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Aberdeen to Shetland - the scenic route.

Aberdeen to Shetland - the scenic route.

Old Jul 6, 16, 3:02 pm
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Aberdeen to Shetland - the scenic route.

This trip report won't actually feature any aircraft, but I hope that is OK. The pictures were taken on my mobile phone, so they are of fairly poor quality to go along with my lack of aptitude as a photographer. This is also my first trip report so I do hope that you enjoy and I manage not to bore anyone to death.

Dear to the seabird is her rocky ledge;
Dear to the islesman is the world's edge. - Vagaland, "Prelude"


NorthLink Ferries, currently operated by multi-national outsourcing firm Serco, provide the lifeline link from the Scottish mainland to the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland under contract to the Scottish Government. They operate a fleet of three purpose-built roll-on-roll-off passenger ferries: the MV Hjaltland (the old Norse name for Shetland), MV Hrossey (the old Norse name for Orkney) and MV Hamnavoe (old Norse for "home port" or "safe haven"). The Hjaltland and Hrossey sail between Aberdeen and Lerwick, the capital of Shetland with regular calls in Kirkwall, Orkney's capital. The Hamnavoe plys the Pentland Firth between Scrabster, near Thurso and Stromness in Orkney. The company also leases two freight vessels, the MS Helliar and the MS Hildasay, named after uninhabited islands in Orkney and Shetland respectively. NorthLink went for "H" as their naming theme which caused some anger on the islands as for many, many years their ships had been named after saints with a local connection.

My presence was required in Lerwick for a week, and while I would normally fly I decided to take the ferry for the first time in years, prices are roughly similar when compared to flying and when accounting for a hotel room in Lerwick on Sunday night which I would need if taking the plane up, the ferry is about 50 cheaper than a return ticket with FlyBe from Inverness to Sumburgh. The passage costs 41, with exclusive use of a two berth cabin coming in at 111. If you wish you can choose to share a cabin (either 2 or 4 berth), if you are travelling solo and choose this option you will be sleeping with strangers. You can also pay for the use of a reclining chair, or for a "sleeping pod", which is a bit like a business class airline seat, and if you really want or need to (and I have at short notice) just pay for passage and sleep in one of the bars or on the floor.


His name is Magnus

The sailing is overnight, and with this voyage calling in at Kirkwall the vessel departs Aberdeen harbour at 1700 (direct sailings depart Aberdeen at 1900), with check-in opening at 1500. Aberdeen harbour is located in the city centre, minutes away from the bus and railway stations so getting there is as pain-free as you would expect. Once in the NorthLink terminal, you simply provide your name or booking reference and are handed a boarding card. which doubles as the key to your cabin if you have chosen to book one. There is no ID check and your luggage is not screened routinely, although occasionally it is searched, this is more common in Lerwick - you can choose to check in an item of bulky luggage for no charge.

Passengers board the ship via a covered walkway, similar to an airbridge, so if narrow gangways aren't your thing (they aren't mine!) there is no need to worry. My steed for the night would be the Hrossey, fittingly registered to Kirkwall. If you are interested, the ship's name is pronounced "Rossey".


Hrossey, Kirkwall

I proceeded to my cabin and popped my suitcase there for the time being. The cabins are quite basic but they are comfortable, mine consisted of two single beds, a bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower and a kettle with some tea and coffee. You can get more expensive cabins with televisions and workdesks but I am personally just content with a bed. The showerheads are often cracked which means water flies out everywhere, the shower section of the bathroom is also very small, so if you are tall like me it can take some contortion. I have yet to have a shower on board which did not result in the bathroom becoming soaked.

Just prior to departure, the Captain welcomes you aboard via the tannoy and provides some information about the voyage including our ETAs in Kirkwall and Lerwick, then a recorded safety message plays advising you of what to do in an emergency.The outside public decks and smoking areas are at the aft of the vessel, I went up here while we prepared to depart and stayed outside for about an hour. It is quite something to see the Captain delicately thread the vessel through the busy harbour at Aberdeen, passing very close by to many oil supply ships. Eventually, the ship will sail by the harbour's Traffic Control Tower, past the breakwaters and into the North Sea.

Shipshape


Sea Traffic Control


Goodbye Aberdeen

After a bracing dose of sea air, I went back indoors and availed myself of the "Feast" restaurant. The menu is varied and there should be something for everyone - it's a buffet style so the food isn't going to win any prizes, but the portions are generous and the majority is made from quality local produce. If your choice is not immediately available, you are handed a device which buzzes and flashes when your food is ready for collection. I plumped for the beef burger which filled a hole and I was most grateful as I hadn't eaten since breakfast!


Dinner

Deck Plan

WiFi is available on board and operates via satellite link, it is however very, very patchy and I couldn't get it to work until just before I went to bed at about 10PM - at this point we were approaching Kirkwall and as such were close to land, I suspect this had a bearing on the system.
The Hrossey and Hjaltland have two bars, one aft next to the restaurant and one at the front of the vessel with views straight ahead, I went here for a couple of pints - there were people scattered around and some were sleeping. There is normally quite a good atmosphere on board, although unlike the "good old days" there doesn't seem to be regular traditional music on board, played by some of the talented musicians who inhabit the northern archipelagos, this was a real treat even if one did occasionally step off the boat swaying more than you were during the voyage in a force 9 gale!


Pint

One of the nice things about being this far north is that it doesn't get dark in the summer until late on. We had a spell of bad wether but this passed as we sailed further north.



