It’s a long way to Saxa Vord. It took us two flights, two ferry crossings and a fair bit of driving to get there. With a trip like that, you might expect that we had ended up in the north of Norway, but in fact we had reached the top of Britain, Unst the most northern of the Shetland Islands.
Here we found a disused RAF base, now converted into a hostel, where the rooms are like student accommodation with shared bathrooms and kitchens, and the perfect place for heading a few more miles to the bird reserve of Herma Ness or out past the most northerly inhabited house to the ruins of the old listening stations which protected the north of Britain and the shipping routes to Russia during and after the war. From here the automated lighthouse on Muckle Flugga and the tiny dot of Outstack are all the lies between you and the North Pole. Fortunately, the old base is now home to a decent bar and a fine restaurant, so there was no need to use that kitchen.
The beer was brewed next door at the Valhalla brewery. We were there at weekend so missed out on the brewery trip, but did bump into the brewer who told us that we would have to make do with bottled beer, as there was no draught on the Islands. That wasn’t too much of a hardship and my eyes became expert at scanning the shelves and fridges looking for bottles of Simmer Dim or the excellent Sjolmet Stout wherever we went. In fact only once did I have to resort to what seems to be Scotland’s national drink, Tennant’s Lager, not an experience I am keen to repeat.
A week into our trip we found a Good Beer Guide pub in Wormadale, on the main Island and, buoyed by the sight of a Greene King sig,n we entered almost to be bowled over by the pub dog. At least we thought it was a resident, as it had a bed in the corner, but it turned out that it was just a regular customer. His human told us that Toby the terrier was excited because his mate Kevin was coming in with some food for him. Sure enough, a few minutes later Kevin, who works at the fish factory, turned up and he unwrapped a foil parcel containing a large piece of haddock cooked in butter. Toby apparently prefers monkfish, but he wasted no time in devouring his treat whilst we made do with a pint of Bombadier.
On our last night we took a chance and headed down to the Spiggie Hotel, where booking is advised. We were lucky. We didn’t see the menu, but instead the chef came out and discussed with us the options for a meal. In the end we chose the monkfish in a creamy garlic sauce washed down with a pint of Lerwick Shetland Pale. I am sure Toby would have approved.
We sat in the bay window watching the sun slowly descend towards the horizon over the loch and bay, with the brooding mass of Foula in the far distance.
I may have had better food and beer, though I’m not sure where, and it is possible that somewhere in the world there is a better view, but put all three together and I don’t reckon that evening could ever be beaten.
My real love is cities and I always say that either Toronto or Buenos Aires is my favourite place, but after Shetland I am not so sure.