Odyssey into the Northern Atlantic

A July 2004 exploration of Orkney & Shetland (UK), and Føroyar (DK)


A more extensive travelogue will appear any decade - the short version is this : after I'd gotten back from New Zealand, my girlfriend wanted to do some travel, too. We've been drooling over Iceland for quite a few years, but let's face it - it IS expensive. On the other hand, our fond memories of Scotland in mind, a re-visit was forcing itself upon us. The locigal thing is to take what's in between... plus, our 2002 Scotland trip was in September, so practically no wildlife left. This time we wanted some birds for example.

It might seem slightly odd, with all the globe lying there waiting to be explored, to go visiting some treeless lumps of rock scattered across the Northern Atlantic, where summer temperatures do not exceed 15 centigrade; well, it takes all kinds... The Føroyar would not in and of themselves constitute a holiday destination, but we thought, while we're at it... I mean, how many of you can actually claim to have set foot on the Faroe Islands?! Huhuh <nerdish snicker>.

We don't prearrange much; only transport. And there, the web rules! We booked practically every single piece of transportation (quite a lot; see below for links) through the web. Finally, the idea was this : gradually going northward and then back, which led to the plan,

  • 3-4 July : from Brussels, via Glasgow & Inverness, to Orkney
  • 5-6 July : Orkney (space!)
  • 7-13 July : Shetland (the moors! the birds!)
  • 14-21 July : Føroyar (grass roofs, steep hills & sea fiords!)
  • 22 July : back from the Føroyar, via London, to Brussels

In a week or so, all was booked. The last tickets came in the day before we were leaving. So the next day we got to Inverness. Man, what a feeling to be back in Scotland! I felt sorry having to pass by the magnificent Highlands. It was the first time we actually returned to a place we'd visited before. Strange feeling. Basically an instant melancholy hits you as you realise that you'll never be able to experience the feeling you had when you came the first time, simply because now you know. But the journey only began. And let me tell you, taking ferry after ferry to get more and more out there into the great blue... it is something to experience. And you can! by reading the travel information below and doing it yourself, or by putting your browser full screen (F11-key) and start on the PHOTO ALBUM (beware, there's over 300 of them, and that's a stringent selection).

[Just noticed that the Faroes and New Zealand are practically on opposite ends of the globe. Three months away, but over 18,000 kms apart... who said space was just a device to prevent everything from being in the same spot? - funky!]


So, why an odyssey? Well, dig the itinerary (price/TWO persons) :

[THE journey planner for Scotland is at Traveline Scotland ! You just enter any two places, tick which transport modes you'd like to use, and it searches in all timetables, train, ferry, coach, local buses - hell, even Royal Mail postbuses ! Absolutely not to be missed; afterwards you can still check at the local sites for complete timetables etc. - always the best thing to do, as I've found out that some post bus timetables are missing.]

  1. PLANE : Charleroi (Brussels South) - Glasgow Prestwick
    Time Depart 14:45 - Arrive 15:20 (1 daily)
    With RYAN AIR (40 € - variable)
    Tickets can be pre-booked on-line / Dutch (you get a ref. nr.)
  2. TRAIN : Prestwick - Glasgow (Central Stn.)
    Time Depart 15:50 - Arrive 16:34 (hourly)
    With SCOTRAIL (8 € - that's ½ price showing the plane ticket)
    Tickets only on the train (timetable on-line)
  3. BUS : Glasgow (Buchanan Bus Stn.) - Inverness
    Time Depart 17:15 - Arrive 20:45 (several daily)
    With CITYLINK (18 €)
    Tickets can be pre-booked and printed out on-line
    (but watch it, not all bus drivers are aware of this!)
  4. BUS : Inverness - Scrabster
    Time Depart 14:00 - Arrive 17:39 (2 daily)
    With CITYLINK (33 €)
    Tickets can be pre-booked and printed out on-line
    (but watch it, not all bus drivers are aware of this)
  5. FERRY : Scrabster - Stromness (Orkney)
    Time Depart 19:00 - Arrive 20:30 (3 daily)
    With NORTHLINK (around 40 €, depending season - you don't need a cabin for a mere 90 minutes)
    Tickets can be pre-booked on-line (you get a reference nr.)
  6. FERRY : Kirkwall (Orkney) - Lerwick (Shetland)
    Time Depart 23:45 - Arrive 7:30 (3 or 4 weekly)
    With NORTHLINK (60-90 € basic price, depending season; on top of this you may want to take a cabin if those chairs don't do it for you - you can get have a berth with others in a 2 (outer) or 4 (inner) cabin, you can rent an entire 2 or 4 cabin, regardless of whether you're actually 2 or 4 (for two, renting a 4-cabin is slightly cheaper than the 2-cabin, since that one has a window... ok, it's night so you don't really need the window, but the price difference is so minimal that you'd better go for the 2 then). Summed prices for two can thus vary over the seasons from just 60 to 180 €. You can get a bit more luxury for an additional 30 € (Premium), and if your girlfriend happens to have her 30th birthday that day, you might want to go all Days Of Our Lives on her and get some more luxury with a special wine or champagne arrangement (see the celebration packs).
    Tickets can be pre-booked on-line (you get a reference nr.)
  7. FERRY : Lerwick (Shetland) - Tórshavn (Føroyar)
    Time Depart 2:00 - Arrive 15:00 (1 weekly; other direction 2)
    With SMYRIL LINE (it's 13 hours and they have the monopoly in the north, so huge prices : two will pay minimum 168-224€ (!) depending season, and then you're in a cage where they wouldn't put sheep (see pics1/2 - take my advice : pay the berth (you have to) and go sleep in the bar or something); the next class up is 216-280 €, but if you want to sleep at all, this might be an option, especially since you board at 2 in the morning; rich folk can freak out way up 'till 1000 €!; also, watch out this is Scandinavia - prices on board are debilitating, especially if you want alcohol)
    Tickets can be ordered via a primitive on-line form (at least on the Dutch site), and are booked through Troll Travel (responsible for the Benelux); tickets arrive by snailmail
    * BEWARE ! Troll sends the tickets 2 weeks prior to departure, so if you, like us, start your holiday earlier, have them send the tickets immediately ! We got ours just in time.
    Other Smyril sites : Danemark / Føroyar / Island / Norge / UK / Sverige / Suomi / Deutschland / France / Italia / more exist... (tip: use these links, because the sites differ sharply and the mutual linking between them often doesn't work)
  8. PLANE : Vágar (Føroyar) - London Stansted
    Time Depart 12:30 - Arrive 15:30
    With ATLANTIC AIRWAYS (430 €, though you might get it cheaper if you're earlier; during winter no tickets to London might be available at all, but you just might be able to get to Aberdeen... try clicking some stuff on their site; see the special offers and such). To Denmark you can also go with Maersk Air.
    Tickets can be pre-booked on-line & are sent by snailmail
  9. PLANE : London Stansted - Eindhoven (Netherlands)
    Time Depart 18:30 - Arrive 20:30 (2 daily)
    With RYAN AIR (75 € - variable)
    Tickets can be pre-booked on-line / Dutch (you get a ref. nr.)

