Searching for Lancashire Snowdrops

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One of the stunning varieties of snowdrops at Cobble Hey Farm

If, like me, you look forward to the days getting longer and warmer, you will be noticing the brighter morning light and that the sunsets are just that little bit later.  The seasons are beginning to change!  It is the emerging of snowdrops that for me really signals that winter will eventually end.  Every year I anticipate the arrival of these tiny white flowers that are both hardy and delicate and represent the transition from the quiet of winter to the blossoming of spring.

There are some wonderful snowdrop gardens across the country and you will have your own favourites but here are my top picks of places to see snowdrops in Lancashire.

Cobble Hey Farm, Hobbs Ln, Claughton-on-Brock, Garstang, PR3 0QN

Cobble Hey Farm, high on the slopes of the Lancashire Bowland Fells, is the place to lose yourself in snowdrops.  Edwina, the gardener, has created a unique woodland garden over 20 years in this wild spot and among winding paths and a stream there are collections of different varieties of snowdrops.  The common snowdrops have naturalised under the trees and there are plantings of rarer snowdrops interspersed with occasional pink Hellebore and daffodils.  Wrap up as it can be cold on this fellside and explore this cheerful garden.  I found myself looking more closely at snowdrops than I have ever done before as I wandered around the garden, finding ivory-coloured snowdrops, large-flowered snowdrops, tall varieties and others with daffodil yellow-stems.

If you have time you can walk on the farmland and maybe see the lapwings and there might be new lambs in the barn and goats in the field.  When you need to warm up there is a cafe here too.

Lytham Hall, Ballam Road, Lytham, FY8 4JX

We took the bus into Blackpool and another out to Lytham from Beechwood Carvan Site but you can park in Lytham if you prefer to drive.  Like us, you will want to see the windmill on Lytham’s green, look over the sands and maybe browse the shops or visit one of the many cafes but on a February weekend you will eventually want to walk out of the town to Lytham Hall to follow their snowdrop trail

It was a fine day on our last visit and we were greeted by smiling and helpful volunteers and directed into the gardens.  Lots of people were strolling through the extensive woodland gardens around the handsome 18th century brick and stone mansion.  Occasionally someone would stoop to get a close-up view of one flower in the carpets of bright white droplet flowers.

Lytham Hall was a grand family home and then offices until the 1990s when the 78-acre estate came up for sale.  British Aerospace (a local employer) donated the almost £1 million asking price and Lytham Hall is now run by and for the local community and has a range of different events in the house and gardens.  They also run a popular cafe in the house.

Bank Hall, Bretherton, PR26 9AT

South of Preston and surrounded by trees is the hidden gem of Bank Hall.  The gardens here are open for Snowdrop Sundays through February.  Bank Hall has not been lived in since 1971 and deteriorated considerably.  It’s appearance on TVs Restoration programme and the hard work of a local group are turning its fortunes around and now renovation of the hall is ongoing.  The woodland grounds can be visited on regular open days and wander here in February and you will find rafts of perfect white snowdrops naturalised over hundreds of years in a spectacular carpet.

With two bright green leaves and a dropping white bell-shaped flower, snowdrops are European natives that may be a Roman introduction to the UK.  The Galanthus family, from the Greek meaning milk flower, has around 20 different species, varying in height, size and flowering season, some growing to 12 inches high and others flower in autumn.

We stayed at:

Beechwood Caravan Site, New Lane, Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancashire, FY5 5NJ – a small, reasonably priced site that has good bus links with Blackpool and Fleetwood.

If this isn’t enough snowdrops then Hornby Castle in the Lune Valley also has a snowdrop weekend.

Read my full travel article about seeking snowdrops in Lancashire published in MMM in January 2019.

