Muckle Flugga, the top of the UK

27 June

34 miles

Climbing 1070m

Cumulative 1235 miles

 

Well we made it!

 

We had thought that we might take a rest day today before going to the Northernmost point on Unst, in fact the weather forecast looked slightly better for today so we headed off to Hermaness the most northern point , opposite the superbly named Muckle Flugga lighthouse.

Cycling through Unst

Cycling through Unst

Everyone had said that the wind on Shetland can be challenging- we started with a strong westerly sidewind and made good progress just the occasional gust a bit alarming . We stopped at Baltasound, a tiny village with a shop and Post Office- the most northerly in Britain and people go specially to have their postcards franked there. There are no banks on the island and we were short of cash but the post office is able to supply that as well

 

We made our way to the National Nature Reserve at Hermaness- a wild headland but with an immaculately maintained path across the heather to allow birdwatchers to visit the cliffs, strict instructions to walkers to stick to the path as some of the birds particularly the Great Skuas are ground nesting.

Hermaness nature reserve

Hermaness nature reserve

We wondered if a skeleton some yards from the path was a walker who had strayed… probably a sheep. Little rabbits seem to make their homes under the boardwalk.

Rabbit hiding under the boardwalk

Rabbit hiding under the boardwalk

... and venturing out

… and venturing out

The skuas had been very endangered but there were huge numbers here nesting in colonies on the moorland. They are aggressive birds and feed by stealing other seabird’s food and eggs and are a threat to the puffins . There are warnings that they also attack people who stray too close to the colonies, we saw birds brooding on nests, flying and fighting in the air and many posted on sentinel duty, often flapping their wings and posturing.

Skua brooding

Skua brooding

... and posturing

… and posturing

There were puffins flying acrobatically and then diving into their burrows and vast numbers of gannets – the colonies so large that the rocky islands offshore were white with guano.

West coast of Hermaness

West coast of Hermaness

The sheep seemed to like looking out to sea

The sheep seemed to like looking out to sea

 

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When I am old I shall wear purple…

Apparently in 1970 an albatross appeared,  they are southern hemisphere birds so he was very lost. Anyway, he decided to join the gannet colony and returned faithfully every year, building a nest and hoping to find a mate, until last year, the reserve staff affectionately named him Albert Ross.This is the second year he has not been spotted so unlikely that he will come back now.

Arched seastack

Arched seastack

Gannets

Gannets

Once we reached the far side of the headland we contoured around to the most Northerly point- a sign proudly announced that there was no land between us and the North Pole.

20160628_134435We thought a point a bit further on was actually a bit further north so set off across the tussocks but an angry skua, maybe tasked by the nature reserve staff to keep an eye on trespassing walkers made it clear he would not easily let us proceed.  We decided that for a few hundred yards we would accept the signpost’s position.

Muckle Flugga lighthouse from Hermaness

Muckle Flugga lighthouse from Hermaness

We took our obligatory shot with the banner and then sat down to lunch and mutual congratulations.

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20160627_222529-1600x1065We made our way back to the bikes, visited the visitor centre at the reserve, unmanned but with good information and a kettle to make hot drinks.

Hillsides

Hillsides

Sea

Sea

Martin reminded us that we had said we would be visiting Skaw- the most northerly habitation in the UK (now that the lighthouse at Muckle Flugga is unmanned). He confidently predicted that it wouldn’t take long and didn’t go over the obvious hill – in fact it took us up the steepest piece of road we have encountered on the whole trip and despite not having any luggage we both had to push.

Skaw itself is a single farm reached by a remote single track road over the headland,  the most northerly road in Britain, worth the effort as the sun and a rainbow came out at just the right moment to celebrate the end of the trip.

P1100091-1280x960The isolated farmhouse on the promontory was once home to Walter Sutherland who until his death in 1850 was the last person to speak Norn,  an extinct North Germanic language which was spoken in the Northern Isles and Caithness before it’s gradual replacement by Scots, mainly over the 1600 and 1700s .

