Puffin Hunt...

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Puffin Hunt...

Postby JamesL » Sun Aug 11, 2019 5:08 pm

Just back from 2 weeks in Greater Scotland seeking puffins...

Up the west coast sort of, Warwickshire to Moffat / Buccleuch Arms, one of John Fergusson's scenic routes to Shiel Bridge - Glen Coe simply overrun with tourists - every flat space coated with people milling about, and drivers who seemed never to have ventured past Sainsburys in their entire careers... Then the inland route to Ullapool (A890 Strathcarron to Achnasheen (single track) in monsoon rain, hurrah). Then explored rural Assynt - lots of steering and it must be the busiest single track road in the world. Camped at Scourie and had a happy ie boggy and hard day walk over the peninsula to Tarbet, visit Handa Island & back. Handa Island cloudy but awesome cliff scenery, lots of kittiwakes, and a distant puffin or two. Then round to JOG and the Gills Bay ferry to Orkney; indifferent weather that day but utterly stunning scenery (which I completely failed to photograph) down Loch Eriboll and south from the A836 towards Ben Hope etc.

JOG slightly weird - I hadn't realised it was so small, and while I was there, there was a steady stream of pushbikes poling up to complete LEJOG - all different teams. I had no idea it was so popular. Also, for them JOG was the destination, whereas for me it was just a stop en route.

Spent 2 days on Orkney - if you want, you can go seriously fast! The locals tear around in utes, the tourists stick to 40mph, and I'm somewhere in between... A splendid day walk on Hoy (park the bike for free in the car park on the quay in Stromness, just find a space to tuck it away). Some climbers were making what looked like a very late start to tackle the Old Man of Hoy; lots of seabirds but no puffins though. Day 2 did the stone age sites, very impressive and evocative... Then a chippy supper in Kirkwall and the seriously antisocial night ferry to Lerwick - 11:45pm depart, yippee.

5 days on Shetland, yay. Stayed 2 nights at the Saxa Vord Resort - the Sergeants Mess from the old RAF base. A time capsule of 1990s RAF living and still smells of the RAF... Lovely folk, helpful & friendly. Refuelled at the local shop ('The Final Checkout'); went in to pay and they ask me "how much was that?". Perfect. I Was There photo of bike by the Unst Bus Shelter (see http://www.unstbusshelter.shetland.co.uk/) then off to Hermaness to find that puffin... By lunch time I'm munching my sarnies just across from Muckle Flugga. I've biked then walked as far as I can in the UK before the North Pole, seen loads of Skuas, shedloads of gannets, kittiwakes etc, but hardly a solitary puffin. Seriously cheesed off. Then, one last check over the cliff edge - and there they are - I haven't wasted a week and 900 miles after all! They'd all been off feeding, but came back in the afternoon, so for the rest of the afternoon I was in puffin heaven. And they'll let you get soooooo close... Sadly though, there are only about 25,000 puffins up there now, whereas 10 years ago there were ten times that.

I'd thoroughly recommend Shetland; the roads are genuinely perfect - I came across not a single pothole anywhere. Even the C roads are smooth, devoid of grass or gravel and have white painted edges. The A roads and the A968 in particular are biker heaven. Potentially as fast as you want and the locals in their utes tend to up the warp factor; but off the main roads you need to be seriously wary of death-wish sheep - DAMHIK.

Moved south and spent 2 nights in a camping bod in Walls - seriously good value. Visited Papa Stour (needs organisation as the ferry only runs three times a week) - amazing cliffs (avoid the edge though, they're either overhung or at best go straight down 300 feet) plus yet more assorted amazing coastal scenery; lots of skuas, terns, sandpipers, kittiwakes but no puffins. Also Scalloway - nice museum with very moving exposition on the Shetland Bus - one of SOE's great successes; and the castle next door is worth a look. Lunch at St Ninian's Isle - picture perfect; and a coffee at Sumburgh Head lighthouse. The road crosses the airport runway threshold, protected just by a couple of flashing lights... I wonder how many they lose there each year?

Then overnight ferry back to Aberdeen and a long initially super-wet day back to Warks via the Cairngorms. I'll have to return and do the A93 in the dry some day - we had lakes on Friday morning!

1,800 miles all up; Orkney is lovely and Shetland is a must, especially if you like wildlife, particularly seabirds - and of course puffins. I kept an eye out, but didn't see any seals, orcas, whales etc which are also around... At Saxa Vord the bike and I were further north than Helsinki, Oslo. Stockholm, and St Petersburg, which got me thinking... Northlink Ferries are great - I was the only bike on every crossing, they're comfy and the beer is cheap. Book breakfast and while you have to get the bike off as soon as you dock, you can then get back on board for a total breakfast before leaving.

If/when I can, I'll post a pic or two.


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Re: Puffin Hunt...

Postby Paul » Mon Aug 12, 2019 3:41 pm

Sounds good. Looking forward to seeing the pictures [smilie=mf_popcorn.gif]
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Re: Puffin Hunt...

Postby The Teutonic Tangerine » Tue Aug 13, 2019 12:40 pm

Sounds like you had a really good time - for us Essex boyz it would be a monster tour - so we tend to head for Wales or France.
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Re: Puffin Hunt...

Postby ianbcr » Tue Aug 13, 2019 8:03 pm

I am supprised no one told you about the puffins at the lighthouse thats where all the locals and tourists go to see them. if you decide to go again try getting tickets for the simmer dim rally, 4 days of bikers camping out with live music every night. bikers come from all over with a few from the continent. held nearist the weekend of June 21st longest day.
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