How To Visit The Shetland Islands

“Where are you off to on holiday then?”

“Shetland.”

“Shetland?! But that is so far away!”

This was basically what happened whenever I talked about my next holiday destination, and in fairness, I know why now.

Shetland is at the most northern tip of the British Isles and is not easy to get to. However, where else are you going to find the Most Northern Bus Stop, The Most Northern Post Office and the Most Northern Tea Rooms and the Most Northern…. everything!?

We were visiting some of J’s family who moved up there a few years ago but it is interesting to find out why other travellers come to Shetland; many for the bird-watching and hiking, or one couple who love lighthouses and were doing a tour of the lighthouses of Shetland.

There are only two ways you can get to this unique part of the UK:

1. get to Aberdeen and take the ferry across overnight

2. get to Aberdeen and fly to Lerwick (1h30 mins)

So basically, you really need to start your trip in Aberdeen, whcih I took full advantage of!

We took the train up to Aberdeen which took 6 hours, spent a night there so we could enjoy what the small city had to offer (see next post), and also to break up the journey, before boarding the ferry for, thankfully, a smooth crossing.

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The bin on the ferry attached to a pole, for when the crossing is not so smooth…

The ferry left at 5pm and stopped in Orkney on the way (Orkney lies between Shetland and the Scottish mainland), before docking in at Lerwick at 7:30am the following morning. The ferry back also goes overnight and leaves at 7pm from Lerwick.

I am very grateful that we forked out £70 extra each way for a twin cabin. On the crossing over, the ferry was packed with fed-up looking groups slumped over the couches in the bar areas, who looked like they were in for a long, uncomfortable night. There is some entertainment like a cinema, a shop, bars, a restaurant, but it is not going to occupy you for long.

The cabin was clean and basic, but had everything you could need: lighting, kettle and teas/coffees, bathroom with shower and towels, heating, bed sheets, etc. All it lacked was a window, as we got an inside cabin. Nevertheless, we made the most of the top deck when we set off and were approached Lerwick to see our first glimpses of the islands.

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First glimpse of Shetland!

I got here – now what?

You have successfully navigated the way to Shetland but now, you really need a car to get around.

Shetland does have public transport but services are not that frequent, depending on where you want to go. Definitely hire a car.

We went with Bolts Hire Car, who only had a little Skoda CityGo automatic available when we arrived. I’m more used to a manual but I did start to quite like it after I got used to it. J. wanted to do the driving, but when the hire company learned he had only passed his test 7 months go, the grimace on their faces said no! Luckily, I have been driving for 7 years, so I got lumped with the driving.

Luckily, Shetland is quite a dream to drive around. Hardly any cars, traffic lights or anything for that matter – just pure winding roads with dramatic views at all angles (unless it’s foggy, which is what happened to us!). Hardly any cars, hardly any roads for that matter! So it is quite difficult to get lost. Some trips may require you to take your little car on a ferry to the islands of Yell/Unst, and they were easy enough to navigate.

We packed a lot in to our 4 days, but mainly because we didn’t want to miss out as we had come such a long way. It was a very active holiday with lots of walking, good food and impressive lanscapes.

If you decide to arrive by plane into Sumbourgh Airport, it is about 35 mins to drive to Lerwick, but the very south of the island has plenty of interesting things to visit nearby – this is the area where we were staying.

Shetland was everything I was expecting it to be in the best sense – isolated, picturesque and a little quirky. It reminded me a lot of Iceland – somewhere I am dying to go back to. Yet instead, here I could still use my phone and the place names are easier to pronounce!

Stay tuned for what we did in Aberdeen and our four days in Shetland!

Robyn

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On Keeping New Years Resolutions

I’ve amazed myself by actually sticking to my New Year’s goal of being more active and prioritising a work/life balance. We are 5 months in and I’m looking forward to carrying on and seeing where this takes me.

I have been going to the gym regularly (3+ times a week), hooked on Body Combat classes and gotten back into doing (almost) daily yoga. It has been a slow process in terms of seeing changes in my body shape but I know I just need to stick with it and that changes will happen naturally.

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Headstand without the wall

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Crow pose

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Little Bird pose

I have so much more energy on a evening. Instead of lounging on the couch for hours watching mindless TV, going to the gym has given me somewhere to be, improved my sleep quality and I feel more alive and less on auto-pilot. Basically, all the positives that exercise can give you.

The biggest hurdle was starting. That first exercise video. That first gym class. But it was worth it and it got easier when I got into the flow.

I have been working hard recently on my yoga goals of headstand and crow pose which require a certain amount of upper body and core strength. Poses I find challenging which I haven’t been able to progress in for years. Thanks to the classes at the gym that are toning all the right areas, I’m really starting to reap the benefits and see some serious progress.

Things which are keeping me going:

1. Having an accountability partner. My housemate and I agreed we would workout together. I don’t think I could have done it without her. We have really cheered each other on and it has been the best thing.

