Scotland, again

So lucky to have essential business to take me out of the very small world at home, I’d like to share with you my current trip to Scotland with words (not too many, hopefully) and pictures, which latter I hope may tell their own story.

Dudleston Heath, Shropshire February 12 2021. A date that not only reads the same back to front but also has vertical symmetry if the correct font is used.

…..and now it’s a fortnight later .,,, something happened to the blog I wrote on my journey and it seems that, at home in Shropshire, the image above has been replaced by images such as this:

…although I must admit this was taken in Bristol .

Frankly I was fearful of the journey north – roads were impassable, gale force winds predicted, and I was due to make the journey alone, COVID precluding K coming with me. Motorway as far as Glasgow the journey soon peters out to an A road, renowned for its fearsome accidents in the best of weather.

K had helpfully found me some webcams in the journey – intending to encourage me I imagine.

They were frequently a white out ot showed a grainy picture of lorries grinding along, struggling to get through a narrow channel of snow and slush. …

So. Having delayed the trip by two days (cancelled ferries) I arranged a stopover in Stirling.

A city! Since when had I been to a city?

Something magical about night time empty streets…..
Typical Travelodge room. Basic but very clean

Delighting in my ’grownupedness’ I investigated the town, identified somewhere to order dinner, ordered on-line (yes, a first) only to find that the ‘bistro’,chosen for its proximity to the hotel, had, when I went to collect said meal, moved.

Yes. Too nervous to have it delivered, I got lost on the way..,,,and lost again on the way back! Dinner and special treat of flat white coffee all cold.

I should have simply had my emergency pot noodle.

But morning revealed a lovely town- delightful walk by the river at the site of s ancient battle and bridge …..

A scandinoir type scene. The action explained by this plaque, which pulls no punches:
There you go. Seems a fair summary.
There are consequences to our actions as shown by this relic on a lookout/beauty spot.
Oh oh….deal went wrong?

Actually that one’s more atmospheric in black and white too:

And one person’s view on life:

Probably good advice.
But who was this young man? And how did he die? In my heart I hug my two even harder.

And so to Aberdeen. Roads themselves clear but thick snow drifts piled up alongside. And, in case there had been any doubt about the conditions, there was a coach on its roof alongside the carriageway at one point.

Truly the gales that had deferred the ‘boats’ (ferries to you and me, but to Shetlanders ferries are the ‘Peerie’ or little boats which run between the islands) had saved me from some v tough driving.

This Northlink employee warms my heart, if not his legs, omnipresent with his kilt, he later reappears in various roles through the night. Rough tough accent and lovely smile.

And so the routine goes: find cabin and spread things on every surface, dinner at the ‘feast restaurant’ (where they always always always call me sir) – macaroni cheese in my case. I decline the chips. Then back to the cabin and assume the horizontal position in order to cope with the seas in the Pentland Gap. It’s 12.5 hours to Lerwick, 14.5 if via Orkney.

Next: Bixter and beyond.

And we’re off….!

After a rainy month in the Western Highlands in January, the year 2020 kind of slewed to a halt. Acharacle had proved a roller coaster of weather and geography – driving to the branch surgery at Kilchaon to see maybe four people involved a switchback ride through a temperate rain forest and around the edge of an extinct volcano. The patients I saw took the ferry to Tobermory, Mull, rather than drive the route I drove several times a week, to do their shopping.

Flash forward to January 2021 – so much and so little at the same time has happened. We need a plan. And today the plans for 2021 started to form. These are – to complete a long diastance path in sections, to walk/run/cycle 1000 (not sure if miles or kilometers yet – depends on progress!) by the end of 2021, already a challenge as we’re a month into it – and two other personal challenges that I am not about to make a public declaration on for fear of failure – but I’ll let you know at the end of the year.