Sunshine!

I slept well and awoke at about 6AM, there are announcements through the morning although there is a control in your cabin where you can adjust the volume of the tannoy. Breakfast was served at 6.30 and is a help yourself affair, the food is again decent without being spectacular - you can choose between a continental option or a hot option. As you can see I went for a fry-up and I am a big fan of the mighty "tattie scone", without which no full breakfast is worth the name.


Brekkie

The last leg of the journey sees the ship glide up the east coast of the Shetland mainland and into the natural harbour created by Bressay Sound which hosts the ferry terminal at Holmsgarth, just outside of Lerwick. Sumburgh Airport is at the very south of Shetland, which makes for an interesting approach over the sea but you do end up a good 40 minute drive from Lerwick.


Lighthouse


Lerwick

While the journey could hardly be described as quick, it's at least 11 hours longer than the flight, it's certainly my preference in the summer if I have the time. Shetland is striking, dramatic and without doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited - if you find yourself in Scotland and have the chance then I would thoroughly recommend spending some time at the world's edge.

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Old Jul 6, 16, 6:14 pm
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Thanks for posting your report. It is interesting to see an another way to get to the Islands.

Last edited by halfcape; Jul 6, 16 at 6:22 pm
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Old Jul 7, 16, 3:27 am
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Thanks for a different report!

I always see the ferry at the harbour when I pass but have never been on it. The food doesn't look too bad actually - better than I thought.

Nice sunset on the way north too!
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Old Jul 7, 16, 6:10 am
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Nice read, thanks, and the breakfast looked good.

It's several years ago now, but I travelled that route to play in the Lerwick Sevens a couple of times. MV St. Clair at the time if my memory serves me well.
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Old Jul 7, 16, 9:09 am
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I took the ferry (Hjaltland) mid-June up to Kirkwall after wanting to travel on it for many a year and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I didn't bother with a cabin for the return journey as I didn't think it was cost effective so booked a 'pod' seat for 18 (compared to 100 for an unshared cabin) and did manage to get sleep even though I probably saw every hour during the night as it was daylight proper from around 3am although wasn't really dark at all from when we left around midnight.

I had my car with me as I couldn't get a hire car (I booked up with relatively short notice) and thought it quite steep hence too another reason for the pod seat/bed rather than going for a cabin.

I thought the supper options were very good and very reasonably priced given you are a captive audience, I didn't buy the meal option as I didn't want a 3 course meal. I too had the burger and it was some size and thought it quite tasty. I didn't take breakfast (had that... well coffee! when I went to work after coming off the ferry in Aberdeen) but does look value for money judging by the picture you took.

Your photos look great, it was a very cloudy/foggy night when I sailed so much so you couldn't see the harbour entrance when coming out the deep water channel!
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Old Jul 7, 16, 6:10 pm
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Thanks for sharing. Will be there next May, on a cruise.
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Old Jul 9, 16, 3:06 am
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Originally Posted by ft101 View Post
Nice read, thanks, and the breakfast looked good.

It's several years ago now, but I travelled that route to play in the Lerwick Sevens a couple of times. MV St. Clair at the time if my memory serves me well.
I have some fond memories of the St Clair and St Sunniva on this run in days past. Some none too fond as well when you're rolling around in the Fair Isle gap wondering why you didn't stay on dry land!

I recall one particularly horrific night on the St Clair when just beyond Sumburgh Head she tipped right out of the water and the propellers were churning fresh air - it seemed an eternity but she did eventually crash back into the sea - we turned back to Lerwick (and were lucky we could, it was a dangerous maneuver) and I'll never forget the Master's words in the lounge once we docked - "I thought I'd lost her".

Took a while before I was willing to step on board again - back in those days the flights (operated by British Airways!) were much more expensive in comparison to the ferry.

Originally Posted by nequine View Post

I had my car with me as I couldn't get a hire car (I booked up with relatively short notice) and thought it quite steep hence too another reason for the pod seat/bed rather than going for a cabin.
Yes it isn't cheap to get a car on board, especially when renting is cheap - it can sometimes be cheaper than a taxi to and from Sumburgh as well if you're taking the plane! If I'm only going to Kirkwall I don't bother with a cabin either and just spend the time in the bar .

Originally Posted by stu1985 View Post
Thanks for a different report!

I always see the ferry at the harbour when I pass but have never been on it. The food doesn't look too bad actually - better than I thought.

Nice sunset on the way north too!
I work in Aberdeen fairly often and do get a bit of "wanderlust" when I spot the ferry from the top of Castle Street. The food is much better than it was in P&O days, perhaps less in quantity as they would pile your plate as high as it would go!

Last edited by fnl111; Jul 9, 16 at 3:15 am
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Old Jul 9, 16, 10:46 am
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Out of curiosity how long did it take to get from Orkney to the Shetlands?
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Old Jul 9, 16, 11:44 am
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Originally Posted by steveo View Post
Out of curiosity how long did it take to get from Orkney to the Shetlands?
Just under 8 hours. The timetabled departure time from Kirkwall is 2345, arriving in Lerwick at 0730.
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Old Jul 9, 16, 8:54 pm
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Great trip report!
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Old Jul 10, 16, 3:04 pm
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Interesting read, many thanks.
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Old Jul 11, 16, 9:20 pm
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Thanks for sharing, it was a very interesting report and the images were good.
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