Biking 2016 - Shetland - Day 2 & 3

- by Fred Schlomka - 

Day 2 & 3 • 9th & 10th August
55 km. North Sea - Lerwick - Yell
76km. Total biked

Bit of a quiet day today.
I’m up early on the ferry and am greeted by a full rainbow starting the southern tip of Shetland, arching over the sky to some distant point out at sea. A good omen. I forego the greasy expensive breakfast on the ship and munch on some more of Sunita’s granola/fruit bars.

Soon we are docked and I’m on the bike heading up to Lerwick hostel. The town feels familiar since I was there a year ago. The scale of the roads and buildings are smaller than back in Israel. There’s a compact orderliness among the neat sandstone homes and clean narrow streets. After a ten-minute ride I am back at the world’s best hostel, as they bill themselves - with good reason.

It’s too early to check in but I dump the baggage and head off into town with a couple of other cyclists for a decent coffee. Then a visit to the Shetland Community Bike projects which trains youngsters for responsibility through upcycling old bikes in a community workshop.

Next a tour of Lerwick’s hardware stores to find some plastic sheeting for the return airplane trip. After visiting several shops, I find a store that has some sheeting on order and will have it in stock when I return to town next week. They also have ‘gorilla tape’ in stock which will be useful to bind the bike to the plastic.

It’s a blustery day in Lerwick, but dry for the most part. It’s 8 degrees celsius. A wee bit cooler than Jaffa.

I spend some time with David. He’s a kindred spirit, an artist who lives in ‘Fair Isle’, a tiny island between Orkney and Shetland. Population 40 people.
David is also a cyclist, so we get deep in conversation about the nuances of bike trekking.
I cook dinner. We share dinner and wine, and two other cyclists join us for lively conversation about politics, religion, and the state of the world.

All in all a relaxing day which is what I had planned.

Next morning the sun is streaming in the windows and I regret not planning to depart today. Tomorrow is my planned departure to the north This fine weather may be a one-off since tomorrow is slated for rain. I am mulling over leaving today. Then I decide. The fine weather is a rarity in Shetland. I’d be a fool not to take advantage of it. So I quickly pack and say goodbye to David and the others in the dorm. I promise David that on a future trip I’ll visit him on Fair Isle.

On the way out of town I stop at the Co-op and pick up some supplies. I’m planning two days to reach Saxa Vord in the north and carry sufficient food to last. It’s a hilly ride all day. From the coast the road turns sharply upwards and I’m pushing for a bit. However for the rest of the day I manage all the hills without pushing.

The weather gets better, reinforcing my decision. Although the sun is shining, the air is cool and the wind is gusting a bit. So I have on three layers plus a muffler around my neck. I pass the Lerwick brewery whose brew I sampled yesterday evening. Pretty good stuff.

Just after leaving town, I see a family of Shetland Ponies at the edge of a field. When I stop they com ambling over and we have a nice conversation. They like people and are treated well by their owner. For the first 15 kilometres or so all the hills seem to be peat bogs, and are covered with purple heather. Peat is early stage coal, ancient decomposing fauna. The crofters cut and dry it and use it for fuel. The hills are full of the cuts that have been made over the ages. Crofters have practices land conservation for generation after generation. Their cutting of the peat through the centuries has made few scars on the hills. They generally cut a section for a few years then leave it to regenerate and move on the another section.

Cows and sheep are also in evidence. Croft farming has been a way of life in Shetland for a long time.

I pause for a chat with a couple of German cyclists going the other way. They are from Rostock in East Germany. Sunita and I were there during our grand tour of Europe in 1989 in our Volkswagen campervan, just before the Wall came down. I remember the strangeness of the town under the Communists. We took the ferry to Copenhagen from Rostok. However these 2 young people grew up mostly after the reunification of Germany and had no direct experience of that era. We chat about the route to the north then part ways.

During the middle of the day the wind slackens and I start to sweat so a layer comes off. The road undulates up and down through a treeless landscape that somehow is not monotonous despite a certain sameness to each hill. There’s a elegant and pleasant rhythm to the hills and the occasional croft or hamlet. Finally the road descends to the ferry to the Island of Yell. I arrive just in time for the 20-minute boat ride over the quiet inlet.

Once on the other side I start looking immediately for a campsite. It’s evening and I’m ready to relax. At the top of the first rise I spy a nice level spot just outside a fenced field. It has a perfect view over the water for the approaching sunset. I pitch camp. The farmer drives by with his tractor and gives me a nod. There’s no problem with wild camping in Scotland. It’s in the culture, and there’s a law prohibiting private landowners from forbidding camping on their land. All land is open for camping within reason. In other words you can’t camp on someone’s front lawn, but anywhere else on their property is fair game. Of course the common rules apply. Leave no trash. Clean up everything.

I wander over to the farm house and fill up my water bottles. The farmer is jolly and plump and has a huge red bushy beard. He and his wife Sandra are obviously natives with a strong dialect. My Scottish heritage comes to the fore and I slide easily into broad Scots. No problem communicating. They subsist on sheep farming and Sandra’s income from knitting woollen clothing. Lovely people. Salt of the earth.

Not much dry wood around so I leverage all my skills in order to cook dinner on my wood burning camp stove. I sit back and watch the sun descend to the horizon, fortified with a good stir fry and couscous, and a fine local brew. Then a 30-minute stroll to the waterfront and back and I retire to the tent to write this essay and watch the sunset through the tent window. Life is very very good.

Fred Schlomka is the CEO of the Green Olive Collective. He spends months adventuring on the road with his bicycle each year, while managing the organisation via phone and laptop. If you are interested in joining Fred on one of his adventures, please contact him through this link.


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