A day with Shetland’s land-based lights

The wind picked up during the day yesterday and overnight meaning there were no boat trips today. It seemed a perfect time to reach some of those lighthouses that involved a walk on Shetland Mainland.

Being based in Lerwick, with three particular lighthouses in mind, my lighthouse pal John and I decided to begin with those furthest from the accommodation and the longest walk, which took us to Hillswick on the west coast. Finding a place to park here wasn’t a problem with a nice little area close to the farm gate which marks the start of the walk, and what a walk it was.

Initially following a farm track, which though not the most direct route avoided going through fields and some pretty overgrown terrain.

The track made the first section of the walk very easy

After leaving the wide track there was a section with no clear route, but once down by the coast we found the route. This is clearly a popular walk and very understandably. The coastline around here is absolutely stunning. There are some fairly steep sections, but the effort is quickly rewarded by the views. I can’t do them justice by just describing them so will just add some pictures here instead.

It was a long time before we saw the flat-pack Hillswick Lighthouse. In fact we were relatively close to it before it appeared. As we arrived at the lighthouse a couple were just leaving and the man informed us that he had been involved in the building of the lighthouse when it was solarised.

The lighthouse comes into view

The lighthouse is in an incredible position with views of St Magnus Bay to the south, and some very dramatic coastal scenery to the west with views towards Esha Ness and its couple of islands. We even managed to spot part of The Drongs, that glorious collection of sea stacks, at one point during the walk.

Hillswick Lighthouse looking excellent
Saying goodbye to the lighthouse

I think we probably could have done the walk a bit faster if I hadn’t been quite so in awe of the views, stopping frequently to get pictures of the views. Typically we made it back slightly faster as I’d taken most of my pictures by that point.

One of the views on the return from Hillswick Lighthouse

The next stop saw us off to the east coast to walk to Ness of Queyfirth Lighthouse. After a bit of debating over where we should park we eventually stopped on a verge at the end of the public road. Fortunately a local man drove past and John spoke to him about walking over to the lighthouse. Apparently he was surprised we wanted to walk, but he said it would be fine to follow the fence around the outside of a field a cows, which looked to me like it avoided entering any fields.

The cows near the starting point for Ness of Queyfirth

Early on in the walk we spotted what looked like a quad track (one of the benefits of walking on farm land) so we followed this until it petered out. It was a bit of a slog up the hill, made harder by the terrain being very overgrown, but thankfully it was mainly grass and dry bog. I can imagine it would be a much less enjoyable walk after a prolonged period of rain, but the ground seems very dry at the moment.

The route towards Ness of Queyfirth lighthouse

This was another one that seemed to take a long time to catch sight of the lighthouse and we were almost upon it when we finally spotted the top of it emerging as the land went downhill. It is fairly steep in places on that peninsula and on the way out we were getting slightly sore ankles from walking on sloped ground. We found a power line which we thought would lead us to the lighthouse, and thankfully it did. In the meantime though we had some wonderful panoramic views, including Quey Firth itself, the hills to the west and out to Lamba and other islands in Yell Sound.

The view of Yell Sound from the walk to Queyfirth Lighthouse

The lighthouse is the same type as Gruney, or like Little Roe and Skaw Taing Front, which we saw yesterday, but without the orange section. They really are quite funny structures, but once you’ve seen a couple they really grow on you, as is the case with most of the smaller lighthouses – or it certainly is for me anyway. It was nice to have a sit down at the lighthouse and enjoy the views for a bit.

Ness of Queyfirth Lighthouse

The journey back was tough going but we made it and were very glad to meet the original track and see John’s van not too far away. The sky had cleared a bit which made for much brighter conditions.

The view to the west on our way back from Ness of Queyfirth

The timing was perfect here as it began to rain just after we go into the van. Fortunately it had stopped before we reached our final stop of the day, Eswick.

We weren’t sure if we would fit a walk to Moul of Eswick in today, but there was still enough time to give it a go. This was the shortest walk of the day, but parking was a bit of a problem as the only place at the end of the road we could have parked was already taken so we had to drive back along the road almost half a mile and set off from there. As with the other two, this one involved a walk over farmland initially and was actually quite straightforward. Passing through one field, we continued to follow the track which brought us out by the side of Muckle Loch, which is beautiful.

