Bressay’s place to be

A ferry ride east from the bustling centre of Lerwick into another world is Bressay – a quiet, rural island with friendly people. The 340 residents are still grieving the closure of the single school and celebrating the re-opening of the only hotel in the island. The hotel houses the pub in the island. An Anglo-Bulgarian couple bought the premises after being closed for 3 years. They have invested time and money to refurbish the place and make their living out of it for the past 18 months. Now, the Maryfield House attracts locals to the pub, people from Lerwick looking for a different dinning option and random tourists from all over the world.

The pub has a collection of shields from the Up Helly Aa festival in Shetland. Some date from the 70s and had been semi-abandoned in the island resident’s attics. It was the perfect ambience for an English vs. Colombia world cup game. And the celebrations that continued into the night.

Don’t be smelly

Otters are the largest member of the weasel family. Without fat to keep them warm, otters have to eat constantly to make up for the energy needed to maintain their body temperature. Some have even been seen taking rabbits. Otters may live in salt water, but they need regular access to freshwater to clean their fur. A small puddle will do.

Otters can be shy and elusive, but with patience and a few tricks there’s a good chance of seeing one. In Shetland, due to the long hours of summer daylight, otters have become used to going around in daytime as opposed to being nocturnal as in most other parts the world. In early summer female otters can be seen showing their cubs (usually two) how to hunt in the shallows of the kelp forest of Shetland. Like these two. Summer is also when the older cubs start exploring new territory.

To be successful in otter spotting, it is important to remember that otters have good smell and bad eye sight so, avoid your silhouette breaking the skyline. Also, make sure the wind is not blowing towards the otters as your scent will scare them off. Finally add in a small dose of luck and there they are.

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.