Sunday, 22 November 2009

RAF Saxa Vord Domestic Site - Rebuild Early 80's

The pictures below were taken by various people during and just after the rebuild of the domestic site in the early 1980's.

RAF Saxa Vord Domestic Site 1967 to 1969

These pictures of the domestic site in the period 1967 to 1969 are of poorer quality - I must have taken them!

RAF Saxa Vord Domestic Site 1959 to 1961

The pictures below were all taken by David Goodall between 1959 & 1961

Lerwick 1959 to 1961

Most servicemen in the early years of Saxa spent some time in Lerwick, even if it was just waiting for a bus or a boat. I have therefore included a few pictures here as a reminder of the way the town looked. These pictures were all taken by David Goodall, who was at Saxa Vord from 1959 to 1961.

Surface Transport in Shetland After the Mid 70's

With the introduction of RoRo Inter Island Ferries in the early 70's and the drive on drive off MV St Clair IV taking over the Lerwick/Aberdeen route, the nature of transport for servicemen posted to RAF Saxa Vord could be totally different. It was possible to load up a car from a mainland base and take it all the way to Unst. Family transportation could be a lot easier for those who could afford cars.

The New Pier at Gutcher - The Old Pier on the Right

For foot passengers the Overland also became simpler. A single bus could take you from Lerwick to the north end of Yell. If you wanted you could sit in your seat until it was necessary to transfer to the Unst Bus. The inter island ferries were not so inhibited by bad weather. It became possible for people to leave Unst and go to Lerwick for a few hours shopping and for sports teams to become active in more local competions. You still couldn't get to Marks & Spencers and back in a day but there was a little more choice in Lerwick than in Unst.

Inter Island Ferry Leaving Belmont


The Overland

The Overland was not the most convenient way to get between Lerwick and Unst but on most occasions it was the only way. The service was scheduled to leave Lerwick shortly after the St Clair was due to arrive (ie. at this time it was a 3 day a week service). If the St Clair was delayed significantly it meant North Isles passengers were able to get an unplanned stopover in Lerwick. The Overland carried mail, newspapers and various other cargo. It also carried local passengers and so could not be delayed indefinitely. The period pre Inter-Island RoRo Ferries was also the period before oil money. North of Lerwick all the roads were single-track with passing places. There were a number of places where the road was precariously routed with steep drops to one side or the other and it was in the days before safety barriers were common.

The Overland normally took about 4 to 5 hours to get from Lerwick to Baltasound. It consisted of:-
  1. A bus from Lerwick to Mossbank (Toft's Voe replaced Mossbank as the terminal fairly early on).
  2. A small boat from Mossbank/Tofts Voe (The Shalder, skippered by Robbie Jarmson & then Harry Rich) across Yell Sound to Ulsta on Yell.
  3. A bus from Ulsta to Mid Yell where all passengers and cargo had to be decanted to another bus. The story goes that there were 2 bus operators on Yell who couldn't agree to do the service right through Yell on alternate days.
  4. The second Yell bus took passengers from Mid Yell to Gutcher.
  5. At Gutcher another small boat (The Tystie skippered by Davy Johnson) carried people and goods across Blue Mull Sound to Belmont on the south end of Unst.
  6. Hopefully there was another bus at Belmont to carry passengers to various parts of Unst.
(Thanks to Peter Leask for correcting some of my mistakes!) 
It could be a stressful experience on the first occasion. Movements Sections on most stations hadn't got a clue when briefing and giving warrants to personnel on posting. The buses would detour and often the driver would throw parcels or newspapers out at the side of the road at the back of beyond. New passengers would appear beside a peat bank miles from anywhere. The buses and boats seemed to get older, colder and smaller the further north you went. I was lucky not to have a family in tow on my first trip. (Left-click on pictures to enlarge).
Another section on the overland appears here:


The Earl of Zetland

The MV Earl of Zetland was owned and operated by the North of Scotland Steamship Company (known locally as the North Company). During the time of RAF Saxa Vord it was the second ship of that name. The Earl operated out of Lerwick from 1939 to 1973 (apart from a break during WWII when she was used on the Pentland Firth). She weighed 548 tons and carried passengers and cargo between Lerwick and a number of the outer Islands. When in Lerwick she was normally berthed on the opposite side of the Victoria Pier to the usual berth of the St Clair. In theory it was an easy transfer from one ship to the other.

The Earl of Zetland at Lerwick
Photo: David Goodall

The sailing times of the Earl, though published, were often dictated by the weather and tides. The actual route it followed would also depend on the sea state, the passengers on board and the cargo it carried. The ship could call at Whalsay, Out Skerries, Mid Yell, Fetlar, Uyeasound and Baltasound. At some of the stops , Fetlar for example, there was no suitable berth for the ship and flitboats were used to off-load passengers and cargo. Flitboats were also used at some of the other destinations when the tide or weather was wrong.

Flitboat at Mid Yell
Photo : David Goodall

The length of the trip between Lerwick and Unst was very variable, dependent upon tides, winds and cargo. Sometimes the Captain would decide to go to Uyeasound and miss out Baltasound altogether. If there was a bad forecast he would turn around and head south or find somewhere to take shelter. Vehicles were treated in the same way as other cargo & had to be winched on deck. If it was decided that your port of call was ruled out by weather your car could end up back in Lerwick. For it's time the Earl was well appointed with decent cabins and a bar. In good weather the views and wildlife between Lerwick and Unst were spectacular. In bad weather she seemed a very small ship!

Earl of Zetland at Baltasound Pier
Photo: David Goodall
A Second section on the Earl of Zetland appears here:

Surface Transport in Shetland before the mid 70's

Shetland Inter-Island RoRo Ferries were introduced between 1973 and 1975. Prior to their arrival transport between the islands was a much more complicated and, dare I say, haphazard affair. Assuming readers were not VIPs there were really just 2 means of travel from Lerwick to Unst. Air Passengers arriving at Sumburgh would need to take the bus to Lerwick. From Lerwick northwards the choices were:

The MV Earl of Zetland: see

The "Overland" : see