Short and Sweet in Dorset

We don’t always travel long distance with the van. We’ve just returned from spending some time in a very scenic and beautiful part of our own lovely county of Dorset.

To the west of Dorset, near where it joins the neighbouring county of Devon, a rocky peninsula protrudes into the English Channel. This is called the Isle of Purbeck, not actually an island as it can be accessed by road, but a far more interesting route is via a small chain ferry from the popular beach resort of Sandbanks, near Poole. The ferry queue is often long in the summer months, but if you are lucky it’s only a short wait for the ferry, which crosses the entrance to Poole Harbour.

On the other side there is a flat road across the heathland-a backdrop to some wonderful beaches- and then it’s hilly farmland dotted with characterful villages, their cottages of yellow, Purbeck Stone from one of the quarries here.

We head for ‘Tom’s Field’, a rustic site on a farm in the village of Langton Matravers, just outside the seaside town of Swanage. Tom’s Field is well known, although we generally prefer a site a little farther out, Acton Field, which we believe, on this occasion is closed. In matters of sites we like to seek out places close to communities that offer pubs, restaurants and similar amenities and Langton Matravers is perfect.

Early September is offering a few days of warm sunshine. We get a bus from the village down into Swanage, which is archetypal British seaside at its best, with a beautiful curving beach, plethora of fish and chip shops, cafes, arcades, candy floss, a handsome pier and, best of all, a tiny Punch and Judy theatre on the sand.

Like pantomime, Punch and Judy is peculiar to British culture. While it’s been around for about 300 years it’s as entertaining as it ever was, un-PC, violent slapstick by florid puppets. some of the jokes are as old as Punch and Judy itself- the crocodile and the sausages, the whacking by naughty Mr Punch, the ill-treatment of the baby. Other jokes are topical. Swanage Punch and Judy is one of only 3 left in the country, 2 of which are in Dorset!

After watching the show [all of 10 minutes], we wander on to the pier, magnificent in Victorian glory and with a view of Old Harry Rocks. It is beautifully maintained, although you must purchase a ticket for the privelege of walking on it. Then of course it’s tea [we are British, after all] at a seafront cafe before we stroll back to the station to get a bus back to our site.

In the evening there are the pleasures of The Kings Arms- Langton Matravers’ pub, all old beams, flagstones and local banter. We once enjoyed a ‘lock-in’ here, many years ago when we visited with a singer-guitarist friend. There is a good selection of beers [most important].

Next day we loll about a bit then set off from our site and up across the fields to the Priests’ Way, a footpath which will take us to an even more ancient and iconic hostelry called ‘The Square and Compass’, in another village- Worth Matravers. We’ve been here many times. It sits up in an imposing position above the sea. From here you can walk down to the whimsically named Dancing Ledge, popular with climbers. An almost perfect rectangle of rocks forms a natural swimming pool.

But it’s not for us, this time. We make for the pub, a long, whitewashed building, stone tables and stools outside and dark, glossy, wood panelled rooms inside. The drinks and food are served from cubby holes, rather than a bar and an annexe contains glass boxes full of fossils. There is no haute cuisine here, rather a pasty and a bag of crisps, but this has not deterred the dozens of visitors who queue up for a pie and a pint today.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

The Trouble with Borders…

Albania. Before we embarked on our lengthy trip to the Peloponnese I spent some time googling Albania van travel. The results were mixed; some professing horror at the very idea, others eulogising about the wonders of the country. So I was none the wiser.

One of the difficulties we anticipated was insurance. It appeared that we’d not be covered by our own company, or indeed any conventional motor insurance company. But others had obviously managed somehow. This was our preferred route to the Greek mainland, having looked at other ways.

We crossed Montenegro with just one overnight stop [as described last in week’s post]. The landscapes, once outside the town of Budva There was a tiny vehicle ferry crossing to cut across a bay, which was fun and then a great deal of marshy land. Montenegro is a small country.