The long distance path. We’re still in lockdown, so the sensible one to choose is the one which literally goes past our front door (a door which incidentally doesn’t open in the winter), The Shropshire Way, a 202 mile figure of eight walk which centres on the county town of Shrewsbury and extends north and south into the county reaching the Welsh Marches, down to the Shropshire Hills AONB, past Much Wenlock, site of the original Olympic Games, alongside Telford with all of it’s industrial archaeology, through the Lake District of Shropshire around Ellesmere and so forth.

I must say that a day which had seemed, to use my son’s word – glum – has become the day when the rest of my life seems somehow to hold another real spark of excitement and anticipation. Always busy, never bored but a bit Meeeehh at time – and I’m heading to Shetland again in two weeks so can’t complain – I have a fire within me I haven’t felt since we started the Camino from Le Puy in 2018. Or Lejog in 2017. I’m easy to please.

Shropshire is such a beautiful county, with incredible history. A well kept secret.

So….we’re off – coming with us?

Christmas in Unst. Arrived.

We decided to do what we could to check the lay of the land – to assist us in navigating to any calls in the dark (essentially 20 hours a day).

Most roads seem to lead to or fromBobby’s bus stop, Britain’s most northerly bus stop. It’s decorations vary according to time of year……

We drove in and out of various housing estates (they are small) to discover that the house numbering, whilst an improvement on the system In the Western Isles,not difficult, is as challenging as the depths of Telford or Wrexham. I discover today that many people (they are all patients) saw me.

They knew there was a different GP this week- it was announced on the radio.

The views and the tranquility are awesome:

As is the welcome. Last night at The Kirk carol service. Slightly late start as the vicar was a thing a couple of ferries to get there. So we had coffee and warm mince pies….

There was something familiar about the vicar. …….

K sang all the carols and we both learnt a lot.

And many of the congregation turned up in surgery this morning. Strange.

Unst at Christmas – still getting there….

We find we struggle to get through Lerwick without calling at the Peerie Cafe. On this occasion we were too early so did Tesco instead.

Then the cafe. Warm fresh cheese scones, lashings of butter (plenty of calories required to insulate us from the Northern wet and cold) and great coffee.

A walk through the deserted streets (it didn’t feel like the Saturday before Christmas) and we saw this: the window of Jamieson’s the famous Shetland Knitwear shop with a terrific display of hand knitted baubles, beautifully crafted by ‘MRImaakers’ (those raising funds for an MRI scanner ON Shetland)from around the world. Each bauble bears the name of its maker. They are to be auctioned in January. I’d like the sheep one!

Then we found Jimmy Perez’ house – the détective from Ann Cleaves Shetland mysteries.

And some typical Shetland humour:

Then a drive up ‘mainland’ (the largest Shetland island), across by ferry from Toft to Ulsta onYell, a 25 minute drive up Yell to Gutcher and a 10 min Crossing to Unst (Belmont) on a ferry that runs between three islands: Yell, Unst (population 650) and Fetlar – famous for its birds and with a population of 60.

There are no police on Unst. There is no 999 service. There is always a doctor and usually a nurse. Today I took over from the doctor, Dr Ruth Booth, who lives on another island but does several days work each month on Unst. She was kind and thorough, logical and particulartaking pains to explain who was available to help, how to call a ferry out at night,when to call a air ambulance…..(ie helicopter) and when to involve the coastguard.

We took her to the ferry at 7pm and felt very alone.

I am now the ‘which service do you require – ambulance part of the 999 service’.

Unst at Christmas – getting there

We’ve had a Christmas on the Great Barrier Reef , a deferred Christmas in Indonesia (actually not entirely true, but something along those lines) and a Christmas at home but without either Rob or Nay – a sad state of affairs indeed. And Christmas ses with neighbours and with friends or relatives.

This year, we’re in Unst.

Issues with the ferry booking meant we drove 400 miles on ‘builders’ Friday’ , widely touted to be the busiest day on the roads in the year. But starting at six, and driving north, protected us from that.

We managed three breakfasts. At 5.30, 8.30and 11.30.

