Getting to Shetland Wool Week

My trip to Shetland Wool Week really began in a backpackers in Edinburgh. That’s when it first occurred to me to check the weather forecast for the twelve-hour ferry ride to Lerwick, capital of Shetland Islands.

Gale force 9 winds. Seas rough. Visibility poor. Oh.

I still had a day left in Edinburgh and I decided not to worry about it and enjoy my time. By nightfall the forecast was worse and Northlink (the ferry company) had sent out an email saying the sailing was ‘under review’. Oh.

No further news the next morning, so I packed up my stuff, checked out of the backpackers and headed to the train station, where I would catch a train to the ferry terminal a couple of hours north in Aberdeen. The moment I set foot on the train, the email came through – tonight’s sailing was cancelled. Fuuuuuuuck.

All through my trip, I’d been refusing to let anything mar my long-awaited holiday. I’d looked on the bright side of destroying my feet with Chucks in London, getting a cold in Liverpool, and driving for an hour to see an exhibition that wasn’t open yet in Scotland. But this was seriously testing my powers of positive thinking. I’d already been worrying that I wouldn’t have enough time in Shetland and now I was down another 24 hours.

Failing to think positively, I settled for second best – thinking practically. I rang Northlink, got myself on the sailing for the following night. Hopped on and got myself a good deal for a hotel right across the road from the train station. I let my host in Shetland know I would be late. And felt ever-so-lightly better.

Then I got to Aberdeen.


Aberdeen is grey…and this is after it stopped raining.

It would be easy to write off Aberdeen as a grey shithole with only two purposes: to get to the oil rigs and to get home from the oil rigs. It’s especially easy to think that when it’s pouring with rain, blowing a gale, and you’d much rather be in Shetland. But there are some quite nice things about Aberdeen:

  • the mall that’s connected to the transport hub has an excellent selection of food
  • the malls in general are pretty nice
  • there’s a wonderful wool shop called Wool for Ewe
  • everyone is very friendly and understands if you’d rather be in Shetland
  • there’s an amazing structure called the Aberdeen Market Cross, which is like a stone band rotunda with twelve portraits of Scottish monarchs

When the sun comes out all of that grey stone can be very pretty:


Aberdeen Market Cross – much improved by sunshine

But then the rain returned and I was very ready to leave for the ferry.

Unfortunately, the ferry wasn’t ready to leave. The weather was still driving a large swell onto the east coast, so the Port of Aberdeen was shut until midnight at least. Northlink, however, seem to be pretty used to such conditions. They got everyone on board, all the staff were polite, understanding, but not ready to take any bullshit, and they gave us food vouchers.

There was one upside of the delayed trip – I was on the same ferry as knitwear designer Ysolda Teague. Ysolda is incredibly interesting, an astute business woman, and passionate about yarn, knitting, and the whole industry in general. It was great to meet the person behind the famous Mystery Knit-a-long Cowl, Ishbel, and a myriad of other gorgeous patterns.

But if you ask me whether I’d rather have arrived in Shetland 30 hours earlier or met Ysolda – well, luckily I didn’t have to make the decision!

Especially when the cruise up the south coast looks like this:


Coming up the south coast


The Lerwick tug coming to see us

And this:


Docking in Lerwick – ready to hit Shetland Wool Week!

And this:

My little camera phone, mighty though it is, doesn’t really do the Shetland landscape justice. There’s an openness, a bareness, a rawness, that it hard to capture. And the colouring! It’s no wonder these isles have inspired such amazing colourwork…but more on that in the next post.