Posted by: Talie Morrison | May 26, 2013

The Northern Isles


When I got off the West Highland Way,  I hopped on a train and headed North, and by the end of the day I was wandering around Thurso  looking for a hostel.  The local ferry was broken, but if I could get to the “town” of John of Groats the next day, there was a ferry which went to the Orkneys.  I met a lovely man, Leonardo (from Brazil) who was driving to the ferry and I asked him for a ride. Yea!  At the ferry, I signed up for the bus tour of the Orkneys along with the ferry ticket.  It was pretty much “out of character” for me, but I learned a lot about the Orkneys!  There is AMAZING history up there!  Dwelling places from the ancient people built 5000 years ago!  Rings of stone, and then the Viking culture on top of the others – and, then, the Romans and Celts on top of that.  All that history before Columbus even sailed to America!!!
   Before the tour was over, I had arranged a hostel on the Orkneys for the night, a hike for the next day, and a ferry ride (overnight) to the Shetland Islands.  I told the bus driver I was leaving the tour and said good bye to Leonardo –  but I imagine the rest of the folks wondered where I disappeared to!  So I spent another day in the Orkneys exploring by myself and then took the ferry to the Shetland Islands.
    I was pretty excited to be going to the home of “Shetland Wool”.    I taught myself how to knit when I was about 15 – hard to believe that was 51 years ago!  Needless to say, I have knit innumerable sweaters over the years and have always loved “Shetland Wool” when I could get it.  So I figured if I was this close to the Shetland Islands, I HAD to go over there!
   The ferry ride was wonderful. I paid for a bed in a “shared” cabin – there were three of us in the cabin, but the bed was wonderfully comfortable and the wave motion rocked me to sleep. 8 hours later there we were in the Shetlands.  Even though we docked at 7:30 am, we didn’t have to leave the ship till 9:30.  So after breakfast in the dining room, I went back to the cabin (every one else had left), and had a lovely hot shower in our “wee” bathroom! 🙂
    I arranged 2 nights in a hostel in Lerwick – these islands are so windy that no trees can even grow up here so I didn’t think camping would be such a good idea!  Then I took a bus to the South tip of the main island, hiked to a lighthouse, saw a single Puffin (I’m a little early for them), and some more amazing ancient ruins at Jarlshof.
    The next day, I wandered around the yarn shops and “drooled”!   Finally I ordered enough wool for 2 sweaters to be sent home to Crested Butte. Guess my knitting will be filled for the next couple of years! And filled the rest of the day with a boat trip around some smaller islands to see the sea birds and seals. Lovely!  They even had an underwater camera so we could explore the kelp beds without getting wet!
     My final day in the Shetlands, I rented a car and drove North and West.  I visited the wool mill and wandered around watching them take the wool from shearing to sweaters!  It is so unlike the States over here – visiting the wool mill meant that I was free to wander around where everyone was working and talk to them and ask them what they were doing.   I could be next to the boiler and dye vats, the machines, etc.   No regulations or “safe guards” telling you where you could walk or look.  It was very interesting and I loved seeing the wool process from start to finish!
    I was blessed with a beautiful clear day to drive around and explore!   Good thing because most of their roads are ONE lane (with pull outs for passing on-coming cars)!  Amazing that it works so well. But then there wasn’t much traffic.

Shetland by numbers:

1 Global Geopark
19 hours of midsummer daylight
138 sandy beaches
567 square miles of islands
639 miles of good roads
1697 amazing miles of coastline
6,000 years of history
6,080 archaeological sites
22,000 people
54,000 gannets
200,000 puffins

I only got to see one of those puffins – It would be amazing to be there later when the breading season is in full swing!  I think those numbers should also say “0 trees”! The wind blows so hard that there are no trees on the islands!

   So then it was another  overnight on the ferry (again a great night’s sleep!) to the East Coast of Scotland at Aberdeen.   I worked my way down to St. Andrews, which is the place of the origin of golf.  I did some hiking along the coast on The Fife Costal Walk, and saw the famous beach where they filmed the run in Chariots of Fire.    Then I hopped on trains again to work my way over to the Isle of Skye.   My niece, Heather, and her husband, Grady,  met me in Skye.   The weather was cold, windy and wet – but Heather and Grady had rented a car so it was good to explore by vehicle.   Skye is a beautiful island – lots of mountains and trees!  We were able to get a couple of short hikes in – and we got a chance to sample some great pubs, with local beer, and great food!  Then back on the mainland, we did a wonderful hike up to the saddle next to the “5 Sisters” mountains – but we got turned back before summiting by snow and wind!  Oh, well – maybe next time…..


  1. hi talie!

    oh waht a wonderful day you had at the yarn shops and wool mill!

    i got goosebumps just thinking about it! i would have shipped home a ton of yarn too! Good for you Talie!

    I cannot wait to see everything you make!


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