Shetlands — The North

This is Part 3 of our series on a vacation in the Shetland Islands in August 2013. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 too, if you missed them.

Compared to most of the rest of the planet, just getting to the Shetlands puts you squarely in The North. Sure, there are large portions of Scandinavia and Russia and Canada above 60°N, but this is as far north as we’ve ever been on land or sea.

On the outskirts of Lerwick, you’ll see roadside signs asking you to make a decision: The North or The South. We were already pretty far up there, so we decided to go for gusto and visit the most northerly

  • chip shop (chippy!): Frankie’s, in Brae
  • café and shop: The Final Checkout, near Baltasound
  • hotel (just for dinner): the Baltasound Hotel
  • fortification: Muness Castle

Frankie’s Fish & Chips, Brae

http://www.frankiesfishandchips.com

It’s a nice place for lunch. We had haddock and chips with vinegar and brown sauce and were quite happy with the food and the service. It’s where we learned the terms “Muckle” (large) and “Peerie” (small). It’s easy to stop there on your way up or down the Shetlands Mainland. In fact, it’s hard NOT to. We ate there twice.

The Final Checkout

It sounds kind of ominous. But that’s the last retail stop on your trip up north in the U.K. for groceries, supplies, etc. It was kind of surreal. An old dude enjoying a smoke in the sun outside the shop didn’t recognize me and asked if I was on holiday as I was trotting back and forth from the car in hopes that my debit card would work where Sarah’s and Resident Evil‘s had failed. He must have been starved for conversation, because the breadth of our discussion topics in those few minutes was astounding:

  • the obscene prices of Apple Computers in the early 80s and how students in the California university system got surprisingly good discounts
  • my employer, line of work
  • our stay thus far, reason for visiting Unst
  • the impertinence of paying a fee at that cash machine inside just to get access to your own money!
  • discovering a distant relationship to the red-haired woman who inserted herself in our conversation on the basis of a book ascribing ownership of a certain piece of property on the island, and the fact that that deed-holder ALSO spelled his surname in a common way in the U.K. but unsual for Scotland
  • You know the first and second declensions in Latin are fairly easy peasy, no matter how you learn them, but the third and fourth just aren’t drilled home anymore the way we had to learn them and isn’t that a shame?

I guess what I’m trying to say here is: at least some of the locals are surprisingly outgoing. Or desperate for a fresh set of ears to bend.

Baltasound Hotel

http://www.baltasoundhotel.co.uk/

We’d heard that getting a table spontaneously could sometimes be impossible. So Sarah reserved us a table via email. We stopped in to verify our dinner plans after not hearing back from them, and that was a Good Thing™, because they had misinterpreted her message and were expecting us a day later. No matter, they were still able to squeeze us in for dinner. We heard other drop-ins get refused. We had fresh, local meats and fish and vegetable dishes and thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and service along with the food. Just make sure to verify that reservation request.

The White Wife

We pretty much just drove through Yell on our way to Unst. But we did stop off near Otterswick to visit the White Wife — a replica figurehead serving as a monument to a German shipwreck of a ship originally named Bertha built in Edinburgh. Apparently quite a number of people from that ship died in a storm in the early 20th Century and the figurehead washed ashore days later near that spot.

You can see a circular mound of stones in one of these shots. That’s a broch, or what’s left of one. These things are dotting the Shetlands. Wikipedia indicates that the jury is still out on how those structures were used.

Muness Castle

This castle’s story stretches back to the late 16th century. You can read up on it via Wikipedia if you like. Admission was free, and it was a nice touch offering battery-powered torches for exploring the unlit, dirt-floored ruins, which were quite dark. The best part though? A playful, friendly little dog who greeted the castle’s guests and then enticed to follow her down the hill into the pastures, over the stiles, where she showed us her sheep grazing near much humbler coastal ruins. As a bonus, we got a little face time (by crouching) with some very friendly ponies also just outside the castle grounds.

Hit up the Shetland Critters for the fourth installment.

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