Solstice to solstice, broch to broch… That leap from one side of the Mousa Sound to the other does not demand dexterity, but a boat trip from Cunningsburgh’s Aith Voe at this time in the year. For every time I set foot on Mousa, one of my favourite offshore islands, that very name, Burraland, staring at my heart from Burgi Ayre (Castle Beach, since “broch” means “castle”!) where the foundation of a sister broch still stands, had to be eventually explored. What more apt than a sunny Saturday afternoon closest to Midsummer? Bagpacked, bootlaced, and eager to see “this other side” so long contemplated from the famous Mousa Broch… It had to be done.
Burraland, the “land of the heather”, lies east of Sandwick, just opposite Mousa. It feels a bit isolated, for it is highly exposed and stuck between the Wart of Burraland (a 72m metre high hill) and the North Sea. Broch-of-Burraland To reach the remains of this Iron Age fortification, you need to follow the coastal walk from Leebotten or simply catch that track from The Pund, near Wart Hill. Ditches and meadows are filled with colours – monkeyflower, buttercup, shepherd’s purse, cuckoo flower, red campion, red & white clover and bird’s foot trefoil. Cattle may greet you at the gate, however, the track leads you to adventure!
The cliff edge is carpetted with equally wondrous colours: sea campion, thrift, bird’s foot and tormentil. And when you look to the water, emerald melts deep inside blue… A Jenny Wren (Troglodites troglodites) slashes silence for a fraction of a moment.
If the Broch remains the prize, the remains of the crofting settlement remains equally tantalizing to the imagination. It is eerie, quilted in thick fungi and left to the bon-vouloir du temps. I was later told it was haunted! Some wild stories fly around of secrets of unwanted unmarried young mothers who were kept hidden, or “quarantined” at Burraland to avoid shame… I’m going to have to verify such stories.
The view from the broch is simply breathtaking.
Time-travelling in-between stones is amazing. Shetland sticks to that tradition of recycling the most common building material through eras. Unlike Mousa Broch, Burraland Broch has been literally dilapidated of its grandeur (imagine a double-walled tower standing at about 10 meter high on a ness (or headland), et voilà! But man deconstructed it to build his own dwelling. Walking around the headland feels like a a mini version of Ground Zero, with scattered lintels and other impressive stones. Like an open and unhealed scar, the fort base still remains filled with unwanted stones and sea campion, silverweed and adorned with sea pearlwort, nature has a knack with repossessing, re-starting any form of life.
So we walked closer to da bank’s broo and stopped, where we spent a moment watching the other side of Mousa Sound. From there, we watched Mousa Broch, passing wildlife – gannets, eiders, gulls and bonxies – held a conversation with a seal and waved at folk whoa dared to stand at the top of Burraland’s “sister broch”. Magic afternoon.
And if the adventure was not enough, a reunion with a friend would make us cross the Sound later that Saturday night.
Since Tom does not leave before 2300, we had dinner at Sumburgh and watched sunset adorn puffins with grace and gold… Kate’s Sea & Sky of Honey inhabited my heart after ten o’clock.
My friend wanted to see the storm petrels. So we legged it to Aith Voe and joined a boatful of tourists eager to connect with nature. I love Mousa whatever the hands say on the clock… It is magic around da Simmerdim (Midsummer). Both eerie and serene, a walk to the Mousa Broch at twilight remains deeply rooted in your heart. I shan’t forget my very first time. Thousands of those minuscule seabirds (the smallest in the Petrel family) trade places using the curtain of night. They nest everywhere around the offshore island – boulder, drystone walls… any stony cavity! – and they are the firmly established tennants of Mousa Broch during summer!
Folk stood and walked around the broch, as avian individuals flew around the human chain in seach of their mate hidden behind stones. You hear them first and if you are lucky enough to stay long enough, they come to call in Dolby Surround Sound! Unforgettable experience, Mousa by Night, that is nightless…
The iron-Age tower becomes alive, as if hundreds of mini-poltergeists flirted with mossy stones, so desperate to return home after a feast.
Walking back to the West Ham and the return crossing to the Mainland leaves you dazzled with memories. past 1 a.m., dawn seems clad with gold and purple. The narrow inlet of water at Aith Voe somewhat looks like glass and it is time to renew with the softness of our dreams.
I doubt my friend will ever forget that moment.