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)

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