I woke on the night and heard footsteps – it was her – I nudged my husband and said, “ssshhh, can you hear her?”
I was on high alert, we were staying in the West Wing of Busta House Hotel, and I knew that this was part of the building she haunted.
Busta sits, tucked away on the shores of Busta Voe, just a few miles from the village of Brae. Today it’s a three-star hotel placed in an idyllic rural location in one of Shetland’s most beautiful historic houses, but it also has its own unique ghostly tale to tell.
For visitors to Shetland, there are usually several requirements on their wish lists, including; scenery, wildlife and archaeology. The following walk is a fantastic way to explore all three of these on a moderate three-mile walk.
For this walk, we walked to the Burraness Broch on the island of Yell. Yell is just a short hop across Yell Sound on the modern inter-island ferry. The crossing takes about 15 minutes, and passengers can stand on the upper deck, enjoying panoramic views across the sound, past the uninhabited islands of Bigga and Samphrey. Yell itself is around 17 miles long and seven miles wide, boasting large expanses of uninterrupted moorland, stunning beaches and breathtaking coastal walks.
You know that feeling, as the days start to change and the seasons begin to switch, it feels as though we’re falling into autumn at freefall speed. That’s when I anxiously try to squeeze in as much as possible, squeezing those last drops out of summer as if I were squeezing a lemon.
August is a month that makes me uneasy; it feels like the best of the summer has passed. The flowers are spent and shrivelled on their once-proud stems, the colours in the landscape begin to mute, and the sun that hung suspended in an eternal summer sky through June and July drifts lower in the sky as the day slowly gives way to night once more.
Yet, real poetry comes with August and an urgency to tick off all those things you wanted to do in summer. June and July are like a high-octane ride, but August forces us to slow down and we appreciate the little things in nature so much more, as we know they are drawing to a close for another year, to return again on the wind, in another season.
Still, my mind begins to wander into the months ahead, towards autumn and winter, and as I blow the dust from the candles that have been left unlit since spring, and fill the basket with fire kindling once more, I reflect on the summer’s adventures.
The following walk stopped me in my tracks as I considered the tragic loss of life that took place on a lonely and remote hillside in the heart of Yell, Shetland’s largest North Isle.
I recently posted our summer holiday bucket list; basically, a list of all the places we want to visit and things we’d like to do at home this summer. I included a checklist for anyone who wanted to join in the fun, and today we ticked off one from the list – a walk to the Brigs of Vementry.
To get to the Brigs of Vementry, follow the A970 from Lerwick, turning onto the A971 at Tingwall. Drive for 16 miles before taking the B9071 towards Aith and Voe. After three miles, take the turn towards Vementry (just after Michaelswood in Aith) and drive almost to the end of the road where you’ll find a cattle grid with a waymarker that says “Path to Clousta”.
Last weekend we visited Sumburgh Head and the fantastic new Unken Caffee. With commanding views out to sea and north across the South Mainland, it got me thinking about how past people lived and about the architecture, defensive or otherwise, that they built here.
Shetland’s South Mainland, at one time, was a highly fortified area. If we rewind about 2,000 years to the Iron Age and place ourselves at Sumburgh Head, the landscape would have been very different and, likely, quite intimidating.
At Sumburgh Head, where we stayed, an Iron Age fort, now lost to history, stood proudly on the headland. The next prominent headland to the southwest is Scatness and, right at the point of this headland sits the Ness of Burgi, the subject of today’s walk.
Winter can be a really special time to go for an adventure. On a cold, calm day, the air is crisp, and the low light casts dramatic shadows across the parched landscape. We’ve been fortunate this winter in that the ground has been frozen. If it’s not frozen, sticking to coastal routes can help keep feet warm and dry in Shetland’s (usually) wet winters.
The smugglers’ cave in Burra is a brilliant walk to do with children because there’s plenty to see and it’s not too far to walk. Once they reach the destination, there’s the added promise of smuggling and piracy to keep them curious and engaged.
It’s not often that January brings prolonged periods of still and frosty weather, but that’s exactly what we had here throughout January and, as we battle with homeschooling and the ever-present threat of cabin fever, it’s definitely nice to get out into the fresh air for a few hours.
We recently walked around St Ninian’s Isle and, as well as being great for adults, this walk is also fantastic for anyone with children. It’s not always easy to persuade bairns to go on a hike, but this one is perfect as there’s a beach, plenty of wildlife and the promise of buried treasure at the end to keep them engaged.
Similarly, this is a walk that is just as rewarding in all seasons. I have highlighted it in winter because, unlike some other walks that can be too wet and boggy at this time of year, this walk is still relatively dry in winter (although you will need walking boots).
This is also a walk that I often do on tours of the South Mainland as the walk and distance can be adapted to suit everyone’s mobility. If you book a tour with me and want to do all or part of this walk, we can discuss that.
There is nothing better than coming back from the beach with sandy pockets, burgeoning with gifts from the sea but, as with everything, we must collect responsibly and always ask, ‘how will my actions impact the natural world around me?’ We are all magpies; we search for treasure, scouring the shoreline for a glittering shell or a salt-encrusted sea-worn pebble. And that’s fine, as long as we do so responsibly.
Shetland’s shores are a veritable treasure trove where the discerning eye can pick out sea glass, precious stones, shells and, most highly-coveted of all, the elusive grottie buckie (cowrie shell), thought to bring luck and prosperity to the finder. It’s supposed to be good luck to carry one in your purse, so that’s precisely what sits in mine; alongside the loose change and crumpled receipts.
Tomorrow is hallowe’en, that time of the year when bairns go guising (trick or treating) brandishing neepy lanterns – not pumpkins, although we do carve these too. Anyone who has tried to carve out a neep (turnip) will know how much of a labour of love this is!
Hallowe’en is held on the eve of All Hallows’ Day, a Christian celebration dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows). The celebrations are punctuated with spooky tales and stories of ghosts, ghouls and paranormal activity.
Shetland is no stranger to ghostly tales; in fact, I spoke a lot about this on this week’s podcast with Alexa Fitzgibbon.
This week, I thought I would share a few ghost stories with you; so draw up a chair, dim the lights and pull a blanket around your shoulders because things might get a little spooky …
A fire pit made using stones from historic buildings at Fethaland. Photo: David Murray
This blog is a little reminder, and hopefully a helpful guide to accessing the outdoors safely and responsibly in Shetland. I first published this in the Shetland Times, our weekly newspaper, to raise awareness amongst locals. The message remains important to everyone visiting Shetland, particularly those who hope to access some of our many beauty spots.
People are being urged to get-to-know the Scottish Outdoor Access Code before heading into the countryside after what has been described as “a crazy summer” by one westside crofter.
Shetland’s top beauty spots have seen more traffic than Piccadilly Circus this summer as locals, lifted from lockdown, took the opportunity to visit places such as Westerwick, Fethaland, Muckle Roe’s scenic area and Uyea.
Hello from Laurie
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I hope that you find what you're looking for - whether you're planning that perfect holiday or maybe you're from Shetland and looking for some 'home' inspiration. Hopefully, there is something here for everyone.