The North Atlantic Arc


From Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Galloway





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Tuesday 20 September 2005

Dutch Treat


The landing at Sumburgh in Shetland is not quite so sporty as yesterday’s. I pick up my hire car and drive about a half a mile before stopping to consult my map, intending to go to the Ness of Burgi. Look up to see two people running toward me, waving. They turn out to be two pretty young Dutch women, Vera and Rinske, who have been visiting Jarlshof and have missed their bus. (To be quite plain, they are half my age or less.) "Are you going to Lerwick?" They ask. "Uh, sure," I answer; likely I would say the same if they asked to go to Mars. We start up the road, and I suggest that we visit Scatness Broch, which sits not far from the end of the airport runway. The girls walk up as I put my shoes on, but I don’t see them as I visit the site. It’s an active archeological dig, with blue tarps, sandbags, and tires all over. The half-hour visit ends at a reconstruction of a house and a talk with a costumed interpreter. I step back into the trailer-housed gift shop, and am surprised to find Vera and Rinske sitting with a cup of tea–I’d figured they’d have found themselves another ride by now. They had declined to pay the two pounds for admission, having just seen Jarlshof, anyway.

As we drive up the road, I ask them if they’ve seen the broch on Mousa. They answer no, and I suggest we take a walk to have a look. The ferry to the island has stopped running for the season–the second time I have just missed it–so we walk up on the Wart, a hill on the mainland side of the strait with a fine view over to Mousa, and then down to the ruined broch on the near shore, to get as close a look as we can at its nearly-complete counterpart across the water. The girls are lovely company, bright and cheerful; they are both medical students, Vera studying in Edinburgh, Rinske visiting from the Netherlands.

We arrive in Lerwick and I drop them near the Co-op, and tell them that there are sessions at the Douglas Arms tonight and at the Lounge Bar Wednesday. They seem interested and say they will try to come.

No one is in at my guest house, but there is a note for me on the door, written on a small envelope, with my room key inside. I guess it’s a little different here.

The Douglas Arms is a fairly handsome pub. The session is an informal gathering of locals, for the most part three fiddles and a guitar. Cask-conditioned ale, the wonderful and uniquely British product that you see dispensed by hand-pump, is short on the ground here; there is a fairly new brewery up on Unst, the Valhalla Brewery, but very few places in Shetland serve their product in the cask, and they've all stopped for the season. I'm doomed to a week of Belhaven Best and Tartan Special, draft beers which are okay. The Douglas has only a half a dozen ordinary malts, as well. The Dutch girls don't show. I'm not surprised.

I meet two older Canadian women (older than I am, anyway!) from Vancouver Island--Mary Ellen from Comox, Sue from a small island not far from there. We haven't been talking long when one says "You're the American who picked up the Dutch girls, aren't you?" News travels fast in a small place! It turns out they are all sharing a room in the local hostel. The girls were tired, they told me, else they'd have come. Likely they'll be at the Lounge Bar tomorrow.

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The approach to Sumburgh Airport at the southern end of Shetland. The three peninsulas extending to the left are,
from foreground to background, Sumburgh Head, the Ness of Burgi, and Fitful Head.


Rinske and Vera contemplate the broch (far right) on the island of Mousa.


The charming young Dutch women, Rinske and Vera.

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