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A week on Arran

Despite having visited Arran only once – as a day trip – I already knew that Arran was an incredible place. So with a bank holiday weekend and a few days of leave left to claim, I headed for Lochranza and started planning the next few days.

The weather was amazing. I didn’t trust it. So while the sun shone, I went straight to Goatfell, the highest hill on the island. Stepping off the bus at Corrie I had no idea how many horse flies and midges I was to encounter on the (very sheltered and, for me, very sweaty!) way. Thankfully they seemed to lose interest after around 2700ft and left me to enjoy the last pull up to the summit.

On day three I was joined by my husband and brother-in-law, who despite many trips to Arran had not yet made it to Holy Isle. Reached by boat from Lamlash, on the southern half of the island, Holy Isle hosts the hill of Mullach Mor which provides excellent views back to Arran.

A much quieter area (though no less interesting) lies north west of the main Goatfell / Cioch an h-Oighe / Caisteal Abhail range. Climbing Beinn Bharrain from Pirnmill, continuing to Beinn Bhreac and returning via Coire Fhionn Lochan, the scenery was fantastic and offered wonderful views over to the main range of hills to the south east.

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Watching the mist roll over Beinn Bharrain

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The (deserted) ridge ahead – photo by Neil Collins

Lochranza was a perfect base – deer visited the loch in the evenings and an otter visited in the mornings. So long as you could ignore the midges you could have some great wildlife encounters here.

Staying in the hostel I met a number of people who returned to Arran time and again to explore its hills and coastline – clearly six days is not enough!

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Mankinholes

I had decided to base myself in the village of Mankinholes, near Todmorden, for the weekend. Mankinholes lids below the Napoleonic monument of Stoodley Pike, which sits on the Pennine Way and is a great starting point for walks over the Pennine moors. Walking in warm sunshine from Todmorden railway station (a distance of only 2.5 miles along the canal and across fields) with breakfast, dinner and tea supplies for the weekend I decided to walk the more direct route so that supplies could quickly be dropped off at the hostel, and I could set off on an evening walk.

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Looking towards Todmorden

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Stoodley Pike from the Pennine Bridleway near Mankinholes

Heading onto the moors in the early evening was the perfect way to relax after a day at work, and to visit Stoodley Pike without the usual crowds of the weekend. Stoodley Pike is a very popular local walk! I’ve approached the Pike from the Mankinholes (western) side, Hebden Bridge (eastern) side, and from Cragg Vale (south-eastern) side before and the approach from the west is far more enjoyable thanks to the views of Stoodley Pike along the moorland edge for around a kilometre or so. Approaching in any other direction just means that you don’t see it until you’re virtually there.

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Stoodley Pike on Friday evening

Having walked to Stoodley Pike on the Friday evening I felt I could now explore the moors without feeling like I’d ‘missed out’! Setting off on the Saturday in baking heat at only 8am, I plodded up onto the moors and instead of turning left towards the Pike, I turned right in the direction of the Pennine Way and Blackstone Edge. A stone seat at SD 966 228 dedicated to “our dad Cyril Webster who died 1992 ‘still walking the hills’” complete with backrest which provided some shade was very much appreciated. Whilst making the most of this unexpected treat I watched as two swallows swooped low in front of me and then a buzzard circled higher and higher in the cloudless sky.

Continuing on the Pennine Way to around SD 965 220, a path heads from here towards Withens Clough reservoir – I promptly left this to head up to the Holder Stones, Little Holder Stones and over the pathless moor to White Holme reservoir.

The Pennine Way can be found not far from here – after some very tedious walking along tracks and past pylons and turbines –

and followed until almost back in Mankinholes.

Before leaving the moors I decided to take a detour over Coldstones Hill and, finding a perfectly-shaped boulder for the purpose, spent almost an hour watching hang gliders and walkers making the most of the summer weather.

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Good spot for a rest, no?

Remains of the Haaf (fishing station) at the Point of Fethaland

Shetland: scratching the surface

There is so much of Shetland to explore, it feels as though it would be possible to visit the islands every year for the rest of my life and never grow tired of walking here. Visiting in June this year, we explored areas new to us which I could happily revisit time and time again.

A couple of areas which boast impressive views of popular hotspots include the peninsulas of the Ness of Burgi and No Ness. The walk out to the Iron Age fort of Ness of Burgi, on a narrow promontory just west of Sumburgh Head, has great views across the sea to cliffs which teem with puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars. An interesting stretch over jagged rocks to reach the peninsula is marked with posts and a metal chain, although in anything other than very strong winds these are largely unnecessary. Having walked around Sumburgh Head that morning I enjoyed seeing the cliffs from a lower angle, and the complete lack of visitors was a very welcome contrast to the coach parties at Sumburgh Head (although these are easily lost away from the lighthouse).

