There’s a lot of hype about the Mousa Broch. We started hearing about it while we were still on the mainland. Biggest, tallest, most complete kind of talk. We headed south to stage ourselves for a ferry ride over to Mousa Island where there are no cars or roads, only to run into the most sustained bad weather we had in Shetlands. Current weather reports indicate that by Saturday, when the ferry doesn’t run, we might expect a break. This calls for a new plan.
Weeks later, heading back to the mainland after touring Unst and Yell, we saw an opportunity to catch that ferry to Mousa on a nice day, assuming that it ought to be running. By mid morning we were backing Escape Velocity into a tight parking spot in the tiny village of Sandsayre where the Mousa boat is docked.
The pier is located in the shadow of a Laird’s stronghold palace who, if you can believe local lore, once owned most of Shetland.
The happy crew showed up and led a brief conga-line through a shallow tub of disinfectant due to a worrying outbreak of bird flu elsewhere in Shetland. Much more than just a ferry to the island, Skipper Rodney gave us a closeup history of shipwreck sites and roosting birds, including these gothic shags.
Pulling up to the pier at Mousa you are faced with a choice, clockwise or counterclockwise around the island. We went right for a counterclockwise tour and a somewhat quicker view of the famous broch, hopefully before exhaustion sets in. On the trail we took advantage of a wooden bench marking 60° north latitude.
Turns out only half of the bench is at 60 degrees while the front is 59.599 whatever degrees. I was reminded to get a move on as we had a date with the return boat. At last the Mousa Broch rose up before us but we still had a way to hike.
This thing is one big mother. Over forty feet high. (Technical details and historic significance here.)
Ducking to enter you’re immediately struck by the mystery of it all. This is not a restoration or reconstruction. The only additions to the original structure are an entry door and safety features at the very top.
It even has a small pool in the center of the floor.
Chambers line the walls and there are stairs inside the the double walls that very carefully spiral up to the top.
Roof or no roof? Typically no answers, no one knows.
One wants to spend hours contemplating what the hell all this means, especially when you look across the strait to see that there is an identical broch now in ruin just a few hundred meters away. Entering these waters with a huge broch on either side would be mighty impressive, you could even say intimidating.
Once again I was reminded to keep a move on so we stopped for one last look and headed out.
The scenery changed very quickly and ruins of Mousa’s past began to show up along with massive chunks of several boat wrecks, evidence of a notorious coast.
Just when I was ready to call for the sag wagon the welcoming hut and boat hove into view. A small group of colleagues were milling about so you could say we weren’t first in, but certainly not last.
Captain Rodney was excited to show us guillemot “tumblers” and motored across the strait to a cliff with hundreds of nesting guillemots. The little buggers tumble out of the nest before they’re fully fledged to where their dads are anxiously waiting and calling to them, ready to explain the facts of life to their offspring.
“And together they swim to Norway,” the skipper told us.
They say it takes about five days. I personally would’ve chosen the south of France.