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My year of walking 2,019 km in 2019

This post isn’t about a New Year resolution [I don’t do these] but it is about my 2019 walking target.  Friends would generally describe me as an active person but just over 12 months ago I realised I had no idea how far I walked in a year.  So, at the beginning of 2019 I set myself a target of walking 2,019 km during 2019.  I thought this wouldn’t be too demanding but really had no idea how it would pan out and as the year rolled on I became surprised how challenging it was to reach that mileage.  Half way through the year I reported that I was over target, having walked 60.5 km more than 1,009.5 I needed to have walked at that point.  Maybe I sat back a little in the second half of the year and perhaps moving house messed up my routine but it was touch and go whether I would reach 2,019 km before the end of 31 December 2019.  But I got there and after some long winter walks actually walked 2,073 km in 2019!

I didn’t count walking around our home or nipping out to the shops as part of my 2,019 km, this was not a step counting exercise and distance was only counted when I had kitted up for a walk.  It was okay if this was a utility walk such as to the supermarket or to an appointment, the important thing was that I had chosen to walk rather than cycle, take the bus or drive.  My partner has joined me on most of these walks but hasn’t quite reached 2,019 km himself.

2,019 km averages out as around 5.5 km each day.  Not a great distance but I found that to reach the target there was no chance to let up.  Yes, there were days when I walked 20 km but there were other days when other activities got in the way and I didn’t walk anywhere at all.  A couple of days like that and a long walk counted for little and I needed to catch up.  There were a staggering 56 days when I didn’t go outside and put one foot in front of the other.  In the first half of the year I had 30 none-walking days and 26 days in the second half as by December I was dashing out every day to ensure I reached the target!  Of course, on some of these apparently inactive days i might have been to my tai chi class or more recently packing and unpacking boxes or gardening; but there were days when we were driving or I was writing at home and being fairly inactive.  I know that I feel happier if I have got outside and taken some exercise and certainly if I am writing it is a break from staring at the laptop and it helps my brain to focus and come up with new ideas.

Most of the distance was either around Salford or, more recently, Morecambe but there were plenty of memorable days out in other places, here are a few highlights:

  • Climbing Ben Nevis wasn’t my longest day of walking at 17 km but with all that altitude to climb it was the toughest day and the most emotional.
  • Walking with friends is always special and provides me with good memories.  We have had some fantastic walking days with other people in Wharfedale, the Lake District, Scotland and Anglesey in all sorts of weather from wet to almost hot!
  • The coastal walking in Shetland was unbeatable and well organised and during our spring holiday there we clocked up 127.5 km on these stunning islands.
  • Walking from Eastbourne to Beachy Head on a warm February day was an unforgettable experience and sitting on the cliffs as a peregrine falcon landed next to us was a bonus.
  • We walked around Rivington Pike in Lancashire on a couple of occasions, both blue-sky winter days that were perfect.
  • The two longest walks were both 21 km and were  both summer walks but on both occasions there was more drizzle than sunshine!  The first was around the green hilly land around Hexham in the north of England through lush dripping forests.  The second was up and down the Derbyshire dales around Longnor on what I had sold to my partner as a pub crawl but turned out to be more of a walk between closed country pubs!
  • On one pavement bashing day I wore through some shoe leather walking 18.5 km around Salford and Manchester, mostly to hand deliver a parcel someone had purchased on Ebay [they left very good feedback!]
  • Dodd in the Lake District is only a small hill but on the January day we climbed it there was enough snow for a snowball fight!
  • One of my favourite walks in Salford is around Salford Quays and Media City.  Having recorded all my walks for the year I can see I did this on 28 different occasions between January to November 2019.  Now we have moved my favourite walk is down to Morecambe Bay, a handy 6 km circuit.

What about 2020?  As much as I have found it fascinating to keep a check on my mileage for the year I will not be setting a walking target again.  As the year moved on it had started to feel a bit tiresome to keep working out distances I had walked and make a note and I won’t miss being free of that.  I know there are good apps that will record distances but I don’t necessarily trust their accuracy, particularly in the mountains.  Another reason for making this target a one-off is cycling.  Our bikes have languished in the shed gathering dust for much of the year and we are looking forward to getting out and exploring the fantastic cycle routes around our new home in Morecambe now we don’t have to keep walking and walking and walking.  My partner has threatened to set a demanding cycling target for 2020 but I think / hope he is joking!

