Shetland: mission complete (for now)

Today was my last day of my boat trips in Shetland and it marked one final success, achieving everything I had intended to during this trip. In fact, today was a success with an extra bonus too.

On the way back to Lerwick yesterday evening we took a quick look at the Loofa Baa light. Bob and I had seen it on a previous trip two years ago, but not so close and we had always wondered whether or not it met my criteria for a lighthouse. At the time of my last distant look at it I was right at the final proof of my book and so it was excluded based on the likelihood of it having only external access. We agreed we would go out first thing today in the tender to have a closer look.

Approaching Loofa Baa on the tender

Loofa Baa is used by larger vessels entering and leaving Lerwick harbour. It’s fairly understated in appearance, although it does feature that appealing combination of yellow and black paint. We sailed around the light and discovered that, although access to the light on top was entirely by external ladder, the top section did actually feature a door and therefore internal access. I always knew when having my book published that there may well be structures missed, but this is the first I’ve found over the past two years which isn’t too bad going.

Loofa Baa with its door

It looks like access to the ladder on Loofa Baa is only possible at higher tides. We were there at low tide which meant there was no landing today, but both John and I managed to reach out of the tender and touch the tower with help from Mervyn and Alan, and that is a good enough bag for me given the circumstances.

With the southbound journey today we passed close by both Bressay and Twageo Point lighthouses on the way to our next lighthouse stop. It’s always good to see these structures from the angle from which they were intended to be used.

Twageos Point Lighthouse

Peerie Bard off the east coast of Mousa island is a tricky little one to get to. With daily boats trips to Mousa itself when conditions allow during the summer, the RSPB insist that no one attempts to walk to Peerie Bard at low tide from the main island due to breeding birds or seals on the islands. We found a boatman willing to take us there and land so we went for it.

Peerie Bard

On the map it looked like there was a path marked across Peerie Bard going from a low lying section of the island. Four of us hopped into the tender and set off. As we neared the point at which it looked like the path started on the island, we spotted some landing-related ironmongery and a sloped rock leading up to them.

The slope was a little green and slimy so we needed to go carefully and then at the top there was a concrete path for a little way leading in the direction of the lighthouse. After the path it was just thick grass which was easy enough to walk on and just a few minutes later the top of the lighthouse came into sight.

Mousa lighthouse on Peerie Bard

We made it to the lighthouse and, rather oddly, my attention was drawn in the opposite direction to the fantastic rocks instead of the lighthouse. There are some overhanging rocks there and jutting rocks just off the coast. With the direction the sea was coming up at the island there were waves breaking on the rocks below.

The rocks off Peerie Bard

Mousa Lighthouse is yet another flat-pack in a superb location. This structure replaced an older tower. The only remains of the old tower now is the foundation stone, which is broken up a bit.

The modern lighthouse with what could have been a former tower on the circle of stones.

Peerie Bard as an island surprised me. I’d imagined it to be very small, but it was much bigger. Having said that, when you see some of Joe the Drone’s aerial views you realise that it is small in comparison to its neighbours, hence the name Peerie Bard compared to nearby Muckle Bard. I quite like that the name includes ‘peerie’ rather than ‘little’ which is used in a lot of other places across Shetland.

Peerie Bard as seen from Joe the Drone
Peerie Bard from a different angle

I’d known that the trip would involve a trip around the coast at Sumburgh Head, but hadn’t expected much beyond seeing the lighthouse high up on a cliff. What I’d completely forgotten about was the old Muckle Roe Lighthouse just down the road from Sumburgh Head. Seeing it up there on the cliff made me more glad than ever that it had been relocated there. I can’t recall any of these old structures still in situ that are located on a cliff. This one would, of course, have been when it was in place on Muckle Roe originally. It was just so great to see it almost looking like it was still doing its job up there.

The old Muckle Roe Lighthouse, now near Sumburgh Head

The route around Sumburgh Head was, as I’d expected, a bit rough with plenty of rocking and rolling, but fortunately I was able to still capture some images as we went. Again I was very pleasantly surprised at how stunning this one is from the sea. The cliffs and natural rock formations there are incredible and topped off with that wonderful tower and the old foghorn too… well, it was quite a special experience.

Sumburgh Head from the sea

There were a few islands to do for a couple of the others round on the west side before we returned to the east. One of the reasons for taking the kids along today was so they could visit the broch on Mousa. In the interests of efficiency we were dropped off at an old pier next to the broch and the kids got to experience going on the tender. The big one was a little wary and the little one giggled all the way and said she loved the little boat. The broch was fascinating to see and we also took a closer look at a couple of the old buildings around. There wasn’t really time to explore properly or take it all in with the kids about, but it was still a great island to go to by a non-traditional method.

Mousa

The rest of the journey back to Lerwick went very smoothly. We sailed fairly close to Bressay, which was good. It’s a beautiful lighthouse and superbly located too.

Bressay Lighthouse

I’ve had some fantastic days out on the boats in Shetland over the past 10 days. It was above and beyond what I expected and I will leave Shetland after this visit with only 3 Shetland lighthouses left to do – Foula and the two on Fair Isle. This trip has far surpassed my expectations and I am hugely grateful to Mervyn for organising it all. Also to Bob for leaping onto these islands and helping us all to achieve what we want to do. The boatmen – Kevin, Alan and Michael – have been so brilliant. I cannot praise them enough. They are great company and so willing to help us on getting what we need.

