As the boat pitched and rolled, memories of my time spent offshore as a Geophysicist flashed through my mind. The overnight crossing from Aberdeen to Lerwick on the Shetlands was 14 hours long. With strong winds and a big swell forecast, I stayed as flat as possible during the journey; my sea legs were rusty and as much as I had enjoyed my evening meal, I did not want to see it again!
Coming into port our group all looked a little green faced. However, within three hours of arriving the bumpy crossing felt like a distant memory. After driving north from Lerwick to Esheaness Lighthouse which is situated on the North West peninsula of Shetland mainland, we parked up our vans and excitedly got out to explore our new surroundings. Tall sea cliffs dropped steeply into the sea, deep inlets cut through the landscape and sea stacks scattered the horizon.
The wind was strong and almost drowned out the mixed calls of gannets, puffins and fulmars which populated the sea cliffs beneath us. As it was windy but dry and sunny, three of us threw on our running kits and ventured north along the coast. The Craghoppers Summerfield jacket kept me protected from the worst of the wind as I bounced over the short wind beaten grass. We were treated to a visit from an inquisitive seal as we skipped across the rocks. This was one of many which we saw during our visit. Their presence attracted passing pods of orcas, one of which we were fortunate to see from the lighthouse a couple of days later.
After a good nights’ sleep, we awoke to clear skies and calmer winds. The conditions were ripe for climbing and we commenced the frustrating, arduous but crucial task of trying to locate the routes on the ground from those described in the guide book.
This is easy when you can look up at a crag and eye up routes from the ground but it is almost impossible when they are directly beneath you and there are no easy access routes. Good teamwork eventually paid off and after locating a few routes, Martin and Chris bravely abseiled down onto the wave beaten ledges below. Mike was swiftly in pursuit, keen to capture some images of the pair climbing up the pyroclastic breccia with the waves crashing beneath.
After about 20 minutes, Chris’s head appeared with a big beaming smile from ear to ear across his face. He had clearly enjoyed the climb and left me in little doubt that I should follow his lead. Elaine and I hastily got our harnesses on and descended down the abseil line. With the tide having turned, I decided not to hang about and after a few words to Elaine I checked my knot and started to lead my way up the route.
The climb followed a crack line with plenty of opportunities to place protection. Having not climbed for a while, I took every opportunity I could to place solid gear; this enabled me to relax and enjoy the experience. With the sun beating down on my back and Mike hanging around on a rope just off to my left, I felt at ease and in a natural state of flow.
As I neared the top of the climb, I could see the rest of the team sunning themselves on the cliff top. After setting up an anchor at the top of the climb and pulling the excess rope in, Elaine scurried up the rock face beneath me. She was clearly relieved to have moved off the ledge which had started to get a bit damp as the tide rolled in.
With endorphin and adrenaline pumping through our veins, Elaine and I choose to watch the rest of the team climb one more route before venturing back to our vans. It was nearly 8pm when we got back to our mobile shelters and we were all starving. Climbing is very absorbing and can detract you from the natural pangs of hunger only to have come back with a vengeance later in the day!
After a couple of days, we all relaxed into the natural mode of the trip. Rich in wildlife and enriched in history, we were rarely board and were made to feel very welcome by the resident islanders. When we weren’t climbing or running, we were visiting the numerous archaeological sites or exploring the rugged and varied coastline. One very memorable excursion was a trip to St Ninian’s Isle tombola, the largest active sand tombola in the UK, which is situated to the south of Lerwick.
It was a misty, miserable day and I was reluctant to move myself from the comfort of the van. However, after some gentle coaxing by Mike, I threw on my Craghoppers Summerfield jacket and followed him down to the sandy beach which stretched out before us. Sheltered from the extremes of the harsh weather, I happily played on the beach as Mike grabbed some holiday snaps.
As our trip drew to a close, we reflected on our Shetland shenanigans. The varied geology, landscape and wildlife had all made its mark on us and we were already planning our next trip. Many of the locals told us stories of how they had travelled far and wide whilst young, only to be pulled back to these magnificent islands. The sense of community that Island life demands had given them a strong sense of purpose and had enabled them to form bonds that were impossible to break. In such a fast paced modern world, it is always a treat to find a place like Shetland that prides itself on going slow.
You can learn more about Ambassador Claire Aspinall here