Then we arrived at the border ro Albania. And here we became tangled in a giant melee of every kind of vehicle waiting to cross. Lorries, cars and everything else. It was hot. We’d no idea how to proceed, or what we needed to get into Albania, neither did we speak any Albanian- not being a language one employs all that often.

After some time, a couple of men approached our open wndow and addressed us in broken English, the younger one sporting a lanyard bearing a card, which at least lent some semblance of authority. Were they officials? The only clue was the lanyard, which could have come from anywhere. While we could understand little we did get the part about paying 50 euros, which came across loud and clear. We had no Albanian currency. We did have 50 euros. The choices were to go back, to stay put or to pay the euros.

After handing over the cash, we waited again, convinced we’d seen the end of the euros, but after a long, hot interval we were presented with a certificate- very official looking and with a shiny gold stamp. This, then was our insurance! But we still had to negotiate passport control, where a stern official in a booth waited. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all the years of travel, it’s DO NOT JOKE, SNIGGER or MAKE SILLY REMARKS when going through passport control. Keep a neutral expression and be obsequious- which we did, and gained entry to Albania.

The roads were fine- better than when we’d done our day trip from Corfu. On the dual carriageway there were horses and carts among the vehicles but on the whole it was quiet. We found our campsite, glad to stop after a long, hot day of travel. We turned into the camping field and were greeted by a smiling teenager bearing a tray with iced coffees. Welcome drinks! This was a first! The campsite was excellent and boasted everything we needed, pitches draped for shade, well appointed showers and a washing machine. While it wasn’t busy we weren’t alone- several other foreigners had made it to the site.

Though we were keen to scoot on to the Greek border, the occupants of a neighbouring pitch told us we should not leave without seeing Berat, the local town, which we duly did, setting off and driving around, taking a look. It is indeed a picturesque and characterful place. But we had no wish to spend too long and soon we were heading off in the direction the SATnav instructed us to go. But the road Mrs Garmin wanted to take did not exist. We tried. We drove around…and around. I got out and showed some locals a map, upon which they shrugged and shook their heads. Albania is not well served by satellite mapping.

In the end we back-tracked a long way and found a fast motorway all the way to the Greek border- so we got there! But if we did it again we’d take a ferry from Italy!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Van Talk Again…

Continuing the history of Lessageing campervans…

Our current campervan, a Fiat Ducato, is now longer new- either in terms of age or miles, and of course in recent times there has been a veritable explosion of brand new, shiny motorhomes as people took to van trips instead of the cruises and villas they could not book. Acknowledging this, we like to call it a ‘Vandemic’, and the newbie owners, ‘Pan-vanners’ and although we’ve met and chatted to many who are new to this way of travel we harbour hopes that in due time they’ll go back to their package holidays and cruise liners, perhaps even leaving a plethora of slightly used travel wagons in their wake.

But before all this, and after our thrilling Italian Odyssey [previously described], Husband set to on another ambitious plan, to drive to the Peloponnese. This would be via France, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania. Thus far we’d camped in Croatia, but had gone no further than Dubrovnik, so it felt intrepid to be undertaking such a trip. I’ve described this adventure previously, episode by episode, but haven’t ever fully explained how a piece of independent travel like this can be.

Not all of the countries we crossed are as developed in terms of camp sites, roads, services and facilities as the more familiar ones. Not all of them were easy to insure for, either, as you can read next week! Croatia’s roads had improved a great deal since out first foray with a tent and the sites were more established and widespread. Montenegro, however, the tiny country between Croatia and Albania, provided more difficulty. We wanted to see Budva, hailed by the guide books as a kind of ‘mini-Dubrovnik’ but could find no sites or stopovers near to the town. I pursued the search, eventually, on a German travel website finding a possible place off a backstreet several roads away from the front.

Using the satnav coordinates we circled the supposed site, unitl I spotted what may have been a corner of a caravan roof, which we headed towards. Through a narrow gateway and up a rutted track, past a smouldering bonfire we came to a halt, the only sign of life a few heedless people further up inside the supposed ‘site’. I went to inspect what looked like a shower block, which turned out to have been one once, but leaves had blown in and it seemed disused. After a while a gentleman turned up on a moped; the owner, gesticulating and apologising. They were closed, but we could stay, which we did.

The old, walled town of Budva is interesting and historic, although it does not in any way compete with Dubrovnik. We went to look, then walked along the seafront, attractive enough, lined with restaurants and bars. We chose one and had a creditable meal, then returned to the strange, ‘closed’ campsite and spent the night there. Nothing untoward happened inside the locked site gates, despite misgivings over the security of the place.

We left in the morning and prepared ourselves for the next challenge, to cross into and over Albania…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Van Talk 4

After many satisfactory excursions in the Citroen van [see last week’s post], we determined that it may, now need a new owner. Its defective handbrake had led to some unnerving situations, especially on steep slopes. On the hefty climb from the ferry exit up the hill into Bonifaccio, Corsica my heart leapt into my mouth as I prayed that we wouldn’t need to stop!

Whilst we’d been exploring these Mediterranean islands and negotiating the terrors of Italian traffic, in idle moments, Husband had been perusing the pages of vans for sale and so it was that on our return [literally, because we returned to Dover, one of the UK’s premier ports] we went to view a new van. It felt almost treacherous to be parking our tried and tested and by now, battered, Citroen outside next to a potential successor, but ho hum, needs must.

We met the owner, Vic, a sturdy and cheerful man who did not appear to be the fittest individual. An ex taxi driver, turns out he’d been the victim of a road accident and had embarked on a van conversion as a recovery project.

On the outside, the white Fiat Ducato looked smart and unsullied by contretemps with other vehicles, Italian or otherwise. The interior had been beautifully finished and was complete with sockets with USB chargers, a posh sound system and a few clever additions like fold- down worktops. The only snag we could see was the seating/bed arrangement, which looked too complicated to contemplate, a jigsaw of red and white cushions and boards. Vic was nonplussed, assuming that all van users prefer 2 single beds.

Had he used the van? I wanted to know. But, just as the previous sellers, Vic and his wife had spent one night only in the project van, on a trip to the races, sleeping in single beds. They hadn’t cooked, showered or spent any significant amount of time in it. And it was clear to see. The cooker and oven were pristine as purchased, everything else immaculate.

We bought it, then put our beleaguered Citroen onto Ebay, having washed, polished, scrubbed and generally tarted it up. It did scrub up well, elicited a great deal of interest and sold- but to a couple who used it to live in while they renovated a house, which seems sad. The old van had plenty of life left [although it was in serious need of a handbrake!].

Husband is partial to pottering about in the van, making improvements, which he has done. We got an excellent upholsterer to sort out the sofa/bed problem, dispensing with the red and white jigsaw of cushions and opting for a smart grey, which matched the interior. Now we’ve done a lot of miles in it, showering, cooking, exploring, relaxing. It feels as much like home as home does and is the perfect holiday vehicle.

Our horizons widened further with the aquisition of the Fiat, becoming more ambitious than even Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. Where did we go? More next week…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Van Talk 3.

This post follows on from last week’s, in which I described how we swapped a small campervan for a larger vehicle and began to see the benefits…

Now that we had a larger and more comfortable van we began to contemplate more adventurous travel. In 2017, Husband hatched an audacious plan to motor down through Italy to the very south, to Calabria, to cross by ferry to Sicily, to cross Sicily and get a ferry to Sardinia, from which we could get another ferry to Corsica, then a ferry hop to the French mainland at Nice. In the beginning, Malta was included in this schedule- that is until he learned the eye-watering cost of a ferry from Italy, upon which discovery the idea was aborted.

Of course we needed to allocate plenty of time for the trip, estimating around five weeks.

The travel down through France was all good until Lyons, where navigation became complicated, even with the SATNAV helping. I’d had some bad experiences in Lyons from student days, so these difficulties did nothing to endear the city to me. [I’m sure it’s beautiful and has many elements it its favour once you get to know it].

To cross the border we used the Frejus tunnel, easy but ridiculously overpriced. We looked at Turin, staying in a car park by a subway station. It is a grand old city, beautiful even in the rain, although we were nonplussed by the subway payment system and ended up not paying at all- for which I apologise!

Italy has its north/south divide; the north being relatively well off, the south less so. The north is also relatively civilised in terms of driving. As we progressed south, however, the rules of the road began to appear less assiduously followed. I was taking my turn on the motorway past Naples, attempting to overtake a lorry when the driver took exception and cut in front as we were about to enter a tunnel, a near-death experience which totally lost me my nerve.

The scenery, however, as we grew closer to the straits of Messina was sublime.

Then there was Villa San Giovanni, the town we’d embark from to get to Sicily; the town where we’d need to get tickets. Traffic in the town was unruly. We drove down a narrow street, searching for the ticket sales office, only to be met head on at full speed by various vehicles. There seemed no way to get on to the docks, resulting in our making repeated circulations of the town, only to end up back where we were, like Alice in the garden in ‘Through the Looking Glass’.

At last we pulled into a small car park and went on foot for tickets, helped by a passer-by, eventually driving on to a ferry for the short crossing to Sicily.

The relief, however was short-lived. Once on the other side, at Messina, the roads were worse than ever, cars double or triple parked anywhere as people pulled up abruptly with not a signal or a warning to be seen. Traffic lights seemed to have no significance whatsoever. I spent a good deal of time as a passenger with hands clamped over my eyes.

On reflection, it’s probably just as well we made this trip in our older van, although we’d failed to get our dodgy handbrake sorted before departure. There were some mishaps, such as the misplaced bollard in a Syracusa car park causing a nasty dent.

We visited Palermo, Sicily’s capital, by bus and I was grateful for the bus driver, who was used to dealing with the chaotic conditions at every junction, where mostly the traffic looked to be dancing some kind of vehicular hokey-cokey with everyone leaping into the middle together.

Looking back I wonder how we got away unscathed, although Husband declares that he loved it, relishing the gung-ho, wild west nature of it all. But after two weeks we went on to Sardinia, where we stood at a pedestrian crossing and marvelled when the cars stopped to let us cross…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Van Talk 2

I’m sitting here in our current van, writing, feet up on the comfortable bench sofa- my default evening position, laptop across my legs.

This van is number three. In last week’s post I described how we came to become owners of our first van, a VW and how we modified it for our comfort and our needs.

If things had turned out differently we might still be using a VW van. I’m sure that were it not for me, Husband would certainly have stuck with VWs with their dinky, hip looks, iconic engine sound, compact size and a certain nippiness. It transpired, however that a chronic health condition I got diagnosed with in 2014 required more van comforts, such as a bathroom and toilet. For those curious enough to want to know here is a post from way back when I was terrorised by the disease: https://gracelessageing.com/2014/12/07/journey-to-the-centre-of-the-colon-a-gastric-odyssey-with-apologies-to-jules-verne/

In any case, the upshot of it all was that we branched out into unknown territory- a panel van. Again, it was an ebay purchase, a Citroen. This time Husband ventured up to Hull, in the north of England, to have a look at the vehicle. At home, I was obliged to rely on his judgement plus the ebay photos, which did portray a handsome, luxurious interior and- most importantly- a shower and toilet cubicle. Once more, this was a home-made conversion and once more, the van had barely been used since the work was done.