Muckle Loch at Eswick

I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to cross a burn that was showing on the map, but it was completely dry so we continued on our way. We then went over another gate only realising as we headed in the direction of the lighthouse that we were then on the wrong side of the fence. This was quickly rectified and with the lighthouse in sight we headed straight for it.

Approaching Moul of Eswick Lighthouse

The lighthouse is a flat-pack which I always think are nice to see, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of this visit were the views.

Moul of Eswick Lighthouse

With the wind really picking up there was plenty of swell around the islands to the east, one of which was Hoo Stack, which I very much enjoyed visiting back in 2019. Not only that, but there was the amazing 17 metre high Fru Stack just off the cliffs here, which was brilliant to watch with the waves breaking against it. A gorgeously dramatic scene.

Fru Stac just off the coast of Moul of Eswick
Hoo Stack, as seen from Ness of Queyfirth

The return journey, during which John did his celebratory dance at having achieved three new lighthouses today, was straightforward if a little slow after a long day. It was a great day though and really good to get to these ones which were always due to be on my back-up plan list should there be days without boat trips. One more tomorrow – hopefully! 🙂

A Shetland Adventure – part 10

This post is somewhat delayed due to other tasks taking priority (namely, the book and a presentation related to it – more on that soon!), but it marks the final of my Shetland Adventure series. Reaching double figures is fairly impressive and what a fantastic two weeks it was. The final bagging day was certainly a good end to a thoroughly enjoyable holiday. So, here is what occurred on the final Shetland boat trip…

Aside from the two lighthouses on Fair Isle, I only had one more of the big lighthouses left in Shetland to visit, and that was Out Skerries. I’d been informed by my good friend Brian that landing on Bound Skerry, the lighthouse island within the Out Skerries group, was straightforward and was only difficult on a few days each year. So I was fairly confident about it.

We went out with Seabirds and Seals from Lerwick and I think everyone was a little worried initially about how we might combine. They, of course, are far more used to taking the average tourists about on their lovely, comfy boat to see seabirds and seals, as their name suggests. We, on the other hand, are much more focussed on getting off of the boat and onto islands numerous times a day. It took us a little while to get used to each other, but it turned into a fairly efficient process once we were all settled in. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the number of cups of tea and biscuits we were offered on the boat. It’s a great little set-up they have – and clearly one of the benefits you get from going with a tourist-orientated crew. Earlier in the week I did manage to wangle a flask of tea from Kevin from Compass Rose Charters, the operator who landed us on Muckle Flugga, though while the others were busy doing their island bagging business.

So, back to Out Skerries. The journey out there was easy enough. I’m not used to being on catamarans, clearly, as it felt different. Not so bumpy, a bit more rocky, but it was fine. Unfortunately it was a bit of an overcast day with plenty of rain, but we were informed that it should clear up by the afternoon.

Out Skerries distance
Out Skerries lighthouse awaits

After dropping a few of the group on one of the two main islands, we headed around to Bound Skerry. We’d seen the lighthouse for some time before we arrived there and it was nice to finally be approaching the island. There were only 5 of us going onto the island so we did two runs across in the tender, landing onto slippery platforms and then walking up slippery paths to get to the lighthouse. That’s the problem with rain it automatically makes rock more difficult to walk on, but we arrived at the lighthouse without incident.

Out Skerries path
Looking up the path from the landing area

It felt different there than I thought it would. For some reason I expected there to be more life about in the Out Skerries in general, of course not on the lighthouse island, but there appeared to be no one about – although I must admit that I didn’t land on the main island of Bruray. It all felt a little deserted, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think some of the most fantastic places I have been to are those where people once lived, but no longer do. It is certainly the case with a number of lighthouse islands, but there are others too.

