Shetland Mainland - part 7: The last leg

Pulling on damp neoprene seemed an all too familiar feeling that morning. As always, it was the task left until last, followed by a few moments of flapping to keep warm before launching.
Leaving Lady's Holm shortly after 7am, the east going stream was already running. Again, we had planned on using the last of the west going stream, and again the tide had turned significantly earlier than the our source suggested (East going stream -0400 HW Lerwick).
But the wind was light and visibility far better than the previous day and we headed north-west, on a direct route for Broad Stack at the southern end of Fitful Head.
This is quite simply one of those places that any picture or words of mine will fail almost entirely to capture.
Massive cliffs, rolling seas, jagged ridges cutting high into the mist, tortured pinnacles tottering above giant boulders, fresh scars of recent rockfall..., remote and utterly wild.
It made Sumburgh Head look tame and I think we were all thankful for the shelter from the south-easterly swell - certainly I would think long and hard about attempting to round Fitful Head in a westerly swell of any size.
Passing Siggar Ness to reach the calm of Whales Wick. From here we tucked in close, eddy hopping as the south-east going stream rushed by off shore. Some distance away a fishing boat plunged through the race, disappearing completely before the bow rose suddenly once more only to plunge down again and again - I watched in appreciation of the skipper, thinking of the sights he would have seen, working a coastline such as this. Coming close in to pull his pots, he waved in a friendly fashion as the hull rolled broadside to the gentle swell close in. For three kilometres we hugged the base of these most dramatic cliffs, surfing against the flow through a final gap to round The Nev.
Beyond, not a breath of wind stirred the bay - impending cliffs loomed above while the deep water turned green beneath our hulls cutting a silent wake as I leaned back and relaxed - Fitful Head. That was it - perhaps the most awe inspiring headland I have paddled beneath.
There remained another 24km to cover, and all day to do so.
Passing the last of the great cliffs and stacks and the delightful St Ninian's Isle...
...we paused awhile in the caves of Little Havra...
...before the sun broke through the thinning mist and temperatures soared. Stripping off salt caked cags, we paddled the last miles on glassy seas... land, 10 days after leaving, on the shingle beneath the pier of Hamna Voe.
It is hard to say concisely what the completion of our trip around Shetland Mainland meant and indeed I think it meant different things to each of us, yet one of the abiding memories I will take from our time on Shetland is the concern of a local lady that afternoon at Hamna Voe, who watched as we systematically took over the parking lot, benches and railings, unloading the boats, hanging wet kit to dry, airing damp sleeping bags stuffed tightly for too many days, food bags, maps, paddles and all the paraphernalia that accompanies such a trip - all drying in the warm afternoon sun. 
Pitching the tents loosely to dry on a steep grassy bank at 45 degrees, behind a garage, it all got a bit too much for her.
Not bothered in the slightest at the sight of all the kit strewn haphazardly to dry, or by the four rather dishevelled looking types now sitting by the stove making a brew in the car park, her concern was directed at the unlikely looking nature of our sleeping arrangements.
"But you can't be comfortable there," she said. "You'll be sliding down the hill for sure."
Moments later she appeared with a plate laden with millionaire's shortbread...


Mark Rainsley said…
I've really enjoyed the account of your trip - very jealous. Thanks for sharing...

Mark R
Will Herman said…
Thank you Mark - I enjoyed the images from your own trip to the Northern Isles not so long ago - you'll just have to go back...
Ian said…
What a trip Will, just stunning.... looks like it had just about everything!