BACK TO BURRAVOE PIER
I stayed on happily overnight at the harbour and next morning had a lovely chat with the 'goose lady' who was out to exercise their three dogs. She and her husband loved it here in Shetland and moved up from England a couple of years ago, intending to restore one of the many ruined stone crofts, but when the Old Post Office came on the market with B&B potential so nicely situated by the harbour they had moved in and were hoping to re-open for paying guests later this year.
They mentioned there was a shop and post office at Cullivoe and also said the bay at Breckon was beautiful so I took that road out of the harbour. Once again fabulous views across Blue Mull sound to the rocky shores of Unst on the coast behind St Olaf's Kirk. The internet teminal was down at the post office, and Breckon Sands looked a fairish walk so I gave that a miss, and though The Sailors Memorial at Gloop didnt sound particularly interesting I thought I may as well carry on and take a look. I am so pleased I did.
The idea of looking at a statue commemorating the loss of some fishermen doesn't sound the most compelling place to visit. It is situated at the very end of the island, giving a good view across the seas, though the figure is a bit worn and covered with lichen, and you can't get a good look at it other than from the back, which is not the most flattering angle. But when you read the story of what happened it takes you back and makes you realise how hard times were in those days. To be a fisherman and the sole supporter of your family, which in those days was always large, would have put huge pressure to go out fishing in less than ideal conditions. And when you read about what was involved in bringing in the catch it is humbling to us in our cosseted modern lives.
In July, 1881, the Gloup Fishing Disaster occurred, in which 58 fishermen were killed by a freak blast coming from the direction of Iceland. Ten boats were lost, mostly sixareens which were open fishing boats about thirty foot long with six or sometimes eight oars and a skipper. These boats would head for the best fishing grounds sometimes as far as forty miles from shore chasing the fish. The fishing season lasted about four months, with the boats going out twice a week fishing for cod, ling and halibut, which would then be dried on the stones of the beach, with the men staying in lodges for the season, and going home on Sunday if it was near enough. For this the pay could be less than £2 for the whole season, but with large families and little other employment there would have been little alternative
One can only imagine the hardship caused in the community by the loss of so many breadwinners. In 1981, one hundred years after the disaster a memorial was erected to commemorate the victims.
As we had approached the memorial on a fenced trackway there was one old ewe grazing all alone halfway up the track. She took no notice of the arrival of Thebus, and being somewhat larger than the average Shetland ewe and with a bumptious air about her she was probably used to getting her own way. But when she saw Phoebe get out, and the two of us appoaching, she suddenly became aware that she was cornered with no way out but past the two of us. Head up, and eyes alert, she trotted away trying to remember if there was any way out of this trap she now found herself in. Then standing at bay, with eyes darting this way and that to see if there was space to get past us, she nervously waited our approach.
Phoebe is used to sheep anyway, plus I told her go quietly, so she was just mooching around, As we got closer I called her to me and held her in to the side as the ewe, now seeing an escape careered past us, and letting Phoebe go we carried on up the path.
The sheep seeing no-one in pursuit, stopped and watched us. You could see her going into sheep-thinking mode, and I don't care what anyone says, sheep are not stupid, it's just that being a prey animal when you put them under pressure they will panic, and panic equals run. But this old ewe was now thinking 'That dog's a wimp – it didn't even look me in the eye – I'll have it' And as we walked slowly on - the hill was quite steep and my knees have been pretty stiff just lately - she started trailing us. If we stopped and looked at her she stamped her foot and looked as ferociously as she knew how. And after we had gone in through the little wicket gate of the memorial garden she hung around outside still looking fierce. When we came back out I could see that she was thinking of trying a little butting, so I had to look her in the eye myself and tell her in no uncertain terms to not even think about it, and I told Phoebe she could go forward so the ewe trotted on, but all the time stopping, as if to re-inforce the fact that she had our measure, and wasn't in the least scared of us.
