19 September 2009--We work our way back to Lerwick, seeing the sights on Unst and Yell along the way. There's
a ruined chapel, circa 1200; the largest standing stone in Shetland; a broch with not much stonework to see, but some interesting
earthworks; and Muness Castle [US],
outpost of the unpopular sherriff Laurence Bruce, half-uncle of the even more unpopular Earl Patrick Stewart. Bruce built this,
the northernmost castle in Britain, in part to protect himself from his half-nephew, who apparently was not fond of him. The castle
withstood Stewart's attack, and Bruce eventually died in his bed of natural causes. The structure itself was abandoned in the
We hit the ferry landing for Yell right at a long midday break in the schedule--siesta, I guess--so decide to go for a walk to find a couple of standing stones signposted up the road. The trail is obscure, though, and we are forced to give up.
The bulk of Yell is one massive moor, and there isn't a lot to see. I note, however, as we pass through Mid Yell, the largest village, that it's looking rather prosperous. My recollection from years past is that it was a bit distressed, in danger of losing its few commercial services. May be faulty memory on my part...but we've noticed many recently-built schools in the various villages around Shetland, and I'm guessing that the government is using some of the revenue accruing from North Sea oil to invest in the hinterlands and keep them populated. (Undiscovered Scotland says it's been going on since the '70's...I haven't been coming here that long!) It's a good thing. Other remote archipelagos I've visited--Orkney, the Outer Hebrides, the Faroe Islands--are suffering badly from depopulation, not only losing young people overall to the big cities, but seeing outer regions becoming virtually uninhabited, as the few who stay gravitate to Kirkwall, Stornoway, Torshavn.
The one notable thing to see in Yell is the White Wife, figurehead of the German barque Bohus, which wrecked offshore in 1924. It would probably remain an obscure event, not being a particularly awful disaster--four lives were lost--had the Wife not washed up a few months later, to be mounted here overlooking the sea. Nevertheless, it is a reminder of the dangers of life at sea in former times.
Back in Lerwick, we are a little leery about braving the social scene on a Saturday night, so take the short ferry trip to Bressay in hopes of having dinner at the Maryfield House Hotel. Its tiny dining room is booked up, though, so we have a pint and catch the next ferry back. To be honest, the menu didn't look too promising--the last time I was out there, the owner was a South African with some culinary ambitions, and the meal was the best I had in Shetland. I'm guessing he's moved on--the menu now seems to be every possible variation of prawns they could think of. "Coconut prawn, pineapple prawn..." I can hear Bubba intoning in my mind's ear. We end up in the Queen's Hotel, which we are relieved to find reasonably quiet. There's one large family party in the dining room, and their mildly unruly children compare very favorably, in our eyes, to the drunken revelers jammed into Captain Flint's to hear local favorites Hom Bru.