on the top end. True to form it was an uneventful drive. 

After the second ferry I then drove to the top of Unst, where the northern headland of Hermaness has been set aside as a bird and wildlife sanctuary. I walked across some slippery walkways and paths through fields that become nesting grounds for endemic bird species in the springtime - now only occupied by cold-resistant sheep. During last month's brief detour back home I managed to get a replacement pair of hiking boots. The old pair, while sturdy, were also completely rubbish at keeping out moisture, something that isn’t helpful in a country that never seems to dry completely. The new pair proved to be a good investment as I scaled the sea cliffs and muddy fields after the boardwalks with comfortably dry warm feet. 

Muckle Flugga is the name of the tiny islet that sits just off the coast. Together with the appropriately named Out Stack a little further up, it's the northernmost point of Britain. You could call it the full stop to the British Isles. Against all odds there's also a lighthouse on Muckle Flugga, and at one point it was manned by some poor soul that had the joy/misfortune of calling that rocky outcrop home. (It's now automated)

Getting back to the car I drove around the rest of Unst to find that nothing much else was open. Bobby's Bus Shelter is a bus stop near the village of Baltasound that was saved from demolition by a kid called Bobby and each year is decorated with a different theme, although they always keep up a sofa, tv, phone and pot plants. I didn't check to see if the appliances worked. 

On my search for a coffee, I drove through maybe the most depressing settlement I had come across yet. Saxa Vord is a former air force radar station that is now trying to transition into some sort of tourist hub. I can't say if it was because of the time of year, or because it was still a work-in-progress, or because every building was dank and grey, but the place felt utterly miserable. There wasn't a person in sight, and I drove off thinking of all the places I'd rather be than Saxa Vord.

I headed home not long after. I honestly couldn't find much else to do, with all of the tourist-related options closed and the rain starting to get heavier. There was at least time for a coffee in Lerwick - at least things mercifully stayed open in the 'big smoke'. 

shetland, scotlandBrian Cheung