Shetland: the UK’s Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the ferry ships Hrossey and Hjaltland. Their 12-hour mission: to explore strange old worlds. To seek out new life and old civilizations. To boldly go where they just went the day before!
Shetland: flying versus ferry
When I trek somewhere, I’d rather ferry than fly, if I can. A ship just gives you that sense of adventure, the excitement slowly building as you leave the land astern and approach a new port. Flying is quick and efficient, and definitely an option for Shetland, with Logan Air and a few others providing flights, but give me Northlink Ferries anytime! And: they’re much more likely to operate in bad weather, always a concern in Shetland. So, I ferried up for a week in the islands, exploring strange worlds indeed.
Miles to go while you sleep
The ferry from Aberdeen leaves in the evening, as the sailings are overnights. It’s a great use of your time, as the ferry combines transportation and lodging into one! You can choose between chairs, regular and premium recliners as well as cabins, options to fit anyone’s budget.
I ain’t no spring chicken anymore, and while I can still hike the heck out of a day with the old backpack, my days of sleeping on train floors or in ship seats are over! So, I figured: it’s Shetland; why not pony up (more ponies in future blogs!) for a nice cabin which also comes with Magnus Lounge access.
The cabin had a nice single bed and duvet, table and a sideboard with a coffee and tea setup. This is a UK ferry after all; gotta ‘ave a cuppa. The cabin had a small ensuite bathroom complete with shower. Don’t trip over the entrance, which is raised almost a foot. A wise precaution, as I found out on the return ferry…
The ferry direct route
By the way: be careful which Shetland ferry sailing day you book: there’s the direct route to Lerwick, and the route via Orkney. The latter takes a chunk longer. Boarding the non-stop at about 5pm for the 7pm sailing, I threw my stuff in the cabin and went ship walkabout.
I have fun exploring nooks, crannies and open doors, conveniently pretending to not see the occasional “Authorized Personnel Only” signs. Stick my head in for a peek at least, figuring I can always ask for forgiveness later rather than permission upfront, despite knowing what happened to the proverbial curious cat!
Chip away at that peckish feeling
My out of season November timing meant it was dark early. So, after that quick on-deck look at Aberdeen fading behind us – a blog on Aberdeen is forthcoming – I went back in to have dinner. The ferry has several options, and I picked a restaurant called “The Feast”. The name is rather over the top but, I did enjoy their decent Fish & Chips, washed down with a “Skipper’s Ticket Pale Ale” from Shetland’s Lerwick Brewery.
Magnus cum lager
Not one for hanging by my lonesome in a cabin, I then went to the Magnus Lounge. The cabin booking includes access as well as a couple of drinks. You can also have your dinner here, ordering off the menu. It wasn’t very busy at all: just a few fellow travelers finishing up their meals or enjoying a nightcap, served by the fun and informative Scots duty attendant.
After a tasty coffee from the well-stocked self-service machine bar, I strolled around the ship one last time, checking out the bar (hopping!) and gift shop (closed by now).
Latitude attitude in Lerwick
The ride up to Shetland was smooth! No weather problems at all and I slept well. Breakfast was served in the Magnus Lounge, same Scot on duty still! He said he had a short nap in between… The morning arrival is at an early 7am and this late in the year, that means no daylight yet. Lerwick’s latitude is about 60 degrees north and Shetland stretches quite a bit farther north. Compare Anchorage, Alaska at 61!
Dark or not, it was still worthwhile – in only a mild sprinkle – to go on deck and see the lights of Lerwick come closer as the ferry approached port.
Calling the bridge
But what a different story the return ride was! Furiously stormy winds and angry Atlantic waves rocked this great big heavy ferry ship left and right, up and down. Metal groaning, huge waves banging the hull, shivering and shuddering. A sudden mental image of the ship’s Engineer yelling – and we are in Scotland, so imagine the proper Scots accent: “I’ve giv’n her all she’s got, Captain, an’ I canna give her no more!”
Showered with praise
The return from Shetland is also an overnight, and after a rather restless night, I found the reason for that high step-in to the shower: no way the swirling shower water was going to splash out over it! When in the shower, it’s smart to hold on to the thoughtfully provided sidebars and wash up using an alternating hand, or you’ll careen between the shower walls. Well-designed!
Breaking would be bad
The Magnus Lounge is engineered for vicious weather conditions too. Tables and chairs are cabled down to the floor, and the cocktail tables have a raised metal bar around them so your precious drink won’t fall off!
You do have to keep an eye on those drinks though; the swaying of the ship makes for a mesmerizing mini “tempest in a pint glass”.
Colorful Aberdeen arrival
The return from Shetland departs Lerwick at 7pm and normally arrives in Aberdeen at about 7am. We were more than an hour late due to the storm and some of my fellow passengers were definitely showing a greener shade of pale (with apologies to Procol Harum’s famous song).
Not a problem for me, fortunately, as I had nothing on my calendar but walking Aberdeen all day, until a midnight departure on the Caledonian Sleeper! Stay tuned, as that will be a separate blog soon.
Doctoring up more stories
So, having completed my voyages on the ferry ships Hrossey and Hjaltland, how about my one-week mission in between, on Shetland? Exploring those strange old worlds? It was interesting, even fascinating, Captain! But you’ll have to wait for future episodes, as this one is done: I’m a blogger, Jim, not a novelist!
My travel blog “Con’s Corner” takes a sometimes irreverent look at 4+ decades of travel in the British Isles. My trips are real: no months of staging the perfect photo, no waiting for the perfect weather, no Photoshopping, no promo story in exchange for a freebie: I pay full fare. It’s true travel. Note that the company does not necessarily share my opinions and views. In fact, they may be shaking their heads. The photography is mine (except where credited as noted), as are all typos, grammatical errors, and odd expressions. It’s a blog, people, not literature! I also accept full responsibility for any puns, varying on a scale from hilarious to ouch… Be all that as it may, I intend to keep at it until I get it right. Con Jager, Santa Rosa, USA.
Feel adventurous? Enjoy shaking your head? You can now subscribe directly to Con’s Corner, but don’t blame me for a sore neck!