Friday, 12 October 2012

The return to Lerwick.

The return to Lerwick.

The day was dry and I packed the tent with no problems at all. I still need to get the pole sorted out though, it won't last too long as it is. I knew that there was a bus at about 10.20ish so set out to find the stop by the village hall in a back street. I got chatting with a few locals and was glad when the bus arrived, as it was a bit fresh in the wind tunnel where we stood.
Yes I know I am supposed to be walking everywhere, but to be honest I have decided to be a bit more discerning for the mean time, as I may otherwise miss great opportunities to meet people. You see the terrain and landscapes here are very different than those of other areas I have walked through. In the main it is mainly crofts here, and they are not often close to the road, so my meeting people is limited. Unless I just stroll up and knock on their doors and ask to be let in for a few days of their hospitality. I will however, do as much walking as is possible and necessary to get the objectives covered. My loose plan/idea was to get stocked up and then set out again, by bus to the furthest point west and walk back, via the coast and get the ferry to Papa Stour, where some people who are well respected and talked about (though that may not mean the same thing) live. But first I needed to get some time to type and upload the blog for you all to read. For that reason I checked back into the Hostal for a night and managed to get as much done as was possible in that short time. Irvine has let me leave some of my stuff in the safe room too, which has taken a few kilos out of the rucksack, and I shall collect it later. I also met another group of people from all over the world. Grant from the down under part of the world, Shelly from Alaska and Amanda from Devon. Shelly and Amanda are also knitting divas, and added to my previous appreciation of the art of needle crafts, sharing with me all the information about the Wool Week festival here in Shetland at the moment, and the world of knitting online. Yes, you heard it, online world of knitting. A website, Shelly happily introduced me to, called Ravelry was an amazing world of wool, patterns and jumpers. All you could ever know, want to know, dream of and eat of was here. It was like the facebook of knitters, and over 2 million users......sweet Jesus......
When I saw some of the patrons of the site I almost felt like taking up knitting, they looked fabulous in all that woolen scarf, hat, gloves, pullover gear. Maybe this was the rare bird I was after, wrapped in cableknit shetland textile before me....
Shelly and Amanda both were also keen to ask about the project I was undertaking, and very intrigued by my resolve to walk so far in search of the understanding of the world and its peoples.
I also met a man with his son, taking time to see some of the islands here. Alistair and Frazer his son were both keen outdoors people. Like me Alistair in his younger days had lived a full life of experience, and told me many stories about the odd places he had lived and the things he had done. A shared Mini and combined dole checks at Drumnadrochit come to Alistair.....?? We got on very well and he was an easy man to like. He seemed one of those people very at ease with my name being what it is and showed no hint of awkwardness when using it, which was nice to also see. I do hope that we meet again, maybe he will come and walk with me when I pass his corner of the world, for it would be great to get to know him and his family better. I could tell he was a successful man in what he did, and yet he also still carried that very unique humanity that was inclusive and not the other way. 

I set of into the town once I had bought some supplies, I needed a haircut. I found the very nice shop called Just Gents and was thrilled to listen to the man cutting peoples hair chatting with his customers about many subjects. Usually it is the job of the hairdresser to prompt and then listen as the customer speaks, but Dylan had got something to say today. I was amazed at his grasp of some topics close to my heart, he clearly had been thinking a very long time about them. I am not sure that the customers really were ready to hear his delivery but he did make sense to me and I felt again I had found a comrade in spirit. His assistant was very quiet at first, Josie was a stunning looking young lady, possibly his daughter, and she made herself busy making drinks and clearing away the dead hair from the floor. When it was my turn I was pleased with the haircut and the chat. I hope that Dylan enjoyed the table tennis chat as much as me. He was clearly a man of free spirit, and able to say what was on his mind, which I find many people can't handle very well. I liked Dylan and he made a good impression on me.
Thanks Dylan and Josie for a nice hour in company.

I headed out to the Viking bus station for 5 o'clock to catch the bus to Walls and then the connection to Sandness where I planned to stay the night before heading out in the morning. It was a nice journey, though the driver seemed to be in a hurry, or maybe he just knew the roads very well. Either way we never left the road or stopped many times and we were soon rolling up into Walls. It seemed to have a few services here, but I had to get straight onto the connecting minibus. Keith the driver was a very chatty man and recommended he drop me at Melby head where it was calmer from the wind and there were also toilets that were open all night. I was one of only 3 people in the bus and they all alighted before me. Keith spent a few moments telling me things about the area, and showing me how to get across the coast towards West Burrafirth where the ferries run to Papa Stour, despite it only being about a mile away from where we presently were. I found it hard to grasp how an island of so few inhabitants were so regularly serviced by this ferry at all. But then again I suppose some tourists still want to go across like me, for the day or slightly longer. I guessed I would get there on Wednesday and have to wait till Friday morning at the earliest to return.

