Orkney & Shetland 2019 - Day 22
Hermaness Head and Seeing the Light
After the brilliantly fine day yesterday, we were greeted with low cloud and a grey sky. The forecast was promising so we went to breakfast hopeful that the cloud would lift. Before we had even sat a a table the young Hungarian waiter had bounced up and asked us what we would like cooked for breakfast. No menu or list of options. He continued to amuse everybody (all four of us at breakfast) but he was getting better at his job. We decided to visit some of the local area before tackling the big headland of Hermaness Head, where clear weather was essential. By early afternoon the cloud had lifted so we headed for Hermaness Head.
Viking House and ship at Haroldswick
Driving north from the Baltasound Hotel you pass two local curiosities. The first is Bobby's Bus Shelter, made famous when Bobby (a local child) wrote to the Council asking them not to remove his bus shelter. The locals adopted the shelter and turned it into a welcoming attraction, compelte with chairs, TV and microwave. Further on you reach the Viking Project site with replica long house and Viking ship. The long house was a loal project but the ship, a full size replica of the ship found in a grave at Gokstad, Norway, was the folly of a wealthy American. He had the ship built in Norway with the intention of sailing it to America, but when it reached Unst the crew abandoned it.
The church at Haroldswick
The small Methodist Church at haroldswick is the most northern church in Britain. It lies behind the abandoned Air Force Base of Saxa Vord.
Skaw and the end of the national cycle trail
A narrow winding road climbs the hill north of Haroldswick before descending to Skaw Beach. It is a wild, remote place, noted for being the northern end of the national cycle trail.
Hermaness Head - gannets and puffins
The north-west part of Unst is a high headland - Hermaness Head. It is a bird sanctuary where thousands of seabirds, mostly gannets and puffins nest on the cliffs and other endangered birds nest on the grassy slopes. The return trip takes at least 2 hours. Hermaness Head is considered to be the premier bird viewing location in Britain and like many such locations, getting there is a challenge. Firstly you have to get to the island of Unst and then you face a good walk from the carpark and visitor centre to the cliffs. The visitor centre was closed for 2019 but there were still a lot of cars in the isolated car park. The track starts out with a gentle but steady climb, much of which has been built up on plastic boards. It took about 30 minutes to get to the cliffs then you need to turn north to reach the gannet colony. The second part is not an easy walk. You can see the gannets in the distance, mostly by the prominent white of the cliffs. Once close to the gannets I decided to move off the track closer to the edge to look for puffins. I peered over a ridge and immediately in front of me were dozens of them staring back. But they were less concerned about me than the large skuas (known locally as "Bonxies") circling overhead looking for an easy meal. I watched the puffins for a while then continued north. Shortly the lighthouse came into view - the famous Muckle Flugga light, the most northerly point in Britain. The views on a clear day are magnificent and well worth the effort.
Last updated: 01/07/2019