 

 

 

 

A 1940s tour around Morecambe Bay

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Vintage gifts

When we moved to Morecambe we received a whole pile of cards wishing us happiness in our new home and a few lovely gifts.  One of the most memorable gifts was from an old friend whose grandma had lived in Bolton-le-Sands on Morecambe Bay.  She generously gave us two items that had once belonged to her grandmother.

The old half-inch map for cyclists and motorists for the Lancaster District is a beautiful cloth map that has been unfolded and folded many times.  I enjoy looking at old maps and this one gives an interesting insight into how Morecambe grew in the latter half of the 20th century.  Our bungalow was built in the 1960s and the map shows the fields that were here before and Morecambe is shown as a fishing village and not the seaside resort it is now.   Inside the cardboard cover to the map are two adverts that give a glimpse into another world.  One is to Tranter’s First Class Temperance Hotel in Bridgewater Square and the other is for Dr J Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne, a remedy for coughs, colds, consumption, bronchitis and asthma which will also cut short attacks of epilepsy and hysteria and makes claims as being useful for a wide range of illnesses from gout and cancer to toothache!

My friend’s other gift was , ‘The History of Morecambe Bay’ by Michael McDermott, an illustrated pamphlet from 1948.  In his forward, Michael McDermott tells us that, ‘For years it has been my custom to cycle along the coast, and thus come across many of the antiquities of the area.’  I am sure Michael McDermott also owned a copy of the old cloth map.

Michael McDermott begins by considering the origin of the name Morecambe [pronounced more – cam, the b and e are silent] and suggests the name may mean the bending shore or the beautiful haven or that it may derive from Mwr Cwm, meaning hollow in the hills.  Today, according to The Morecambe Bay Partnership, the name is from, Morikambe eischusis  [tidal flats in Greek].  This name was recorded on a map between the Solway and Ribble estuaries by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in 150 AD.

Michael McDermott’s journey around Morecambe Bay begins in Lancaster with the Romans and then follows the River Lune to the picturesque Sunderland Point and the gem that is Overton Church.  He then takes his reader by bicycle on to Heysham, which he describes as a ‘wooded headland’ with the stone coffins on the headland and he gives some details about the area’s links with St Patrick.

Moving north, Michael McDermott frustratingly doesn’t have much to say about Morecambe itself.  ‘Adjacent to Heysham we have the holiday resort of Morecambe, which has developed in the last hundred years from a small fishing village called Poulton-le-Sands. Morecambe has the usual theatres, fair-grounds and swimming-bath of a holiday resort, and beyond that is of little interest to us.’  So much has changed in Morecambe since 1948, with the fair and lido now gone and I would have been very interested to read about what the town was like 70 years ago.

This clearly isn’t the booklet to get a clear picture of Morecambe back in the 1940s but reading it aloud to each other we did learn about Torrisholme long barrow.  Michael McDermott writes, ‘The skulls found in barrows like this are peculiarly elongated in form, and the name given to the particular race who erected the long barrows is “the long-headed men.”  Some barrows are round – they were built by the “round-headed men.”‘  Now referred to as a Bronze Age Round Barrow, some suggest Torrisholme Barrow was the old law hill of the area before Lancaster Castle was built but no one refers to the people that built it as having particularly elongated heads!

Michael McDermott does give us a glimpse of the fishing industry that existed around Morecambe Bay.  He tells us that you would once have seen fishermen cleaning mussels on the promenade at Morecambe and at Bolton-le-Sands he meets Mr and Mrs Wilson who search for cockles in the bay in all weathers.  He describes the cockle beds and the ‘cram,’ a curved fork used to scoop up the cockles and a board with handles that was called a ‘jumbo’ and was used to bring the cockles to the surface.  He romanticises the hard work of these ‘fisher-folk,’ telling us, ‘Living close to nature as they do, the minds of the fisherfolk are totally free from the inhibitions that are the curse of an over-industrialised society, and their  spontaneous generosity, humour, and interest in simple things make their friendship a pleasure for all who are fortunate to come into contact with them.’