Tebay at 08.30.

A garden centre beyond Glasgow at 11.30, complete with table service but also, more importantly, great Christmas lights and toys!

So who then could resist lunch? When the good on offer is no less than….

That’s right. A deep fried mars bar. From the original purveyor of such delicacies.

Keith couldn’t resist:

But in his defence I must admit I had a…. mushy pea fritter. True to my northern roots to the end.

That was Stonehaven, a seaside town south of Aberdeen, and site of us whiling away a few spare hours (and we still arrived at the pier three hours ahead of sailing!)

Stonehaven has some beguiling parts:

Lovely steel models of different boat styles, all peopled with sea beasties…..

A boardwalk, a harbour, and other sites- well worth a visit (especially if you’re five hours early for your ferry).

But the TREAT. We were first in the queue and the man on the dock wore a kilt.

Fun. If chilly.

And we found Wally:

Great trip. Comfy clean cabins. Good food. And my last alcohol for 10 days.

More later.

Budapest (2019)

There are many beautiful cities in the world. There are many pleasant cities in the world. And there are some efficient ones. Budapest seems to combine all of these aspects – I recommend it.

Budapest. A city of two halves. Buda contains the castle and some beautiful churches. It’s relatively quiet and residential.

From the castle in Buda there is a panorama of Pest, seen here at night where the Houses of Parliament are illuminated. The gothic buildings are wonderfully ornate.

By the castle lies the Fisherman’s Bastion, a complex stone carving next to the Hilton Hotel. The area around is filled with street performers such as a man with an eagle:

A man playing a stringless violin with a wooden spoon:

When his nose is pressed it makes the sound of a klaxon. When his right ear is tweaked, it squeaks – and the left ear brays like a donkey.

The castle walls are hugely popular with groups posing:

People take selfies.

An artist sells his wares:

And some of us marvel at the scenery:

Round the back of the castle there are pleasant walks and an altogether smaller scale arrangement of properties:

One of the oldest buildings in the old town is the Mary Magdalene Tower. Built in a gothic style it was destroyed during the invasion of 1945. It is now open to the public and offers panoramic views across to the Buda Hills.

It’s quite a climb to the castle – and the queue for the funicular painfully long and slow. We took a ‘city bus’,effectively a hop on hop off minibus. This was 8 euro each that was well spent.The final destination was thus museum.

These are possibly the largest statues I’ve ever seen.

The residential and office area behind is home to embassies and other institutions. I love the door furniture: And window boxes.

Anywhere that is 25 degree Celsius at the end of October has my vote.

And so a concert in the Matthias Church was a pleasure as we queued in the warmth of the evening (external picture taken during day).

The string orchestra played so well in one of the most beautifully decorated churches I have ever seen, as shown above.

But Budapest is not all high culture:

We resisted the apparently strong temptation to visit this place….which was next door to our AirBnb, shown here:

Ours was the first apartment on the right in this pic. It had everything we needed – and also a landlord who strongly encouraged us to drink Palinka (40 percent alcohol) chased by beer on arrival. He provided us with the obligatory shoes we required for the thermal baths. No real pics of this other than the entrance hall of the one (of severa which exist) that we visited. It was to say the least a surreal experience , speaking as one who often avoids the jacuzzi at the local gym. So many people. Such warm water. Such a sulphurous smell.

Budapest food is good.

The specialties are : langos, a kind of deep fried pizza base with a topping of your choice: and chimney cake…. a strip of dough wrapped round a wooden former and cooked in front of gas burners.

The completed article, sugar drenched, can be seen on the far side of the artisan. Frequently they are then filled with ice cream.

We ate these (langos, far too full for chimney cake) on the island in the Danube which is also home to a circus, a thermal bath, a Japanese garden, some ruins, a small zoo, a running track, a theatre …. and some superb fountains which pulsate to pre-programmed music every hour:

Meanwhile the children are entertained with bubbles:

There are some sombre areas in Budapest, such as the memorial to the 3 500 people, of which 800 Jews, who were lined up and shot on the banks of the Danube during 1944-5. Sixty pairs of time appropriate shoes have been cast and arranged on the Pest bank of the river. Many Jewish people visited the evening we were there.

