Some will suggest you can’t get a real feel for a place unless you have an undisclosed time to explore, engage and immerse.
I beg to differ.
Of course time permits further travel around your destination, to get off the beaten track or go where the locals go; you can see more, do more, eat more (I especially enjoy the latter!).
But what if you just don’t have the time?
Setting foot on Shetland for the first time, I checked the clock and realised I had almost six hours exactly to see what the island had to offer. Should I exceed this time, I’d have no trouble seeing more of the island – I’d be stranded! You see, I was on a cruise around the Viking Isles with the National Trust for Scotland, which gave me a wee daily sample of islands in Scotland and the Faroe Islands; you can read about my experience here.
What to do, what to do?
I had deliberately chosen not to do an organised excursion that day; I wanted to avoid the cruise-crowds and indulge in a wee solo adventure. I thought I’d give the local transport a bash, hoping that it wouldn’t be as expensive and unreliable as in other remote parts of Scotland.
With only six hours to play with, there was no beating about the bush for this lassie – I went straight to the tourist information centre near the harbour in Lerwick to ask for the low down on local buses. A young gentleman served me, and I appreciated his accent as much as I did his advice. Less than five minutes later I was perched in the bus-stop across the road waiting on a bus to Sumburgh, the very southern tip of the Mainland island.
How did my short-but-sweet day go?
I hopped aboard my bang-on-time bus to be greeted by a smiling driver with grey hair, showing genuine interest in where I’d come from and how I was enjoying my visit so far. This was a wonderful novelty in itself – in Edinburgh, you’re lucky if the stereotypically grumpy drivers even STOP for you, never mind talk to you!
The 45 minute bus journey, bound for Sumburgh Airport, went by in scenic slideshow of bright blue skies, curving coastline and crayon coloured houses.
As instructed, I jumped off when I saw the sign for the Sumburgh Hotel. Clutching my map in true tourist style, I followed the trail to Sumburgh Head, a classic cliff-top lighthouse/visitor centre which welcomes over 25,000 visitors per year.
I walked through through field and farm…
… then began my ascent towards the lighthouse.
Even with little elevation, the views were amazing…
… and the lighthouse up ahead was the candle on the cake.
I soon discovered that wasn’t the only lighthouse…
… and it looks even better from above.
Reaching the tippy top of the hill, I was warm from both the sun and the exertion. I perched myself outside the lighthouse on the grass, absorbing the views and counting the planes as the appeared over the sea and began their descent to the pint-sized airport.
I had been told by a lighthouse assistant that I’d visited the popular puffin watching site during the time the adorable wee birdies head out to sea for a snack. I was determined to see one on my walk back down however, and I did! I saw ONE.
I walked the windy trail back down to sea level, where I met the cutest wee calves on my way to the bus stop.
The bus stop was conveniently located right next to a beautiful Caribbean-esk beach, and I happened to have 20 minutes spare before my bus back to Lerwick…
My stomach growled on the journey back across the sunlit countryside, and there was only one thing which was going to satisfy my hunger…
FISH ‘N’ CHIPS.
It was honestly the best fish ‘n’ chips I’ve ever tasted, and that was even without Edinburgh’s finest chippy sauce!
I browsed Lerwick’s charity shops and wandered the nautical streets and mini-harbours…
… before slowly sauntering back to the ship, content and comforted by the fact I would definitely return to Shetland in the future.
Six Hours in Shetland = SUCCESS.
Did I experience all that Shetland had to offer? Of course not, time wasn’t exactly on my side. But did I experience Shetland? Yes, I believe I did.
I inhaled the salty sea air, admired the scenic splendours, strolled in the sunshine, felt the powdery sand on my bare feet, chatted to the locals, saw ONE puffin and ate fish ‘n’ chips at the harbour.
I don’t think there’s a minimum time requirement for falling in love with a place; it usually happens pretty quickly. Having limited time somewhere may only get your toes wet, but it definitely serves a purpose. It’s an incentive to return and really do it justice.
I plan to do exactly that.
How quickly can you fall in love with a destination?