S2S – Day 2 “The Battle for Burravoe”

47.81 km (cumulative 58.08 km).

A grey start to the morning. Drizzle falling from the mist and at first – no wind…

The breakfast – as with all the food at the Saxa Vord hotel – is exemplary. A definite 5 stars on TripAdvisor.

I passed my Shetland pony once again. The poor thing is alone in a large field but hangs around near the road looking for company. I stopped long enough to realise that she whinnies every time a horse box passed (which was surprisingly frequent..?). She is craving some TLC I suspect.

I soon passed through Haroldswick and met a couple of guys renovating a Viking longhouse, adjacent to a Viking longship. The Viking traditions are very strong and deep rooted in Shetland. In comparison – not one hint if the Gaelic language of the West of Scotland. A different landscape and a different culture.

In Baltasound, I bought postcards from the most northerly Post Office in Britain They are now winging their way to New Zealand among other places – all south of here.

The rain drizzled on, but then a new player entered the scene – Wind! The wind grew steadily until, as I approached the Belmont ferry, I was at a standstill – even going downhill. I caught the ferry to Gutcher and then hid from the wind in the ‘Gutcher Goose’ café. The system in Shetland seems to be ‘ask for a sandwich – get a feast’. The sandwich came with salad and filled a plate. Enough to more than fill me. Even after using up 2035 calories – I am going to gain weight…

The clouds disappeared but the wind built to near gale force. With trepidation I battled my way south into the headwind. I had to stop all too frequently. That in itself was no bad thing since I got to see beautiful, wide, open vistas. However I realised that I could see not one tree. The photos of the moorland show what I mean. There are NO trees. Shetland may be Heaven for ponies, Gannets, Puffins and Arctic Skuas, but it is definitely not a Paradise for any tree-huggers.

On I plodded, until at the Shetland Gallery (beautiful, if expensive, hand made craft goods), I encountered more cyclists. Four adults and four children on touring trailer bikes. They seemed so happy, even in the wind, that I once again felt very humbled.

I passed many a peat cutting. It is still a cut by hand and used for fuel here on Yell.
After stopping in Mid Yell at The Hilltop (which proclaims itself to be the most northerly pub in Britain), I then took the high road towards Burravoe. A beautiful narrow and little used road through high moorland.

I reached the Parsonage at 14:30 where Alma welcomed me once again. I am beginning to realise that what, to me, appears extremely warm and generous welcomes, are the normal levels of hospitality here. Everywhere I go on Yell and Unst it simply great.

After a long, long soak in a hot bath, followed by excellent food and a wonderful single malt – from 1968 (!) – I realised that at 10:30pm the sun was still bright. This is what the locals call ‘Simmer Dim’. I had to go to bed in bright, horizontal sunshine.

Tomorrow I cross onto the main island (called simply Mainland in Shetland) and head south to see St Ninian’s Isle and meet the remarkable Joy, a good friend of Alma’s.

Having started my journey south yesterday on Unst just short of 61°N, I shall ride across the line of 60°N.

Still looking for my first tree…

S2S – Day 1 “Just getting to the start is an adventure”.

4.22 km Walking and 6.05 km riding.

Yesterday evening I boarded the MV Hrossey in Aberdeen, and I had the tingling feeling I always get when setting out on an adventure. A touch of apprehension mixed with some excitement and that almost childlike feeling of wonder.

The ferry pulled out of Aberdeen and I saw once again the city skyline I came to know and love over the 24 years when I called the Aberdeen ‘home’.

I never tire of putting to sea, no matter how tired I feel. Almost two hours later and we were passing Peterhead where SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) and Dodo (her mum) were keeping an eye on my progress.
Gliding Gannets and fast-flapping Puffins criss-crossed our route over a near glassy North Sea (which is something I have rarely seen in all my years in the North Sea).
A quiet night and in the morning, Sumburgh Head was passed at 6am. We disembarked at 07:30 and after a short ride, found my Total lift. The excellent Brian Hunter was waiting for me and in no time I was en route to the Toft Ferry. We missed it by just 30 seconds. The next however was only 30 minutes later, and when I arrived in Ulsta, there was Alma Lewis waiting for me.