Much of the pamphlet gives readers the details about the route across the sands of Morecambe Bay.  Before the railway and good roads this was a frequently used, if perilous, way from Ulverston to Furness and Kents Bank to Arnside and Hest Bank.  There is still a Queen’s Guide to the Kent Sands living in the house on Cart Lane at Kents Bank and regular cross bay walks for charity occur in the summer and are a marvellous and safe day out.  Michael McDermott tells us that, ‘The post of Guide to the Sands is many centuries old, and was created by the Crown in 1337, after several people had lost their lives while making the crossing.’

The other method of traversing Morecambe Bay is also referred to in the pamphlet.  It seems that swimming across Morecambe Bay used to be a summer event that attracted many competitors.  The course from Grange to Morecambe was first completed in 1907 by “Professor” Stearne in three hours 45 minutes 41 seconds.  Due to changes in the waters of Morecambe Bay the swim was stopped in 1991.

Although out-of-date, this charming history booklet has told us about a number of places we didn’t know.  On the Cumbrian side of Morecambe Bay are the earth works of a motte and bailey castle on Adlingham’s Moat Hill.  In the 1940s this was thought to be another burial mound and Michael McDermott quite alarmingly writes, ‘In view of the many signs of early man which have been unearthed in this neighbourhood, there is no doubt that in the dim past this area was the most important part of the bay, and countless young girls must have been butchered in the exotic religious rights which the old heathens carried out at their stone circles and caves.’

While ideas about the activities of ancient people have changed considerably, Morecambe Bay remains an English gem that is well worth exploring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Archers: My Unfashionable Story of Country Folk

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Whenever we travel around Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire I feel as if I am in an episode of The Archers.  I will spot a Home Farm, a village green, a black-and-white timber-framed pub or a farm shop and I am immediately reminded of the fictional residents of Ambridge in Borsetshire that I know so well.

A couple of minutes past seven Sunday to Friday it is best not to disturb me.  If I am at home I will generally be listening to Radio Four and an episode of The Archers.  My relationship with this long running radio soap opera began as a child when The Archers had already been broadcast for about 20-years.  Since 1950 Radio Four has been telling the story of rural folk in a fictional village called Ambridge in Borsetshire.  When I began listening I lived with my parents in the English countryside.  Even then the drama of the southerners living in Ambridge was hardly recognisable.

Even though I have been a city dweller for over 30 years, I still listen to this rural soap opera.  I have had breaks when we travelled for a year and on our extended holidays but it is easy to pick up, nothing changes so much in Ambridge that I can’t follow the new story lines.

One of the reasons I like the Archers is because stories unfold over months or even years.  There is plenty of drama [perhaps too much these day] but it does at least have a realistic time-scale.  I am usually cooking when the programme is aired in the evening and being radio I can listen and cook at the same time, giving about half my brain to the story.

The high-emotion story lines are not what I enjoy about The Archers, it is the everyday that appeals to me.  I want to take a short peak into the lives of people I have grown up with over the years and check in with how they are doing without feeling traumatised.  The Grundy’s are having trouble getting their elderly cider press to work, one of the cows is poorly at Brookfield and Hilda the cat is missing, these are the stories that work for me.  There is a warmth and gentleness about these stories in today’s world.  Peculiar to radio, The Archers can have silent characters, people who are referred to but never heard,  Derek Fletcher and the Sabrina Thwaite are just two personalities that add colour without being heard.

While often listening is comfortingly uneventful, there have been a number of big issue story lines recently that have put off listeners who don’t want distressing stories to interfere with the rural idyll.   Family squabbles and neighbourly disputes are the bread and butter of The Archers liberally dotted with fun and games at the Flower and Produce Show or the Christmas Panto.  Without these The Archers is nothing and when the easy companionable humour and neighbourliness disappears I will switch off for good.   I hope the dedicated team of scriptwriters continue to write gentle and amusing stories so I can relax and not have my imaginary world rocked!