Back in Thebus we retraced our steps passing the local school where the youngsters were out in the playground in the sunshine, I thought what a fabulous place to spend ones school days. The boys were playing football and the girls and some of the younger boys were playing follow my leader on top of the school-yard wall. Probably both forbidden in English schools now. I took some photo making sure no children were included, (what a ridiculous world we live in now) but you can see Phoebe looking at them.
Passing back through Ulsta we turned to follow the coast just out of the harbour, and the sun had come through beautifully by now. I did try to take some photos but once again they are such a pale imitation of reality I think it is better not to post them, but the sunlight had lit up the brown of the heather till if was a glowing copper brown, the skies were that pure cornflower blue reflecting in the seas beneath to show a deep sapphire. The white crests on the waves, like white frothy frosting as they crashed against the rocky shores of the island just across the water and the panorama in front of me was breathtaking. The road was actually a dead end at North Sandwick so I got to enjoy it twice, as I had to turn and come back. I stopped at one point to enjoy the scenery and a group of sheep, at first worried by this large stripy intruder thought about running off, but as we had parked near where they got fed, they gradually became bolder, and gave me a chance to do my lamb impersonations, which caused them much puzzlement and me much hilarity.
I had enjoyed the stay a Burrivoe Pier so much I went back for another night, stopping once more at the wonderful Aywick stores, this time in search of a peaked cap, as it had been suggested this might be the solution to the 'sun in my eyes while driving' problem and once again they had the perfect thing. I filled up with petrol only £1.35 litre – well spent a hundred pounds which brought us from just over a quarter to just well under three-quarters, and asked after the Scottish Tablet, but the local lady had only called in that morning for the ingredients, though as I drove off I swear I could smell it being made!
The pier at Burravoe was once again bathed in evening sunlight, and choosing a different spot this time we prepared for the night in this lovely harbour. Next morning the sun was so warm and the day so lovely we lingered, with Phoebe outside in the sun catching a few rays whilst I gave Thebus a good once over internally with the door open to the warm sunshine.
It will be lovely when the weather turns warmer and I am not rushing to shut the door all the time and running the heating. As I said before I started this journey – if I can hack it north of Scotland in January and February then most of the rest should be a breeze, though as I type this breeze is not quite the word that springs to mind, as the weather has changed quickly, and I have already had to turn Thebus round once to try and get us out of the wind, and we are having a real buffeting.
Perhaps you remember a few days ago I mentioned I stayed a couple of nights up on a hill by Muckle Flugga, and perhaps I would not have been so brave had I known what the winds can get like. Well having chatted to the postman at Burravoe today he confirmed that yes, two men were killed on New Year's Day 1992. Apparently they had stayed overnight on the Hermaness Bird Sanctuary as they wanted to be the first to sign the visitors book for the New Year. The hut was completely destroyed and the men's bodies were found later. Having got an internet connection, I did some research and found this
Muckle Flugga Lighthouse recorded all time record wind speeds for a low level station in the British Isles; mean speed 73kt (89mph), with gusts over the instrument maximum of l50kt (173mph). The instrument was destroyed by a severe squall after 0300, probably as the wind veered on the passage of the cold front through the station. An unofficial record from an oil rig NE of Unst placed mean speeds at l03kt (125mph), with gusts at 169kt (194mph).
I was parked up on a huge hill overlooking the site, and I was a bit worried about how windy it might be, but if I had read that before I think I would have been even more worried.
The Gloup Sailors Memorial
Map of the 'haff' or far fishing grounds
Old Ewe trailing us up the track to the
Sailors Memorial at Gloop
Thebus in the background
Old ewe wondering whether to try a bit of butting
before I gave her my best sheep-dog stare, and stamped my foot, and she thought better of it
Above -Corner of School with stone playground wall
Below - Views from Scool Playground to the sea
Phoebe sitting outside Thebus and
'catching a few rays' at Burravoe Harbour
Brightly Coloured Fishing Boats at Burravoe Pier