Antipole cruises

Mousa and Fair Isles

On Sunday we had a gentle sail against the wind down the east coast of Shetland Mainland and came to the no-longer inhabited island of Mousa, which we had entirely to ourselves.  We anchored in a bay and went ashore to visit the broch. Brochs are ancient round towers built some 2000 years ago and the one on Mousa is the finest and most intact of any, with exquisite stone work made possible by the abundant supply of thin stones on the island.  The purpose of brochs is unclear, but they were probably defendable dwellings rather than forts.  The towers have a double wall construction with stone ties between inner and outer wall, making them strong for their weight – think cavity walls with a huge cavity.  Low down we found rooms between the walls, some probably for storage but others with stone alcoves and presumably living or sleeping rooms.  A stairway curving round between the walls leads to the top.  The views were magnificent.

Mousa is owned by the RSPB and is home to many interesting birds as well as grey and harbour seals.  There were thousands of tiny Storm Petrels nesting on the rocky foreshore.  As evening came we heard the remarkable deep churring sound they make from their burrows.  We were buzzed by Arctic Terns and Arctic and Great Skuas, both warning us off their nests.  The skuas are aggressive birds that live largely by robbing other birds of their food.  They aggressively defend their nests by diving at intruders rather alarmingly, as we experienced.  They are known here as Bonxies, presumably because they can bonk you on the head as you walk along.  On Monday morning the mists had cleared to blue skies and we visited the broch again.

Mid morning we set sail for Fair Isle.  It was a beat down the rest of Mainland and past the southern-most headland Sumburgh Point with its extensive and almost perpetual rosts (overfalls).  Eventually the wind came right and we reached Fair Isle despite the vicious tides around its north end.
Fair Isle (name probably derived from the Old Norse for Faraway Isle) can claim to be the remotest still-inhabited island in the British Isles, but, as it lies half way between the Shetlands and Orkneys, it gets more visits from passing yachts than some other islands such as Foula.  We anchored in the little harbour which is under a steep cliff on one side and which was studed with nesting sea-birds.  Near the top was a large puffin colony and we sat in the cockpit watching the puffins coming and going and standing outside their nesting burrows.
Fair Isle is famed for its knit-ware, which has unique colourful patterns probably of Norse origin.  Today there is just one hand knitter on the island but her lovely goods are priced beyond us.
IMG_1956Fair Isle people lead a pretty independent existence.  They have their own ferry which travels to Shetland three times per week, weather permitting.  We saw the ferry arrive and many islanders came to meet it to collect stuff awaited, such as stores for the shop.  In the photo you can see in the distance a rock with a sloping grass-covered top.  This rises steeply from the sea and we read it is regarded as unclimbable.  But until 1977 islanders took small boat-loads of sheep out to the seaward side and hauled them up on ropes to graze the grassy top.
Fair Isle has important flora and fauna.  As it is so far from anywhere else, it has unique varieties of various species such as field mice and wrens.  It is important in bird migration and since 1948 the Fair Isle Bird Observatory has studied 345 species (more than anywhere else in Britain) and run a programme of ringing birds to study migration patterns, for which it is world-renowned.  Today there is a lovely headquarters with hostel accommodation (the only catering or accommodation on the island).  All around the island you see the nets for its trapping and ringing programme.
IMG_1965We had a lovely walk out to the North Lighthouse and watched Arctic Skuas and a puffin colony close up.  In the photo you can see Ynskje carrying her walking stick above her head to deter the Bonxies from getting too close.
We were really reluctant to leave Fair Isle but need to work south.  We had an excellent and fast passage to Kirkwall, the capital town of the Orkney Islands.

St Magnus cathedral

St Magnus cathedral

Kirkwall is an interesting town with the long winding streets with alley ways off that we have seen in Stromness and Lerwick.  It is a fine example of a Norse town layout.  The magnificent St Magnus cathedral was founded in 1137. dominates the town and is absolutely stunning inside.

From Kirkwall we shall be leaving the islands and heading back to Scotland. [In the islands Mainland always refers the the main island.  The Scottish mainland is referred to as Scotland, of which islanders consider themselves apart.]  We feel sad to be leaving the wonderful peace, open space and wildlife.
More news from Scotland!
Ynskje & Tony

3 thoughts on “Mousa and Fair Isles

  1. Nicky

    We are so enjoying your journey visiting such remote and interesting places. Love the blog. So glad you are having a good trip. We hope the winds are kind to as you head South.

    Good sailing

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