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Trip 41 — Yell Walk

Day 4: Colvister to Cullivoe via Gloup
Tuesday, 30 April 2024

Today: 35121 steps/22.04 km/13.70 mi/6h 17m
(including approach and return 72534 steps/48.28 km/30.00 mi/11h 49m)
Total: 124348 steps/90.39 km/56.17 mi/20h 1m
(including lodging access 184492 steps/143.75 km/89.32 mi/29h 53m)

Even the cheery birds and happy lambs couldn't temper my discouraging fate of retracing 16 miles of walking today. One of the ewes was hobbling in the yard; by the end of the day, I would feel like her, though for very different reasons. Maybe the lambs had been overenthusiastic.

Alastair reassured me that I'd "done the worst bit" yesterday. That gave me enough drive to walk out with slightly more confidence than reluctance.

The first 99 minutes were the familiar road out of Mid Yell and then up the island's main road until it ran along the southern side of Basta Voe. I could have headed straight into the hills from the Mid Yell junction, but Alastair assured me that it would be soggy, steep, and boring. I was content to follow his suggestion to take the road as far as Culvister, just before it curled around to the voe's north side, and then head across the bog to the western coast.

One curious lamb greeted me as I left Mid Yell. I was pretty sure it was the one that had done the same yesterday. "Good morning!" I said sheepishly.

The road up to Basta Voe has few features. There's the turnoff to Camb, which I took yesterday. There's another way into Camb shortly after that, marked "North-a-Voe." And around 20 foot-minutes later there's the road I emerged from yesterday, marked "Basta," which is also what Spanish-speaking visitors exclaim when they've had too much of the road.

Thirty minutes later there's a cattle grid, followed by an oil-waste drop and a car parked with a sign in the window saying "Shetland Staands wi Black Lives Matter." (That's the name and spelling of the movement and slogan here.) By now the voe has come into view, but its beauty struggles to make up for the "miles and miles of damn all."

I thought I started recognizing sheep. There was a particularly expressive one with a cocked head yesterday. Was that the same one today? Then there's the flock of sheep around a feeder, who always scatter when I come by. After the peat cuttings just beyond, the road curves over the voe into Sellafirth.

Way back, people used to do 16-mile round trips to school or work every day, didn't they?

The half-hourly ferries from Mainland were on time and the traffic moved at 60 kilometers an hour. I know this because a rush of cars passed me at 9:15 and then again at 9:48, after I'd walked three kilometers. I was going slightly slower after that, and the next wave came at 10:20. The occupants of cars coming at me played See if He Waves. I usually did (and so did they), but if I couldn't be bothered taking my left hand out of my jacket pocket, I just nodded.

I began the climb into the hills. It was extremely slow going. Every minute I encountered a stream or soggy patch and had to find my way around. I felt like I wasn't making any progress. I was going to be in the bog for the next few hours.

"Bugger!" I cursed at another rivulet.

"Nineteen minutes and two seconds," Helga of MapMyWalk finally said, scoring my first kilometer in the bog.

After the streams, there were lakes to go around; I had been heading northwest but saw that I'd have to cross a more substantial stream to skirt the Mirka Water on the right, so I went the long way around on the left. At the Gossa Water, I edged excessively left only to realize I could have taken the connector between it and its little sibling after all. Gorgeous but tedious.

"Eighteen minutes and forty-six seconds." Well, I was picking up speed.

There were hills and more hills ahead; the coast was reluctant to show up. The sheep looked at me and then hurried away. The geese came by in bigger numbers.

I finally reached the coast and turned north. For a while the coast was unremarkable, but then it was spectacular: paws probing the sea, with rock swirls and layers. A duet of birds provided some unlikely counterpoint: an oystercatcher, with its unmistakable "Tseep, tseep," and a bird I couldn't identify, whose melody was like the rapid, extreme up-and-down slide that you get when you turn a radio dial slowly to try to tune to a station.

