Honeymoon in Shetland

Jarlshof - an extraordinary archaeological complex spanning 4,000 years. To the lower right are the remains of a 1st C broch, above which there are two 2nd/3rd C wheelhouses.

Jarlshof, showing the remains of a 1st C broch, above which there are two 2nd/3rd C wheelhouses.

Jen and I had a really lovely honeymoon, starting with a week in the Shetlands. This is a stunningly beautiful archipelago with many wild places, dramatic coastlines and impressive wildlife – but we also enjoyed some of the archaeological and geological riches. We were based mainly in a very well appointed chalet in Voe, which was ideally situated for travelling around.

On our first full day we went to Jarlshof, an extraordinary archaeological complex spanning 4,000 years. For example, there was a Bronze Age smithy (about 800BC), and remains from an Iron Age broch – a characteristic round double-walled structure that could have reached over 10m (30ft) in height (judging by a similar one on Mousa). The broch was largely taken over by wheelhouses from around the 2nd century. Later remains include Viking longhouses, a mediaeval farm and the laird’s house from the 16th century.

Rich & Jen on Muckle Roe

Rich & Jen on Muckle Roe

Shetland is renowned for its spectacular coastline, of which Eshaness is particularly notable. This is part of North Mavine, a region which would be a large island to the north-west of the mainland, but for a narrow connecting isthmus about 20m wide (with the intriguing name of Mavis Grind). We drove there on the Thursday, and then went for a short walk – which prompted us to plan on other coastal walks there in the future!

Dore Holm, a natural arch.

Dore Holm, a natural arch.

Eshaness cliffs

Eshaness cliffs

Red-throated divers on North Mavine

Red-throated divers on North Mavine

On our way back, the path took us past several small lochans, so I thought that there was a good chance of seeing red-throated divers. We were lucky: one of them did have a pair, and while we sat close to the lakeside the birds swam closer. These birds are rare breeders in the UK, with some nesting in the Scottish Highlands, but they are more frequent in the Shetlands.

The nearest port to Voe is Vidlin, which has daily ferries to Out Skerries (a collection of small islands to the north east of the mainland) – so we decided to go there. I thought this was going to the back of beyond, but I soon discovered that they were much more connected to international events than I had envisaged. We chatted with one of the residents in the community hall, who told us that the biggest immediate threat to the island’s economy was the strike at Calais. The island’s fishermen (they have five boats based there) need to be able to get their fish to market in mainland Europe, but there was a real danger that their catches would be destroyed by the wait at Dover to be able to get across.

The wildness of Out Skerries

The wildness of Out Skerries

Defending Jen from skuas...

Defending Jen from skuas…

We had a rainy day on Fetlar on the Saturday – though there were enough wild flowers in bloom for us to understand why it’s known as the Garden of Shetland. While there we had our first encounter with skuas… Crossing some open moorland where they were nesting, one of them took exception to us and flew directly at us. Fortunately, I had already armed myself with a skua stick (aka a camera monopod) to act as a defensive weapon! We continued to attract attention from other skuas until we left the area.

Our next day, on Unst, had exceptionally good weather… so I’ll describe that in a separate photo story…

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