Out Skerries and shore station
The lighthouse with the shore station in the background

The lighthouse is beautiful, and perhaps more so from a distance. It is wonderful to see it close up of course, but when you see it from further away (particularly from the neighbouring island of Grunay) it looks like it is nestled so nicely on the island, almost like it has always been there, as nature intended it to be. There is very little space on the island once you look beyond the lighthouse and helipad. You can see why they built the shore station for the keepers’ families on Grunay instead, although I have just discovered that Grunay was the location of the temporary lighthouse built in 1854 before the current tower was built on Bound Skerry in 1858. You feel very abandoned there, or maybe that was just because our boat went off to drop someone on Bruray and took longer to get back than we had thought! It was a great experience being there though and it’s definitely one of those inspiring places that, if I had the time, I might write some sort of story about. A very interesting visit.

I appeared to be the only one present to have known that Grunay, the next door neighbour island, was home to a little Shetland Islands Council lighthouse. As we approached it I was looking around towards the landing steps and knew exactly the view I was looking for, but just couldn’t see the lighthouse. It turns out that Grunay has a “dog leg” (I’m not sure that’s the right term, but I’m sticking with it). The small islet at the end of this dog leg is what I was looking for. It is separated from the main island by large boulders, which are tricky to navigate your way across – or at least that’s what I found. Whether or not the islet is tidal I’m not sure. I imagine that if it isn’t then in stormy weather the waves would crash over the boulders. Thankfully that day the sea was nice and calm.

The lighthouse on Grunay

The little lighthouse on Grunay is similar to those at West Burrafirth, only it is round rather than square. It does have a Council look about it and it’s just tall enough to feature a door. We wandered around it in the long grass for a while before crossing back through boulder city. We knew we didn’t have a lot of time, but wanted to get to the old Out Skerries shore station. By this point I was pretty hot and I’d not had any lunch, so I wasn’t at my best, but as soon as I spotted the lighthouse peering up over the island I felt a bit better.

Out Skerries shore station
Out Skerries shore station (you can just spot the top of lighthouse above the roof)

The shore station, while still standing, has seen far better days. The windows and doors are all gone and nature has been left to do what it will to the buildings. I didn’t want to go far into the building as you never know what condition they might be in structurally, but I saw enough to feel a little sad about it. When you are seeing furniture in rooms where people once lived looking in such a bad way it does make you think. Ailsa Craig was the first one I saw,  but at least that one was being used (or should I say abused) occasionally by bird watchers. Here there has been no one since the keepers left the tower in 1972, when it became one of those in the first round of lights to be automated. Forty seven years without maintenance certainly takes its toll.

Out Skerries shore station internal
Inside one of the rooms at the Out Skerries shore station

The rain arrived just as we were walking back to the boat. Once we were back on board and attempting to dry out we went to collect the others who had been sheltering in the public toilets. Due to there still being a number of islands left to pick off on the way back to Lerwick, we only sailed past Muckle Skerry with no attempt to land. Muckle Skerry lighthouse is a flat-pack, and from the distance we saw it at and the conditions at the time it was considerably less inspiring than Out Skerries had been, but still a nice one to see.

Muckle Skerry
Our distant view of Muckle Skerry lighthouse

Our final lighthouse stop of the day was Hoo Stack. I had been informed the night before that: “Hoo Stack is called a stack, but it is anything but”, which I was pleased to hear. Landing on the island was fine, but it was then a bit of a clamber up among rocks and I was very kindly led by Alan while Bob helped with the landings. Alan had also led me up Gruney a couple of days before, so I am grateful to him (not that he will see this as he is a self-confessed techno-phobe). Once we were off of the rocks it was just a short walk up to the lighthouse.

Hoo Stack distance.jpg
Hoo Stack (or is it an island?!)

The lighthouse on Hoo Stack is another flat-pack, but quite an interesting one as it has three levels to it and the bottom level is missing the white cladding, which was very exciting as it meant I could physically get inside it. I’d been wanting to experience that for some time and managing it on the final one of my lighthouse islands of the trip was great. The sun had come out by this point too, which also increases your enjoyment of a place. Of course the others joined me inside the lighthouse too. I think they are really getting into this lighthouse bagging malarkey.

Hoo Stack
Hoo Stack lighthouse in the sunshine

A truly brilliant way to end the two weeks in Shetland. Reflecting back on it now, it seems almost like a dream, as if it never really happened, but it certainly did. The highlight though had to be Muckle Flugga, of course. After that I can’t even begin to pick out the best bits – there were far too many of them. 🙂