Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ever So Slowly Northward


Orkney and Shetland Islands

After departing the island of St. Kilda, our ship traveled clockwise in a Northeastward circle to the northern most islands of the United Kingdom, the Orkney Islands followed by the Shetland Islands.

Our ship docked around noon at the city of Stromness in the Orkneys. The ship offered a wonderful 3.5 hour tour to visit the famous Ring of Brodgar, a ceremonial stone ring dating from 2700 BC, followed by a visit to Skara Brae, an excavated village dating back 5,000 years. Lisa and I had seen both sites on a previous trip to Stromness, and so we decided to spend some time exploring the little town.Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland I might also mention that Lisa insisted that I had not bought the correct walking shoes for this trip, and that was one of the reasons why I had so much trouble the other day. You will be proud of me; I once again started in telling her that there was no way we were going to find what I needed in a little town of 2,000 people, much less in my size, and then I caught myself. This is the same argument I have used several times before when I needed something, and each and every time I was wrong. So this time I caught myself, and we had a good laugh before setting off to see what we could find. Lisa walks directly across the street to the first little shop selling fishing tackle to see if they can direct us. Out she comes, pointing to the store two doors down. We go into the smallest little shop you can imagine which has almost no space to move. Yes, over in one corner they had a few shoes, but not what I wanted. Not to be deterred Lisa plows in, and the next thing I know, I am sitting in a chair surrounded by seven different types of styles which are exactly what I was looking for, and everyone was my size. I don’t know where they found these in this tiny little ship, but the husband and wife flitted around like little birds reaching up, reaching below, digging behind, and suddenly there I was surrounded by choices. I selected one, and when I went to pay, the price was a little less than I would have expected to pay at home. All I can say is that it was an amazing experience, yet again.

We wandered around the little town getting some great pictures. Stromness, Orkney Islands, ScotlandWhen we left the ship, I was walking around with no jacket under a sunny sky, but as the afternoon wore on, the sky turned dark and threating, the wind had picked up, and it became very, very cold, so we hurried back to the ship.Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland That evening the ship hosted a special dinner in honor of the Queens’s Diamond Jubilee and the Captain led us all in a toast to “God Save The Queen.”

The next morning we approached the southern tip of the Shetland Islands, in particular, we were hoping to make a landing on Fair Isle. Our arrival was to be somewhat of an event for the roughly 70 permanent residents of the island, ending with a tea with the islanders at the community hall. Sadly, the weather conditions were not conducive to our making a safe landing, and we had to sail on by to our next destination, Mousa Island.

In spite of the strong winds, the Captain was able to maneuver the ship into a small cove where we had enough shelter to safely go ashore on our Zodiacs. Mousa, Shetland, ScotlandThe rolling and rocky landscape of Mousa is dominated by the best preserved 2,000 year old Iron Age broch in the world. Mousa, Shetland, ScotlandNow I don’t know about you, but prior to today, I had never even heard of a “broch,” much less seen one. So that we are all on the same page, allow me to explain that a broch is a large circular stone tower built around the beginning of the Christian era. They are found exclusively in the Northern part of Scotland, in the Hebrides and on the Orkney islands. This particular broch on Mousa is so well preserved, that it still retains its interior stone staircase to the top levels, and we were allowed to climb the narrow stairs at our own risk. I did not do so, but many people did. It is important to understand that these structures are constructed solely from native stones which are carefully fitted together such that no mortar or other material is used in the construction. As our trip progressed over the next day, we saw several more examples of a broch, but none even came close to being as impressive as the one on Mousa.

Departing Mousa, we headed to the largest city in the Shetlands, Lerwick, where the ship was set to dock and spend the evening. Having canceled our landing at Fair Isle, we arrived early only to find the dock occupied. Therefore the ship dropped anchor and ran a Zodiac shuttle for anyone wishing to go ashore. Lisa and I would have done so except for the fact that the outside temperature was down to 45 degrees, the sky a dark overcast, and the winds were steady at 20 gusting to 30 mph. So we had a nice afternoon at leisure and time to prepare for the next day’s adventure.

Lerwick, Shetland, ScotlandToday we set out from Lerwick for a four hour tour around the Shetland mainland, and a stop at Jarlshof, an extraordinary archaeological site. Before discussing Jarlshof, let me say that I saw and learned several interesting things about the Shetlands. Originally these islands belonged to Norway, and many of those early influences still exist both in the language and the architecture of the island. In 1460 the Norwegian King ceded the Shetlands to Scotland as part of the dowry for his daughter who was marrying a Scottish Lord. The next thing that is obvious to everyone is that there are no trees or even shrubs on the islands. These plants grew at one time, but early settlers cut them down to use in the building of their homes and for fuel. Because of the frequent Gales that rake the islands with high winds, efforts to reintroduce these plants have proven unsuccessful. I would also note that the Shetlands are the most northern part of the UK, and are relatively close to Norway to the East. On our drive, we saw truly beautiful rolling hills and open fields. It was obvious that economically the Shetlands are doing quite well, and in fact they have only a 1% unemployment rate. We later learned that much of this prosperity can be traced to the discovery of oil in the 1950’s. Income from the oil is placed in a National Trust and is used to provide for roads, community centers, schools, etc. I might also point out that fully one third of the population works for the government!

Jarlshof is an extraordinary archeological site, encompassing within its boundaries the ruins of successive generations dating back over 5,000 years. Lerwick, Shetland, ScotlandThe existence of these ruins was unknown until a violent storm in the winter of 1896/7 left them exposed. The site reveals a remarkable sequence of stone structures – late Neolithic houses, a Bronze-Age village, an Iron-Age broch, several Norse longhouses, a medieval farmstead and a 16th-Century Laird’s house. In spite of the piercing cold wind, we all found the walk around the park to be a fascinating and educational experience.

We then had a brief pause for tea, and then back to the ship for our departure northward. We were scheduled to spend this afternoon doing Zodiac cruises around the Shetland Island of Noss. Noss Island, Shetland, ScotlandSadly the swells and strong winds made that visit impossible, however, just our cruise-by these bird filled rocks was exciting.

So tonight we are headed to the Capital of the Faroe Island, Torshavn. Sea conditions right now are not good, and we are having a somewhat rough ride. The sky is absolutely clear of clouds; however we were warned yesterday that the prediction for tomorrow was for Gale Force winds. We will have our briefing soon, so we will see what is said.

I do hope that everyone is enjoying our trip, and that you are all doing well.


No comments: