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

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

 

Road Trip: Hadrian’s Wall in February

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The historical value

Since studying Latin at school for GCSE, Hadrian’s Wall has been a place on my radar for so long. It was interesting to visit the nearby Vindolanda, partially due to it being the home of Minimus, the main character from the first Latin course I studied in primary school, but also for its historical significance – of course. We also visited the nearby Housesteads Roman Fort and a moderate walk to the picturesque Sycamore Gap nearby.

Where to stay?

Trying to find accommodation available and in budget was interesting – booking a trip during half-term and the weekend before Valentine’s Day was not easy! Luckily we stumbled upon a great deal online for two nights at a hotel in Hexham – a historic market town we had not heard of before. A quick check on Google Maps and it was a great location; in the heart of Northumberland and in close proximity to Hadrian’s Wall. Hexham itself also has a few places of interest worth visiting itself too.

My last and only trip to Northumberland was several years ago on a day trip to Alnwick Castle  and I have been wanting to explore more of this beautiful region ever since.

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Road Trip!

But February is too cold!

The only concern of mine for this weekend away was the weather. February is one of the coldest months in the UK and the weather forecast was pessimistic all week, talking of snow and ice. Somehow we managed to avoid the bad weather and we were blessed with bright sunshine both days (albeit still very cold!). Best advice is to prepare for the worst, wrap up warm with plenty of layers and make the most of this lovely slice of rural England. With it being the off-season, the empty car parks and low number of visitors was warmly welcomed, I couldn’t imagine how busy everywhere must be in peak season…

In my next post I will be sharing all about what we did on our weekend trip. Northumberland is such a vast county and I cannot wait to plan my next trip – hopefully to the Northumberland coast I am hearing so many good things about!

Have you visited Northumberland and/or Hadrian’s Wall? What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

Robyn

 

Adventures at Home: Pembrokeshire, Wales

It was the first weekend after school broke up in July and I was geared up for a nice, weekend break in sunny South Wales. Of course, things didn’t go to plan! First, J. and I were planning a weekend camping together, but this soon became a group thing with a few of his old coursemates and housemates. Luckily we are all good friends…

I spent a lot of my childhood exploring North Wales, living only a short drive away in Merseyside. Many memories were made getting lost in Snowdonia on expeditions for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, so it was good to go south for a change.

We stayed at a campsite only a short drive away from nearby Pembroke which has an impressive castle and a high street with some shops, pubs and restaurants. A little further along was Tenby; with its pastel-coloured houses along the harbour, it is a picturesque little seaside town, which we enjoyed going to on both Saturday and Sunday morning for a stroll along the narrow streets and get a spot of breakfast.

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J. and I arrived early on Friday afternoon to the campsite, well before the rest of the group. We were welcomed by nothing less than torrential rain. Looking forward to a ‘summer holiday’, and definitely too optimistic in our choice of clothing (jeans – what was I thinking?!), we were very unprepared to put up our tent and regretting everything.

Sitting in the parked car for a few minutes we agreed we were not going outside. A lady knocked on my car window and asked me to meet her in the reception to check-in. Poor thing had got soaked for that! J. said he was staying put, so it was up to me to brave the weather. It’s not like we don’t have the equipment – I have waterproofs and everything but didn’t bother to pack them. Definitely the wrong decision.

The rain was not subsiding even after quite a while, so we agreed we would just have to put the tent up and get soaked. Get soaked we did. Two hours passed and still the rain was hammering down on the tent. We were getting hungry so it was time to once again get wet, just when our clothes were starting to dry! I called my mum and said suggested we just put the tent down and go find a B&B. It was so tempting but we were too stubborn for that!

There was not much parking in Pembroke. But by the time we got there, we found some free parking only available after 6pm (hooray!). Unfortunately, the main pubs and restaurants were about a ten minute walk away – of course! Walking down the street, we were turned away by a few places as they stopped serving at 7pm and were closing up. So odd as it was a Friday night! Eventually, we found a pub/restaurant/hotel which did food, so we sat down at last. We looked out the window from our table, jaws dropped – it had stopped raining the second we found shelter – typical!

After being well fed, our clothes were drying quickly and one of our friends finally arrived to join us. We were waiting for three more, but after horrific traffic all the way from Sheffield and 2 hours of stagnancy on the roads, they arrived in the thick of night at 11pm. Car lights were useful in helping to put the tent up!

After the nightmare of the rain on Friday afternoon, we were grateful that there was no more for the rest of the weekend! We spent Saturday afternoon relaxing on Stackpole Beach which is known as the best beach in Wales! The walk along the clifftops makes for a dramatic arrival to the beach, but because of this, it is not very accessible for those with restricted mobility. There were a lot of sand-flies as well which wasn’t great, but the views were spectacular.

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On the way back to the campsite, we stopped in Pembroke to pick up food for a BBQ which was a great way to spend our only real proper night together there.

Pembroke is a beautiful, little corner of Wales which has some lovely villages and beaches to visit. Luckily, after a terrible start weather-wise, we were treated more kindly for the days that followed, with some sunshine. Although, this is Wales, we should have known better! Next time though, I think we will rent a cottage together, or at least go glamping/book a B&B. I think my DofE days are past me!

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Adventures at Home: English Heritage

As a Grad with my own car (a luxury I didn’t have last year), it is so easy to get out and about now. There is nothing better than jumping in my car and heading off on an adventure – even for the day. Bonus points if the sun is shining and the windows are down!

What is English Heritage?

Last August, my boyfriend and I bought membership for English Heritage (they have student discount!), which has given us unlimited access to over 400 historic places for 12 months across England.

English Heritage is a charity that cares for and maintains these historic sites. I don’t know anyone else in their 20s with EH membership, and some have probably thought us as a little, old couple for buying it, but they are the ones missing out.

Hands down, it has been the best small investment I have made all year.

 The Perks

Knowing I now have a free pass to countless places of interest, I have been making the most of my weekends and days off; exploring England, getting some much needed fresh air and brushing up on my British history knowledge.

It’s great rocking up to one of the sites, showing our membership cards to gain free entry to the car park (win)  and even a free audio-guide when touring historic castles and homes (double-win).

The staff at all the sites I have been to have been lovely and helpful which adds to the experience.

Joining English Heritage has given me the incentive to get out more and do something when I would usually laze around watching TV.

I have been to many interesting and beautiful sites this year but there is even more on my English Heritage ‘bucket list’ – yes there is such a thing on their Member’s Area web page, and it’s addictive! I have English Heritage Wanderlust.

Stay tuned for the Top English Heritage Sites You Have to Visit

Robyn