I made camp directly where Keith dropped me, as it was sheltered form any strong winds by a set of buildings, and the loos were close at hand. The night passed swiftly and the morning soon came around as the sun streamed into the tent with daybreak. I decided to sit up and do some more typing as the morning was still early, and I was about the task when a Landrover came alongside. Being curious I got out of the tent and introduced myself to the people one of whom was checking or cleaning the toilets. Gifford and Betty were lovely to chat to and gave many helpful ideas about the area to see. When they knew that I was planning to walk along the coast to West Burrafirth, which was apparently possible, Betty suggested that Gifford could take me there by road instead. Well as you know the walk would have been a great idea too, but here was kindness being offered and who knows where it might lead? We arranged that Gifford would return at 1.30pm to collect me, the ferry sailed at 3.00pm.
This was brilliant as it gave me ample time to get writing and ready for his return.
A little ahead of time he arrived in another car and we loaded my bag in the boot and set off towards the ferry terminal by road about 15 miles away I guessed. Gifford was a retired Salmon farmer and had worked in the industry most of his life. He gladly filled me in on all the things I didn't yet know about muscle farming and salmon breeding and the like. Did you know muscles grow on a rope hanging in the sea from a raft for example? No, me either... As we passed by their house, Betty was waving me off too, how sweet of her. He told me all about his son who lived close by who drove a good way everyday to work from the remote part of the island where they all lived. It sounded like a simple life with few problems of technological necessity and hurried paces of deadlines. Except that in the fishing game, being skilled in the ways of the sea was paramount to success and survival, hearing so many stories of shipwrecked sailors from around the globe out on the infamous Skerries. There was nothing here much to stop you on the roads either, apart from the odd sheep or pony, so no chance of any road raged drivers...

 Soon we were at the port and I went off to ask of the possibility of boarding the vessel for passage across to the island, and that was fine, no great demand for seats today. They are able to carry legally only 12 passengers, possibly because of safety equipment, lifebelts and the like. This seemed low looking at the size of the boat. As the time for embarkation arrived, Gifford, who had been on the bridge chatting with the crew, left to set off home and I thanked him gratefully for the kindness of driving 30 miles out of his way for me, a complete stranger.

They were also loading aboard goods that had arrived from a local building firm and a Landrover with two passengers aboard, islander I would possibly meet during the short visit. When it came time to sail I still hadn't purchased a ticket, but john, had kindly had a whip round with his colleagues to invite me aboard at their cost. He said that as I was doing my walk for charity, they wanted to help me with the fare. And thanks to them they have, and with so many more things than they can know. I had a great chat with the boats Engineer, Jack who was keen to answer any questions and spoke a lot about the way the ferries are funded and the diminishing pot that was set up by the oil company for their being on the islands. Sullom Voe, is a place where the oil is dispatched onto ships after being brought ashore, and about 20 miles north east of West Burrafirth.

The sailing took about 35 minutes and I got into conversation with Jane a lady who also lived on the island and was a close friend of the people I had hoped to meet when I walked the island, Andy and Sabina Holt, the ex-hippies who had been here many years. When we arrived I met Andy briefly as the goods being delivered were his and he was collecting them in the back of his trailer. I helped to pass two sheets of sterling board into the trailer and we chatted for a few minutes. Despite his acknowledgement of my having called and left a message he seemed reluctant to make any arrangement to talk at any length with me, and I guessed that meant that they wanted for some reason to protect their privacy. Jane had said previously that they were likely to invite me over for a meal, though I said that was not my intention on coming here. It was merely to learn something about the island and the people who chose to live here in some degree of isolation, and what that was like.

There is a welcome/shelter hut here, just close to the pier, for the use of people waiting for the ferries and it has a lovely set of toilets and a facility to make hot drinks, read books and recycle old batteries too. The crew of the boat told me it would be a great place to hole up, and to see the islands, until they came back on Friday. A most restful place indeed. One in which I stayed, rather than sleep outside, in the cold wind and dampness. Thank you Papa Stour and your kindness for such luxury.

As it was still very early I decided to get off and see the east and north east of the island leaving less to cover tomorrow. It could take me all day to walk around, so am going to set off once the day has arrived, and take in all there is to see. No invite has arrived to visit the island people so I will take that as further indication that they are not keen to share their stories with me. I don't understand it but I do accept it, as they have a perfect right to be Christians living in a tiny corner of the world.

As the sun rose I did too, though it was to get the typing up to date more so than anything else. As I write this I am now almost up to the minute on target, and glad that I finally reached a point where I had caught up with my stories. They do however miss some of the actual events and the majority of the real joy it is to be recipient of peoples kindness, but I hope that I am giving a good flavour of the journey. I have been hoping also to get a chance to see the Northern Lights, but as yet nothing. Last night was cold and clear and I watched for a while from the comfort of the hut, but still nothing happened. I still have time though before I leave here, and besides I am still heading further north today, after I visit the place with a rather (shall we say) unusual name. Twatt, is near Bixter and I as yet have no idea if it is full of people who are less than bright, or what the story is there....

So I set off to walk the rest of the islands coastline, or as much as was feasibly possible, as the cliffs on the Western side are mostly sheer drop. The road led me off to the bay where there apparently had been a strange occurance once, when the bay had become full of Herrings, and the fishermen had cut off their escape and the wives had dug pits to be able to save as many as was possible, to be eaten at a later day I suppose. An old wives tale no doubt, but an interesting one.

Then I climbed up towards a very high spot, at 87 meteres above sea level, and the wind was blowing me all over the place driving in from a south easterly direction. I passed a grave to an unknown warrior, who I sensed I had an affinity with, he also uses the Robin as his motif.

The views from the top of Virdi Field are amazing. You can see most of the rest of the Shetlands from here, if it were fine weather no doubt. I said a few words to my brother via video as he is leaving Britain next month for a life down under. Ben, Vicky, Hannah and Grace are off on the 7th November for a life following their dreams, and I for one admire that in people and wish then every success, even if I will miss them terribly. But hey, they will have a great spot to invite me over to

The next feature to pop up was the arch on the north west side of Papa. It was impressive and took me a while to walk over the top, as the wind was pushing hard, and I didn't fancy becoming fish food, or worse, shark.... did he say SHARK.... oops.. well apparently basking shark have been seen here but not today, thankfully. (got to go now ferry arriving to collect me)

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