Tuesday March 13th: Shetlands: The title picture shows a very ‘Long House’
I woke to a view of Lerwick harbour, slightly annoyed that they had found us an along-side mooring – as I had hoped to be ferried ashore in one of the lifeboats! Here’s the harbour, deceptively blue, summery and clear, it was freezing cold really! Oh that bitter easterly wind!
Just as I thought, lots of tiny little horses here. I started the day with a coach trip around mainland. apparently on the wrong side of the road, until I remembered that I was back in the UK. Saw a modern equivalent of a Norse Longhouse – a long straight bungalow that ended in a garage door, so that the owners shared the building with the car, as did their ancestors with their animals. The coach took us to “Shetland contrasts” different parts of the main island, never far from water, of course. Lots of stops for photo opportunities, which meant awkwardly shuffling up and down the narrow coach gangway, bundled up in layers of heavy clothing. The views were
worth it all, though.
We stopped for coffee at small crafts-and-coffee shop, full of local woollen goods. I have more than enough clothes, but I did buy 2 CDs of local music, in order to get a real taste of the Nordo-Celtic culture: the accent is Scottish but the place-names are Scandinavian.
There was a coffee break here: The Sumburgh Hotel
And then on to the Archaeology! Near the hotel and the busy airport is wonderful site of Jarlshof, where dwellings from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Viking Age lie side by side.
In the afternoon, I joined the walking tour of Lerwick (“Lerrick”). It actually felt warm! The first part of this was a quick short-cut through a builders’ yard to the Shetland museum.
Here, we stopped for 50 minutes to gain extensive knowledge of the geology, geography and history of the islands (Those Vikings again- they obliterated a Pictish Christian agricultural civilisation, and made the islands a base for their vile murder/robbery/slaving expeditions).
Here are some pictures I took as we continued our tour of this ancient Celto-Nordic town
So that was Shetland, a lovely group of islands with friendly people.
The rest of my many pictures can be found Here
Saturday March 10th Reykavik
Exhausted by the long tough day yesterday, and ‘bug’ that’s going around, I slept very late and ate and drank nothing until nightfall, I probably had an early night, as I don’t remember going to any entertainment!
Sunday March 11th: at Sea
Marginally warmer but quite rough. We left Iceland early in order to outrun a storm, but the Captain still warned us to keep off the open decks, However, there is still an area open to the sky where you can get fresh air surrounded by glass screens. This is where the smokers go. There is still a bar and buffet here, with barmen and waiters wrapped up in their cold weather gear.
I did get to the Sunday Service: Luckily there was a retired parson among the passengers, so we celebrated Mothering Sunday at Sea. Following this was another lecture by our on-board Viking Expert, Sir James Hodge, who told us all about the Viking Colonies in Greenland and North America, fascinating stuff!
The evening’s show was a magician and Stand-up comedian, I fell asleep!
Later I went to the usual bar and met up with the poets.
Monday March 12th At sea
Here is an excerpt from my journal
Awoke in the early hours of the morning and got my wish, to see the lovely Faroe Islands again. Far out on the port side was a light on the horizon, blinking, and much smaller, but steady light. I turned the TV, using the channel that shows the ships position and progress, and sure enough, there we were passing the Southernmost point of the Faroes. Much later I woke again in daylight, and saw a trawler slipping slowly astern of us. At home I have a lovely view from my window, but I never see trawlers going past it.
A crewman has just asked me if I’m writing a book. So I told him about the blog, and showed him my WordPress address. So I’d better say what I may have omitted earlier that the crew of the Magellan are immensely helpful and friendly and highly skilled at making the passenger-experience a delight!
Note to self: swivelling, wheeled computer-chairs are very good on land, but in the North Atlantic in a fresh gale, NO! It’s like riding a loose cannon! I’ll have to move to a steady chair and put the laptop on my lap. Now I don’t much like Vikings, especially after what they did to the monastery on Lindisfarne, but I have to admire their courage and endurance in crossing these same seas in undecked longships with no weather protection at all, no fresh food, and definitely no pretty waitresses to bring them whiskey as they sat on the rowing benches. Nearly time for the ship’s Christian Fellowship meeting, so I will continue later in a fixed chair.