I knew there were ruins to see. I kept making out remnants of walls or enclosures only to get closer and realize they were just strewn rocks. But then I saw the remains of the house at Vigon, all by itself in the wilderness, up ahead. I approached it and it disappeared; such was the effect of the undulating terrain.

Then I was right next to it. The sheep, as evidenced by the pellets on the ground, loved it. I sat for a snack (smoked mackerel and a sticky fruit soda called Robinsons that I mistook for juice) and understood why Allen Fraser didn't bring his guests to Yell. The cliffs were undeniably beautiful and the old house was interesting. But it takes several hours of peat-scrambling and water-skirting to get here. Not everyone would agree that it's worth the effort.

I was near the northern coast but had to cross through a minefield of little ponds to get there. I had improved my jumping ability and stride, if not my speed or distance accuracy. What looked like ten minutes' distance took half an hour.

The northern coast provided more lovely formations. One giant slab was scarred by white and gray straight lines, as if painted that way. A sheep and its lamb were resting there, enjoying the view. Quartzite and mica rocks were scattered on the hill, sparkling on another lucky sunny day.

I made my way toward the mouth of Gloup Voe, which creates a ravine between where I was and the village of Gloup. The voe was turquoise and had a beach on each side. But to get to Gloup I had to follow the cliffs all the way to the voe's end, go down, and come up the other side.

These cliffs were tall. I didn't much feel like climbing that high, but it was the only way. I battled more vegetation and fatigue as I headed up. The hill seemed to keep growing. I passed the ruins of a few more houses.

Alarmingly, I saw that the cliffs on the other side were just as high, and they were steep. I dreaded the thought of going down and up again. As before, I seemed to make little progress. Even the sheep didn't come this far up.

The voe's end finally appeared, but an obvious way down was lacking. The slope was steep, and I zigzagged down, thinking that if I fell I'd be caught by the growth.

At the bottom were the remains of an old enclosure. But to get there, I had to undo the rope around a gate; it was too unsteady to climb over and the ground was muddy. I couldn't replicate the knots that had kept it closed, but I improvised what I thought would resist a strong wind. Then I pulled my feet out of the mud.

On the other side, there seemed to be a track about a quarter of the way up. It reminded me of the Oyri track on my last day on Eysturoy: just wide enough, partway up a steep, green, open slope.

But after a few meters I could see that the track was better suited to sheep than to people. Some sections were wet and the track was only a shoe's width.

"Twenty-seven minutes and twenty-three seconds."

That included dealing with the gate and trying out this track, but...bugger!

I'd have to go all the way up the hill...heck, it was practically a mountain. But there was no place to ascend here. I had to go past the end of the voe, opposite the direction I wanted to head. I finally got up there and looked at the map again. I could cut across to the hill road from here and get back to Mid Yell sooner. But going to Gloup was important: I wanted to see the memorial.

I was trudging ("Twenty-one minutes and fifty-nine seconds" came next) but I finally descended into Gloup. One night in 1881, a fierce storm destroyed ten boats and killed 58 men fishing in the haaf (deep-sea area) in open boats called sixareens. Haaf fishing was dangerous and low-paid, but there weren't many options. The memorial is a weathered-looking woman holding a child and gazing out to sea. It includes the names of those lost to the storm.

Next to it is a picnic table, where I took one of my few breaks of the day. It was already 5:00. I had thought I might even be back in Mid Yell by now, but I still had more than four hours to go: I severely overestimated my pace in the bog. It was going to get dark around nine.

My original plan was to go up the headland behind Gloup and then cut east to the beach at Breckon, but I now knew that it might take an hour just to reach the headland. ("Say 'Hi' to the coast-guard in his hut on the headland beyond Gloup," Alastair had written. I'll regret missing that interaction!)

I signed the guest book at the memorial — the sheep were very excited by this — and then shuffled my way to Breckon. The road curved sharply, and I could make out Cullivoe's primary school ahead. It was almost 6:00 and I'd had enough; my back hurt even with a much-lightened bag, and my legs were now wobbly from walking on asphalt after all that bog.

I leaned on the sign pointing to the hill road, and then I walked for almost four more hours.

Go on to day 5