The town has wonderful public transport and good markets:

And excellent coffee:

Definitely a place to visit.

Western Isles illustrated….Lewis and Harris

Our essential guide, long perused at home prior to trip, seemingly unpronounceable names tried out tentatively…….Steòrnabhagh, for example.

Made from whale ear drums:

Artefact in beautiful Stornoway ferry terminal.

Ferry to Skye, a little known route, world’s only turntable ferry.

Story of lost lives at sea …. Sheol an Olaire, sank on January 1 1919

And the memorial in Stornoway harbour. Each light represents one sailor.

Humour abounds.

Huge skies and empty beaches at Port Nis

And the Butt of Lewis, most northerly point in mainland Lewis , reportedly the windiest spot in the UK

Reinigeadal, isolated fishing community until recently only accessible by 5m cross country walk from Tarbert

Reinigdeal hostel. A delightful spot. Door unlocked.

And cosy as anything (once the fire’s lit). Fuel provided.

‘Taste ‘n’ Sea’. Roadside burger – and lobster and scallops- bar.

And the view whilst eating lunch.

One of 20 or so boxes of crabs at the tiny fishing port of Scalpay Island. Harvested Saturday. Newbury Berkshire by Monday. And then to Spain…

Off they go.

Half man, half crab.

Tourist information, Scalpay style.

The saddest playground ever?

Sunday morning Harris to Uist ferry – Tarbert to Lochmaddy. View from our hotel window.

Tarbert Harbour.

Really??!! Public loo in the Hebrides Hotel. Made me very nervous.

Bird watching at An Taobh Tuath (Northton) (and eagles circling overhead)

Truly, the geology is secondary only to New Zealand. Stunning.

Teaching grandson to sort (by gender and number of claws) crabs, at An t-Ob (Leverburgh, South Harris)

Last ferry of the day, Leverburgh, South Harris to Berneray, next Island down the archipelago.

En route the Eagle hide, Mhiagbhaig

The glen Miaghag, NorthHarris community owned estate.

Dropping down to Hùisinis beach. Cattle roaming quite free.

And very beautiful they are too.

Hùisinis beach.

Unusual architecture in a rocky barren land, site of former school.

Broadway Medical Practice, a tardis.

Wonderful waiting room sculptures.

Iceland Stornoway – poster in window from original Iceland – in OSWESTRY.

Stornoway harbour. It’s not by any means all rain. A lovely place to be.

Romania. The rest, minus the end.

So. Must be the altitude, or age, but the scheduled posts seem to have disappeared. So here’s a briefer recreation.

We’re 10. Five flautists, three saxophonists. Two friends.

We’re in the end of the end of a valley in Transylvania – Moiecu de Sus, just beyond Bran, site of Dracula’s castle (allegedly) (allegedly Dracula’s, definitely a castle,definitely surrounded by a lot of touristy shops, but beautiful in itself).

The travel from Bucharest, only 180km, took 10 hours. This was partly due to delays with getting the rental cars, but largely due to the extraordinary road/transport system.

Having encountered cyclists cycling down our lane- towards us-, flocks of animals, a donkey and cart careering perpendicularly from the right across the traffic, into the oncoming stream before joining us and so on and so forth- we thought we’d seen it all when cresting the brow of a short rise we came across a bilateral amputee in a self propelled wheelchair hurtling towards us.

The journey was not uneventful, the most exciting bit being when our driver decided that the traffic controller with a no entry sign and a red light ‘didn’t mean it’ leading to us driving directly towards a bus coming the opposite way.

This is our home for the next week.

Whoops! That’s Bran Castle.

Try again.

