Ferries, trains and automobiles: Unst to Tilbury, 19th-21st June 2022

To get to Greenland we had to spend three days heading south, seeing the ship we were going to travel north of the Arctic Circle on in Lerwick, before racing it down to Essex. In the past, we may have negotiated getting on in Lerwick, and we were told that there would have been plenty of room. But our initial enquiry was knocked back because of COVID protocols. I suspect had we enquired again, nearer the time, the answer would have been unchanged, although we never asked again. This was because Lerwick is a tender port, and there is always the possibility that tenders will not get ashore in poor weather. Certainly, had Ambience been in Lerwick 24 hours earlier tendering may have been difficult.

As we were preparing to leave Unst on the Sunday morning, news broke that a Black-browed Albatross had been photographed off Unst, from one of the fishing charter vessels, the previous Thursday! The idea that it might gravitate to (flu-ridden) Hermaness sent at least two people charging up to the cliffs to look, but there was no sign.

We were leaving Unst quite early as we had friends on the Ambience who had just been to Iceland. We had first met Bob and Sue when we went up the Amazon on Magellan, and had sat at the same table for dinner with them when we circumnavigated South America on Marco Polo. We picked them up in Lerwick about mid-day and took them on short tour.  We visited Sumburgh Head and were going to go to the café, but it was full, and we didn’t stay long as the weather was rather inclement. We called in at St Ninian’s Ayre before heading back to Lerwick, where a very busy Fjara Café was one of the few places open. Just as we sat down for coffee (or tea) and scones (or pancake), news broke of a Pacific Swift at Sumburgh Head! The first record for Shetland. It was agonising to think that it may have been there while we were there.

The side of Sumburgh Head that had no swifts
St Ninian’s Ayre – equally swiftless
Kittiwake, Lerwick

I went on deck for a couple of hours as we sailed south, The weather was quite pleasant and the sea quite flat. I thought I maybe should get some practise in for the sea days. coming up. Almost the first thing I saw when I went on to deck was a dead Gannet floating past, although, I admit I saw no more. Just six species were recorded in my two hours. In order of abundance: Fulmar, Gannet, Guillemot, Puffin and singles each of Kittiwake and Great Skua.

The next morning we arrived in Aberdeen and we pushed our suitcases across to the railway station. We had first class seats on the express to King’s Cross, stopping at several stations en route to Edinburgh, then Berwick, Newcastle, Darlington and York. It was Margaret’s first experience of first class and she was impressed by the almost constant supply of food and drinks. She said it was less stressful than me driving! I thought it was okay to about York, but by then I was getting a bit fed up and needed a change. We passed Musselburgh and Doncaster but could only pretend to wave as we passed family.

Our train
Toasted teacake
Montrose Basin
Crossing the Tay
Crossing the Forth
Crossing the Tweed
Crossing the Tyne

As we  were passing Doncaster I got a message that our taxi had left to pick us up from King’s Cross! I had booked it online and assumed that I had booked it with a local company but he was coming from west London to King’s Cross to take us to east London (well, beyond that, even, Essex to be precise). When we arrived at King’s Cross we had no idea were to go, so we ended up staying on the phone trying to track him down. Then, we drove through east London at snail’s pace heading for Thurrock (or Furrock I am told it should be pronounced ;-)). 

Meanwhile, in Shetland, the excitement revolved around a Magpie, potentially the second for Shetland. It looked in very poor condition and, to me, looked to have signs of having been in captivity. The next morning, I watched a Magpie scraping roadkill from the ground outside a Premier Inn in urban Essex. It was a far bonnier sight than the raggedy Shetland bird!

Real Magpie

Our plan to get as close Tilbury as possible paid off as there was a national rail strike on 21st June and, consequentially, travel chaos. We had a short taxi ride to the London International Cruise Terminal at Tilbury. We had to have a COVID test before boarding, as the company that delivered the pre-boarding test wouldn’t deliver to Shetland. Margaret had been panicking that we would fail all the way down. After testing negative we boarded.

Ambassador Cruise Line is very much CMV Phoenix in my mind. Certainly, boarding Ambience was a case of the same but different. The ship is very similar in many ways to Columbus, which we sailed the world on in 2020. An Egyptian Goose with two large ducklings swimming around the terminal was a year tick. As would have been Common Swift if I hadn’t seen one in Arbroath on the way down.

On board

Our cabin is right at the back – I believe the technical term is aft 😉 – and we have a narrow area of open deck right beside the cabin that we have already designated as our ‘private balcony’!

Our ‘balcony’

The train strike probably had some impact, however. Come sailaway time at 17:00 we remained stubbornly alongside the terminal, presumably awaiting delayed passengers or crew. As soon as decided to go for something to eat, we started moving. Dinner in the restaurant is open dining throughout the cruise. Presumably there is no need for two sittings for the same reason there is only one evening show. The cruise is, apparently, far from full, although there still seem to be a lot of people to me. Our waiter for the evening was Kadak, who had been the waiter for our table when we went up the Amazon.

Parade of nations at sailaway

After dinner, we went out on our ‘balcony’. There wasn’t much wildlife to be seen. We did, however, sail past the Maunsell towers, WWII defences for the Thames which look like something from a film version of War of the Worlds and which I first learnt about from the Geograph website. We also watched our first sunset of the cruise, at the ridiculously early hour of 21:15!

Maunsell Towers
Knock John Tower
Part of one of many windfarms

Sunset with wind turbine
Sunset phone call

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