16 September 2009--The flight to Kirkwall in Orkney is not long. We'd hoped for some nice views on the way,
but only get glimpses through the clouds. The following flight on to Shetland is barely up before descending on its approach.
In the airport at Sumburgh, I call the operator of the boat trip to Mousa. I've wanted for years to make the trip to see Scotland's most complete broch. On my two previous trips to Shetland, I was disappointed to find the boat had stopped running for the season. I scheduled this year's trip particularly early in hopes of getting there, and have been assured by email that the boat would still be going. It's an especially bitter pill to swallow, then, when I'm told that it's not. I'm not very happy with Captain Jamieson just now.
We visit Jarlshof, Shetland's major archeological site, which is close by the airport. I've been here before, of course, but obviously Ron hasn't. It's a remarkable place, with layer on layer of stone-built settlement--a late medieval manor house above an early medieval farmhouse above a Norse village above Pictish wheelhouses above a broch above an Iron Age settlement above Bronze Age roundhouses. It's not large, but it's almost too much to take in and sort out. It's said that you visit Orkney for antiquities and Shetland for scenery, but there is no other archeological site in Scotland (or perhaps anywhere else) with such a comprehensive and mind-boggling layering of ancient civilizations. When the manor house was abandoned in the late 17th century, it was the first time in 4,000 years that the site was uninhabited; virtually its entire history is now laid open for the visitor to see.
Then we walk out to the Ness of Burgi, one of my favorite spots in Shetland. There's an ancient stone edifice, purpose unknown, out on the narrow peninsula, but to me it's just an excuse to come out and experience the place. It's almost an island, connected by a narrow ridge, which we clamber over with the aid of a chain handrail. Out on the Ness, we are nearly surrounded by the sea. On the west side, the wind drives crashing waves up against the cliffs. On the east, in the lee, seals bob in the water, watching us watch them, or bask on the rocks.
We arrive in Lerwick midafternoon, check into our guesthouse, and rest up a bit before dinner. Tonight is session night at the Lounge Bar, and we've been looking forward to it for weeks. I've seen some amazing sessions here. We are disappointed again. Rather than a real session, we witness what is essentially a dance band rehearsal. The tunes are all at the same tempo, and blur one into the next without much variation. We are soon bored with it, and, still being pretty tired, retire early.