Julie and Nick who run the residential courses flutesenvacances are running their second week here, at this chalet. They provide half board and tuition on wind instruments.

(Julie standing)

A typical day : breakfast, practice in groups (Sax or flute) from 09.30 to 11.45, join into bigger group, practice music together (in this course we were practising for the school concert that had been arranged); lunch locally and trip out, reconvene to practice around 5pm; soirée (including performance either individually or in duets/trios) at 6.30 pm – then drinks, excellent three or four course dinner and good conversation.

(Yes. Stuffed cauliflower. No end to the fascinoma food we ate.)


Climb vertically out of the valley to an eco restaurant with 360 degree views. An hour to get there, twice as long to get served. Well worth it.

Guided walk by a family member of our landlords. A 10 k walk again vertically up the valley sides. The rural agriculture continues. Each family has a strip of land running from the road across the narrow valley floor then vertically up the hillside. The home has two rooms: the kitchen (and dining room and bedroom – all in one) is to the right of the door. To the left is the room for the agricultural implements – and the dowry chest, which is still a thing.

A steep walk took us to the winter hut. Here the cows (normally two or three) are overwintered along with the sheep. The family climbs there twice a day, everyday, in winter to feed and milk the animals.

And to clear up the excrement which is saved for the pasture. It is thick snow in winter. The animals are fed with hay cut by scythe from the vertical strip of land, and stored in the upper floor of the barn, any remaining hay being stored in a haystack.

In the summer the animals go to summer pastures in the mountains where shepherds care for large flocks. They milk the animals and make cheese whilst there.

How does each family know how much cheese should be produced from their animals?? By working out their percentage of the whole on ‘milk measuring day’, a weekend day in June, when the families get together to establish how much milk has come from their cattle and can therefore do the calculation. The shepherds get paid for their work and are also paid in cheese, which cheese they sell at the market.

Next trip. To the camera museum where a French man who married a Romanian woman and left his beloved France to live at the end of a dead end valley demonstrates old fashioned photography.

…. and the use of different lenses….

(Look carefully at this pic)

Followed by a cheese and wine tasting with plenty of local cheese and wine, the cheese being made by our hosts (landlords). Cheese included feta, cottage cheese, smoked cheese and a hard cheese they store for winter. This was preceded by home made plum brandy and followed by bilberry sponge – bilberries picked from the hillside.

Next day. Concert at village school. We were prepared for this all week. The children wore their best clothes – and so would not sit down in the hall.

As did the head……

The children had not seen live musicians before, never mind a saxophone or flutes (we had four sizes of flute).

It has to be said that they enjoyed the music, but were BESIDE THEMSELVES when we played Baby Shark.

And loved the balloon dogs Tracey, one of our group who is also a children’s entertainer, made for them.

A quiet night in should have ensued. Instead we went to get exercise. And completed the day with karaoke.

Great lunch too at the Promenade in Rasnov.

Finally Bran Castle – stuff of horror movies and Dracula tales. Bram Stoker the author had never been to Romania. The castle is tasteful and human now although must have been a great deterrent at the time it was built.

And so we leave, with memories of beautiful fountains in Bucharest, awesome mountain ranges, crazy traffic and a wonderful holiday.

Off to Romania – day 1. We meet Alexander the Great.

Time for some fun!

It’s been a busy summer -wedding, funeral, work…. and that Camino de Santiago trip that left me unable to walk for three weeks (literally) but was one of the best holidays ever- so time for a break before the onslaught of work in the winter.

Never one for the sun lounger we have opted to explore Transylvania – oh yes, and join a Sax course too.

In reverse order, let me introduce to those we have met so far. First off – Alexander (the Great, he tells me). Barman extraordinaire he bothers not with measures but ensures our two glasses of wine are equally full. With the attention to detail normally only found in intense sibling rivalry he squats and ensures the menisci in both glasses are absolutely equal. Furthermore,he effectively refuses to serve me a cup of tea as this would spoil the wine. The wine is Romanian. It’s red. It’s excellent. It’s served on ice.

