The Bagi Stack experience

In the effort to visit every lighthouse in Shetland at some point I was going to have to do the walk out to Bagi Stack on the north west point of Yell. There was no boat trip today due to crazy wind and, as a result, far too much swell. Though the wind might make walks in exposed locations a bit less pleasant, my lighthouse pal John and I decided to give it a try today, knowing full well from the very start that it wasn’t going to be easy.

The start point for the walk is at Gloup, beyond Cullivoe. There’s a memorial here to the 58 local fishermen who were lost just off the coast in July 1881. The loss had a massive impact on the community with so many women and children left behind and cleared from the area after the disaster.

The Gloup Disaster Memorial

From here we set off to the south, passing some ruined buildings, and then continuing straight on we went through a small gate. The reason for heading south was that you need to get around Gloup Voe and Mare’s Pool before you can begin heading towards the lighthouse. After the gate the path got very narrow and was barely more than a sheep track, which wasn’t too bad to begin with, but it quickly became a bit more worrying as the land was steep and if you were to lose your footing it was highly likely you’d end up sliding down the slope and into the water below. Concentration was key at this point and enjoying the views fully involved stopping to look around every now and then, which was well worth doing.

The view down Gloup Voe and Mare’s Pool
Looking across Gloup Voe
The path on the Easter Lee of Gloup

Reaching the end of the Easter Lee of Gloup it was time to turn the corner and work out which route we wanted to take from there. The Ordnance Survey map shows a small path running up the Wester Lee of Gloup and ending slightly inland near some old houses. I must admit I was tempted to head straight uphill from there, but we decided to follow what looked like a sheep track along the west side of Mare’s Pool. There was no doubt from quite early on that the west side was steeper and I was increasingly uncomfortable walking on such a tiny sheep track along it. The track, in places, was hard to follow too. After a while we established that the path marked on the map was actually further up than where we were. At this point we found a little ledge, had a sit down and chat, and agreed to begin heading up the slope towards the ridge line and then assess from there. Thank goodness for the heather as the grip it offers certainly helped to get to the top. To say I was relieved to get off that slope would be a bit of an understatement, but I also knew that there was some distance to go to get to the lighthouse.

The steep side – Wester Lee of Gloup

Trudging over the grass and heather wasn’t too bad, but there was plenty of spongey-looking ground and bog cotton about. Fortunately there has been a spell of dry weather in the area of late and so many of the little burns and pools were completely dry as were the extra boggy bits of terrain (which was nearly everywhere really). Having been there now it is not a walk I would even consider doing when the ground is wet. The walk was really just up and down, skirting around or going straight through dry bogs and was a fair amount of effort, but we had the wind blowing at 40mph behind us which probably helped.

Water was so rare here today that I had to photograph it
So much bog cotton around
A rare water-filled burn

At one point we began to spot some skuas flying about. I’ve seen quite a few already on this trip and thankfully, although they fly about when you go near them, they seem to have decided now their young have grown that they don’t need to attack people anymore. It’s still quite unnerving though.

Making it to the coast

After an age (or almost 5 miles) we finally spotted Bagi Stack Lighthouse ahead of us. It looked tiny in comparison to the vast surroundings and the beautifully dramatic coastline around it. There are stacks aplenty in the area and also views over to Point of Fethaland and Gruney (oh, we also spotted Muckle Flugga from a distance on the walk too). The lighthouse, unsurprisingly given its location, is looking a little weather beaten. Two sides of the white cladding on the tower have begun to turn yellow – and while I love yellow I recognise it’s not the best colour for a lighthouse with daymark requirements. The plaque on the door also looks like it’s seen some weather. Thankfully, although they have gaps between the white panels, these lighthouses offer a surprising amount of shelter from the wind. It was a great place to eat lunch and I also managed to make a phone call to Sumburgh Head Lighthouse while here too!