Later, this is how I pictured it! Me, the eccentric writer, sat in a corner of the ship’s “English Pub” (‘The Taverners’) with my laptop and a pint of ‘Spitfire’ bitter. The beer is on my left and wild blue Atlantic on my right. The beer is chilled, just a little bit, but full of flavour and not at all gassy, despite the absence of handpumps. How do they do it? Could it be that when the tap is turned, a bell rings down below: This alerts the shantyman to strike up a rollicking pumping shanty, stout-hearted seamen man the pumps, and up comes my beer to the sound of “Sally Brown from Boston City, way hey roll and go”. Well, jolly sailors, barmen, readers and writers all – Here’s to you. Cheers!
Now about being an eccentric writer, does this mean I’m automatically outside the writers’ circle?
The Christian Fellowship meeting was full of good fellowship, and now no-one thinks they’re the only Christian here. But so many people talking that I did not feel able to make a contribution. I asked God what to do about this, and an answer came to me. Like the Word to the minor prophets: “What do you see and hear, and think, Rychard? Open your laptop and set it down where you are never tonguetied, where you have time to consider each word, where your imagination has time to filter and edit. And, who knows, someone out there may be amused by what you write.” “PS, don’t forget to put some pictures in”.
And here the are: Various views of the deck, in the cold and wet, note that there’s no-one
actually on the decks. The notice on the door in the bottom left picture says that the door is out of use, owing to the weather
That afternoon there was a lecture by the ship’s photographer, on how HIS Northern Lights pictures were so much better than ours!
The Evening Entertainment was a great nostalgiafest (but they don’t do the old-time nostalgia like I used to know) “Shake the Sixties” How the dancers coped with the heaving decks in ther dance routines, was amazing!
A few more empty wet deck pictures are available HERE
Arrived in Reykjavik at dawn.
Time to skip breakfast, get ashore, wrapped in many layers of thermal stuff, and get on a packed programme of excursions. After a pause at the dockyard to allow an enormous redbearded Viking to have his picture taken with me. OK, the Icelanders are cheerful and hospitable people, so I obliged him.
Looking at my copy of the photo, I noticed that fellow was wearing fur trousers this must have been the great hero of the sagas, Ragnar Lodbrok himself. Lodbrok is old Norse for “hairy britches” The Saga tells that Ragnar once dressed head to toe in hairy animal skins to protect himself from burns as he went several rounds with a ferocious firebreathing dragon (The results have now come in: Heroic Norse warrior: one, ferocious fire breather: nil)
Now for a packed day of icy delight: The whales weren’t about near Reyjavik today, so they bussed us to a small port further West and we embarked on a small fast boat. I went straight to the saloon forrard, and remained there in the relative warmth. The crew did offer us the loan of survival suits but they were huge and cumbersome and awkward to put on over a big coat like mine, and they’d never have found one with short enough legs for me anyway.
As we raced out whalewards the sea got rough, really rough and sickbags were provided. White water washed over the foredeck and the saloon windows as buffeted through the great waves, and paper bags were soon in use, at last a humpback whale was sighted, then another, each time looked in the indicated direction, only to be just too late. Spouts I saw aplenty, and had to restrain myself from bellowing “There she blows!” each time. Finally, there it was, a glimpse of the huge flukes on the tail of a whale as it dived vertically down just a few fathoms off our starboard beam. Fine! I have seen a whale, now bring on the next adventure.
And this was> “The 4 X 4 adventure” Picture an 15-seater minibus with huge wheels, or a gigantic Range Rover. Actually, don’t, look at the pictures am going to paste into this document. this monster carried us up a steep mountainside at impossible angles, and parked just below the peak, allowing us to step outside and walk up to it in the freezing wind to take pictures of practically the whole island, if our fingers weren’t too numb to press the buttons on our cameras
Back aboard, time to warm up again as we came own at even more impossible angles, and drive over the volcanic lava-plain to the beach, where we got out for pictures of our footprints in the ‘sand’
This being more lava, ground up into granules as fine as sand by the relentless Atlantic. Next a ‘comfort break’ in a small town shopping mall where there was an exhibition of the results of a famous earthquake of only a few years ago. This featured security camera footage of a man racing for his life from the off-licence as racks of wine came crashing down around him. Then we went on, back towards Reykjavik, past sheep farms with no visible sign of sheep, these being kept in huge sheds until lambing time, and pipelines that carry scalding hot water from the springs to domestic radiators in the towns. Here’s where the pipe-lines stated, a ‘hot-water farm’ out on the ice sheet over the springs .
