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 Justine's Journal

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And finally..... Foula
Friday, July 28, 2006


ALUN BY THE GANNET COLONY ON FOULA

Well, We're back home in Wales, enjoying the tail end of the heat wave, but not before we crammed in a final trip to the most remote of the Shetland isles, Foula. We arrived back in Lerwick on Wed night at 9pm and were met by Mavis Robertsons' smiling face and taken back to her home for the night. We had 2 days to enjoy Shetland as the next ferry back to Orkney was on Friday night at 5.30pm ( no, we didn't kayak it this time!) The weather was so good that we decided to take the opportunity to go to Foula, 16 miles west of the other islands in Shetland. Mavis kindly lent us her car so we drove for about an hour to near Walls, the nearest place to Foula for the crossing. It was clear, sunny and calm - perfect conditions for a crossing to the dramatic cliffy island on the horizon. The tidal streams there are meant to go roughly sideways across our path, but actually we unexpectedly had about half a knot to a knot of tide with us for most of the way, meaning that we made good progress. There was hardly a breath of wind until we got within a mile of Foula when force 4 gusts created by the island shot out to greet us ( well, to try to push us away from the island).

Foula boasts the highest sea cliffs in Britain and we headed straight around the northern tip to the west coast to gaze up at them for ourselves. They were really impressive - not as tall as some of the Faroes cliffs but equally dramatic because of their curving shapes and solid arretes. I immediately noticed the constant background chatter of wildlife, hundreds of birds calling to each other and dozens of seals howling. We saw very few seals on the Faroes, so it was great to see the grey hulks hauled up on rocks. I don't suppose they get disturbed very often!


JUSTINE ON THE EAST SIDE OF FOULA, WEST COAST SUMMITS VISIBLE BEHIND


We spent a lovely 3 hours circumnavigating the island ( about 7 miles), gazing up at the cliffs and enjoying the wildlife. Every corner we turned brought another pretty view. What's more, the wind died down and the tide always seemed to be with us. Finally we landed at Ham, the settlement where the ferry arrives. It was a pleasant change for us to have a convenient slipway to land at, and a very short carry of the kayaks. I'd failed to catch us any fish this time, so it was corned beef and mashed potato for dinner ( washed down by a nice bottle of red wine)!



NEARING SOUTHERN TIP OF FOULA

We briefly chatted to Kevin and his wife, 2 of the 30-odd residents of Foula but we didn't get a chance to have much of a look around the island from the land because we had to get up early the next day to make sure we made it back to the mainland in time to catch our ferry to Orkney. The alarm was set for 6am but we were actually woken up by a thunder storm at 5am. I'm sure I managed to get back to sleep at 5.55am, just before the alarm! By 6am the thunder had passed, but the mist was right down and visibility was about 100metres. Once on the water, we followed our bearing of 070degrees, with the GPS as a reassuring back-up. Again we had a bit of tide with us for most of the journey which always brings a smile to my face (we left 6hours before HW Dover for the return trip, and at 1 hour after HW Dover for the trip to Foula). A bit scarily, at 3 times during the crossing the thunder storm returned and came very close to us. The shortest gap between lighting strike and thunder was about 2 seconds meaning the core of the storm was about 2 miles away. The thunder boomed in our ears and the rain was pummelling down on the sea with the force of hail stones. It was very eerie and a bit scary, but we were committed and I tried not to think about whether Alun's wooden paddles would save him, and my lovely Lendals' might be my end if I got struck by lighting! An hour before we reached the mainland, the mist lifted and we could see where we were going. 2 miles away, the wind picked up, and of course was against us, and the tide changed so it was more against us than with us. Finally, we had to cross an lumpy tidal race a hundred metres offshore. I didn't mind though, we'd had a great 24 hour flying visit to Foula! We even made it back to Mavis in time to take her out for a nice lunch ( Mavis was concerned that all we'd seen of Shetland's eating-out cuisine previously was fish and chips!)

The ferry ride was misty so we didn't get to see Fair Isle again, but once we got to Kirkwall we did meet up with Douglas, an Orkney paddler who we'd met at the Shetland symposium. Douglas very kindly met us at the ferry at 11pm and put us up for the night. Thanks to him and his wife for a great evening.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Nick said...

Nice account, though the storm was closer than you think. 2 seconds = 680 metres!

All the best,

Nick

10:00 pm  
Blogger Justine Curgenven said...

I'm glad I didn't know that at the time! no wonder the thunder sounded so deafening!

9:10 pm  
Blogger Michael said...

The only thunder you need worry about is the one you never hear because you're already headed off the planet!

BTW, fun to see a Greenland paddle so far offshore. I nearly always paddle with one and am glad to see others finding them useful on long paddles as well. They're not just for learn all 1000 of tricky rolls!

Looking forward to the video version. It should be quite fun!

Take care.

4:13 am  
Blogger Andrea Hecht said...

Justine --

Ever see Michael Powell's film EDGE OF THE WORLD (entirely filmed on Foula)?

Cheers,

Andrea (from Brooklyn)

4:02 pm  

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