But there was one stunning difference. The van was perfect for us as it was; no need for expensive, corrective work or re-modelling. And besides having what was now a necessity- a shower plus loo cubicle- it had an oven below its three gas burners, two sumptuous sofas in the back and a TV! We’d never missed a TV in the VW van, but were not about to remove it. The bed, however did take a little longer than the ‘rock-n-roll’ bed in the VW, involving inserting a plank into the space between the sofas and turning the sofa cushions over. Once converted into a vast double bed it induced a supremely wonderful sleep with the added joy of waking to a view up and out of the skylight, which might reveal sky and stars, clouds or a glorious tree canopy.

The acquisition of the bigger van opened up a whole new angle on places to stay. Now we could be self-sufficient, no more reliance on campsites for showers and the rest. In Europe [although not in the UK] we’d be able to use ‘aires’. For the uninitiated, aires are places that motorhomes or campervans can park up for overnight stays for either a very modest charge or no charge at all. In France, especially, they are everywhere, towns and villages offering parking, waste disposal and water in a designated area. In most other European countries there are plenty of aires, too. We’ve stayed in the centre of beautiful Reims, where a short stroll takes you to any number of Champagne bars, beside any number of canals and rivers, overlooking rugged coastlines in Sicily- hundreds of great views and access to bars and restaurants if we want.

Of course we still use sites. We often spend long enough away to need laundry facilities and a few extra services. And we have our favourites, the ones we return to because of their position. So where did we go with our new van? Wait and see…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Van Talk 1

We became owners of our first campervan in 2008, after years of travelling Europe with tents. The transition was not down to dislike of tent camping- far from it, so reluctant was I to give up sleeping in a tent that we continued to take a tent for a while especially for sleeping purposes. And I do still hanker after that wonderful feeling of drifting off to sleep with a cool breeze wafting through the fabric of a tent, although nowadays getting up off a squishy, inflatable mattress would be likely to cause more difficulty than it did years ago!

We were in Croatia, staying on the island of Korcula. We’d arrived late and had to pitch up in the dark then cook a meal by lantern light outside. The space we’d been allocated was only just large enough for our tent and it had been a tricky operation. That same trip, we’d survived thunderstorms without as much as a drop of rain penetrating the tent walls, but on the Korcula site, next door to us, a VW campervan with a pop-up roof was parked. We got to thinking how simple it was to park up and hook up. How much more of the year we’d be able to travel. We were sold on the idea of a van.

We got our first van from Ebay, a VW lovingly converted for a project, by someone in Sussex. At this point we’d very little idea of what to expect from a van and how things might work. As it turned out, the conversion, whilst pretty, was neither practical nor efficient. There was no means of accessing the front [cab] of the van from the rear. There was nowhere to stash a porta-potty [essential for us!] except the worktop area! Just imagine- we had to perch on the portaloo on the top of the worktop- a proper throne indeed!

Worst of all though, as we discovered on a trip to Agen, France, the home-made, blue, vinyl roof leaked. This was a shock, after our watertight experiences of the tent. I was horrified when, during a thunderous deluge when pitched up by the beautiful River Lot, we were woken by rain inside the van. We wound up having to use an umbrella over our heads inside, which is a comical image to recollect now but was no laughing matter at the time.

We took the van to a conversion expert, who made a wonderful [if expensive] job of installing a new, purpose made pop-up roof and side access cupboards, sink and cooker, enabling us to move around all of the van and, importantly, have somewhere to perch on the portaloo. Thereafter we travelled all over the place, in all kinds of weather. When we were ready for a little more comfort and some additional facilities we sold it on to a couple who wanted it for weekends away. Husband, especially, mourned its passing bitterly. But the time had come.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Some Yarns and a Departure…

We’re about to leave Cunningsburgh. But before we do we’ll be taking a look at some traditional Shetland knitwear. We noticed a sign to ‘Barbara Isbister, Knitwear Designer’ on the way here and have promised ourselves something knitted to take home. It’s fun to bring something home from your travels. We’ve already purchased a beautiful, atmospheric lithograph of the Ring of Brodgar from Kirkwall on Orkney, although on this occasion we haven’t acquired any objects for the naff shelves. [See: ‘The Ghastly Gathering’].