The Ness of Burgi from Sumburgh Head

The view from No Ness across to Mousa, an island RSPB reserve, can be reached by climbing a small hill which overlooks Mousa Sound. There are even the remains of a broch here, from which you can look across the Sound to the Mousa broch, the best-preserved in Scotland and which still has an intact staircase leading up to the top (and from which you can look back at No Ness).

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Mousa from No Ness

 

There are plenty of off-islands to explore around Shetland, and the trip out to Noss was one of the highlights of our visit. It’s possible to walk right round the island in a day – although the drama of the cliffs and the wealth of wildlife to see meant that even after getting one of the first boats across, we just managed to return in time for the last!

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The cliffs of Noss

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View towards Bressay and Shetland mainland from Noss

A much shorter walk, although no less exciting for that, is around the Kettla Ness on the island of West Burra which is connected to the mainland by a bridge not far from Scalloway. The white sandy beaches near Duncansclett, which seem popular with seals, are soon replaced by impressive cliffs, and perfect inland territory for exploring – so long as you don’t upset the (very defensive) breeding birds, of which there are plenty! Walk along the eastern shore on a rising tide and you may also have some amazing views of otters.

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Our best view of an otter was near Walls, on the western side of mainland. We’d walked up Sandness Hill and along the coast and, although we were above some pretty steep cliffs, an otter ran in front of us for longer than we’d have expected – possibly because a dead sheep masked our smell! – before clambering down to the shoreline.

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View from Sandness Hill, Westside

Somewhere we really wanted to visit was Fethaland, an area which includes the most northerly point in mainland Shetland. The scenery is different again from Westside, Noss and so on and the cliffs are incredibly dramatic. Walking from Isbister, we followed the coastline anticlockwise to the (very windy!) Point of Fethaland, again exploring every headland and promontory it was possible to walk out to and never being disappointed. It’s possible to continue back to Isbister by continuing anticlockwise along the coast, but having taken so long to explore just one half of this coastline we headed back along the inland track.

We still haven’t managed to reach everywhere on our ‘must see’ list after four weeks in the islands – Ronas Hill and the islands of  Foula and Papa Stour have as yet escaped. And I’m sure that when we next visit, hopefully taking in these places whilst we’re around, we’ll get to hear about new places to add to our ‘must see’ list!

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Muckle Roe and Eshaness

The highlights of my last visit to Shetland were undoubtedly visiting Muckle Roe and Eshaness. Having visited both on our first visit, there was always the danger that they wouldn’t live up to my memories of them. But they were even better.

Eshaness is an understandably popular area and boasts some amazing geological scenery. Walking at snails pace is often too quick to appreciate the variety of stacks, caves, blowholes and shattered layers of volcanic rock.

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Grind o da Navir, just about showing the storm beach at around 15m above sea level

Beginning on the western coast and continuing round to the north side, eventually and with backward glances we headed inland to cross the moor and emerge on the southern coast near the Tangwick Haa Museum.  The sun had been gaining in strength since late morning and by mid-afternoon sky and sea were both a hypnotic deep blue and showed off the red of the cliffs and the sea stacks The Drongs perfectly. The view of The Drongs from Braewick is my favourite view in all of Shetland.

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The Drongs and the cliffs at Braewick

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Dore Holm (a popular arch to kayak through)

The southern coast was much more sheltered and the views, in my opinion, just as impressive as from the main path on the western side which had become awash with visitors by the time we returned to the car.

Dramatic and beautiful as Eshaness is, however, Muckle Roe is the jewel in the crown of Shetland. I had fond memories of our last visit here, and this time we managed to squeeze more mileage and more variety into the day by returning over the hills of Mid and South Ward rather than heading inland sooner and along a low-level track.

Beginning at the end of the road on the southern side of the island, we traced the coastline round to the west with plenty of stops to admire the lochans, red-throated divers, sea stacks and dramatic cliff scenery. The knock and lochan landscape is perfect for exploring and for finding new viewpoints all along the coast.

The hours flew by as we investigated every headland possible, and rounded on to the northern coastline. The main attraction of this side of the island is The Hams (havens, or harbours) but I could have spent hours wandering any stretch of this coastline.

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Heading inland with The Hams of Muckle Roe behind

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The Hams with the cliffs of Eshaness across Magnus Bay

Heading over the moors to cross over  to the southern side of the island, the walking pace noticeably slowed as the vegetation grew higher and the rocks more noticeable. Great skuas kept us company for a while but, by the time we had reached the summit of Mid Ward, the skuas had lost interest and we could stop and admire the view.

