41. Day Eight in Shetland: A Short Flight to Foula, Many Puffins, Dinner and a Sunset

When I was making my plans for Shetland back in fall of 2021, I had a big question in my mind: Fair Isle or Foula? These two small islands were attractive in similar ways: remote, lots of birds. Fair Isle has the whole knitting thing, Foula has the really high sea cliffs. Another question was how long to spend on the islands, which would mean skipping or cutting short time in the adjacent area of the Shetland Mainland. (If Fair Isle, the Southern Mainland; if Foula, Western Mainland). Neither island had very many lodging options, so I needed to decide relatively soon.

The photos I saw of Foula convinced me. The history of the isle was very interesting as well. The next decision was a day trip vs. three days (the minimum for the only lodging on Foula). I consulted the Shetland on Camera Facebook group I belonged to, and everyone agreed three days would be best. See my postscript at the end of my stay for my thoughts about this decision.

Transportation to both Fair Isle and Foula are privy to the whims of wind, sea, and weather (whether one travels by sea or by air). Your entire trip can be scarpered, in fact. Summer is a little less chancy than Winter, but still: I double booked lodgings in case Foula got canceled, so I’d have a place to stay no matter what. Leading up to departure day, the weather was beautiful on the mainland, so I was very optimistic.

Tingwall Airport was quite close to Hamnavoe, just about a 30 minute drive. I had filled my backpack with only what I needed for three days and left the rest in my car. I settled into the Airtask waiting room to see if there were any other travelers, and watched some unfolding UK drama, something to do with Boris a vote of confidence or some such.

We had a gorgeous day for flying.
Props to the props!
Day trippers.
This fella was a Foula native.
This land, plopped into the middle of the Ocean. So beautiful, aswim in clouds and water.
That little island, that’s where I went.

Upon landing, I was picked up by Mai, the host of Ristie, where I was staying for three days. It was a rough ride to the cabin, only about two miles, but it felt like more. There is only one road on the island, and it just doesn’t get a lot of maintenance!

What a gorgeous day, and I was so happy to see this little fulmar nesting on the wall by my cabin.

A little about this next photo. Foula is a major breeding spot for Great Skua, which Shetlanders call Bonxies, ground nesters which are very aggressive during their breeding season. They are big, hawk-size with over 4-foot wingspans. When they fly at your head, they don’t *usually* make contact. But they get really close, and are very scary looking.

In 2018, I went to St. Kilda, off the isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides; it is a known bonxie hangout, and it was just about this same time of year. Cristina, my Airbnb host, advised me to hold one of my walking poles above my head, to give them higher (non-flesh) target. This was *very* helpful advice.

This breeding season, Shetland has been cursed with the horrible spread of Avian Flu. It especially impacted populations of gannets and great skua, but the fear is that it will spread to other populations as well. As of mid-July, several islands are closed to travel to mitigate the spread. There are ongoing census reviews to monitor the health of the seabird populations.

I suspect this fellow in the photo below was doing one of these surveys. The entire field before him was full of nesting skua. I pulled out my binos to check what he was doing, because he was walking out on that field without a Bonxie Stick! I watched as bird after bird flew at him. He would stop and put his head down. Then he folded out his little chair and sat down to take notes. The birds let him alone once he stopped walking.

You’ll see about 5 flying bonxies if you embiggen the photo.
One of the main features of the north end of Foula is Gaada Stack. Gaada comes from gaad meaning a hole.
I believe in Gaada.
My Hiker Hunger poles. They have taken me a lot of miles.
Ahead, looks like a hole! I think I’ll go there.
Looking back on Gaada.
Bonxies standing guard. I gave them wide berth.
Thinking about walking to the top, but I think that’s a mighty high cliff.
As I got nearer the “hole,” I saw that it was a geo (what they call inlets here). Troli Geo, to be exact. Habitation of trows or trolls. I could believe it.

As I got closer to the edge, the world of the cliffs was revealed to me. A great colony of nesting puffins. I might say, I was SO GRATEFUL that there was little to no wind, enabling me to get right up to the edge. I think for the rest of this entry, I’ll mostly let these little guys speak for themselves.

Be sure and enjoy the marvelous geology, the sea pinks, and other nesting birds (mostly fulmars)! And embiggen these photos so you can see all the super cute details.

Oh you cuties!!!
These cliffs and formations were breathtaking. Not for faint of heart or nervous of heights. Which, gratefully, I am not.
The edge of the isle.
Lord of all he surveys.
Hanging with the cute little fulmar. I love the way the all coexist on the cliffs, the fulmars on the ledges, the puffins in the hidey-holes.

Following are some of my very favorites. They let you get so close – but I didn’t get *too* close at all. Very grateful for my iPhone 13 ProMax with the fancy camera. Worth every penny for this trip, since it served as my computer as well.

Time to tromp back to Ristie in hopes that all the bonxies had gone home for the night LOL!

Ristie is the little house in the middle of the photo, with the semicircular stone wall beside it.
A great view of Gaada Stack , Da Sheepie, and Da Broch. Da Broch is a collapsed arch that once had a small monastery on top. Shetlanders name everything.
This seal bobbed there for a really long time, then followed me on the path along the cliff and did it twice again. It was a little eerie, but then I guess I’d read a lot of Shetland folk tales before my trip.
The sheep here were very forthright. They didn’t really run away at speed like those on the mainland tended to do.
From my cabin door.
View from the back of the cabin.

I had a cup of tea and a biscuit before setting out for a bit of a walk before dinner. I didn’t go very far, but I got a nice view looking down toward my digs.

Going toward that dry stone feature.
I couldn’t find any information on these fine folks, but someone loved them enough to make this beautiful memorial!
Bonxie ahoy!
This felt good.
This felt better. Green curry chicken and rice, spring rolls made by Mai! Enough for all my dinners.
An evening walk to Gaada.
A pretty good spot for the golden hour.
Extraordinary sky.

Thus ended my first day on Foula, and one of the best days of my life!

6 June, 2022


One response to “41. Day Eight in Shetland: A Short Flight to Foula, Many Puffins, Dinner and a Sunset”

  1. Oh my! Breath-taking photos. I love puffins and Shetland looks absolutely beautiful!


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