Although radio drama leaves so much to the imagination, I enjoy exploring the counties I associate it with to add substance to the pictures in my head.   A bit of research reveals that Cutnall Green in Worcestershire could be the fictional village of Ambridge, it has a shop and nearby pub, a cricket team and is surrounded by farmland.  Other contenders are Inkberrow and Hanbury, both also in Worcestershire.  While Inkberrow has its own timber-framed pub, called The Old Bull and a village green, Hanbury has Summerhill Farm, thought to be the model for Brookfield, and Hanbury Hall, which has some resemblance to Lower Loxley Hall.  St. Mary the Virgin church in Hanbury has been used for Ambridge weddings.  I can see a more focused trip to visit these villages forming in the Archer’s half of my brain!

 

 

The last glorious day of summer in Langdale, the Lake District

It was early October in the north-west of England and our weather expectations were low … but the isobars were working in our favour and there was one day in a blustery and showery week when the sun shone, the sunglasses were dusted off and the short trousers had one last airing … and on this splendid day we were lucky enough to be in the Lake District!

We were staying at the National Trust Great Langdale campsite.  This campsite has some shortcomings; it isn’t the place for you if you are looking for somewhere with luxurious heated facilities [despite the sunshine it was chilly in the evenings and mornings]; or a site with spacious campervan pitches [the pitches work best for smaller campervans] or even if you want somewhere cheap and cheerful [it costs £25/night in September/October but varies between £21 and £30 for two adults with EHU].  What this campsite does offer is stunning views of the wonderful Langdale Valley, peace and quiet, the Old Dungeon Ghyll just five minutes away [where you can get a pint of Old Peculier, my favourite beer] and access to superb walking.

We enjoyed one of those days when the hills are so magnificent you don’t want to stop hiking and we were having so much fun we ended up following a route somewhat longer than we originally planned.  It was so glorious on the hills we just kept adding another hill and the sun had left the valley by the time we descended back to our cosy Blue Bus.

We climbed upwards from the valley and emerged from the crags above Langdale onto Loft Crag, a superb viewpoint.  The panorama down the steep hillside into the valley and across to the summit of Bow Fell were magnificent and further away we spotted Great Gable among the multitude of fells.  We moved on to Pike of Stickle, skipping Harrison Stickle that we have climbed before and took in Thunacar Knott before deliberating over our lunch about where to head for next.  High Raise was beckoning and we set off across the slightly boggy land dotted with small tarns to this hill with views into Borrowdale and across Derwent Water to Skiddaw.  Sergeant Man is easily recognisable from almost any direction except from High Raise it seems but we hiked on and navigated to this little peak.

Our final objective became Blea Rigg, a Wainwright neither of us had knowingly climbed before and the top of which isn’t really clear on the map or the ground.  We had searched for Blea Rigg on an earlier occasion this year during a walk from Grasmere to Silver How and failed to find it.  This time, in the continuing sunshine, we climbed up every pimple and nobble between Sergeant Man and Silver How, examining Wainwright’s drawings on each one, determined to be sure we had stood on top of Blea Rigg.  Comparing my photographs with those of others on the internet later we are confident we did get there!

We descended on sheep tracks below the crags, eventually joining Stickle Ghyll and the well-made path into Langdale.  We had walked about 15 km but most importantly had experienced a truly memorable Lake District day.

 

 

 

A Campervan Trip to the North-East: Hexham, Whitley Bay & County Durham

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St Mary’s lighthouse at Whitley Bay

The Hexham Racecourse campsite is on the top of a hill and has wide open views over the racecourse to green hills and woodland.  This lofty position does mean it catches even the merest hint of a breeze.  The walk into Hexham is an easy 1.5 km but the return is back up the hill and a trifle more demanding.  The peace and openness of this relaxed campsite suited us very well and the facilities are modern and clean.

Hexham is a quiet little town but certainly worth a walk around to see the abbey and the old gaol and there are plenty of cafes to sit in and watch the world go by.  We walked down to the town in the early evening and pottered through the streets and the park.

On a wet day we took a longer walk from the campsite through luxuriant woodland where raindrops dripped long after a downpour had stopped.  The long ribbon of West Dipton Wood follows the brook along a narrow valley to the charming Dipton Mill Inn.  We followed tracks and lanes to the hamlet of Juniper where we picked up a path over the dramatically named Devil’s Water into Dipton Wood, a large area of woodland and heather that is varied and delightful.  We didn’t meet another walker until we were on the paths and lanes that took us into the Tyne Valley and Corbridge where the sun started to peep out.  We treated ourselves to pancakes with ice-cream in the Emporium Ice-cream Parlour before catching a train back to Hexham and tackling the hill up to the campsite.

