Trigs | Noss Head, Shetland

I am sitting in my running kit on a generously named ferry with a large lifejacket around my neck. Now I respect that this is not what most people request for their 30th birthday present but I was clear: I wanted to go to Shetland with my family and I specifically wanted to participate in Bressay parkrun and climb the hills of Shetland.

Quick detour in case you don't know what parkrun is: parkrun is a free 5km run/jog/walk that takes place around the world every Saturday morning. I love the instant community feel of arriving at a parkrun anywhere in the world and the joy of being outdoors regularly so parkrun is a real home for me. Bressay parkrun, on Bressay island, is a short hop on a ferry over from Lerwick, the main town on Shetland and because it's run on such a tiny island, you run down the main roads on a Saturday morning finishing with coffee and cake in the local community run cafe. It is a total joy.

If you find yourself on Bressay, you can then take another ferry over to the tiny protected island of Noss, a national nature reserve known for phenomenal bird life. And that was why I was, on the weekend of my birthday, I found myself sitting in my running kit on a tiny boat being taken over the Noss Sound to a minuscule island.

Subject to sea conditions, the ferry runs from 1 May to 31 August (you can check if the ferry is running by calling 0800 107 7818) and costs just £5 return per person. On arrival the little visitors centre gives a thorough list of sightings of wildlife recently and we are given an in depth warning about Bonxies (also known as great skuas), a huge sea bird known for dive bombing anyone silly enough to get near their nests. The message is very clearly: stick to the path.

We head out East, following the coastal trail south that in just 9km takes you round the entire island. The sweeping sea views and phenomenal cliffs that are so remote and wild yet well protected are like nowhere in Britain I've been before and it's not long before we've stumbled upon hundreds of puffins, flying in and out of the island between fishing trips. In this protected paradise, they have no qualms about us sitting metres from them and watching them get on with their day.

After nearly an hour happily sitting in the early August sunshine watching these beautiful birds we carry on round the costal path coming to the dramatic cliff of Charlie's Holm and what looks like a speckled white cliff. Upon further inspection these white dots are thousands of gannets, nesting on the sea cliffs. They drop in and out on their quest for fish and maintenance of their nests and the sea seems almost alive with the continual movement caused by diving birds.

Charlie's Holm continues uphill to the main destination of the day, the Marilyn of Noss Head, a 181m summit and amazing view point. This trig point is a beautifully rounded shape, known as a Vanessa pillar, and sits proudly at the top of this phenomenal little island. Standing at the summit, islets and islands forming pinpricks on the horizon, this remote trig point feels like the most remarkable place in the world.

We descend along the northernly side of the island where we are treated to a seal lazily bobbing around in the water. On other days it is possible to see killer whales and minke whales as well as dolphins and porpoise all of whom make the most of the warmer pockets of water that form in the shallows around the islands.

Before we know it we are back at the ferry, slightly shellshocked by the beauty of the island we have just discovered.


The sound of water on a shore.

Robert I have noticed that something draws us towards outlying islands. Some force pulls. A quiet bay, an island in its middle - we take a small boat and we row out from the land. We circle the island, looking for a beach. We pull up the boat and light cigarettes. We walk the island's boundaries. We make a fire.
We sit on the beach and drink beer.
We cast our eyes back to the far shore from which we've come.
Night falls and the mainland slips into darkness.
We listen to the waves.
The island claims us.

The crash of the sea on rocks.
A cliff. 
A thousand seabirds.

I have noticed from the study of maps,
The more outlying the island - 
The further out it is in the remote ocean -
The stronger the force that pulls us towards it.

Outlying Islands, David Greig, 2002


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