The bike was in the back of her car on no time and once more I was heading North. We visited landmarks such as the Gloup Fishermen’s Memorial on Yell before reaching the next ferry in Gultcher that would be my last to get me to Unst. The crossing takes just 5 minutes,

We diverted so that I could see Muness Castle, and found Paul prospecting for hidden ancient artefacts in the adjacent fields.
These islands are full of some original public art. One such is ‘Bobby’s Bus Shelter’. Quirky, respectful and original. I met a great Dutch couple there touring Scotland in a Kia displaying the flag of Canada …(?), and who, like me, were seeing the beauty and the humanity. As to Booby’ Bus Shelter, I doubt such a wonderful exhibition would last 5 minutes in the city.

After brunch at the UK’s most northerly team (Victoria’s in Haroldswick), it was on to Hermaness Car Park where the road ends

This is THE most northerly part of the UK. The most northerly outpost is Out Stack just beyond Muckle Flugga Lighthouse. My nearest railway station is Thurso, but only a few km closer than Bergen in Norway, a few km South of East from where I stand.

Hermaness is a nature reserve and home to millions of Gannets (they cover Muckle Flugga making it appear snow covered); thousands of Arctic Skuas (known locally as Bonxies); hundreds of birdwatchers (identified easily by their incredibly long telephoto lens) and a sadly depleting population of Puffins. It is a beautiful mix of grassland, moor, seabirds and cliffs. It is breathtakingly beautiful.

My intended path was closed for the nesting season and so I made for the cliff route to my destination at the northernmost point. When I was within 100m, the aerial attacks by the nesting Bonxies left me in no doubt that I was an unwelcome visitor. One caught me a glancing blow and so I realised I was the intruder, a position I never want to be in. I picked up a small rock to carry with me, then turned and started at last on my way South. I waved goodbye to Muckle Flugga.

At the car park, after 4.22 km of walking, I started the big bike ride, and covered the 6.05 km to the Saxa Vord Resort – and ex-RAF camp turned hotel and home to the Shetland Reel Distillery and Valhalla Brewery (their Simmer Dim ale is wonderful stuff) and the food is pure, dead, brilliant.

Tomorrow I head to Belmont for the ferry to Yell and on to Burravoe

And now – The Camino Portguês GPX files

Dear Readers

I can now use the plural form as I have received not one but TWO requests for the Camino Português files.  I am sorry it took so long.

These are my walking files.  I have made some edits where the GPS signal was wayward due to the tall buildings.  This only tended to occur in the towns such as Lisbon, Coimbra, Porto and a couple of others.  The eagle-eyed among you will see where I went off the main track.

These files will get you from Lisbon to Santiago following the most ancient of the Camino Português routes.  Following the old ways is the way I prefer to walk, but some of you may prefer to take the more modern variations (e.g. the Coastal Route out of Porto – and I cannot blame you as the ancient – Central Route – would expose you to a lot of narrow, winding roads and a LOT of cars travelling at higher speeds than I would use.  I know, because as the GPX tracks show – I walked those roads – and I dodged that traffic).  So – I leave you with that warning.  I cannot be responsible for your safety, so use this at your own risk.

Incidentally, I really and truly do not advocate that anyone follows exactly my path.  You – and I – are – are unique individuals.  Feel free to make your own way.  The Camino is YOUR Camino.  Make it up as you go along.  My only requests to you are these:

(1) ENJOY your Camino

(2) Let me know how your Camino went and whether my files helped you.

Best of luck!

The Man in the Blue Blazer

Camino Português – Stuart Nelson – 2016


Getting ready for the BIG ride.