Although Alexander initially seemed reluctant to have his photo taken, this is the third image. He wasn’t happy with the first two. He was however delighted to learn we were English. He worked at Manchester City stadium for five years. Why did he leave? He went to earn adequate money to afford a house and a car, and returned home when he had. (But remains a City fan).

Bucharest has a beautiful old town. Like many major European cities the old town attracts international restaurants with picture book menus and attractive young women to beguile us in the street. We resisted. We ended up in the ‘Brutal Pancake’, a street food shop run by a Russian.

And very good they were too. And cheap. And the water was served in a recyclable, returnable bottle.

We ‘ate in’, upstairs, in a place with ceilings so low even we got minor bumps on our heads.

Leaving our hotel earlier in the afternoon we ventured into a local park. Confused as to our whereabouts we (well, Keith as I knew his sense of direction would get us back eventually ) consulted a map. Immediately three smart young men joined and offered to help us. Two were American. The other they introduced as being ‘local’. ‘He was brought up here’. It’s all relative. He was brought up in Tunisia.

Turned out they are all members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Oh, I thought. One must prepare oneself for awkward questions. Along cane AQ number 1:

‘Which Premier League football team do you support?’ This is SO FAR from our comfort zone we had to ask them to repeat the question. K’s brilliant answer was….. I’m not interested in football but my wife follows it closely. Thank you Keith.

AQ Number 2: What makes for a long and happy marriage?

Our answer was : stunned silence. Then some mutterings and thoughts about the marriage practices of this group of people.

They have a branch in Bucharest:

The elders of the town instructed me on the use of the equipment of their outside gym in the park, a good workout which is necessary as I’ll miss my sessions next week. Great hips, tums, bums session …..

The town is a great mix of old and new in juxtaposition:

Cat our shuttle driver regaled us with great stories of Romanian Gipsies’ attitudes to the UK benefits system (there to be exploited), Belgian beer – and, more sombrely, life during the revolution. He frequently queued from 3 in the morning for ‘milk’ so thin it was indistinguishable from water. He showed buildings which were destroyed, sites of violent demonstrations and more.

And amazingly, despite using both hands to illustrate his point, in a city where driving is ‘enthusiastic’ to say the least, transported us safely to our hotel, the Zeus International.

(View from window)

Bucharest offers something for everyone: from high culture, to slightly worrying alternative culture: To…. er, this kind of culture:

Whoops. Lost the pic. Essentially one of adult entertainment.

But also, oh my, there’s a belief in the healing power of story telling.

A great day – and so to bed. It’s only 20.15 in the UK, but we’ve been up for hours, flown to a country so Far East it’s two hours time difference and discussed Brexit with all _ comers.

so it’s 22.30 here. Night!!!!

Highlands and Islands: Episode 3 the Northern Isles.