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The view from Hexham Racecourse campsite

Our next stop was the Caravan and Motorhome Club site by Whitley Bay.  On the way we returned to Corbridge to visit the fascinating site of the Roman town that has been excavated.  The Whitley Bay campsite is arranged so that pretty much everyone has some sort of sea view, looking across to the picturesque St Mary’s Lighthouse that can be reached by a short causeway between high tides.  We walked along the coast to the centre of Whitley Bay and joined the queue for a Di Meo’s Ice Cream, spoilt for choice by their range of delicious flavours.  There were plenty of people enjoying being on the beach and I decided it was warm enough to have a paddle in the sea as we walked back.

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Brancepeth Church modern stained glass window

We ended our trip near to Durham.  We walked to Causey Arch, the world’s oldest surviving single-arch railway bridge and along the old railway line into the village of Lanchester.  The Lanchester Valley railway was built to carry iron ore and coal to the Consett steelworks and was opened in 1862.  Trains ran here for just over one hundred years and today it is a level and popular walking and cycle path.  In Lanchester we found the charming Kaffeehaus Amadeus, a small and delicious slice of Austria in County Durham.

Before we headed home a friend took us on a short walk to see Brancepeth, an unexpected picture-postcard village with a castle and St Brandon’s Church, which had exceptional 17th-century features but was destroyed by fire in 1998.  The church was restored and is now a light and airy space with a stunning modern stained glass window depicting colourful flowers.

Shetland: Top Tips for a Campervan Trip

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Uyea on Shetland’s north coast

The Shetland Isles some miles off the north coast of Scotland are fascinating and beautiful islands, packed with wildlife and a different view around every headland.  Shetland will take your traveller’s mind and blow it over a sea cliff with its stunning scenery, friendly people and tranquillity.  Getting to Shetland is quite a journey for anyone but it is perfect for the pace of a campervan or motorhome holiday.  Read on and get the bug …

Getting there

If you are taking your campervan, rather than hiring one there, you will be on the ferry from Aberdeen.  Even if you are hiring, consider taking the ferry, rather than flying for a gentler way of getting north.  We got on the NorthLink ferry in Kirkwall, Orkney, as we spent a few days on these islands first.  As we were only on the ferry from about midnight until early morning we decided that the sleeping pods would be an acceptable and cheaper option, rather than paying for a cabin.  This turned out to be a frugal choice too far!  The sleeping pods area is full of people shuffling, snoring and generally being quietly noisy and if you value your sleep get a cabin.  If you must save money, take your own blanket and find a corner of the boat to sleep in.  On our return to Aberdeen we had a cabin which felt luxurious.

Where to start exploring

Before you go make use of the Shetland Tourist Information site as it is incredibly useful.  I spent hours checking out the walking pages for ideas for long and short walks on the islands.  We followed a number of these including Hillswick Ness, North Roe, Culswick, St Ninian’s Isle, Eshaness and Hams of Muckle Roe.  They were all good paths and excellent hiking with cliffs, sea stacks and arches around every headland.

Getting off what Shetlanders call The Mainland [the main island] is easy.  There are daily inter-island ferries to the northern islands, Yell, Unst and Fetlar and to Whalsay and Bressay on the east.  There are also regular sailings to Skerries, Papa Stour, Foula and Fair Isle.

Reading some of Ann Cleve’s Shetland series or watching the TV series before you visit could be a fun part of your planning.  It will in no way prepare you for the beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the community but they are great stories.

Camping

There are wild camping spots on Shetland but do support the community campsites as these are a great chance to meet local people and support rural areas.  Information about the nine campsites is on the website including the facilities they provide and cost.  Some of these campsites have honesty boxes, at others a volunteer will come round for payment.  We stayed at almost all the campsites and they were all good although my favourite was the Burravoe Pier site on Yell.  We spent a few days in this picturesque spot, walked and cycled from here and just watched the sea.  I also loved camping at the village hall at North Roe where there are no facilities except for water and electric.  We had it to ourselves and sat in the evening sunshine listening to snipe drumming overhead.  My post about Scottish campsites is here.

