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This was another of Brent's well-organised island trips, with about 18 RHB baggers involved. We gathered on the evening Aberdeen-Lerwick ferry in late August and had fun identifying the various Marilyns visible from the boat deck as we sailed out into the North Sea in perfect summer conditions. In the morning we were straight out onto the Shetland Mainland hills, but the highlights were the outlying islands. I was on the flying day-visit to the beautiful Fair Isle with another six baggers. We were advised that the voyage to Fair Isle on the Good Shepherd IV would not be much fun in these turbulent waters. First point was Ward Hill, the Marilyn, followed by a trek round the spectacular coast, pausing to view the amazing features, then to the interesting bird observatory. We had a good look at the headland of 132m Sheep Rock, but found the only hope of an ascent was via a landing on the seaward side.
Some said they thought Fair Isle was the highlight but I preferred Foula, similarly isolated and also accessible via a short plane ride. Brent and Pete Milne took the boat but had to wait for a stand-by flight after the sea conditions picked up, cancelling their return sailing. Adrian and I were chauffeured to the north end of Foula by the Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, who was on his annual visit to hold surgery. We rented the self-catering cottage, Ristie, for a night, while Alistair stayed in the B&B nearby. I found the off-shore arch of Gaada Stack to be totally stunning, one of the best coastal features I have ever seen. The cliff-top walk over The Kame, The Sneug and The Noup was no less disappointing - those cliffs are simply fabulous.
Back on Mainland, having the camper van meant we could take Yell, Unst and Fetlar at leisure, with a couple of nights on Unst, where the highlight was less Saxa Vord than Hermaness Hill, providing a close view of Muckle Flugga and Out Stack, the full stop at the end of Britain.
With Adrian and Eleni, Kathy and I had a perfect afternoon's walk over Sandness Hill on Shetland Mainland with glorious views of Papa Stour, so we vowed to visit this gem of an island on the next trip. The only disappointment for all was the lack of a boat from Bressay to Noss. Team members made extensive enquiries in Lerwick but no boat could be arranged. The Noss nature wardens had been injured, so the normal service shut earlier than the published last weekend in August. You can get the latest update from the Noss information line, 0800 1077818, which currently informs you that the 2008 season is from 22 April to 31 August.
The Orkney Mainland hills are not the best, and again the outer islands provided superior entertainment. I took the bike on the boat from Kirkwall to Westray, being uncertain of the public transport on the island, as it is some seven miles from the ferry landing to Fitty Hill. A minibus did meet the ferry but I enjoyed the bike ride round this cattle-farm island nonetheless. Whilst I did Fitty Hill from the south, Roderick Manson and Brian Ringland started from the minibus terminal in Pierowall. I then cycled on the track to the isolated lighthouse at Noup Head, meeting the other two there.
The Westray west-coast cliffs are fine and worth the walk. On the return ferry there was a short break at Papa Westray, with enough time to cycle up to the southern trig, although not enough to reach the island's highest point. Rousay provided a pleasant ferry ride and afternoon walk through rough heather, with the possibility of doing a circuit round Muckle Water to Kierfea Hill.
A multi-national task force comprising Alan D, Brian R, Brent, Stewart Logan and me day-tripped to Hoy in low cloud and occasional drizzle to walk up to the unusual Dwarfie Stane, believed to have been hollowed out by prehistoric man, then went over the Knap of Trowieglen, Ward Hill and Cuilags, with no views from the tops. A Hoy watershed walk the other way, south from Knap of Trowieglen to Heldale Water, would be a fine wild walk. Maybe next time.
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