We trundle round to Barbara’s house. It’s inauspicious, a small, semi-detached, pebble-dashed bungalow. We ring the bell, although the front door is open. Barbara invites us in. She’s a tall, mature lady. We walk through a living room and into what must be her work studio. This is a chaotic home, spools of yarn, half-knitted or completed woollen garments and knitting paraphernalia piled up on every available surface. Barbara is clearly an artist! We look through a rack and through knitted items on a table, selecting a traditional jumper for Husband and some hats for the grand-offspring.

We take our leave and head off to Lerwick, which we’ve left until this last day to explore. Parking is easy in the large, quayside car park. It’s a working port, more fishing boat than leisure. A jumble of shops and cafes ranges along the front, with more gift and knitwear stores than other towns, presumably catering for cruise ships, which I gather do stop here in non-pandemic times.

But today it’s quiet, as everywhere else and we can walk down the centre of the narrow, slabbed streets without worrying too much about traffic. Away from the centre, on the seafront street I search for Jimmy Perez’ house. I downloaded several Ann Cleeves books before we came and have seen a couple of the televised versions of her Shetland detective novels. There is nothing to indicate which grey, stone, waterside cottage is his- but then of course he isn’t real and is not deserving of a blue plaque. I narrow it down to two possibilities. Perhaps you, reader, can enlighten me?

We have lunch, then wander up to what was a fort and up around the back of town. Up behind the centre there are large, sprawling estates as well as Tesco- the largest supermarket we’ve seen since the Scottish mainland. There isn’t much more to Lerwick, although the couple of streets nearest the port are attractive and characterful.

Back at the car park we meet and chat with a young man who also has a van, one he’s meaning to convert. He’s moved to Shetland from Cambridge and his mother is a Shetlander. ‘How are the winters?’ I ask him and he shrugs. ‘People have hobbies’ he tells me. It’s hard to imagine the long, hard winter nights on a day like this.

Our ferry to Aberdeen leaves at 5pm and it’s with reluctance that we go to join the check-in queue further round at the ferry departure point. We’re waved on by a kilt-wearing, pony-tailed port worker then we’re rumbling up the ramp and into the ferry. As the ship departs there’s time for one more look at Shetland, bathed in afternoon sunshine, then we’re off back to the mainland and a long haul home.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Shetland. Sumburgh.

Having looked at the north of Shetland, we leave Deltings Marina at Brae and head south towards Sumburgh. We’ve booked to stay at the Sumburgh Hotel- not in a room, but in our van, hooked up to one of several points in their roomy car park.

On the way we get to drive across Sumburgh Airport runway, which would be unnerving were it not for warning lights on the road. We stop to look at a historic, bronze age encampment just beyond the runway, although due to closure we can only look from the fence.

Opposite the airport, and out of sight but not earshot, is a curving, white-sand beach with barely another soul on it. Today is warm and sunny and we opt for a couple of hours enjoying the weather and the view, which takes in Sumburgh Head, topped with a lighthouse. From time to time a plane or a helicopter glides across, otherwise it’s peaceful and pleasant.

We make our way to the Sumburgh Hotel, where we are to stay and given that there’s nobody around we park up and plug in. We’ve reserved a table for dinner. There’s a sudden invasion of flies and they’re everywhere, prompting us to close the van up and fight back with swats. Later they are also plaguing the hotel restaurant, for which the waiter apologises.

In the morning we take the van up towards the car park near the top of Sumburgh Head and find it packed with vehicles so we park further down and walk up the sloping path. There are fewer visitors than the jam-packed car park suggests so perhaps many are not willing to climb up to the lighthouse. But it is worth the effort. Peering over the low wall there is a sheer rock-face and far below, a large outcrop protruding from the waves, almost covered in chattering, squabbling razorbills.