YES – The BIG bike ride is fast approaching. I now have most of my itinerary planned. Ferries booked to Lerwick, Kirkwall and John’ O’Groats I wish my training was going as smoothly. I met a very interesting church gentleman in Hutton-le-Hole this morning who will be giving me a conducted tour of Lastingham (which for those who may not be aware is where the originators of the Easter dates we still use did their thinking ready for the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD)
The more I get into the planning, the more I realise there is just sooooo very much to see in this country. This is going to be a true exploration – of my own home country.

Shell search…!

Dear readers,

As most of you are aware by now, each year I like to walk one of the many Caminos. It is the tradition that each peregrino carries a scallop shell. It is the symbol of St James. You can see my shell in the photo of me collapsed in front of the Santiago City Limits sign.

Each year I carry a shell from somewhere special. The first year the shell was given to me in Hout bay, South Africa. Last year, my shell was a gift from someone in Wellington, New Zealand (I also carried smaller shells for my two granddaughters which I carefully left, with words of dedication, at a significant place on the Camino Português).

This year, I am going to ask one of my readers – you in fact – if you would kindly donate a scallop shell to be my symbol on the Via de la Plata from Sevilla to Santiago de Compostela in September this year. It will travel on my rucksack, every footstep of the way for over 1,000km.

Send it from your country- wherever that may be – with your best wishes, and I shall carefully carry it for the whole of the Camino to the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago, where I shall definitely be giving thanks for having finished my walk.

At the end of the walk, I frame the Compostela and the shell together and they all hang in pride of place in TOPO in Farndale.

(Note – I would have asked for two shells as I shall also be doing a riding Camino, from Shetland to the Scilly Isles in June, but I do not want to stretch your goodwill too far).

Looking forward to someone taking me up on this request.


Camino Francés GPX files – Sept 2015

For those who have asked me for the route, I have put together all our recorded GPX files from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela and on to Fisterra and Muxia.

These are all compiled one archive.  It is OUR camino, and followed OUR own route, which was selected to include the oldest routes wherever possible, and therefore not the most modern and probably faster routes.  Therefore I add the warning – use it at your own risk!  It may need some polishing in places, because, as it is a genuine recording from my Garmin Etrex 30, it contains the errors that all wanderers make.  The U-Turns; the mistakes; the trying to find facilities…

You are welcome to use it for your own planning.  If it helps you on your Way, please drop me a line.

I plan on offering the Camino Português files next.



And now for something completely different…

I am reading about so much hate in the world after the Brexit vote and then the election of Donald Trump. It is a sad thing to see the democratic process turn to ‘mob rule’. I cannot change the world, but I can hold its hand, so I am going to do something different – and see if anyone notices.
I have opened up a page for a charity which I support. I am not going to chase anyone for charitable donations, but I would like to raise awareness (and funds) to help those who help others. So many good people and causes to choose from. I chose to support a charity which (sadly) I see in the skies so often – the Air Ambulance. The group who run it do not live a champagne lifestyle – they volunteer to help those in need.  I am linking this to my Shetland-to-Scilly bike pilgrimage next year. 


Know when to Hold – and when to Fold…

Yesterday I managed to climb to the summits of Ben More and Stob Binnein. Today was to have seen my visits to two more Munros in the Crianlarich area, namely An Caisteal and Ben a’Chroinn.

What I had not foreseen (and neither had the Met Office I suspect) was that the band of warm, accelerated air lying to the west of the UK, would choose this day to make a fast trip along the West Highland Way. 

I have been staying in the Youth Hostel at Crianlarich. This has to be one of the very friendliest places to stay. Jools was a great host to welcome me each day as I trudged in after a day on the hills. Her two colleagues, Karolina and Fiona make for a great team. Crianlarich SYHA has restored my faith in Youth Hostels.

The day started bright and in Crianlarich there was hardly a breath of wind as I set out. 

