Tag Archives: Sumburgh

Puffins and ponies

I visited Shetland recently, more or less on a whim, but mainly to help someone out with some photography tips in exchange for free accommodation in a renovated croft.

The journey there was quite an adventure in itself. Our plane was unable to land at Sumburgh airport owing to low cloud, so we were diverted to Orkney and had to catch the overnight ferry to Lerwick. I was given a lift down to Sumburgh by one of my fellow passengers and his wife, so I could collect my hire car, and stopped briefly at Sumburgh Head to look at the puffins and other seabirds before heading to my accommodation for a much-needed shower.

On the way I was delighted by the various place names that reminded me so much of Iceland. There are various -wicks (like Iceland’s vík), -garths (garður) and -voes (vogur), and even a place called Tingwall which derives from the Old Norse ÞingvÇ«llr, meaning ‘plain of parliament’. Those of you who have been to Iceland will be aware of the similarly named Þingvellir – ‘plains of parliament’.

I spent the rest of the day after my shower exploring the western part of Mainland, the largest island in the Shetland group. The volcanic cliffs of Eshaness are particularly impressive, especially when you look down a sheer vertical drop to the churning Atlantic ocean below.

My second day took me down to Wester Wick, where fulmars nest on huge pink cliffs, then up to the Hermaness nature reserve on Unst, the most northerly inhabited island in the UK. A short walk across a peat bog full of nesting Bonxies (Great Skua) takes you to the cliffs where Shetland’s largest puffin colony can be found. The birds are incredibly tame, and I was able to just sit a few feet way from a small group of them, watching them perform their idiosyncratic little routines.

That evening my hostess took me to Burrastow House where we watched the terns diving into the voe for fish.

My third and final full day on Shetland was fairly photography-free; instead we filmed a short 10-second clip for an online competition, trying (and failing) to get one of the Shetland pony foals to eat a pillow case. I then went on a short ride on Fákur, an Icelandic Horse, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It had probably been about 10 years since I last rode a horse, and it was great to finally get back in the saddle… judge for yourself whether you think I look the part!