An explorer's guide to the islands of Britain

Day 6 of our virtual island bagging Britain journey

Today’s journey: high points of the islands of Orkney & Shetland

Today’s step-up height achieved: 945 metres

We left Papa Westray on the record-breaking world’s shortest scheduled flight of 50 seconds to Westray, picked up some fresh crab from the processors in Pierowall and then headed to the dramatic west coast with its cliffs, arches, stacks and waterfalls and bird-cities stacked with guillemots, gannets, puffins and kittiwakes. We bagged Fitty Hill (169 m) and skipped back to Orkney Ferries, stopping at Jack’s Chippy on the way. Went for cod and chips (hard choice to make with monkfish, squid, whiting, plaice and tusk on the menu too) all caught from the owner’s boat called Keila.

Off to Egilsay (38 m) and one of the most well-known stories in Orkney’s history; the martyrdom of St Magnus, Orkney’s patron Saint a Viking earl who lived at a time when the Northern Isles belonged to Scandinavia. He was killed on this island, at the location marked by a cenotaph, by an axe blow to the skull in Easter 1117. Corncrakes spotted (2); humans spotted (0).

A quick Orkney Ferry ride took us to Rousay and its highpoint Blotchnie Fiold (252 m). Known as the Egypt of the North a walk along the island’s Westness Heritage Trail and its mile of mind blowing history left us in no doubt as to how this island earnt its name with the built remains of the Stone Age, Iron Age, Vikings and early crofters. After a quick catch up with friends at the Taversoe (remember me, I turned up with my face cut open after a fight with a barbed-wire fence), we headed off to Wyre and climbed to its highpoint at Cubbie Roo’s castle (32m) and then on to Gairsay (102 m) once home of the buccaneering Viking Sweyn Asleifsson who, legend has it, drank so much wine with his men after pirating a ship off Dublin that no one could remember how they sailed back to Orkney.

Then, our last island of Okney, the Brough of Birsay (45 m).

The swell was enormous as our NorthLink ferry battled its way from Kirkwall to Lerwick, there is a reason why everything is strapped down on this ferry. Feeling a bit wobbly we were dropped off on Fair Isle, marooned half way between Orkney and Shetland and one of Britain’s most remote inhabited islands. Here at last after hearing this island mentioned every day on the shipping forecast. We had to stop Derek buying too many woolly jumpers, and had to wait a bit whilst he got one knitted for his new grandson, Jordan.

Last island of the day, Mousa, with the best preserved Iron Age fortification in the British Isles and a night ahead in the company of 13,500 breeding storm petrels. Now for those Westray crab sandwiches.

Cumulative total of island bagging height – Cumulative total of 4121m (target total = 47,000 metres)

Method of travel – climbing a ladder up the apple tree in the garden; step ups on a Belfast sink; indoor staircase

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