2. It’s okay to not always be motivated to go to the gym. I used to always feel bad for lacking motivation, but feeling bad doesn’t make it better. Exercise at home, do a little in the gym anyway. I may feel better after – I always do.

3. Do a little something every day. Be it 10 mins yoga on the living room floor or a 5 min arm workout. It will help. It doesn’t have to be a long exercise.

4. Exercise is not a punishment. Do it because you want to feel good, not just for an end goal. If you keep coming back because you enjoy it, you’ll get there eventually. If it becomes a chore then you are not going to want to keep going.

5. Allow yourself treats and lazy days. Don’t beat yourself up for having them, work for them.

Trying to approach a healthier lifestyle more positively and be less self-critical is something I’m still working on. I’m learning a lot.

This has been such a challenging year for me at work due to many circumstances. I have come out stronger, more experienced and sadly quite disillusioned with the world of teaching. I love my job and my students but I do wonder what I got myself in for sometimes. Looking after myself is such a priority otherwise I would easily burn out.

Making better work/life balance decisions:

  • Being confident enough to say ‘no’ when you can’t do something – I used to always be a ‘yes’ person, not anymore.
  • Reaching out for help when you need it. It’s okay to admit you’re finding things challenging and seeking support.
  • Not planning lessons at home. Only marking at home when absolutely necessary. This has been a big one – it has opened up my evenings and weekends to focus my energy on looking after myself!

So, that’s just a reflection of where I am right now. Looking forward to checking back in with this in the next few months and seeing what’s new!

On a side-note: I just saw that the countdown for our trip to Shetland is only 25 days away! So excited for this but didn’t realise how soon it is :)!

Robyn

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Upcoming travels: Shetland

May is fast approaching and with it, a very welcomed week off work! J. and I have been talking about visiting Shetland for a few years as he has family who live there. He went to Shetland back when he was still at school but this will be my first trip to islands. After calling his uncle on Christmas Day who asked him ‘so, when are you coming up to visit us in Shetland?’ it prompted us to make a move on and do it in 2018.

We would have loved to have gone for Up Helly Aa, an annual festival held at the end of January in Shetland, but due to me being a teacher and not much (any) leeway in my holiday dates, I don’t know if this will ever happen. The great thing about May though, is that I have been promised I will see puffins!


Getting there

There are two ways to get to Shetland: ferry or fly.

The flight from Aberdeen only takes 1-hour but the flight times and prices were not convenient for us, so we settled on the overnight ferry. As soon as we knew our dates, we booked the ferry to secure our transport there.

The ferry leaves late afternoon from Aberdeen to Lerwick, so it’s easy to get a train up in the morning and head straight for the ferry upon arrival. However, it would be a bit of a shame to not look around what Aberdeen has to offer. We decided we would include a 1-night stay in Aberdeen to break up the journey, see a bit of the city and because I am dying to see Dunnottar Castle, a short train journey away outside of Stonehaven.


We are spending four days, three nights in Shetland, and I am really looking forward to seeing the wildlife, the scenery and exploring the ‘last untamed corner of the UK’

Have you visited Scotland, Shetland or any of the Scottish Isles? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Robyn

Tate Britain, London

Last weekend, while J. took the train to East London for a football match, I decided to meet up with my friend Kam for a girly-day out in London. We have hardly seen each other since graduating from university, except for my trip to Berlin to see her, and last month when she came up for the weekend. She suggested we go to an exhibit – good – as that was exactly what I wanted to do! It’s great being on the same wavelength. I made a list, there is so much on in London, it’s so amazing, but we managed to narrow it down to one at the Tate Britain, which was not far from Victoria Station where we met up, and then have a wander round Shoreditch afterwards – blog to follow.

We went to the Tate for the temporary exhibit on Impressionists in London; this is showcasing the impressionist art of the French refugees from the Franco-Prussian War –  in particular, those of Monet, Tissot and Pissarro.

Being the Francophiles that we are, this was a good pick for us. Not only that, but I am very fond of Monet’s paintings. There was a Monet exhibit at the Tate Modern in Liverpool a few years ago which was great and the Waterlilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris are beautiful. Until this exhibit though, I had not seen his London series, so it was a new insight.

The exhibit as a whole is actually quite fascinating as it gives the viewer a glimpse into how the French artists perceived contemporary London society and culture. I particularly loved the room which focused on the outsiders’ struggle and competition to capture the London fogs – here the paintings by Whistler, an American painter, for me were the most breathtaking.

As we left the Tate Britain, it was quite fitting that a fog had settled over the city, albeit not as striking a view as in the paintings, but a fog nonetheless…

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The low-down

Where: Tate Britain, London (a short walk from Pimlico station on the Victoria Line)

Cost: £17.70 or £15.70 concessions (permanent exhibitions are FREE)

Remember: The Impressionists in London exhibition finish 7th May 2018 – don’t miss it!

 

 

Snow in Spring

The snow storm ‘Beast from the East’ made its way here on Tuesday night. We had dinner at Pizza Express and the snow starting falling…and well, it didn’t stop!

