Ex­plor­ing Yell

Morag Flem­ing dis­cov­ers this north­ern Shet­land Isle has plenty to shout about . . .

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

Morag Flem­ing en­joys a fine day in the Shet­lands

YELL is one of the larger Shet­land is­lands, just to the north of the main­land of Shet­land. It’s very of­ten the through road to the other two is­lands ac­ces­si­ble from here – Unst and Fet­lar – but that is un­fair as it has a lot to of­fer in its own right.

The canny trav­eller (that’s me, of course, in case any­one was won­der­ing) holds off, how­ever, and gets a later ferry, so as to ex­plore this is­land fur­ther, and is re­warded for their re­straint. On Yell there is plenty to shout about.

I travel to the very top of the main­land for the short ferry jour­ney to Yell. Once on the other side, the main road sticks to the west side of the is­land and there are great views across the Yell Sound to North­mavine, which is part of the north­ern main­land.

Small is­lands dot the blue sea and of­ten big ships add some in­ter­est as well. The land slopes gen­tly down to­wards the sea, only to be in­ter­rupted by the odd beach or in­let. It’s a beau­ti­ful drive north, if I take my time and keep look­ing west.

I take a small side road to West Sand­wick to find the sandy beach promised to me by the guide­book. I am in no way dis­ap­pointed as it is quite the bon­ni­est sight, with wild flow­ers thick on the banks flank­ing the per­fect sandy bay.

The banks pro­trude past the sand, mean­ing this beach is shel­tered from all but the most west­erly of breezes. This one is a beauty.

A walk north up the coast takes me to the site of an Iron-Age fort and more of those views across Yell Sound – it’s worth do­ing this to make the most of this coast­line, as when I re­turn to the van, the road starts to curve in­land be­yond West Sand­wick, to­wards Mid Yell.

Mid Yell is a very ac­cu­rate moniker, be­ing al­most dead cen­tre both north-south and east-west. East and West Yell are ex­tremely close here as two voes (sea lochs, to any nonShet­landers) creep in on ei­ther side and are a mere mile away from meet­ing and cre­at­ing two is­lands in Yell’s place. Mid Yell it­self, prob­a­bly due to its lo­ca­tion, is a prac­ti­cal place with a shop, pier and school.

Be­fore I get there, how­ever, I take the small road up to my left which fol­lows the voe called Whale Firth some way west and north, fall­ing short of the end of the penin­sula which, af­ter a wee walk al­most out to the point, af­fords a great view, this time of the north-west Yell coast­line.

As I drive I look across the voe to the re­mains of what has clearly been a size­able set­tle­ment at one time. This was called Volis­ter and is typ­i­cal of many of the signs of Shet­land be­ing much more pop­u­lated in times gone by than it is nowa­days.

I keep an eye out for ot­ters on the shore­lines, as there are many of them on Shet­land and they love these voes, but no luck to­day, un­for­tu­nately.

BACK at the main road I glance up to my left and an in­vol­un­tary shud­der runs through me. Could this be due to the ruin up on the hill? This is Wind­house and it is said to be haunted.

With its gap­ing win­dows un­blink­ing in the dark façade it cer­tainly looks haunted, which is enough for me! I’m think­ing about stay­ing in the nearby lodge which has been turned, as many no­table build­ings have been in Shet­land, into a Camp­ing Böd, which is a ba­sic hos­tel run by the Shet­land Amenity Trust, but per­haps it is too scary and I’m bet­ter off with my Terry, who is a much more friendly or­ange camper­van.

This is the mid-way point of Yell where the east and west roads meet, but be­fore we con­tinue north­wards let’s skip back to the south of the is­land where the ferry from the main­land came in.

We had a choice at that point, so let’s try the smaller road this time, “the one less trav­elled by” as Frost would say, and take the eastern coast up to Mid Yell for a change of scenery.

Bur­ravoe is the first stop a few miles east of the south­ern ferry ter­mi­nal at Ul­sta. Bur­ravoe is a very bon­nie vil­lage with the Old Haa dat­ing from 1672, which now

houses an art gallery, mu­seum and visi­tor in­for­ma­tion within its very smart white­washed walls. The pier is a busy place with chil­dren fish­ing and campers doo­dling about the small but well equipped camp­site right at the wa­ter’s edge.

The road now turns north and passes var­i­ous coastal quirks such as the Horse of Bur­ravoe, which is a nat­u­ral stone arch, the White Wife, which is the fig­ure­head of a sunken Ger­man train­ing ship wrecked in 1924, now look­ing out to sea on a re­mote cliff top, and the penin­sula of Vat­ster with its nar­row land-bridge be­tween the loch and the sea.

All of this is in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful as well as be­ing very in­ter­est­ing, and this is com­pounded by the views out to Fet­lar and Unst, Whal­say and the Sk­er­ries be­yond. In what seems like too short a time, I have come full cir­cle to Mid Yell and the junction with the main road, over­looked by the haunted Wind­house.

Beat­ing a hasty re­treat from all the ghosts and bogles, I con­tinue north and soon I find my­self at the top of the hill look­ing down to­wards Gutcher, the ferry ter­mi­nal to Unst and Fet­lar, and a ferry is com­ing in.

But I haven’t fin­ished with Yell quite yet, so I skip this one and take the road west which is sign­posted for Cul­livoe. In a few miles I come across the very pretty har­bour of Cul­livoe with its lovely views across the Bluemull Sound to Unst.

AT the end of this road is the deeply pen­e­trat­ing Gloup Voe, which looks like a dag­ger cut­ting into the steep hills. This was a deep-sea fish­ing base in the 19th cen­tury when the fish­er­men would take off in their small open sixa­reens – rowed by six men, or blown by the wind if they used the flimsy sail.

The boats would go miles and miles off shore to the deep-sea fish­ing and they bat­tled huge swells and suf­fered many storms in the mean­time.

One of the most dev­as­tat­ing storms hit these fish­er­men on July 21, 1881, and 58 poor souls per­ished, leav­ing wives and fam­i­lies des­ti­tute. The statue of a woman gaz­ing out to sea hold­ing a baby is a mov­ing me­mo­rial to these dead and I spend a mo­ment on quite a calm day try­ing to imag­ine the scene. It cer­tainly is a lonely and haunting vista, even on a good day.

Back I go to the ferry ter­mi­nal and have time for a visit to the fab Wild Dog Café, leav­ing Terry in the queue. There are dif­fer­ent queues for booked and un­booked ve­hi­cles at each ferry ter­mi­nal on Shet­land and, of course, the booked cars go on first, but I was never left be­hind on the reg­u­lar ferry cross­ings, although there would only be half an hour or so till the next one any­way.

I feel like in­ter­view­ing all the peo­ple in the queue for Fet­lar and Unst to check if they have prop­erly ex­plored this is­land be­fore dash­ing off to the next. I have ex­plored Yell, I want to tell them, and it’s won­der­ful – in fact, I want to shout it from the rooftops!

A poignant me­mo­rial to the men lost at sea in the great storm of 1881.

Cul­livoe’s pretty lit­tle har­bour of­fers shel­ter from the stormy North At­lantic.

Best avoided at night – Wind­house is said to be haunted.

Is­lands linked by a thread of land called a tombola.

The calm­ing view from Bur­ravoe.

Bring a pic­nic for the fine beaches.

It’s amaz­ing what can grow on these

wild is­lands!

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