A second day of lighthouse bagging in Shetland today, but how could we really have followed the success of yesterday? Well, the truth is we probably couldn’t, but that wasn’t going to stop us, so we ventured out into the wind and rain this morning to meet Brian not far from the ferry to Yell. Today has felt a bit like the grand tour of Shetland, although this morning’s weather was really not in our favour when it came to spotting lighthouses on the numerous small islands that surround Mainland, Yell and Unst. Our ultimate aim today was to reach the very top of Unst for a glimpse of the lighthouse that seems to magically sit on the rock that is Muckle Flugga, making it the most northerly of all British lighthouses.
With a little while to wait until the ferry to Yell, we drove into Mossbank and had a brief look at Firths Voe lighthouse from the end of the road. We’d seen it flashing (or occulting really) as we’d driven up the main road to the south west. We didn’t have time this morning to walk to it, but we will return at some point as it’s an easy one to get to.
Once on Yell and driving north along the road that follows the west coast, Brian was informing us of all of the lights we would be able to see in Yell Sound if there wasn’t so much mist about. It was one of those mornings where you know it’s no use looking for something that’s any distance away. We were just hopeful that it might clear at some point. On the road north we saw the Ness of Sound lighthouse, which looks fantastic. A great little walk to do some day soon, but we were keen to get to Unst so continued the journey.
Arriving just in time for the ferry, we made the short crossing and decided to take a break from the car at Uyeasound to see the lighthouse there. Brian, having been to the lighthouse numerous times and not fancying the short walk in the wind and rain, very sensibly decided to watch us from the car. Uyeasound lighthouse isn’t your usual style of lighthouse, which is interesting for me! There are a few of this type dotted around Shetland and they are more substantial than they look when you are close up. It’s a really easy walk to the lighthouse and on a nice day it could be part of a really pleasant stroll along the beach.
Continuing our journey to the very north we were very much still in the mist. Brian wasn’t convinced we would see Muckle Flugga, but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity if the weather cleared a bit as the forecast was predicting. As we neared Burrafirth there was no sign of improvement so Brian suggested we stop by the old shore station for Muckle Flugga. The shore station itself is in a great location with wonderful views of the coastal landscape of the area. The old boat shed is still very much there and it gave a really good idea of how the boats were launched and where the keepers began the final leg of the journey to “The Flugga”. Part of the cottages has been converted into the Hermaness Visitors Centre, although that is closed at this time of year. Another of the cottages is self-catering accommodation. Just beyond the main building is the helipad. It would be a wonderful place to depart from for getting to the lighthouse, although Brian’s undertaking of that journey on so many occasions in the past has considerably dampened his enjoyment of it.
So, it was time to see if we were going to have any luck seeing the lighthouse itself from beyond Saxa Vord. Once we were up there it became clear very quickly that the low cloud simply wasn’t going to allow it. We decided to stay in the area though and try again in a little while – we weren’t so easily discouraged.
Brian suggested heading out to Holm of Skaw to see the most northerly house and I, of course, quickly pointed out that I recalled there being a lighthouse (the flat-pack IKEA type) out that way, which Brian confirmed was correct. On the approach to the most northerly house we could see the lighthouse in the distance. Interestingly, we learned from Brian that the dangers around the Holm of Skaw were originally covered by a red sector light within the Muckle Flugga lighthouse compound. The small building that housed this light is still there today, but the light was discontinued when Holm of Skaw lighthouse was introduced. Brian also informed us that Muckle Flugga was originally known as North Unst lighthouse.
After another quick and unsuccessful attempt at seeing The Flugga we decided to give the weather a little longer to sort itself out while we went for lunch. It was one of the most productive lunches I’ve ever experienced while we quizzed Brian, with mapping set up, for details of access to the lighthouses and the best viewpoints to see them from if they were a little more tricky to get to. Invaluable stuff, this. He really does know everything there is to know about Shetland and its lighthouses!
