We came into view of Lerwick – Britain’s northernmost town – around 6 a.m. and soon afterwards were alongside at Victoria pier, next to the very center of town. The capital of Shetland dates back to the 17th century, and has its name because of its “muddy bay” (=”Leirvik” in Norse).
Our tour left at approximately 07:15, to have a look at archaeological sites, see the landscape and visit the new Shetland museum, which had only opened in 2006.
Our first stop was at Clickimin Loch (=Lake), to see Clickimin Broch. Scientists have not yet agreed on what exactly a Broch is/was – a feudal residence, a shelter, a fortification – but of this very special feature, which is not found at any other bronze age site outside Scotland, there are some 80 in the Shetlands. Clickimin Broch, a round tower-like structure of some 15 meters in diameter, sits on a small islet, but a causeway connects it to the “mainland”, and we could walk from the road to visit the excavated site. Archaeological digs have established that the Broch was occupied and used for at least 1000 years from 700BC to the 5th or 6th century AD.
Driving south to Scatness, another very interesting archaeological site, we drove through some of the smaller villages and could see some Shetland ponies amidst the sheep. In some areas peat was being cut or collected; but because it is a very labor-intensive work, not many people do so. To get to Scatness we had to cross the island’s runway – which, when it had been extended, had been built over the original road. Now traffic lights tell motorists when to stop before a plane lands or takes off.
At Scatness we not only saw the excavated area, but were shown around by guides in ancient garb, and were able to understand better the difficulties of working and living off the land some 1200 or more years ago.
On our way back we stopped at the Shetland Museum and Archives – a brand new building financed through the income of the islands’ oil boom and fishing. Apart from the different interesting displays, some of us sought the last opportunity to savor scones in the museum’s restaurant Hay Dock Café. The short distance back to Victoria Pier invited for a walk, and some took the time to stroll along Commercial Road to board the ship in time for our noon departure.
Four of our Zodiacs were put into the water, to drive them to the island of Noss, where we were to have a Zodiac cruise during the afternoon while the ship followed.
At Noss the guests boarded the Zodiacs and circumnavigated the island clockwise. During the early part of the cruise we saw some sheep on land, some seals in the water, and many birds in the sky. After rounding the northernmost corner of the island, we were treated to a spectacular scene: thousands of Gannets, Fulmars, Common and Black Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Shags, and Skuas were nesting in the cliffs, heading there, returning from, or leaving for their fishing expeditions. During recap and briefing every lecturer added information on things seen or done, while Brad promised that this visit to Noss had just been “the tip of the iceberg”. More and better things were to come.
As this had been a strenuous day for several of the “new” expedition travelers, a request by one of the guests for no announcements before 8 a. m. the following morning was accepted. The Captain promised that shortly before 11 p.m. one of the most outstanding lighthouses of Britain would be visible portside, and thus ended our first day of real expedition experience.