Result? 1.5 days off work so far (fingers crossed Friday too)! It was nice to turn off my alarm this morning when I heard the news and get some extra ZZZs.

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I do feel bad that I am off work when for most people it is ‘business as usual,’ but it was quite (read: very) chaotic with the kids yesterday!

I spent all day yesterday marking and planning on the sofa, so I am finally feeling on top of things. However, this was gladly interrupted when my housemates came home and the snowball fight with everyone on the road commenced!

Today has been a chilled day; lie-in, watching day-time TV, finally hoovering my room and doing some exercise videos (no way am I driving to the gym in this!).

Hope my UK-based readers stay warm and safe while we ride out the storm!

Robyn

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SHOREDITCH, London

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I’m definitely warming up to London the more I visit, and an afternoon in Shoreditch did win me over.

I took the train in for the day to meet up with a friend to see an art exhibit and then see where to go after. J. suggested Shoreditch as a good place to explore for the afternoon. I had never been but it was easy to get to on the Tube/Overground from Victoria.

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We headed to Brick Lane to indulge in the famous beigels at Beigel Bake. So many of my friends have raved about Brick Lane beigels for years and finally I can understand what they are on about.

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a generous portion of salt beef beigel – yum!

The area is a vintage shop-lovers/street-art enthusiast’s paradise, and I could get lost in the rails upon rails of clothes for days or wander the streets looking for cool art. The area is so edgy but that’s the charm.

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By reading this you probably guessed that I actually absolutely loved Shoreditch. It’s a shame that this corner of LDN hasn’t been on my radar until now. There is a lot to see and do – I have only just scratched the surface; so when I’m next down to London (hopefully soon – wait did I just say that?!) I will be wanting/demanding to spend some time here.

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Rainbow Beigels


What do you make of Shoreditch? Anywhere in particular I need to check out on my next visit? Let me know in the comments 🙂

 

Day Trip: Hadrian’s Wall

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There are many ways to visit Hadrian’s Wall. There are one-week walking holidays across the entire length of the wall, cycling holidays, day trips, tours – the best thing to do is research before you go what you want to see and how you want to do it. We had a weekend in nearby Hexham, and spent the Saturday visiting some of the main sites.

We were ready to set an early alarm to seize the day, but our first port of call, Vindolanda, did not open until 10am;  so instead we enjoyed a more relaxed start to the day with a tasty breakfast at the hotel.

Vindolanda

Vindolanda is an easy 20 minute drive from Hexham. All the sites are well signposted en-route, which made navigating really simple. We arrived at Vindolanda – the first ones #keen. We bought a combined ticket to also visit the nearby Roman Army museum which is worth going to.

Vindolanda is an impressive site and what is even more staggering is that only part of the site has been excavated and there is still plenty more history to be uncovered. After making your way through the archeological site, you come down into the gardens and towards the Vindolanda museum which holds a large collection of objects discovered at the site: shoes, coins, weaponry, beauty products all the way to a calendar device and the pride and joy of the museum – the famous writing tablets.

Length of visit: 1 hour

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After a short detour to the Roman Army Museum, make your way back past Vindolanda to Housesteads, the best preserved Roman Fort along the wall.

Housesteads Fort

We were delighted to find out that this is a joint English Heritage and National Trust site, so our NT membership cards came in handy here with free entry! What was a shame was that parking is not free, even for members and was £3 for 2 hours (quite expensive!). Housesteads has its own little museum which is worth having a wander around and this is the first place where I got up close with the Wall! The car park and Visitor’s Centre is a 5-10 minute walk from the Fort which is uphill, so it is not the most accessible site.

Length of visit: 45 minutes

Sycamore Gap

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We were keen to visit the nearby Sycamore Gap, a 1 hour 30 mins walk from Housesteads or a 30 minute walk driving to Steel Rig – we chose the latter! Jumping back in the car, we parked at Steel Rig, only a few minutes down the road. £2 for 1 hour parking (again, not cheap) but this is ideally located along the path to Sycamore Gap and only a moderate 30 minute walk to the tree. The car park is small, so parking would be difficult in busier months.

The walk is only an hour in total. We did it in layers, jeans and walking boots. I forgot to leave my handbag in the car, so that came with me. The terrain was very muddy so I was more worried about falling and ruining my nice handbag more than anything – I looked quite ridiculous while all the other walkers had proper gear on! Luckily I didn’t fall…

The route is not easy, and there were a lot of undulating hills to go up and down. I am so glad I have been going on the stepper regularly at the gym! The views were breathtaking though and it wasn’t long before the Sycamore branches were reaching out to welcome us. This is when we realised…there was a much easier route – a flatter route which cuts out most of the climbing! On the way back to the car park, I was grateful for the gentlier walk but glad I had managed the trickier one on the way there.

After a busy day of sight-seeing and walking, a pub lunch down the road at the Twice Brewed Pub was a great reward, before heading back to Hexham.

Have you been to Hadrian’s Wall? Have you seen any of these sites or different ones? Let me know in the comments.

Robyn