Finally catching sight of Bagi Stack Lighthouse
The lighthouse looks tiny next to the nearby coastline.
Bagi Stack Lighthouse
A picture showing the yellowing of some of the white panels

The return walk was never going to be easy, but given our experience of the landscape so far I felt comfortable suggesting we set the GPS device for the bottom end of Mare’s Pool and follow the direct route as much as we could. This seemed sensible based on the fact that it was so dry underfoot and so we wouldn’t need to worry so much about avoiding boggy areas. This was all prepared and off we set with the wind full in our faces, which I actually found rather refreshing if a bit much at times.

Evidence of former habitation in this remote spot
Looking back the way we’d been

It was mainly a slog to get back, but towards the end we spotted a lovely-looking glen that weaved left and right a bit before coming out at the bottom of Mare’s Pool. The burn that ran down the glen did have water in it, but thankfully wasn’t a raging torrent and was narrow enough to step over most of the time to avoid any narrow or difficult terrain. At one point we needed to cross at the top of a tiny waterfall, but this was straightforward enough and it didn’t feel like long at all until we could see some familiar ground at the bottom.

Approaching the glen
A little water in the burn, but evidence that much more flows at times

After a brief stop we just had the final section to go along the Easter Lee of Gloup. After the experience on the west side this felt so much easier a second time and I really rather enjoyed it. I still had to stop to take any pictures and look around, of course, but it was just as beautiful as it had been on the outward journey, but with the tide much lower so it all looked a little different.

A lower tide in Gloup Voe

Arriving back at John’s van was great and we had already begun to feel the need to celebrate successfully getting to and from the lighthouse without any major mishaps. A cup of tea seemed like a sensible celebratory drink at the time.

It was quite a walk – over 8 miles in total – and a good test of navigation skills, including making decisions about which route to take and realising that sometimes taking the high route gives you better perspective even if it does involve more effort to get up there, but also enjoying some of the lower routes where possible too. Maps can tell you a lot, but there’s nothing like being there and seeing the lie of the land for yourself at the time.

My advice for anyone looking to walk to Bagi Stack Lighthouse would be simply take whatever route you feel most comfortable with, but make sure you have a map and compass (that you know how to work with) or a GPS device – don’t rely on your mobile phone as signal is patchy once you are away from Gloup. It is best done after a period of dry weather as bog trotting is never fun if you can avoid it. Other than that I can’t offer much else in the way of directions. Oh, and it’s probably best avoided during skua attacking season! 🙂

A Shetland Adventure – part 6

I’m clearly on a roll here in Shetland. Today has involved visits to three more of the smaller lights on Mainland and Yell.

On Monday’s boat trip we could see the lighthouse at Whitehill, near Vatsetter, on Yell from a distance. Today was the day that we were going to attempt to get even closer. It was an overcast morning with a bit of rain in the air, but you can never let that stop you. After all of yesterday’s rain I thought it might have topped up the bogs a bit just to make them a bit more hazardous.

We parked up at Vatsetter towards the end of the public road and set off across the field. Although we could see the lighthouse at the start of the walk I knew that it was further than it looked. The ground was boggy in places, but not too bad as long as you looked where you were walking. There were a few leaps across damp channels, but that was it really. We headed down towards the beach and decided to follow the coastal route, which clearly caused a little distress to the nearby arctic terns and oystercatchers, but I told them ‘we come in peace’ in the hope that it would make a difference – it didn’t. There were a couple of old ruins by the shore and the remains of an old wrecked boat lay on the stones nearby. The walk was interesting enough that it didn’t seem like long until we arrived at the lighthouse.

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The shoreline and wrecked boat near Vatsetter

Whitehills lighthouse is a flat-pack affair and it has the usual solar panels that accompany this kind of structure. One thing we noticed about the solar panels was that they had a thick sheet of perspex over them, which may be an indication of how wild it can get there. It was certainly rougher around the coast there today than it has been in recent days with the wind having moved around to the south east. It was nice to see the location of the old Whitehill tower, which can now be found (painted red) at the side of the road on the approach to Arbroath.