The driver had a lot of fun on the ice-sheet, scaring the passengers by showing us what the ‘Beast’ was capable of (practically anything!) Here it is emerging from an icy stream
And here we are, slithering around in the icy wastes!
On our return to the Magellan, we had a quick bite to eat, and as dusk fell, re-embarked on a much smaller and more spartan vessel to brave the icy east wind and seek the Northern Lights. All my pictures turned out to show a whole lot of nothing, but a few miles out, a cry roused us from the comparative warmth of the cabin to shiver on deck and gaze up in awe at a faded lace curtain in the sky which eventually began to take on a greenish tinge, but nothing as spectacular as what appeared in some of the pictures the ship’s photographer had shown us.
After a while, I found that the little ship had a small stern deck, mercifully sheltered from the east wind, so that I was able to remove a glove and operate my camera and this is all I got!
This is what the ship’s photographer got!
How did he do it? What elaborate filters and settings must he have used!
Luckily the buffet was still open when we got back aboard the Magellan, hot drinks and food after that icy adventure. If you want to see more of Iceland’s wonderful scenery, use the link below to get to my Dropbox pictures
As promised in a Facebook post long ago, we interrupt this tale of adventures in the Wintry North Atlantic to post the writings produced by the author at a writers’ workshop in September, long after the cruise, for a group of writers from Listowel, a town of writers, set in Kerry, a county of writers, in Eire, a nation of writers.
These are the pieces I produced at a writers’ workshop on my latest visit to Ireland – I was invited to go along and participate by one of the regulars, Hazel White, a writer, songwriter, poet, singer and musician at whose house I stay on my many visits. The idea is that a small group of writers meet in the house of the leader, who gives them a phrase or sentence, and 45 minutes in which to write whatever it brings to mind.
Then they each read out their piece and the leader gives a brief critique and invites all the participants to add their comments and encouragement – it’s all very civilized and friendly!
Our morning’s ‘Title’ was “Send in the Clowns” I wrote a bit of rubbish for 5 minutes, thought a bit about clowns, then the song title, then I cleared my mind, took a new sheet of paper and let this flow:
The prisoner had still not cracked! Battered but unbowed he proudly faced the inquisitors: He had been beaten, burned and waterboarded, they had used the glaring lights, the loud noises and the sensory=deprivation chamber – no results, his secrets were still secret and nothing had been confessed. As a desperate penultimate they had brought in the rats from room 101 that even scared the Grand Inquisitor, but not the prisoner.
He had a brief respite while the inquisitors went into a huddled conference with the chief torturer, all too soon the huddle broke up and the prisoner could see the fear, even on those grim and brutal faces. One by one they quietly left the chamber, until only he and the Grand Inquisitor remained. “You have left us no alternative.” said the Grand Inquisitor, “You have just one last chance to save yourself from a fate horrible beyond imagination!”
The prisoner shook his head. “Very well”, said the Grand Inquisitor, as he stepped quickly through the door. Just before slamming it shut, he shouted “Send in the clowns!”
That was when I cracked
After a rather splendid lunch we convened again, the afternoon’s theme was “Eve and the apple”. This gave me pause for thought, but my thoughts were interrupted by a distant voice, insistent, urgent maybe plaintive “Tell my story!” it said. I tried to ignore it and go back to my thoughts, but “They have to know my story!” it said again. So wrote down what I heard, this it:-
Why do you always say it’s my fault? You weren’t there! You didn’t see him, looking so suave and elegant in his Armani suit and Gucci shoes, so tall, dark and handsome! You didn’t hear his clever, witty and Oh, So complimentary words. He made me feel so beautiful, so important, far too good to be just a sort of personal assistant to a gardener!