A very memorable and massively enjoyable trip, and amazingly we have managed to sail the full length of Shetland (excluding Fair Isle) since we arrived, right from Muckle Flugga on that first day to Sumburgh Head on the last boat day for me today 🙂

Completing the Shetland walks at Vaila Sound

Contrary to what yesterday’s post suggested, today didn’t turn out to be as exciting as I’d mentioned (that’s now planned for tomorrow – fingers crossed). However, it did feature some success: the completion of the ‘walkable from the main islands of Shetland lighthouses’. This doesn’t actually sound like much of an achievement, but given that they aren’t necessarily the easiest or shortest of walks (see the recent Bagi Stack post for the most extreme example) it’s quite a good milestone. This completion took place at ‘the light with many names’, also known as Vaila Sound, Ram’s Head or Whites Ness Lighthouse – whichever takes your fancy. To be a bit more specific, the lighthouse is officially known as Vaila Sound Lighthouse by the Northern Lighthouse Board. It is located on Ram’s Head which is a part of the Whites Ness circular walk. Hence how it ends up with so many names.

Vaila Sound Lighthouse very much reminds me of this wonderful post I saw last year, which includes a beautiful sketch of the lighthouse – not a style that is very often sketched I’m sure! This is one of the Solar Powered Lattice Aluminium Towers and they grow on me more and more every time I see a new one. This is particularly the case when they involve a great and not too challenging walk. A couple I know through the Association of Lighthouse Keepers moved to Shetland last year and they have visited Vaila Sound Lighthouse a couple of times so we enlisted one of them, who I named Tour Guide Andrew, to lead the way.

There’s a great area for parking just up the hill from the start of the walk at Whiteness and then it’s following a farm track signposted ‘Coastal walk’ for the first part. This track felt like luxury after some of the recent walks.

The starting point for the walk

After passing a couple of buildings it’s not long before you get some stunning views of Vaila Sound and the island of Linga.

The first view across Vaila Sound

Beyond the mast the track continues and you begin to get views of the island of Vaila itself, which I have very fond memories of visiting a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful island with a really interesting little garden to explore.

Vaila from across the sound

The track then ends at a farm gate and we walked through the field a short way, ending up closer to the coastline. The views looking back towards Walls from here with the yellow flowers in the foreground were excellent.

The view towards Walls

We then arrived at an area of old ruined houses near the shoreline. One of them didn’t look as old as the rest and I thought ‘what an amazing location to live’, but of course it’s relative remoteness would have its drawbacks.

The more modern-looking property

From here we then took a short walk along the small, pebbly beach and took a look at the little stone jetty beyond it.

The old stone jetty near the ruined houses

From here the terrain gets a bit more undulating and after a stile, there is some uphill followed by downhill, but the uphills are so worth it for the views from the top.

One of the wonderful views from a higher point on the peninsula

A little more up and down later and the lighthouse suddenly comes into sight – and what a sight it is.

Vaila Sound Lighthouse comes into view

Bob set about preparing Joe the Drone while Andrew, John and I made our way towards the lighthouse.

Tour Guide Andrew on the approach to Vaila Sound Lighthouse

Unlike Hillswick and Bagi Stack lighthouses, this one is set fairly low down near the water and so it was possible to stand on the rocks behind it and get a great view of it against the serene waters of the Sound.

Vaila Sound Lighthouse

While we were gazing at the lighthouse a little fishing catamaran sailed past and honked its horn at us. It’s not often you get an opportunity to see a boat moving near one of these little lights so it was a perfect picture opportunity.

The little boat passing the lighthouse

The rocky terrain in front of the lighthouse is lovely and the jagged rocks compared to the calm waters in the area were a striking, but great contrast. I imagine it’s not always so calm!

Vaila Sound Lighthouse from below

It was possible to see the old boat landing area nearby and it looks like a little leap may be required to get from the flat landing area to the surrounding rocks to avoid wet feet!

Looking west across Vaila Sound with the landing platform just visible in the dark brown rocky area

Joe the drone, as ever, got some super scenic shots from above, including this one, which I absolutely love. Little did I realise at that point what was around the corner!

Ram’s Head and the Whites Ness peninsula from above

Sometimes you come across a view that just makes you say ‘wow’ (or in my case ‘wowzers!’) and the fabulous promontory of Green Head was a perfect example of that – and yes, I did indeed say ‘wowzers’ out loud when I first saw it.

Green Head

As you walk further around the coast you see more and more of the promontory and realise it’s actually joined to the Whites Ness peninsula by a narrow section of land.

Green Head from a different angle

From here we headed inland across a slightly boggy section of land before returning to the field we passed through and then onto the track.

A little wet underfoot at this point

This felt like a stroll in the park in comparison to some of the other recent walks to see lights. If there is anyone who happens to be in the Shetland area who isn’t sure about whether or not to visit a flat-pack lighthouse then this one is a great one to start with. It has many of the benefits of a flat-pack lighthouse – with the main one being that it’s in a stunning location – but without the tough walk. Just brilliant, and a really enjoyable way to get those ‘walkable lights’ done.

I should also mention here that I went on a short trip to Sumburgh Head Lighthouse this morning with my kids. They were delighted to see the Light the North Shetland map lighthouse on display here and, of course, had a wonderful time pressing the button in the museum that blasts out a foghorn’s bellow. I’m not sure the museum staff were so delighted!

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse with the Light the North lighthouse

Another great day in Shetland, but what will tomorrow bring…! 🙂