The route up to the ridge which terminates in An Caisteal is passes through a wet, oozy, glug-sluck morass. There is a path – I was told – but invisible at ground-level.

Eventually, on the ridge at 700m, I saw An Caisteal. Easy-peasy I thought. Two kilometres and 250m. No problem…Famous last words. That mild breeze in the valley had become a stiff breeze on the top ridge. It was coming across the glen, and accelerated to get over the ridge. It accelerated more and more as the ridge got higher.

I was blown down twice before I reached the summit. I waited behind rocks for gusts to abate

At the summit itself, a vertical stance was impossible.

Once there, I looked at the route to Beinn a’Chroinn and the narrow bealach between the two peaks where the wind would be accelerated even more. I realised that on that exposed stretch of just 200m, I had every chance of becoming a ‘Search-and-Rescue’ statistic.
Yesterday I talked about ‘not yielding’. Let me add this one note. There are brave souls out there who put their lives into rescuing idiots who put themselves into dangerous situations. I know because I have been with them (many years ago). I did not need to put others in danger just to bag one more Munro. The hills will be here long after I am gone – and I have not gone yet…

So – I turned back. 
That decision in itself was a struggle. Almost as soon as I turned back, the clouds parted and the day was bright – but still windy. I had a view of the hills I climbed in mist yesterday. The views to the north western Highlands were eye-achingly beautiful.

Along the way I met another walker. He was Russell Stewart from Glasgow. Another ‘old bagger’ like myself. He had already figured the wind would be bad at the summit, but as he said, he did not have far to drive to attempt the hill in better weather.

I sat in the wind-shadow of a rock, taking in the view and my favourite ‘Coronation Chicken’ sandwich. It is amazing how delicious tea and sandwiches taste on a high mountain ridge path.
Safely down, I decided to call this particular expedition to a close – but I know the way back…

Munro Madness some call it. It looks like I have it – along with ‘The Call of the Camino’. 
While I have your attention – spare a thought please for those who put themselves in harm’s way to help us in our need. The paramedics, firemen, lifeboats, search-and-rescue, air ambulance…. Today I decided to avoid a move which could have triggered a need to find my body if it had gone wrong.

Know when to hold – and know when to fold…

Oh Boy! That was HARD…! I needed inspiration…

Ben More and Stob Binnein demanded everything I had.

Those two opponents, AD and KG did everything they could to stop me. AD (Ano Domini), will kill me eventually but will have to try a wee bit harder. He caught my knees today, around 1000m above sea level. He was helped by my other adversary KG (Kilo Gram – whom I have in my sights).
So today, alone in the clouds – I needed inspiration, and so, I touched ‘The Happy Isles’. I did not yield (*).
This was a return to the Highlands after 19 years. One cannot just ‘walk’ in the Highlands without respecting them; their weather and their awesome beauty – even under a high blanket of cloud. To say the least – I was apprehensive.
I found all the somewhat indistinct tracks. The uphill was relentless. A lot of bogs, but at least the lovely Bog Asphodel was in flower.

 It was harder than any day on the Camino. Walking these hills – for the first time on my own – is hard. I realise more than ever the value of a friend in tough places.

I reached the summit of Ben More after 2 1/2  hours. The wind and cloud (not per forecast) made it bitterly cold.
On to Stob Binnein. I saw one walker descending at the bealach, having climbed to the summit. 

The climb was just as steep as Ben More – but thankfully less boggy.

The downhill after Stob Binnein was knee-jarringly steep. In sections it was steep loose mud and steep loose rocks. My poor old knees gave up on me a couple of times, and I landed in deep, deep ooze. The sheep looked on and I swear – they were laughing.

All in all – 1300m of ascent and descent. Only 13km, but oh, so steep.

(*). And now I leave you with my inspiration. If you know (and as I do, love) the works of Tennyson, then you will know this as an extract from Ulysses. If I err in my memory please – put it down to age…
“It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And though we are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are.
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will;
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”