And then I don't count the bus from Brussels to Charleroi; furthermore we were pretty lucky that my mum's boyfriend lives in Eindhoven, and they came to pick us up - for London Std-Charleroi doesn't fly anymore.

CASH Orkney & Shetland are UK and work with Pounds Sterling; several different Scottish Pound-banknotes are issued by different banks, so they might look different depending where you got them - doesn't mean they're old or something. Fall '04 it's 1 GBP = 1.44 EUR = 1.82 USD = 10.72 DKK. The Føroyar have the Faroese Kroner, which is equivalent to the Denmark Kroner. Currently that's 100 DKK = 13.45 EUR = 16.95 USD = 9.32 GBP. So don't start calculating when you order a pint of simple lager and the barmaid says "50 Kroner" - it IS $8.50, it IS over £4.50, it IS almost 7€ ! And STILL people drink ! Even we !
Orkney has cash points in Kirkwall and Stromness, Shetland in Lerwick. Practically everything is only to be found in Lerwick for that matter. The Faroes are littered with cash points. Funnily, pseudo-south-african/finnish named "banki" or "sparikassi". I mean, every medium sized town has one. Tss, Scandinavians... VISA is widely accepted in practically every hole in O/S/F.

LANGUAGE Orkney & Shetland speak English of course. Unlike the Outer Hebrides, no Gaelic is spoken here; basically because it was hardly ever spoken there at all - recall that Gaelic came from Ireland. Instead they had Norn, a dialect form of Old Norse as language, especially on Shetland; unfortunately it is now extinct, and remains visible only in certain placenames, like Yell, or Unst. The Faroe Islands have their own language, Føroyskt (Faroese), also a descendant of Old Norse, which looks, unsurprisingly, like a crossover bewtween Icelandic and Norwegian (apparently sounds more like the latter). People speak Danish and English, though their knowledge of the latter is not as fluent as in the rest of Scandinavia.

O yeah, and HAVE A PASSPORT if you go to the Faroes ! We didn't know (several sites give ambiguous information), and for some reason, we got in without one (less stringent controles on the ferries - gogo Al Quaeda!). However, we had serious trouble at Vágar Airport, where they didn't want to let us go. Had something to do with the Faroes not being EU (despite the fact that Denmark is), while the UK not being a Shengen country... politics whatever. So despite the fact that we as Belgians can travel to the UK without passport and that this time even we were only in transit, London would not accept us, simply because we came from the Faroes. Fortunately, the plane made one touchdown in Aberdeen first, and the Scots (bless them) would have us, after the umpth phonecall. I mean, waiting 3 weeks on the Faroes for a passport from the embassy in Copenhagen is not only a numbing prospect - you'll probably end up pennyless as well. Be prepared !

WEATHER Last but not least: the forecast! Check the 10-day weather outlook for Orkney and Shetland, from Fair Isle weather station.