Aberdeen to Shetland

I came into Aberdeen on the train from Cumbria.


It’s a big station, and a friend had helped me with how to get from train to ferry, and the internet and the same friend helped me figure out that I’d better eat at the shopping mall adjacent to the train station, because there’s nothing at the ferry terminal, which is, in fact, an easy walk away if you’re not in a hurry or too laden with luggage.

So I got some food at Marks & Spencer for the voyage, and topped off my snack-lunch with juice from a place called Juice Master.


It’s apparently a THING. There’s a lot of jazzy promo on the site about how the stuff will cure everything that ails you, but it just looked like it would taste good. It did. Superb. I did get a simple mix: yum. If we had these at home, I'd visit often.

My order at the stall (stand) also evoked a question from the person who took my request that I think was in response to my accent. She said, “It will be at room temperature. Is that okay?” I said, “Sure,” without really thinking about it. In fact, I think the flavors were enhanced by its not being chilled.

But I was thus a bit more prepared when I bought milk on the ferry the next morning to put on my granola and heard, in a somewhat apologetic tone, “We only have this kind [indicating whole milk]. Will that be all right?” Again, yes. And I’m guessing that for some folks with American accents the room-temperature juice and the lack of alternatives in milk fat content might have been problematic.

In the parking lot of the shopping center, I had to take a photo of an electrician’s van. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my family name in this type of context. Or maybe on any business.


Dreaming of Shetland: the journey starts in earnest here (with thanks again to everyone who has contributed to the project, in large ways or small).


Crossing the intervening street took quite a while: pushing crosswalk lights and then waiting, with only one phase of the crossing greenlighted at any go.

And then the walkway to the terminal.



Yes, that’s the ferry out there past the terminal building, with the Viking-esque fellow on it. (I wonder what the women's equivalent would be?)


As far as I can tell, the two boats that run this route are the Hrossey and the Hjaltland. This evening’s journey was on the latter. Boarding begins two hours before departure, and you have to check at least a half-hour before. The sailing is 12.5 hours, leaving Aberdeen at 7 p.m. and arriving in Lerwick, Shetland, at 7:30 a.m.

This next photo is of the (mostly) covered walkway for foot passengers, as seen from the ferry after boarding.


I needed to book my ticket a little later than I would have wanted to in an ideal universe, and no cabins were available when I made my online reservation. Fortunately, I was at the terminal early enough to snag a bed in one of the two-berth shared cabins that had opened up. There ended up being a waiting list for cabins of any type, and not everyone got one. On that long a trip, it’s good to be able to lie down, take a shower, and withdraw from the noise level in the main portions of the vessel.

This is what most of the journey looked like. The view is from cabin 230 on deck 5 when we were about an hour out of Aberdeen. Later it got darker, then lighter again, but for most of the journey there's a whole lot of water out the window.


There was a rolling swell between the exit from the Aberdeen harbor and a short way past Fair Isle, which is the southernmost island in Shetland. Then it was very smooth for a bit, with a little chop at the end. My cabin-mate said she is not a great sailor and would spend the voyage in a horizontal position. That worked for her. She was good company, and I’m glad she’s figured out a way to manage the ferry since she’s been doing the journey annually for twenty years.

The next morning, mainland Shetland came into view.


Here’s the passenger exit from the ferry.


Car drivers go down first to begin removing the vehicles from the several lower decks. Then foot passengers disembark. You can stay on the ferry and have breakfast, if you like. If you’ve driven your car off, you can come back on and meet the rest of your party for breakfast and a slower wake-up period.

Me, I was ready to get my rental car and find my lodgings. And take a 90-minute nap, even though I’d slept reasonably well on the ferry.

Then, in part to practice UK driving and also to begin my orientation process—and not least to see someone I already consider a friend, even though our interactions had been most detailed through e-mail—I drove to Hoswick to visit Nielanell, whom I’d met last October when I was in Shetland for Wool Week.  She's an outrageously creative, precise, wild, and inspiring textile spirit. We were both so crazy busy last fall that we hadn’t had a chance to talk.

We began to make up for our ships-passing-in-the-night conversations of last year. I visited her amazing shop. . . .


It’s a feast of color and texture and brilliant design. Here's just a wee (or peerie) sample of one corner:


As well as serendipity.


Niela balances control and abandon in her various fiber pursuits.

And I was able to spin for a bit on the myrtle spinning wheel Tom Livernois had made for her. I’ve followed its progress from somewhere in the making process through transport (it was stuck in Aberdeen for a while because of wild weather) and it was so fine to spin on it here in its new home. What a gorgeous tool! It treadles beautifully, is exquisitely balanced, and although it’s comparatively lightweight, it stands solidly on the floor. Neila’s friend and helper Samuel took some photos. He's been assisting her since he was 12. That's been a significant chunk of time, and he's at the stage where young adults decide on initial future careers (I tend to think that many of us end up in serial career adventures, whether we plan to or not). I hope and trust his path will include some textiles. He has a gracious and appreciative relationship with them.


I’m spinning a bit of Badgerface that I brought with me (which June Hall had put in my hands in Cumbria). So far I’ve spun with that fiber on a 1970s-era Ashford Traditional; my traveling spindle—a Magpie Maggie top-whorl, made for travel and a delight at home and abroad; and Tom’s myrtlewood wheel, based on Magnus Drudik’s design and an extremely worthy successor to it (and with a six-year waiting list for the wheels, this was my most likely opportunity to enjoy the experience of spinning on one). Quite the set of contrasts!

Here’s the funny thing about Badgerface sheep. There are two types: torddu (pronounced tor-THEE) and torwen. Torddu means “black belly,” and these are the sheep with the light fleeces. Torwen means “white belly,” and these are the sheep with the dark fleeces. So the light-colored ones have “black” in their name and the dark-colored ones have “white” in theirs.


10 thoughts on “Aberdeen to Shetland”

  1. Thank you so much for keeping us up to date on your grand adventure. I am so glad you have been able to spend time with Niela….and so jealous. Although from the looks of the sea, I think I might not have enjoyed the 12.5 hours on the ferry.
    Enjoy Shetland!

  2. I’m doing my best to share as I go, and will be bringing back info—and, of course, MORE QUESTIONS. That’s the fun of it. I have that Shetland textiles book. It’s beautiful, with some excellent essays and articles. I’ll see if I can do a “real” review when I get home . . . which is where the book is. . . .

  3. I think even one of the sleeping pods would have been fine, Melissa. I didn’t get to see them and was a bit leery. But they are in a private area and may actually be reasonably quiet and comfortable. The shared berth worked very well, given my luck of the draw in a cabin-mate!

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