Tales of Gales part 1

“In the wake of the Vikings” is our annual spring trip north. Not just in the wake of Vikings also in the wake of Pics and Scots, in the wake of Fulmars and Puffins, the fur traders of the Hudson Bay Company, the 1800 whalers on their way into the ice and some times in the wake or on the tail of a gale. Our wake links some of those windy Shipping Forecast areas that seem so far away in winter. Like Fair Isle, Faroe and South East Iceland. Most of all we are in the wake of spring. Leaving the Netherlands the tulips are in full swing and by the time we reach Tornshavn their tulips have caught up! The closer we get to the arctic the more evident it becomes of the little spring and summer time they have up here. 

“There can scarcely be a higher gratification than that which is enjoyed in this country in witnessing the rapid change which takes place in the course of a few days in spring. Scarcely does the snow disappear from the ground, before the trees are clothed with thick foliage, the shrubs open their leaves, and put forth their variegated flowers, and the whole prospect becomes animating” Franklin.

Cruising the Orkney’s, we were blessed with a lot of sun ray’s. This made the white beaches stand out even more. The gardens in the shelter of the wind on Rousey where over flowed with a great variety of colours. Enki and I where offered the use of a scooter by one of the locals. When we heard, we wanted to look at a house built in the 1700 he wasted no time in offering the red moppets’ service. We let no time wasted in taking up this offer and made our way down the winding coast path. Coming to the house the owner was working in the garden. She told us she was an archaeologist and bought this place because of its history.

Orkney is a real Indiana Jones heaven. The best sites are just on the side of route and very well preserved! Midhowe cairn might be the best. This “great ship of death” is protected by a big barn built around it and is very accessible. The frames from the little farm we visited turned out to be built out of old ships beams washed up on the beach. The place was surrounded in an air of history this made it very appealing.

  Back on board, waiting for wind, we decided to motor up to Egilsay just 2 miles north. Here we visited the 12 century St Magnus Kirk. This was the scene of one of Orkney’s well known Sagas. Magnus was betrayed and slayed here and became a martyr. The scene became a place of worship for many pilgrims. The church still stands on the original site and gives a good idea of what a Kirk must have looked like.

The wind came up just when we lifted the anchorage. Plan was to visit Sanday and find the site of a Viking burial ship where the remains of a man his wife and probably their child where found in 1992. The site had been uncovered by a big storm and was unique in that is was so complete and well preserved. Once under sail the strong spring currents made the navigational part interesting… Pointing east we were going north with 7 knots. No problem we were getting to where we wanted to go. Otterswick, Sanday was a stunning anchorage surrounded by white beaches. By this time the wind had freshened and made the dingy trip a shore an adventure on itself. This did not put us of and soon we were underway looking for this buried Viking and his family. After asking a local resident we learnt the scene had been evacuated some years before and were now with in the safety of Kirkwalls museum… A green sign was al that remembered us of the puzzling scene! The walk was worth all the trouble and this satisfied our hunger for adventure!

 

  Fair Isle was the first of the Shetland Isles. Our arrival coincided with that of two very rare migrating birds. The Island was in a state of excitement! Planes were chartered for the occasion to bring the bird lovers over. Of course we happily lifted along on the exitement. This in no means meant that the Island was flooded with tourist. The sheep still outnumbered us with 1 to 40…

Our second stop in the Shetlands was Mousa and its famous Borg. The anchorage at Mousa is slightly exposed this makes it suitable only in fair weather. And this we had! After dinner, we decided to find out about the Borg and the Storm Petrels that make it their home in summer. The walk up there was stunning the setting sun made it rather enchanting. We sat on top of the Borg and waited for the little Storm Petrels. None came but on our way down we heart there distinct sound in the hallow walls. The Borg is also featured in at least two Sagas in both it was the love nest for fugitive Vikings!

Lerwick was waiting for us next morning. The capital of the Shetlands used to be the place for the Tecla and her sister ship to land there catch of herring. The history of fishing is very closely interwoven with Lerwick’s past. The trading houses on the shore bare witness of this thriving past. From Lerwick the mainland was explored by minibus. By this time, I was closely watching the weather forecast looking for a proper gab in the passing gales. For our stay in the British Isles was coming to an end and soon we were going to have to make the jump to the Faroes. One thing was for sure, summer had not yet arrived in the North Atlantic… Barra Firth was chosen as a last stop before the passage Faroe.

Barra Firth is the most northerly anchorage on Unst, the most northerly Isle of the Shetlands, making it the most northerly Isle of Britain. The key attraction here is the nature reserve of Hermanus. This peninsula is covered in birds. It has the Britain’s largest Gannet colony and more than 20000 nesting Puffins. We arrived after a splendid sail using the increasing southerly winds. By the time we reached our anchorage it was flying into a real gale. We decided to sit this one out and explore the nature reserve. Debbie came back with some stunning Gannet pictures! It looked like she was on one of their wings, Niels Holgesons stile! I had a little walk up to the visitors center in Haroldsvik, named after the famous earl Harrold Fair Hair, who claimed the Shetlands for Norway. On my way I was greeted by a gang of Shetland ponies. They did not seem to be the least bothered by me using their road. At the visiting center I was able to secure a favourable weather forecast for the coming days.

We used the tail of this gale to sail of to Suderoy, The southern most Island of the Faroe’s.

Read the second part of the journey tomorrow!