Whitehill lighthouse

On our way back to the car we went cross country a bit more until we spotted some bonxies, which are fast becoming the bane of my Shetland lighthouse bagging days. They didn’t appear to be too aggressive, but we made our way back towards the coast just to steer well clear of them. Once again the terns and oystercatchers “welcomed” us on the way back and only a little while later we were back at the car. I remember looking at the OS maps and the locations of some of the lighthouses in Shetland last year and thinking ‘how on Earth am I going to manage to get to all of them with the distances and terrain’, but over the last few days I’ve realised that not all of them are so inaccessible. I’m not going to lie, there are a few that instil a sense of dread in me at the thought of it, but not so many as there were last year.

After stopping for lunch in Mid Yell, we moved on to our next endeavour, reaching the Ness of Sound lighthouse. I’d seen this one a number of times as it is visible from the main road in Yell as you travel north. It sits on a ‘tied island’, also known as a tombolo, in Yell Sound. Fortunately the sun had come out during lunch time so we were greeted with a beautiful view after we parked up in a lay-by on the main road to the north of Ulsta. It was fairly steep walking down the track which passes alongside a house. It’s always a little unnerving walking so close to someone’s house, but it appeared to be deserted. A great location for a house, just a stone’s throw from the two strips of land that lead you over the the Ness of Sound. It is, in fact, a double tombolo because it has these two strips rather than just one. We opted for the stoney stretch to cross over to the island that’s not really an island. It was fairly steep walking up the grassy, bogginess on the other side, but fortunately not too far before Yell Sound opened up in front of us.

Ness of Sound
Ness of Sound

The lighthouse beckoned, as they so often do, so we wandered down to it. Again it was a flat-pack and most definitely one with stunning views. As we walked down a lone bonxie lingered around a short distance away, but he/she flew off before we reached the lighthouse. There were wonderful views from every side of this one and after a while I sat down with my dad on the rocks in front of the tower taking in the view, while Bob looked into the intriguing concrete “lava spill” (as we called it) on the rocks, which also contained some old rope leading down to the sea from the lighthouse. We could see all the way up to the Point of Fethaland today and I imagined it would have been a wonderful day to have been up there, but Ness of Sound was certainly not a bad alternative. We eventually dragged ourselves away and headed back.

Ness of Sound lighthouse
Ness of Sound lighthouse

Our final stop of the day with Firths Voe. We’d seen it from a distance on our last visit in November, but obviously wanted a closer view. We parked up at the side of the road and wandered down into a farmyard before passing through a couple of gates and then crossing a field down to the lighthouse. To me this is a very recognisable lighthouse. I think it is partly because the ruins of an old building sit behind it and that makes up part of its profile.

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Firths Voe lighthouse

We upset a few gulls and terns here and my dad was quick to point out that one of my “favourite” birds was flying over. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to bonxies, I don’t think you can really. I’d had enough of the “bonxie fear” today so it was lucky that there was only one and it flew off as quickly as it had arrived. What I like most about Firths Voe lighthouse is that it is still going strong when so many others of its kind have been replaced by flat-packs (not that I have anything against a flat-pack, of course). From memory, the last few of this kind that I had seen were the old Muckle Roe tower near Sumburgh Head and the former Sandaig Islands tower which is now in Glenelg. The latter two are no longer operational so it is fairly rare to see one of these still doing what it does best.

Firths Voe2
Firths Voe

The tide was out while we were there so we could walk around on the rocks and get views from the full 360 degrees. It looks wonderful from every angle. I was a little disturbed to see that the land and rocks on which the concrete base of the tower sits appears to be wearing away underneath and I hope this won’t continue or have any impact on the lighthouse. We also spotted a little pier nearby, which was presumably set up to serve the lighthouse from. It’s a beautiful place and although the tower is relatively new in terms of lighthouses, it is great to see that the last generation of Stevensons were successful at building long-lasting towers just as their ancestors had been. Once hundred and ten years down the line it’s standing proud, just as it should be.

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Firths Voe from the seaward side

A great bagging day and definitely a few lighthouses to remember. 🙂