We continue on up and through a gate, up to where there is a wall and a viewing platform. There are a few others standing on the platform or by the wall and they are all looking at the same thing. Husband gets to the wall first then turns and beckons me, grinning. I can just about see over the wall and I get to see what is attracting all the attention. In the sheer, rocky wall there are small crevices and ledges, and from the crevices Puffins are emerging to stand in the sunshine. We are close, although behind the wall. The Puffins stand around nonchalently, preening or simply gazing out to sea. It’s as if they’re paid to do shifts for the spectators. While they’re unperturbed by we humans, they quickly withdraw into their holes when gulls swoop a little low over them.

At last we tear ourselves away and go on to take a look at the views and the lighthouse. On the way back down, as we reach the Puffin spot we stop to chat to the RSPB man, who’s tasked with recruiting subscribers today. I agree to listen if he’ll take some publicity leaflets for The Conways at Earthsend: Amazon.co.uk: Deans, Jane: 9781784659615: Books, which he does! Over the wall a cheeky Puffin is nearer still, posing like a pro.

Next to the hotel is Jarlshof, an ancient site that has housed stone age, bronze age and Vikings in its time. It’s extensive and well preserved and we spend some time there before we leave.

Our stop for the night is at Cunningsburgh, halfway back to Lerwick, another small marina site but with outstanding kitchen and showers.It’s away from the village, which seems to be flung all over the place, but we’ve noticed a sign for ‘designer knitwear’ en route, so we’re planning to stop and take a look.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Shetland. Eshaness.

It’s a wrench to leave beautiful Unst and make our way back to Shetland, but we’ve lots more to see, so we return via the ferries, first to Yell. Slightly larger than Unst, Yell seems almost entirely to consist of peat bog, swathes of bog cotton decorating it and areas where it’s been cut and bagged ready for collection. I get a sense it’s even more sparsely populated than Unst although it may not be so. The aptly named ‘Midyell’, half way across the island looks to be the biggest community.

Then we take the ferry from Yell over to Shetland. We are headed to Brae and Deltings Marina, where we are booked in. Many of the Shetland island sites are at marinas, where there are electric hook-ups, showers and sometimes kitchen facilities, too. These services are shared with boat users, of which, of course there are many as on all islands.

Brae is quite a large village in Shetland terms, sprawling around a large bay, and even has a small co-op supermarket, something we haven’t seen for days! It is also home to an award-winning fish and chip restaurant, which is a pleasant find.

Above the marina building there’s a patch of grass where a few tents are pitched, housing a group of young girls who are clearly enjoying the start of their school holidays. They appear on the jetty in wet suits and proceed to leap into the harbour or push each other in, shrieking, climbing out and beginning again. After their dip they clamber up on to the quay and shower using the hosepipe. Later they wander down in pyjamas for an impromptu game of badminton. They are a lovely, uplifting sight as they enjoy the outdoors and each others’ company.

We set off towards the north of Shetland, travelling to the north west, where the landscape becomes wilder and more rugged than ever and when the coastline appears it’s spectacular and can rival any coastline in the world for views. On the way towards Eshaness Lighthouse we pass a cafe/campsite, perched high above the sea with a stunning outlook, although there is nothing else around except for the cafe.

Further along, out to sea there’s an amazing island with an archway that looks as if it’s suspended somehow, an unearthly sight. This is Dore Holm, looking like a horse drinking the sea, its neck stretching down into the waves.

At Eshaness there’s the remnants of an ancient volcano. We pull up by the lighthouse and walk down across the springy, peaty turf to a giant scar in the earth, a gorge with sheer rock walls and dark, oily sea at the bottom. It’s a haven for seabirds who’ve taken over every tiny ledge. Again, we’ve got this wild, beautiful place almost to ourselves. We walk around the end and to the cliff edge and I spot what looks very much like an ancient spear head, lying on the turf. Husband is convinced, although it seems unlikely. But I pick it up anyway, because we can always say that it is!!

Next week: Sumburgh and the Puffins!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook