Featured Destination

Orkney, Fair Isle and Shetlands by Sail with three masted schooner Trinovante June 2023.

Part 1

Last Chance to sail in the Shetlands this Summer

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Orkney and Fair Isle

It’s a long way from Cornwall to Orkney. Arriving by ferry from Aberdeen as the sunsets at 10:30 in midsummer is a great way to achieve it.

Travelling is as much about people as it is about places. For this adventure I travelled with my friend from Cornwall Jan. 

On the the open deck of the North Link Ferry we watched Orkney approaching and began chatting to a lady who had recently moved to the Island of Shapinsay with her young family. As we went past Shapinsay her family were flashing torches and headlights at her. She had four legs and tail and was called  Cat, well the name is correct. She was unable to get home that night as the last ferry to Shapinsay had long since departed so she was going to stay with a friend on the Mainland. (Mainland is the big island, not the rest of Scotland.). As we got closer to Kirkwall Harbour we pointed out Trinovante on the harbour wall some distance away. Cat very kindly offered to take us from the ferry terminal to the old harbour which we gratefully accepted. To quote Kate Adie ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ is alive and well.

Day out in Orkney 

Skara Brae. 

This is an incredible archael;ogical site with buildings over 4000 years old. You can find out about it at Historic Scotland Skara Brae. 

For me the highlight of the tour was a guide pointing out to us the sophisticated corbeling that the walls of the houses were made of. Current theory is that the roofs were made of corbled stone with a small vent hole for the central fireplace. It is an incredible structure and has stayed together through the skill of the workers.

Stromness

This was the first ‘town’ high street we visited and turned out to be the best in my estimation. Narrow, quaint and nearly car free. Well worth a visit.

Italian Chapel 1944

Italian POWs in Orkney built the enchanting Italian Chapel in 1944, a testament to their skill, creativity, and indomitable spirit.

Leaving Kirkwall

An hour after all the crew were on board and John and Su had completed the safety briefing at 5pm Trinovante sailed off the quay, no engines in use, and we set out for the Fair Isle. We had watches set and I was up at 1 and on watch till 5am. It’s never fully dark this far north in midsummer but unfortunately a sea mist rolled in as the wind died. Up again at 7 as we were approaching the North Haven of the Fair Isle, the ship’s fog horn was going every two minutes but as we closed the entrance, using radar and a chart plotter, the fog cleared and we were able to make a safe entrance.

Fair Isle.

This was the big attraction of the voyage and there is never any certainty that you can safely enter the harbour and stay a few days on the Fair Isle. We were lucky to have brilliant hot weather, I was walking around in shorts and T-Shirt and went for a swim to cool off!

The north end of the island is a ‘Twitchers paradise’ but you do have to be careful near Skua nests as they will dive bomb you, and yes it is scary seeing a big bird heading straight for you at eye level. There was a lot of hat waving and ducking as they flew inches above your head and threatened you with sharp beaks and claws. 

The south side is were the few, 45, inhabitants live. You can walk without being in danger of Sh]kuas as this part is for sheep farming and no Skuas will nest in the cropped grass fields.

The cliffs and zornes are amazing and there were many hilltop cliffs I crawled to the edge to look down at the wheeling sea birds nesting below. 

Malcolm’s Head cliffs are nearly 300ft high and have the remains of a Napoleonic Watch Tower. 

Knitting and Bravery

Fair Isle knitting is world famous and you can visit the both makers and the Museum by phone for opening times.

The Museum was the best part for me where I met David Thomson shown in the photo. If you look at his photo you can see in the display behind him a photo of a ship wreck that happened when he was a young man. In photo a fishing boat is being bashed against the cliffs and no rescue was possible by breachers buoy due to the angle of the cliff. David and two others were put into a dinghy from a fishing boat standing off the shore and let drift down wind to the stricken fishing boat on a long rope. Three survivors got into the dinghy and the fishing boat at sea pulled them out of danger and back on board and headed for safety. The power of those waves breaking over the shipwreck is a scary sight, to go to the aid of the crew onboard is an incredible act of bravery. I felt humbled by David and shook his hand in gratitude for helping to save those lives. 

It’s not a story to tell here but if you have ever been shipwrecked you will appreciate just how brave David is and does n’t he look great in his Fair Isle Jumper!

Part 2 – See Shetland in the next article

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