Thursday, 24 June 2010

A Postcard from Orkney and Shetland. Part Five, the end.

Great Skuas at Hemaness.
Frog Orchid Dactylorhiza viridis

Cliffs at Hermaness. Twas a long way down!

Gannets off Hermaness

Muckle Flugga Lighthouse from Hermaness

Gannets off Hermaness

Edmondston's Chickweed Ceratium nigrescens

Moss Campion Silene acaulis

Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula

18th June. Not far from the Busta Hotel is the most northerly fish and chip shop in Britain. I assume the Indian Takeaway near by is the most northerly too. Because of the content of the meals at Busta I didn’t feel the need to visit either! Today we were also to see the most northerly lighthouse, post office and bus stop, that is if we were not blown away in the high winds! I better also give a mention to the many Shetland Ponies seen during the week. We were soon on the ferries to Unst. I had heard the wind during the night and wondered what the day would bring. It brought a wonderfully exhilarating walk at Hermaness National Nature Reserve and along the vertigoes cliff top where from you can see the lighthouse at Muckle Flugga, the top of the British Isles. Not to mention many thousands of birds. The Gannets were once again the stars of the show, especially when taking off en-masse from the cliff side below us and floating past us like a snow storm. This is a sight that will remain with me for a very long time. I seem to remember Phil mentioning that I was a bit close to the edge of the cliffs, especially in the strong winds. Not having a head for heights I must have been feeling brave and in awe of the birds and view.

As we walked to and from the cliff edge, not an easy walk in the wind even with the specially lain pathway, we passed many Great Skuas, the odd Artic Skua, Dunlin, and Golden Plover. The Great Skuas were special, and at one point, at least fifty/sixty lifted up into the air above us. Other birds seen had included Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Kittiwakes, Shags and gulls. This had been another unforgettable experience.

Later in the day Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew were all seen in some number, many with chicks. Also seen were the daily Ravens, Wheatears, Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits.

We also visited the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve to look at the rare flowers. This is a bit of a moonscape area. It did bring some wonderful results however. Flowers found included Moss Campion, Early Purple Orchid, Frog Orchid, Norwegian Sandwort, Kidney Vetch and Sea Plantain. The star prize went to the Edmondston’s Chickweed however, which is endemic to only the island of Unst. Edmondston became a professor early in life, but sadly died in his early twenties.

We did find a rare breeding Whooper Swan today, but not the hoped for Red-necked Phalarope. Not even the warden on the island had seen anything of this species recently. On return we spent a little time on the island of Yell hoping for Otter sightings, but had no luck with that.

We were soon back at the hotel for our final large dinner and some packing, after an action filled and exciting day. I decided that my boots that have served me so well over many years had reached the end of their days, so they remain on Shetland.

19th June. It was time to say goodbye to the group and to Shetland today, but not before I had spent a windy and cold day in Lerwick waiting for the overnight ferry to Aberdeen. It did give me the chance to take a good very long look at another good museum and God forbid, do some shopping! There was also a bit of entertainment from some Vikings and a band during what was a festival. I was on the ferry shortly after 5.00pm and on the moves at 6,45pm. I had a meal, a pint of lager and watched as we passed Sumburgh Head where we had spent such a pleasant few hours earlier in the week. Then it was an early night, me by this point, being cream crackered.

Whilst on Orkney someone asked me if I would go back. I said probably not as there are so many other places to see. I’ve changed my mind on that one. I’d love to return, especially to Shetland. So many highlights its really impossible to choose one above others, but the real rewards were being in the wild areas and on the sea with such magnificent cliff scenery and thousand upon thousand of birds. I’ve come home with the intention of learning much more about the history and natural history of these areas. This isn’t some after holiday whim, as I’m determined to do so. The determination comes from my experience and the inspiration given me by the leaders Robin, Elspeth and Phil. They have my sincere thanks. I learnt a lot over the two weeks.
I’m home now so no more postcards, at least for a time.


  1. Very much enjoyed the Orkney and Shetland trip Brian. Excellent images and words. Most enjoyable.

  2. Thanks for the comment John and I'm pleased that you enjoyed the report and didn't tire before the end. :-) I'm beginingg to get used to not finding Skuas above my head! Cheers. Brian.