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Leisure Cycling Blog

From Zetland Road to Shetland

Port House, Antwerp

Completing a travel goal by reaching Lerwick...

Going up to the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland has always been a travel goal of mine. When I saw that Lonely Planet had shortlisted the archipelago as one of Europe's must-see destinations for 2019, I knew that this was the year to go.

My connection to the island oddly stems from growing up on Zetland Road, a street that shares the former name of the islands as a child in Gosport on the South Coast; a town that is almost as geographically as far away from the Shetland Islands in a straight line on the map as possible. The islands are a 12-hour ferry crossing away from Aberdeen and over 600 miles away from London. Lerwick is almost closer to Bergen in Norway than mainland Britain and many of the island's cultural references are Scandinavian in origin.

Shetland is also known in popular culture as the setting for the successful fictional BBC One drama series based on the novels by Ann Cleeves that follows Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez’s Police investigations in a moody, ‘Nordic Noir’ light.

Port House, Antwerp

A 24-hour journey from Rochdale had begun...

Having been to many of Britain’s islands and remote spots on my bike, Shetland has always proved elusive. Scott, a good friend and fellow geographical box-ticker who like me has always wanted to head to Britain's most northerly point had the same feeling, so we decided to do something about it.

Scott would stay on in Shetland to visit Unst for the week. I would head back to Rochdale after a long weekend in mid-June. Going up to Lerwick is not a spur of the moment decision and the journey takes nearly 24 hours in-total from Manchester via land and sea. We left on Thursday morning under a heavy rain cloud that seemed to follow our train up to Aberdeen from Preston.

Rough seas on the way to the UK's most northerly point...

The Granite City was definitely not sparkling and we were given an ominous warning card from NorthLink Ferries warning us of heavy seas and a rough crossing ahead. The MV Hrossay left Aberdeen Harbour at 1700 and was immediately bouncing around in the 3-metre North Sea swell. We cycled off the ship in Lerwick at 0700 under grey skies feeling dazed and confused by the turbulent crossing. I've been on several long journeys by ship and whilst it's always exciting riding through the mouth of the ferry via the car deck, I was glad to be off the boat. Lerwick is only a small town with a population of 7,000 but acts as the capital of the island and main gateway.

Port House, Antwerp

The arrival of a large cruise ship on a tour of the British Isles brought ashore several hundred Dutch and German tourists who proceeded to follow us around the island during the day. Before setting off towards Sumburgh at the south of the island, our tender stomachs handled breakfast and we left our excess luggage at the excellent council-run Isleburgh House Hostel that was our base for the weekend. We brought along our own bikes and I took the excellent Raleigh Pioneer bike equipped with a saddlebag full of cycling essentials. Scott borrowed my other hybrid bike and we soon climbed out of Lerwick along the A970 for the 25-mile ride.

Port House, Antwerp

Cycling along the National Cycle Route 1...

Despite only seeing a handful of other cyclists out on the road all weekend, Shetland is a bit of an undiscovered gem of a cycling location. With an end-to-end distance from Unst to Sumburgh of approximately 109 miles, the Sustrans funded National Cycle Route 1 in Shetland forms part of the 1695-mile-long UK section of the North Sea Cycle Route from Unst to Dover.