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Trip 41 — Yell Walk

Day 6: Aywick to Ulsta
Friday, 3 May 2024

Yesterday: 25213 steps/18.95 km/11.77 mi/3h 51m
Grand total: 165379 steps/119.59 km/74.31 mi/26h 43m
(including lodging access 225523 steps/172.95 km/107.47 mi/36h 35m)

The Seaview B&B made good on its name. The chickens met my arrival, and Andy came a few seconds later. The building was next to the Aywick general store, known as Mary's shop.

Mary is 81 years old and has run the shop for decades. It's the best-stocked shop on Yell; in addition to a reasonably priced selection of food and alcohol, it carries books and recordings, household and building tools, farming and fishing equipment, and souvenir trinkets. Alastair's wife, Adaline, once had a camel figurine brought back from Dubai only to find a row of them in Mary's shop.

Alastair and Adaline live a minute's walk uphill from the shop and guesthouse. "Walk in for coffee and cake," Alastair wrote.

I arrived to find Lindsay and John, my hosts from Mid Yell, leaving after one of their frequent visits. They were standing around Alastair's car, which had the hood propped open as if for repairs.

"If I leave it closed, the starlings come in and build a nest over the engine," he explained. "People have had their cars catch on fire. They start the car and drive off not knowing there's a nest under there." He had put up a little wooden birdhouse to try to attract the starlings, but they still needed to find and become accustomed to it.

Coffee and cake became Talisker and dinner. I had brought a wine from Mary's shop. The dinner was plentiful, with chicken, potatoes, turnips, carrots, and skirlie — a fried mixture of onion, oats, and seasonings — followed by raspberries and cream.

When we weren't eating, Adaline was knitting a hat with an attractively busy variety of colors and geometric patterns. She sold her hats at a shop in Lerwick. "They never last long," she said.

Alastair noted that a reduced schedule was operating this month while one of the Mainland-Yell ferries was being serviced, but my two possibilities for yesterday — the ones that connected with the bus to Lerwick — were still running. They were sold out for vehicles but not foot passengers.

"You'll get on," Alastair said, "as long as there isn't a petrol tanker going then." We both thought absurd the new rule limiting the passenger count to 20 if a petrol truck was onboard.

Andy's wife, Rachel, made an enormous breakfast that carried me well into the night. There were beans, mushrooms, an egg, haggis, black pudding, sausages, bacon, and ham. I realized I hadn't seen any pigs on Yell.

It was another beautiful day; I'd had a lucky stretch, with only my earlier walk up to Cullivoe delayed by rain. The morning was so sunny and warm that a T-shirt was sufficient on top.

I headed out of Aywick and joined the main road, rounding a bay and coming to a curious herd of cattle. I took the turn toward Gossabrough, a cluster of houses near the circular remains of another broch. As I headed into the moor for the last time, a pair of sheep followed me until I reached a fence and climbed over it.

The sun was shining so brightly that it was easy to forget the wet ground. My progress was still slow, but there was no need for speed. I hoped to make the ferry at 4:30, and the 5:35 was an option.

A section of cliff south of Gossabrough was called the Horse of Burravoe. Alastair's Ordnance Survey map went into far more detail than Google Maps, showing cairns, broch and fort remains, caves, and place names piqued my wonder: Stack of the Horse. The Scarves. The Muckle Head. Up north, the Point of Whack, the Knowe of Thistledale, Flongna Field, Little Bratt-houll, Sneugie of Dalsetter. Every group of ponds, every stretch of bog, every little burn (river) had a name, no doubt immortalizing a person or event from centuries ago. Who was the Omand in Omand's Dale? Who was that Gloup, anyway?

However the Horse of Burravoe got its moniker, it was a lovely place, with a double natural arch reaching over blue waters. The seabird life here was spectacular, and it was even more so at the cliffs known as the Ladies Hole, a little farther south. Here was a constant activity of swooping fulmars, gulls, and guillemots. When I fixed my eyes on it, the movement glided in and out and up and down, stretching and shrinking as it rotated, like a kaleidoscope.

A happy pair squealed. "Get a room," I shouted at them.

I turned inland, scaled a few gates, and came to the road. From now on it would be easy walking on asphalt.

Burravoe village contains the Old Haa Museum in an old merchant house. The bottom floor had displays related to the wreck of the Bohus, a German ship that sank near Gossabrough a century and a week ago, on 26 April 1924. There had been a violent storm, and the captain mistook the flashing beacon from Skerries for the Fair Isle lighthouse. The survivors were looked after by Aywick residents, who put aside any misgivings about housing Germans a few years after World War I.

A statue of a woman looks out to sea facing the wreckage site. It's the White Wife, a replica of the Bohus's figurehead; I'd seen it far below, as a white dot, from the hill with the curious cattle. The museum displays other items salvaged from the ship, including a sealed bottle of whiskey.

Upstairs were displays on the Moine schist and other rocks that make up Yell ("it's Moine and it's Gneiss!") and typical home furnishings from the time the house was built. There was also a piano, probably an 1815 Broadwood, the same maker as one of Beethoven's.

Burravoe has a co-op market that opens one hour a day except Sundays and a kiosk shop run by a man who was carving out the ground next to the adjacent building. He cleaned his boots off and opened the kiosk.

"What are you after?" he asked.

"Maybe some juice." I started examining the Robinsons drinks.

"You'll need water for that," he said.

Ah, so that's why the Robinsons soft drink had been so sweet. I seem to have a habit of mistaking concentrate for juice. I settled on a liter of apple juice instead.

"One pound fifty," he said.

I noticed three packs of playing cards marked at 50 pence. The design didn't have anything to do with Shetland, but it had the logo of the Konica camera company and thus evoked some history.

"I'll give you two pounds and take a pack of cards," I said.

"Those packs are all that's left of the original stock," he said. There had been a store until 1998, he explained, and he reopened it as a kiosk two and a half years ago. The cards had survived the gap. He hopes to move the shop to the larger building — hence the work on the ground.

From the Burravoe kiosk to the ferry landing at Ulsta was eight kilometers. It was 3:00. If I walked 11-minute kilometers — slower than my usual "cruising" speed but faster than I'd been going recently — I'd reach the 4:30 ferry with two minutes to spare. I took off briskly.

With an extra hour, I might have followed a farm track to the memorial and wreckage of a Catalina aircraft from the Royal Air Force that crashed in 1942. But I pressed on.

The lonely, narrow road wound its way up and over a hill before turning left for the straight descent toward Ulsta. There was no oil tanker, and I joined the other passengers in marveling at the warm weather. After the crossing, I approached the bus and must have looked like someone who'd spent a week with his feet — and maybe his head — in a bog.

"What can I do for you?" the driver asked.

"May I ride with you back to Lerwick?" I stammered.

"Please, come aboard."

I slept all the way down.

Sae lat da breezes blaa,
Fir I maan sail awa,
An bid farewell ta da wilds o Yell,
Ta sib an fremmed an aa,
Ta sib an fremmed an aa, me boys,
Ta sib an fremmed an aa,
Fir A'm gyaain ta ship fir a tree years' trip
Sae blissin be wi you aa.

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