All right, NOW I know him for the smooth-talking old deceiver he is, but I was only just a the beginning of the story then, and you are looking back from far ahead in it!
You weren’t there, you didn’t see how big and bright that mother of all apples appeared when he talked of it. You think you know the beautiful smell of a ripe apple? This smelt a billion times better!
And the thoughts, the dreams, that I could be as wise and wonderful as the Maker himself! I know now that it was all a lie, but if you’d been there, if you’d been the naïve, innocent young girl created in what appeared to be a man’s world, you’d have fallen for it too.
As for Adam, what use was he? He who was supposed to be the father of a glorious race of noble beings, all he did was set the precedent for husbands all down the centuries to blame their wives for everything that goes wrong.
You weren’t there! You can’t blame me, and you’d better believe what I say. After all, I’m your mother!
Normal service will resumed on my next “Writing Tuesday” when I’ll tell you of an icy day in Iceland and an even icier night!
Thursday March 8th
The weather was bright and breezy also freezy, so I stayed below most of the time, Just look at the snow on deck in the picture above!
And the sea was a bit rough:
In the morning I went to an informal gathering for all Christian passengers, an experience similar to the Easter Morning Service at the annual Easter Science-Fiction convention where I look around and think “good heavens, I never though (s}he was one of us!” and then realise that people look at me and think exactly the same thing.
Anyway the fellowship was good, and they were all lovely people.
I spent a lot of time struggling with the ship’s snail-pace WIFI trying to get through to FaceBook to tell my friends where I was, to no avail. My one idea to improve these cruises would be a satellite link to the Internet.
Lunchtime came round, and a special Solo Travellers Lunch. I found myself at a table full of ladies of uncertain ages (“No gentleman should speculate on a lady’s age!”) and hosted by a young Mauritian man, one of the entertainment crew’s singer/dancers. What a treat for the ladies! Handsome, witty, entertaining, and the young Mauritian man was good, too! (You KNEW I was going to say that!) A very pleasant lunchtime, anyway!
In the afternoon, Sir James Hodge gave the most fascinating of his talks on the Vikings, about their beliefs and mythology, with some fantastic pictures that made me think of Wagner’s “Ring” operas and the better illustrations found in Tolkien’s works. In fact Sir James did draw our attention to how much Norse Mythology influenced Tolkien in his writing.
Towards the end of the afternoon, Iceland appeared over the horizon, and very icy it looked!
Another jolly evening around the bars and the shows, and then the best show of all, around midnight as the buzz went around “the Lights! They’re here!” and we raced up the companion ways (navy-talk for stairs, I can’t stop talking like a character from ‘Hornblower’ while at sea) to the icy deck, never mind the freezing East wind there are The Lights, a faintly-glowing net curtain hanging in the sky, and defying all my attempts at photography.
There was then much merriment and late-night drinking to celebrate this early success to our quest.
There are a few more pictures, including one of the Waldorf Restaurant where I had my posh dinners — here
I awoke on the morning of March 7th to the sound of the ship’s diesel engines running slowly in maneuvering mode. by the time I was up, showered and dressed, we were safely moored to a pier in the Thorshavn docks reserved for cruise ships
Here’s the view of the harbour and fishing fleet from my cabin window. The place was very busy already, as fishing is the mainstay of the islands’ economy. Below is our ship at her berth, seen from the mountains that make up most of the larger islands’ landmass. I seem to remember a rather lazy morning, something to do with last night’s revelry, I suspect. My shore expedition was not due until after lunch, anyway!
But 1230 came around soon enough, and I dressed in my extra warm Winter Gear, picked up camera, binoculars and spiked walking-pole and joined the queue for the gangway, eventually emerging into an icy East wind on the pier. I was very glad to get aboard the warm luxury coach and meet our guide, an islander who spoke excellent English with a slight Norse accent. Like all the islanders , he was descended from Norwegian and scots-irish Vikings who thought they were the first to find the islands (but of course, Irish monks had got there before everyone!)