Now, it was obvious that the sky had cleared by the time we left the very nice Final Checkout Cafe, so we went for a third and final attempt on The Flugga. As we got closer we were all feeling a lot more confident – I may have clapped with excitement at one point, something I do very rarely! Then when I spotted her (sorry, the lighthouse) as we came over the rise I might have squealed “There she is!” – something I do slightly more often, but not frequently! It was still a little misty, but the lighthouse was very definitely there between the two rising slopes. It wasn’t a view for getting stunning or detailed pictures, but I had seen it – or as Brian so eloquently put it, “eyeballed” The Flugga! I was, of course, very happy about this, particularly as we had tried and failed the first two times. You always appreciate things much more when you don’t succeed straight away, as was very much the case with the Flannans and the Monachs (I was getting quite used to our annual holidays to the Western Isles while we waited for the perfect conditions to get to them).
Satisfied, we began our journey back down the islands. On the way, and as a result of improved visibility, we were able to see the Balta Sound lighthouse, the light on Little Holm, Mio Ness lighthouse and The Rumble light beacon. A much more interesting return journey.
We travelled straight back in order to see the final lighthouse that Brian had offered to show us: Eshaness. It’s a fair old drive out to Eshaness, but we were rewarded towards the end of the journey by views of the light flashing away, inviting us to continue on over and pay a visit. Brian informed us that once the light was on there would be no access to the lamp room. I was fine with that. With regularly visiting lighthouses, so often you are there during the day and don’t get to witness the light in action, so it was a great opportunity to do just that.
We sat with Brian for a while as he showed us pictures he has of Muckle Flugga, Ve Skerries (which you can often see at Eshaness flashing at night, but not today unfortunately), Out Skerries, Sule Skerry, Cape Wrath and the Flannans, among others. The pictures are fascinating and some have great stories to accompany them. While we were there a couple who run a lighthouse museum on Lake Erie in the USA joined us for a little while. After that we spent a while taking pictures of the lighthouse from outside before saying a very fond farewell to Eshaness. It was a wonderful end to another lighthouse-filled day. We have more time here tomorrow before our flight leaves so you can expect one more Shetland post coming very soon.
Leaving Eshaness also meant that it was time to say goodbye to Brian who had proven to be the most valuable of lighthouse tour guides there could possibly be. His experience and knowledge combined took his “tour” far beyond your average look around a place. He knows these lighthouses inside out and clearly has a real enjoyment of and enthusiasm for them. He’s also incredibly modest: I told him earlier that he was so helpful and great company too and his response was “I’m just me”. I will definitely be maintaining regular contact with Brian in the future. We’ve got a good new friend there! 🙂
2 thoughts on “The mad plan: Shetland – part two”
Hi Sarah, Thanks for your blogs from Shetland. What an amazing journey you are having. From one end of Britain to the other. We visited Shetland two years ago around the summer solstice (locally the Simmer Dim) and stayed in Eshaness lighthouse for two weeks. It was amazing. We were blessed with very largely good weather, though for the first week I don’t think the wind dropped less than about 40 to 50mph. Visibility was excellent though. Some nights as well as lots of lights, we could see the oil/gas platforms way out to the west. We bagged quite a few lighthouses, including getting attacked by Skuas when walking to Muckle Roe, and hope to return to Shetland in a couple of years to bag others.
One thing I would say is Eshaness would be a nightmare if you have young children. The perimeter fence would not keep them in and on the seaward side, just beyond the boundary there is an unfenced hole in the cliff top, it looked to me like a drainage channel ran in to it. Maybe Brian can confirm. Anyway, the hole is big enough to easily fit a child through, and they would then fall 180’ into the sea, and most likely certain drowning. Beware.
Apart, from letting you know we love your Blogs, we are dropping you an email to say that due to one of your recent posts, we have booked into the West Usk B&B for one night in mid November. Without your blog, we wouldn’t have known it was there (oh, don’t worry we won’t hold you responsible if we don’t like it) but having stayed in many B&Bs it looks superb. We will let you know how we get on there. We are also going bagging on the way there, then immediately afterwards we have a week in Pembrokeshire. Sadly the Caldy boat won’t be running, but from very near our accommodation you can see Caldy.
Hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in Shetland.
Best wishes. Ian and Pauline ALK Members
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Thank you so much for your kind message Ian and Pauline. I have sent you an email in response.