5 Lessons learned from travelling to the Scottish Shetland Isles in February
This February a good friend of mine and me planned a wee trip to Shetland in Scotland. The group of island is the northernmost part of the UK and once belonged to Norway. This is still very obvious in the architecture, as a fair amount of the houses are built in the typical Norwegien vernacular style.
Travelling to Shetland in February is not the most popular idea (we had the shared ferry cabin to ourselves and the hostel room as well). We definitely learned what to be aware off when travelling the Scottish Isles during this specific time of the year.
1) Don’t underestimate the ferry ride
I have been on ferries before and I was sure I would be fine on the twelve hour journey. We booked a cabin with NorthLink Ferries for four people to share and we were lucky enough to have it to ourselves on both ways. The cabins are very comfortable with tea and coffee facilities and a bathroom en suite. But that doesn’t help when you are seasick. On the way up we didn’t take any medicine and even had a glass of wine just after leaving Aberdeen harbour. The wine definitely enhanced the upset feeling in our stomachs and after trying to prevail for an hour or two we retired to our cabins. My friend felt horribly sick and the rocking kept me awake almost the whole night.
On the way back we tried to be smart and started an experiment. My friend bought ginger and lemon, which according to the lovely lady at the Shetland Fudge store in Lerwick are good remedies against seasickness. I went with the chemical dose and bought Stugeron15. Funnily we felt similar. The first few hours were an ordeal, moving up and down, like on a roller coaster. But just after we passed Orkney both of us fell asleep and with a few tiny interruptions slept all the way through till Aberdeen. But both of us felt horribly rough the whole day(s) after, with floors moving and a drowsy feeling in the head. My friend is still a 100% convinced that the Islesburgh House Hostel in Lerwick had a rocking floor. 😉
2) You get 4 seasons per hour!
You know what they say about Scotland right? You can get all four seasons in a day. But Shetland is a hard core version of Scotland. You get all four seasons in an hour. We had snow, clouds, rain and sun all within mere moments between each other. To mix it up a little, one day we encountered a rain/hail/snow storm while we were on our hike, before it got all clear and sunny again as if nothing had ever happened. On the plus side, however, you will see a lifetime worth of rainbows. In our few days, we saw four magnificent rainbows, which gives the scenic character of Shetland a very picturesque flair.
3) It is windy, very windy!
You have lived close to the ocean for a while? You have lived for example in Wellington, New Zealand, which is nicknamed “windy Wellington”? That doesn’t prepare you for wind in Shetland in winter. Even when it is mild, the wind cuts through your clothes, so wear double what you were planning to wear in the first place. You won’t regret it.
4) Rent a car!
Public transport outside of cities is not good in Scotland. We knew that before taking off, but in Shetland in winter having a car or having to rely on public transport makes a heck load of a difference. Not necessarily because it is hard to get to places, which is alright if you plan ahead or if you have more time than we had (four days). The main reasons are that you can see more in a day and you have shelter when it is hailing or pouring down. In summer it can be lovely to be stuck for 1.5 hours at Saint Ninian’s beach and wait for the next bus to arrive but with ice cold wind and no café to retire to it is a bit off-putting.
5) Go for a coffee and cake!
Going for cake and coffee is not really the kind of activity you expect to do on a hiking trip to Shetland, but I assure you they have amazing coffee and cake in Lerwick. It is also a brilliant activity, when you have gotten all wet and need a hot cup of latte or hot chocolate with cream to warm your icy fingers with. The two cafes we tried were the Fjara Espresso Bar just across the road from Tescos and the Peerieshopcafe in the old town centre. At the Fjara Espresso Bar, the latte and hot chocolate are a must to try and you can enjoy them while watching a bunch of seals basking on the shoreline. If you are lucky and get one of the tables directly at the big window front you don’t want to leave again. The Peerieshopcafe has a bit of a cafeteria style inventory, which could be improved, but the lemon cheesecake makes you forget that straight away. Everything there is local and homemade. Wash it down with a cup of silky, creamy latte and your afternoon is perfectly sorted.
I did enjoy that trip and I know I want to come back either in summer or winter, as I still haven’t seen the Northern Lights. If anyone has any recommendations about Shetland or the Scottish Isles in general, please let me know.