Torshavn, the smallest capital city in the world was a pleasant mixture of old and new architecture and beyond it were wonderful snow-covered mountains and valleys with wonderful modern roads, and tunnels, through the mountains and under the sea, linking the valleys and the islands. Our guide was justly proud of his tiny but progressive nation.
We were bound for the Island of Vagar The Westernmost of the inhabited islands, nowadays it is reached by a fast modern road that winds about among the mountains until it dives under the narrow strait that divides it from Streymoy, the main Island
the first village we came to was our guide’s home. Here us his local church, with its model ship hung from the beautiful barrelled ceiling, telling us that all the churches have such a model, reminding the congregation of how much they depend on the sea for their living, and also to remember those members who died at sea.
Then he opened a hymnbook, and sang a slow, chanting kind of hymn in Faroese, so that we heard the old Norse language such as our ancestors in East Anglia spoke. These remote islanders never changed their way of speech over the centuries. They can still read the great sagas without translation. Only a few years ago, the Danish Lutheran Church finally permitted services, including marriages to be conducted in Faroese rather than DanishThis is a rather poor picture of a stone, inscribed in the ancient Runic script of the Norsemen, discovered by the Guides father, and here are some more views of the church
Then we moved on to the next village over mountain roads, and yet another tunnel to a remote settlement, the furthest West of the Faroes, nothing but the waves between us and Newfoundland and lots of photo-opportunities.
Back over the mountain roads to Torshavn, with a wonderful elevated view of the city from high up, amazing!
14,000 people live here, out of a population of 40,000, but there are stadiums, shopping malls, museums and concert halls, a complete modern civilization built on the trade in fish and wool. Some of the fish are farmed in the Viks (the many inlets from the sea in the rugged islands) and many are caught by the far-ranging fishing fleets
Those mountain roads, taken through the coach window – far too cold to get outside to take photos!
This night, I missed the posh dinner, as I wanted to eat in the top-deck buffet as our ship sailed out among these incredible islands in the sunset heading Northwards to Iceland.
I noted the dress code for the restaurant meal I didn’t have: ” ‘Casual’ Please note that no shorts or sleeveless t shirts will be aloud in the restaurants” Today’s weather forecast was “Cloudy, max temperature -5 degrees C” No-one was going violate THAT dress code!
Tonight’s Theatre show was a stand-up comic/conjurer, I’m afraid I fell asleep 3 times and then did a tour of the bars! I much preferred the shows with the pretty girls dancing!
I’ll just add a couple more pictures of the islands and close with a link to the pictures library on “Dropbox”
All this day was spent in the wild wet wilderness of the North Sea. It was rough, but not so rough as it would get later on, when we reached the North Atlantic. There was plenty to do, exploring the ship, with her many bars and shops. There were presentations about the coming shore excursions, a lecture on photography by the ship’s professional photographer, and, my favourite activity, a lecture by retired diplomat Sir James Hodge, on “The age of the Vikings: Expansion and Conquest” Sir James turned out to be a witty and extremely knowledgeable Scot, who really brought his subject to life, especially with his pronunciation of the names of the characters in Old Norse.
This was the first of the two “formal Nights” when men were supposed to turn up at dinner in evening dress or smart lounge suits, and ladies in pretty dresses. the Dinner was preceded by the “captain’s Cocktail Party”
This was as near as I came to to that, the colouring is a bit off, not showing the smart “Rifle-Green” suit in its best light.
It was a weird evening, at the Captain’s cocktail party all that happened was that the captain came in, leading his officers, apologised that his negotiations with King Neptune had not resulted in better weather, introduced the officers, and led us all in ‘bon voyage’ toast, then they left! Furthermore I saw no cocktails, jut glasses of wine!
That was all, other than rich young woman moving into the seat next to mine and started comparing this cruise unfavourably with others she had been on. She was a bit surprised at how little I had paid, and conceded that I, at least, had got ‘value for mThe dinner was followed by a show in the ship’s theatre: “The Best of Broadway”
Later I met and drank with various acquaintances including the madly in love American newlyweds, Danced with a total stranger, drank with more philosophers, and ended up reminiscing with a gigantic African Londoner who also remembered Oliver close, the street of ‘Prefabs’ in Leyton, East London, where I lived my pre-school years