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View from North Ward

Descending to the track which runs across the middle of the island, with a brief stop to fall in a hole and spin both upside down and 180 degrees, I regretted not bringing a tent as there were some perfect spots for wild camping all along the western half of the island. Although having spent one night here, I may never have left. I’d love to see Muckle Roe on a cold, dull and dreary day to find out if I feel quite as affectionate towards it, which of course would mean – unavoidably – another visit to Shetland. Oh, dear.

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Shetland

Five years after falling in love with Shetland, I finally managed a return visit. Our first trip was spectacularly wet and windy, but I saw just enough breaks from the rain to convince me that this was an amazing place and well worth a repeat visit (or two, or three, or as many as I could manage!). And we couldn’t have had more of a contrast in the weather – sun, heat, even midges!

Arriving at the car park for Hermaness NNR it was straight on with the suncream. A track leads across the moors  (or, the third largest great skua colony in the world) towards the cliffs of northern Unst. These cliffs are some of the most dramatic you’ll find in Britain, and are a magnet for puffins, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, gannets, shags, kittiwakes and black guillemots. The smell of one gannet colony was overpowering at times but was made up for by the sight of thousands upon thousands of gannets, diving for fish and caring for their chicks.

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Great Skua

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A rather small percentage of the gannets at Hermaness

Keeping as close to the cliff edge as we safely could, we walked to what we thought was the most northerly point on Unst (that could be walked to, anyway) and were treated to amazing views of the most northerly land mass in the U.K., Muckle Flugga.

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Muckle Flugga

It was a day to linger, soak up the sun and admire the views but eventually we reluctantly headed inland and back across the moor.

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The cliffs of Hermaness

Over the fortnight of our trip we managed to revisit two more places which we’d only seen in the rain. Fetlar is perhaps best known for its breeding population of red-necked phalaropes and it’s also known as the ‘garden of Shetland’ thanks to its fertile soil. In unrelenting driving rain, however, my memories of Fetlar were mostly of my own feet as I hunched against the rain and wind, and of the local museum we took refuge in. This time, however, it was different and we were out until the final ferry back to mainland Shetland, enjoying the coastal scenery and searching for otters (no such luck here, but we did bump into some elsewhere). I was struck by the number of flowers on Fetlar – most of inland Shetland is pretty boggy and devoid of much floral variety, but not so here.

Heading further south, my memories of St. Ninian’s Isle were of tall waves crashing against rocks and of once again trying to protect myself as best I could against the elements. Visiting on a calm sunny day, however, and the island was transformed into a welcoming haven for wildlife. The island is connected to mainland Shetland by a stunning sand tombolo, itself listed as a SSSI. Today the tombolo was an excellent spot to skim stones and to decide that reading up on geomorphology was best appreciated on not such a perfect day.

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Looking out towards St. Ninian’s Isle from the mainland

 

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Taking it slow

Last weekend was fantastic. I spent four days in the western Lake District and didn’t seen a drop of rain, and walked hills I’d never visited before. Walking from Buttermere over Fleetwith Pike and round to Haystacks and Red Pike was really enjoyable (even in the blazing heat!) and Mellbreak could well be my new favourite hill.

But today I wanted to slow things down and experience nature in a slightly different way (inspired by John Muir, of course!). So armed with a camera, I visited a local(ish) patch and, rather than concentrate on which hill I’m heading for next and not really take in where I am at the time, I walked around a small patch and really focused on what was there.

It feels like the difference between concentrating on the future, and focusing on the present (and I suppose looking back at the photos is like concentrating on the past!). You look at things in more detail, you can afford to be distracted and led around by what wildlife you hear, and you learn about things you rush past on the days when you’re clocking up the miles.

Local nature reserves

Having had a very indoors-y weekend for various reasons, by Sunday afternoon I was itching to stretch my legs and get some fresh air.

Yes, living in Otley I know I’m lucky to have Otley Chevin on my doorstep – but on a Sunday afternoon I’d also be sharing it with hoards of families, couples and dogs who I wasn’t in the mood for contending with. So I made for Gallows Hill nature reserve via the quiet ginnels and footpaths from my front door and listened to the birds and – nothing else, really.

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I worry that local green spots are always vulnerable to tarmac and housing development and so was especially pleased to see evidence of recent land management such as dry hedges, and there was even a new notice board from the Friends of Gallows Hill with recent sightings and an events programme. It seems as though some kind folks are making a concerted effort to manage the site for wildlife and to encourage people to visit, a promising sign indeed. Volunteering days are every fourth Tuesday, in case you’re interested.

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