I’ve just been catching up on Alastair Humphreys’ blog and see he cycled the length of Shetland recently and finished up by camping at Hermaness on the north coast of Unst. Unst is the most northerly island in Britain (not counting 2 lumps of rock, one of which is Muckle Flugga).
I found myself there last summer – I actually should have been in Iran, but that’s a whole other story – and fulfilled (kind of) an ambition by seeing Muckle Flugga. I’ve always been fascinated with it ever since I first heard the name on the shipping forecast. It’s basically a rock with a now un-manned lighthouse on it. But it’s a far away rock with a funny sounding name and those are two things that always appeal to me. I liked it so much when I finally saw it that I ended up seeing it three times.
The first was when I walked along the Hermaness cliffs which are fascinating enough in themselves because of their huge gannet colony and puffins. Then I went on a boat trip around Muckle Flugga and got a close up view of it. On my last day in Unst I climbed up Saxa Vord which has a military radar station sat on its top.
I felt very intrepid as I ignored signs warning me of snow and ice. I felt very adventurous as I next ignored signs warning me that I would be arrested under the official secrets act if I went any further. I felt very heroic as I ignored signs at the top that warned me I would be irradiated if I got any closer. (I’d actually been told by locals that it was fine to ignore the signs and everyone does). I’d gone up partly because I wanted to have the experience of ignoring all those signs and partly because it has great views of Muckle Flugga. At the top I ran into the guard who goes up once a day to check on the place. He didn’t arrest me, just told me where to go to get the best views and advised me not to get too close to the radar bits that really do have radiation in them.
So I’ve seen plenty of Muckle Flugga and that should have been that ambition fulfilled. But at the hostel I met a few kayakers, two of whom had actually paddled out to the rock, landed and climbed up to the lighthouse. This is not allowed but, as I found with Saxa Vord, no-one seems to bother with things like ‘not being allowed’ in Unst. I was jealous and so decided that I have to learn to kayak so I can also land on Muckle Flugga. The sea is pretty rough so it’s not just a case of learning the basics and going for it – I also have to get good at it. But this is why I have learning to canoe/kayak on my list of things to do.
I’m going to go back to Shetland this summer after I have walked the Great Glen Way. I’ll go back to Unst and gaze at Muckle Flugga from afar again. As I’ve done nothing about learning to kayak this year that will be the most I can do. But one year I will definitely paddle to it, climb the steps and touch those lighthouse walls.