A slow pace

My top tip is don’t dash around Shetland, even if you are only there for a few days.  We explored the islands for three weeks and this felt good but we could easily have stayed for longer and even after so long there were still things we didn’t get round to seeing.

Taking it slowly will give you chance to find your own special corners.  There is a main road along the length of Shetland’s Mainland but you will want to turn off this road to explore the single-track roads that often end at the sea, which is never far away.  Stopping and watching the sea was one of our favourite activities, the views change with the weather and tides.  If you are lucky and patient you might spot seals, otters or orcas.

Experience the slower pace of life in Shetland and give yourself time to talk to people.  We found that Shetlanders still practice the art of conversation and many of them willingly and generously shared fascinating stories with us.

Food

Find at least one of the cake cupboards.  These are roadside places to buy yummy fresh cakes with an honesty box.  We visited the Cake Fridge at East Burrafirth and the Emma’s Cake Corner in Hoswick many times.  For a full list.

Buy the Shetland Times on a Friday and check out which village halls are offering Sunday Tea or Sunday Lunch and get along.  In the winter, the lunch is soup and sandwiches and cake for a fixed price.  In summer there is an offering of homemade cakes, quiche, sandwiches and more, each item a small amount of money.  All this is washed down by constant refills of tea or coffee.  Sitting at communal tables you will get a chance to chat to some more Shetlanders.  The money raised generally goes to a good cause or to support the village hall.

You can also buy Shetland milk and excellent Shetland butter in the village shops and supermarkets.

Things to see

You will probably spend lots of time beach combing and sitting on cliffs but eventually you might want to see some sights.

Take a boat trip with Shetland Seabird Tours.  They take weather-dependent daily trips to see the birds around Noss and have early bird dawn trips too.  We never got to see the birds on Noss as on the day we were booked the orcas were around and we had an amazing hour watching them hunting the bays.  Whatever you see, you will enjoy a great trip with a knowledgeable crew.

A trip to Mousa to see the best preserved broch in Scotland [and anywhere] is another must-do.  This is a short boat trip and walk to the broch.  You can also visit at night, leaving around 22.30, to see the storm petrels returning to their nests in the broch.  This is a unique Shetland wildlife experience.

Visit Jarlshof, the site of human settlement for around 4,000 years near Sumburgh Airport.  With examples of buildings from Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Norse and medieval eras this is a complicated and fascinating site.

If you have a wet day spend it in Lerwick.  After browsing the shops and cafes, visit the bright and modern museum on the quayside where you will learn so much about Shetland and its history.  A trip to the Town Hall to see the colourful stained glass windows that tell stories from Shetland’s history is also worthwhile.

The Tangwick Haa Museum at Eshaness will give you a useful overview of Shetland’s fishing industry and Querndale Mill surprised us with its varied exhibits, in particular the photographs of local wildlife and their Shetland names.  The beautiful Burravoe Haa Museum on Yell tells more stories about fishing and local history and has an archive of wildlife photographs taken by Bobby Tulloch, a local man.  The Old Haa also serves excellent tea and homemade cake.

If it is the seabird nesting season you will want to go to either Sumburgh Head or Hermaness National Nature Reserve on Unst.  You might see puffins, gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots or razorbills and other birds.

Some people might tell you that trees can’t grow on Shetland.  Although it can be windy, this isn’t true and we visited some superb woodlands.  Da Gairdins at Sand, Garderhouse is a woodland garden on three crofts that is lovingly tended by Ruby.  Michaelswood near Aith is a magical community woodland to remember a young man who died.  Both of these are perfect to visit on a breezy day when you want some shelter.

Find your Shetland

Everyone finds their own way to enjoy Shetland.  I hope these give you some ideas to start planning your own trip.  If you’ve visited Shetland and I’ve forgotten your favourite thing to do then drop a comment below.