Skaw, the most northerly habitation in Britain at the end of the most northerly road

Skaw, the most northerly habitation in Britain at the end of the most northerly road

Cycling back

Cycling back

Replica viking ship

Replica viking ship

There is clearly a strong community spirit on Unst. Many facilities, including the hostel and visitor centres, are immaculate and well equipped and are open and unmanned with honesty boxes.  The Unst Bus Shelter illustrates the possibilities this opens up, a dry warm haven complete with comfy chair, books, games a can of beer and a visitor’s book full of appreciative comments.

The Unst Bus shelter

The Unst Bus shelter

With duty done we set off back , by now the wind was a fierce 20mph southwesterly headwind, ironic as we had to battle Northerly winds all the way up the UK. We had to pedal hard downhill at times and take turns to be in front taking the full brunt of the wind. We were tired but pleased when we arrived back at the campsite , job done.Tonight it is deluging so we may just be forced to have a lie in tomorrow .

Gardiesfaulds hostel

Gardiesfaulds hostel

So from Horse Point, St Agnes in the Scilly Isles to Muckle Flugga, Unst in the Shetlands.  It has been an amazing trip. Despite the population density of Britain,  we have travelled consistently through beautiful unspoilt countryside,  often completely away from traffic and all but the smallest settlements. The weather has blessed us, we have been drier than we might have expected, it has been cool, only one day when we sought shade for lunch.

It has felt different cycling to fundraise, more pressure to get on every day, no option to give up, and doing the blog has been really fun but also an additional task each evening. We have felt so supported by all the messages and feedback and we thank you all for them. We have also been overwhelmed by your generosity, you have contributed about £2500 to MSF and £1200 to Ashgate Hospice.

We will leave the justgiving page open for a while. Many of you have fed back that you enjoyed the photos.  We did wonder about using them to make a Britain End to End 2017 calender, using the the best photo from each 100 miles and putting a small profit from each calender into the fundraising . As a market research question, would you tell us if this might be something you would consider as part of your Christmas shopping?
We are going to potter slowly back down Shetland and then ferry and train home. It will feel very odd getting into a car again….

snailcycle

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10 thoughts on “Muckle Flugga, the top of the UK
  1. Pen Jackson

    Really thrilled at your ‘grand finale’ at that beautiful lonely austere headland…..it’s been an imagined journey and shared adventure here at base Congratulations! such an achievement, and thankyou for your Blog M/P

     
    Reply
  2. Jackie P

    Fantastic and well done to both of you! I will miss the daily blog and Chesterfield certainly won’t be the same as your recent scenery.

    Enjoy a rest soon!

    Jackie P x

     
    Reply
    1. snailcycle

      Thanks Jackie for your support, the scenery has been amazing all the way through the UK. It will be good to sleep in our own bed though.
      Regards

       
      Reply
  3. sandra

    Well done for completing your challenge and for sharing it with us. Your blogs have been thoughtful and interesting and shown what beautiful countryside we have with your wonderful pictures. I will miss reading about them each morning. Sx

     
    Reply
  4. Mark and Xiaoke

    A very inspiring trip. We are glad you have made it safely, congratulations! We have both enjoyed reading your blog.

     
    Reply
  5. A Perkins

    Congratulations! Well done both of you. I have loved your Blog and all the wonderful pictures. I am definitely up for buying a calendar of your trip. Have a good trip back.

     
    Reply
  6. Mark

    Many congratulations on the ride – just caught up with things from the Dordogne. Hope you are now enjoying a more relaxed few days. Was good to share a very small part of it.
    Cheers, mark & Michelle

     
    Reply
    1. snailcycle

      Cycling with you was a really lovely part of it. Hope the Dordogne was great. Much love. Gayle and Martin

       
      Reply
  7. Nadine

    Hi Gayle!
    Hi Martin!

    We met in Uyeasound and on the ferry to Aberdeen. I enjoyed talking to you. Great trip, great blog, great photos! Maybe I will do some charity cycling in the future, too. I suggested you the Vennbahntrasse – http://www.vennbahn.eu/ – from Aachen/Germany to Troisvierges/Luxembourg, La Vélodyssée in France & England and cycling in the Netherlands in general. Yesterday I reached my final destination Amsterdam and took some photos for you, which show the signposting of the cycle network. Please contact me, so I can send you further information.

    Best wishes!
    Nadine from Düsseldorf

     
    Reply

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