Things gradually calmed down overnight after our exciting trip to St Kilda, as we chugged steadily north-westwards for our first ever visit to the Shetland islands. The heavy swell still had the last word, though, as we were three hours late getting to our destination: the small, northern Shetland island of Fetlar.
This was a real shame as we’d been looking forward to exploring the place, which is known for wildlife and beautiful scenery. What should have been a pleasant afternoon tramping around the coast turned into a two-hour zoom with a good deal of clock-watching to make sure we got back to the ship in time for dinner.
Even so, we managed a walk along the Urie coastal path: three miles of fields, stiles, beach, and bog with amazing views, ancient stone burial sites, and a whole ruined village thrown in for good measure. It was lovely just marching along in such an unspoilt place, watching for signs of otters and seals (several of the latter lazing around on a small islet just off Urie loch; no sign of the former apart from lots of dismembered shellfish littering the shore) and listening to a host of unfamiliar bird calls. One of these, a low hooting cry that seemed to spring up out of the ground itself, turned out to be a short-eared owl – something I’d never come across before.
The footpath was described in local leaflets as ‘challenging’, but was actually quite a gentle affair with a few complicated stiles and one brief, stiff climb that brought us out at the top of a small hill next to a heap of dead sheep. Moving swiftly on, we found our way back to the harbour road all too soon, with a feeling that we’d barely scratched the surface of this very special place.
The seals were too far out to get good photos but here’s a taster of the landscape, and evidence of some surprisingly artistic otters: