Muckle Fugga

Shetland is a group of islands located in the North Sea, North of Scotland and West of Norway. Unst, the most northerly populated island in Britain, is often known as the island above all others. Population: 600.

The Hermaness National Nature Reserve, up top Unst, has magnificent views during its walk in the high cliffs. This walk is also full of up close encounters with sea birds, especially the Great Skua (or Bonxie as the locals know it) as here is a breeding ground for them. These birds can be quite aggressive in breeding season, so sticking to the path is the best caution whilst walking.

Even further North than Unst is the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, built on a pinnacle of rock in Oost (Out of Stack) that rises 61m above the sea, and is frequently overtopped by unbroken waves. This is Britain’s most northerly lighthouse. Three people manned this remote spot, ferried with supplies when they could.

The lighthouse was known originally as North Unst Lighthouse. In 1964 its name changed to Muckle Flugga — derived from the Old Norse for ‘large steep-sided island’.

Tammie Norries

Puffins, or clifftop clowns, have one of the biggest colonies here, in a tucked away British island somewhere between Scotland and Norway.

As advertised, Shetland is a birdwatchers paradise and these little fellows share the impressive cliffs with gannets, fulmars, guillemots, razorbirds, kittiwakes and shags.

Their beaks full of colour remind me of toucans, but puffins are not graceful landing nor flying. If anything they are rather clumsy and quite comical. They use their colourful beaks and powerful legs to dig out the same burrows where each spring puffin couples return to procreate.

How many can you count?

The water of life

To make the water of life all you need is barley, water, yeast and time.

The barley is best if it is still slightly green and it is then heated up with steam from peat to give the grains a smokey flavour. It is wetted and spread out on malting floors to germinate, being turned regularly to prevent the build up of heat. The barley is grinded to a perfect consistency to then be mixed with water at different temperatures. The mix gets yeast added to it to ferment. It is then distilled twice in specific stills. Some say their shape affects the whisky reason why distilleries try and keep their stills exactly the same for years. Whisky, to be called that, and to be sold needs to be aged in either sherry or bourbon barrels; this gives the drink its unique colour.

All the distillate passes through a mechanism called the still safe which were traditionally controlled by the Customs department by holding the key. The contraption allows whisky makers to test the alcohol contents and nowadays the keys are held by the distilling houses but still need to keep tight controls of who has access to prove the beverage was not tampered with.

Whether you like your Scottish drink light, smoky, rich or delicate, there is no other place better than this Scottish corner.

On the banks of loch ness

Legend has it that this castle was built on a site where a clan chief was converted to Christianity on his death bed. History has it that the first area of the castle was built in 1200. Whatever its beginnings, through its history, this castle witnessed violent squabbles between the Scottish clans and later between, the English and Scottish.

Urquhart castle was repeatedly raided by the MacDonald clan for anything of value, even the doors, locks and bolts was taken at one point. These walls also saw the British civil war. By the end of it, the castle was blown up as it was no longer considered of any strategic value.

Its position on one of the ways through scotland was the main reason for the disputes in the past though now, being at the very edge of, Loch Ness – home of ‘Nessie’ or the famous Loch Ness Monster, gives the ex-castle a mystical and mysterious air.

As seen in the big screen

It is no wonder that the Jacobite Train was chosen in one of the most famous, and recent, films on Earth as the Hogwarts Express. The 84-mile round trip train journey that this steam train travels between Fort William and Mallaig, as part of the West Highland Railway Line, is one of the greatest rail journeys in the world.

The route starts near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, it wizzed past lochs, including the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar, and the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis. The scenery is nothing but spectacular! The train also crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct known for its remarkable engineering and made popular by the Harry Potter film. This magnificent landscape comes at a cost; the steep gradients means that powerful steam locomotives are required. The train line still has jointed tracks so the old fashioned chugging of the wheels is still heard onboard and whilst traveling on the Jacobite.

The railway extension to Mallaig, the last stop of the journey from Fort William, opened in 1901. It was amongst the last big lines to be built in Britain, late enough to have its viaducts built of concrete. The service in this line was never more than two or three trains a day for fishermen sending fish boxes and a few dozen travellers back and forth the Hebrides. As it made little economic sense, soon after the route opened, it began to be threatened to shut down.

In 1984, in an attempt to boost tourism, steam locomotives were re-introduced in part of the line and it was so successful that the service continued. In 1995, after the privatization of British Rail, the service was re-named ‘The Jacobite’ and its responsibility passed to West Highlander Trains. In 2001 this train line hit the big screen and its popularity has only grown since. Thought thankfully it hasn’t been commercialised too much and its focus is still whats important: the magnificent journey.

The key to Scotland

Stirling Castle was the key to the kingdom of Scotland. So much that the popular saying is that “if you hold Stirling Castle, you hold Scotland”.

This stone castle witnessed some of the most dramatic and important events in Scottish history, including the infamous murder of the earl of Douglas by James II. The castle later became an important military base until the 1960’s.

When the soldiers left, the castle has been subject to major restoration projects to return the main buildings to their original glory for just £12 million. The castle re-opened to the public in June 2011 and aims to take visitors back in time to the 16th century life. Impressive work was done to the Great Hall. Its hammer-beam roof and parapet were replaced using the same traditional way than centuries ago. An interesting fact is that not one nail was used in this upside-down boat like structure; the woodwork is held together with 2328 oak pegs.

Part of making visitors feel in the era is impersonating people from the time. If you are lucky you might get a chance to play House of Fortune. A gambling game originally called Glückshouse; though the brits later changed its name to House of Fortune or Lucky Pig.

A visit will tell you even more stories from the castle’s long history as a special place in Scotland.

Big paws and big teeth

Just a short drive from Narvik, the Gateway to the North, there is a park with generous-sized enclosures for a range of Arctic animals: bears, wolves, lynx, deer and elk: the Polar Park. An ideal place for all to learn about the native species, including of Norway’s only wild cat.

Four different types of medium cats are given the name of Lynx. Their coats of fur vary in colour according to their climate range. This Eurasian (or Siberian) lynx lives in Northern regions so their coats are thicker and lighter in colour (for camouflage). The Eurasian lynx has wide, harelike paws to help them skim through deep snow without sinking in: a handy characteristic this far up North the world.

The town that iron ore built

In Northern Norway there is a city which was built just over a century ago for the export of iron ore from Sweden, Narvik. The port is ice free all year round unlike ones in Sweden. This industry and the city’s location were reason enough for this place to be badly bombed in the Second World War. The effects on the city architecture are more brick and concrete, with fewer traditional wooden buildings in the city centre.

Being at the base of mountains and fjords allows Narvik to have a cable car, the Narvikfjellet, which offers a spectacular ride with views of the scenery, Ofotfjord and the city. Plus a place to have waffles and hot chocolate at the top.

Seeing what swims in the fjords

Visiting the northern islands of Lofoten includes the possibility to see a small but good aquarium; one of its highlights is be the feeding time for the seals and otters in their outdoor pools.

Storvågan is a little village west of Svolvær; established around 1800. It was one of Lofoten largest fishing villages. Now this little village hosts an aquarium that aims to show tourists the life hiding in the deep waters around Lofoten and the north of Norway. Oudoors there is a pool with 5 active seals: one male who was bought from another aquarium and four female, two of which were born in captivity. Everyday they are fed herring at noon. If you are lucky you can watch it and if you are really lucky you might be able to feed them a snack or two!