An eight session (four day) week meant that I had Tuesday off – quite necessary following my baptism by total novelty on day one at Scalloway. I can see twice the number of patients – or more – in Shropshire but know the systems – to the extent I have always, possibly ridiculously in retrospect, avoided crossing the border to locum in Telford and Wrekin, fearing that I would refer inappropriately ….well as luck would have it there is only one hospital on Shetland so all things medical and surgical go to the Gilbert Bain Hospital, Lerwick – unless the patients are sick enough to need more specialised care in which case it’s Aberdeen or Glasgow! It puts the Shropshire patients’ arguments against travelling from Oswestry to Telford or Stoke ( people deeming this far too far) into a different perspective entirely. The roads remain open to Telford and Stoke for the most part – yet there have already been at least two days when the planes did not arrive on Shetland ( no newspapers) since we came – and an urgent palliative care patient transport was delayed by 12 hours overnight due to weather conditions last week. We took the opportunity of traveling north to the top of the Shetlands on our first day off, to the Isle of Unst. This involves passing through Yell, another island. We pottered on and off the ferry at Yell, pulling to one side as we headed across the island to board the next ferry for Unst, wondering why people were in such a hurry. The answer is of course obvious. The Yell-Unst ferry is smaller than the Shetland mainland – Yell ferry and so there was a real risk we might not fit on to the former. I can imagine serious road rage – particularly as the following week saw the start of UnstFest, a week long party of performances and chip dinners and art exhibitions and nature walks. It attracts people from far and wide – but sadly one of the ferries is out of action so they are now down to 1.5 boats. Expectations were of traffic chaos at the ferry terminals and traffic carnage on the roads as the ‘single track with passing places’ arrangement fails to keep up with demand. We found one ferryman sitting in the sun, nay, basking in the sun as he told us he had been called in on his week off to marshall ferrytraffic. A big plus to this, he confided, was that he could not then be required to marshall over UnstFest – ‘not mae! I’m off in the other direction, you wanna faind mae anywhere near hair!’ (Apologies for my best approximation to the local phonetics.) Speech here is remarkably similar to that in New Zealand, particularly South Island NZ. Hardly surprising as many Shetlanders peopled New Zealand on the early boats.

Yell Unst ferry.
Basking ferry man.

There is a strong similarity in the demeanour too -a kind of diffidence that is difficult to describe – but very noticeable.

We asked the ferryman what would make them stop running the ferry at any one time? ‘We need guidelines’ he said. ‘There are times we go out when we shouldna – but whit can ye do? Folks waint to get haim.’ And of course many of those who are wanting to get home have done off shore work for weeks – desperate to get back for a while.

Unst is the most northerly inhabited island of the Shetland archilego and so is home to Briatin’s most northerly bus stop:

This might seem strange, with extra seats to supplement the hard bar intended to support weary souls. In fact, although fancy, it’s not on its own, many bustops having old computer chairs in them. Others have old arm chairs whilst one or two simply have solid wooden boxes.

Briatin’s most northerly tea room sells wonderful cakes – and is the site of KBP’s next Mate meeting – this gentleman is from Unst and lives in Lerwick. The promised excellent day’s weather – possibly the only day this summer, who knows, encouraged him to take the day off his self employed work, get on his motorbike, buy a box of four cream cakes (truly) and roar up to Unst…. His parents moved from Colchester to the island when he was around 18m old. His father worked for the RAF then bought himself out and ran a B & B. All went well until Gas came to the area, prices went up as huge rents could be obtained from the oil workers and their employers, and the long line of birders, and outdoorsy folk, the people who loved Unst for what it was – what it IS again now – stopped coming.

Victoria’s. Britain’s most northerly tea room plus K mate

His evident love of the Island told us of fine places to walk and great places to view. With limited time we headed direct to the bird reserve on the island’s northern tip. Walking through fairy style ( treeless) glens along a good solid boardwalk we were ambushed by one effusive lady gushing that we were heading for ‘puffin heaven’. As indeed we were – and gannet heaven and Great Skua heaven too! The puffins were within a couple of yards of us at the cliff edge, the gannets circled in front of us, attracting attention to nearby white rocks and stacks – the white covering being not lichen but nesting gannets – thousands of them. The Great Skuas ( which I’ve never seen before) were as big as chickens – and sitting just like chickens on the heathland – unless anyone edged too close in which case they buzzed and dive-bombed us in the most alarming manner, a manner only superseded by the arctic tern or tirrick who is agile of flight and terrifying of voice. A stick is useful – it makes one feel less afraid if nothing else!

Three of the many puffins
Note the gannet coated rocks

And to the return journey – boat to Yell, roller coaster ride down to south Yell to catch the next ferry – and one car turned away before us. But the beauty of our Fiat 500 – they squeezed us on – living in hope – but the back flap of the boat would not close so every car moved two inches forward! A tight fit, it got us home an hour sooner than would be the case otherwise – and in a very good humoured way.

KBP mates: 2 ( Cumulative: 4)