Bressay parkrun, Shetland

Bressay parkrun route. Start at the top, run all the way to the bottom, then back up to the finish – c.2 miles out, 1 mile back.

Bressay (pron. “Bressy”) is an island to the East of the Shetland mainland, just a few minutes on a ferry (officially 10, which is possible if you include mooring time and the ferry is full of cars you have to wait for before you stroll off, but no matter – it’s a short trip). It’s a scenic part of the world, even on a drizzly day such as we had.

Looking back at the ferry on the stroll to the start.

The ferry is £6 return, payable on the way out only (cash or card). Locals and long-stayers can currently get a ferry card for cheaper travel. The ferry itself is easy to find, right on the waterfront in Lerwick – you can see the route on the map above. I walked past it by accident the day before while strolling round town after I’d got off the larger ferry from Kirkwall (Orkney) which docks further to the North of town. The event team meet the ferry to point everyone in the right direction and greet volunteers, though it’s fairly straightforward to follow people on the short walk to the hotel and round to the side where the parkrun flag flies, above the painted start line.

The start line, painted, next to the Maryfield House hotel.

Although fairly remote, as the North-most parkrun in the UK (Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia have more northerly ones) this is a destination event for parkrunners, so I wasn’t totally surprised to not be the person there with the most completed parkruns, even in a field of just 46. It was a little more of a surprise that I actually knew the person who had run more, though it took me several glances to realise. We’ve not been in the same place since a trip to Poland in 2013, so I let myself off, even though I’d said good morning to her on the way to the ferry and then smiled when she let the event team know she was from Bushy. Two big clues, but it was something in the way she walked to the start that reminded me – wait – Gdansk and Gdynia?!

There were a few other tourists, including a couple from Alaska who I assumed were in Shetland for work – there’s a lot of well-paid jobs here in oil and gas. Others, including my friend, had run the Loch Ness marathon the weekend before and could enjoy a more relaxed weekend this time round.

The course is a long out and then shorter back, as you go past the finish line after just under a mile, head further on down the road before a right turn, turn around a cone and back to the finish at Speldiburn cafe. A quick left-turn into the cafe car park and you’re over the painted finish line and can go for drinks and breakfast baps next door. It’s pretty much the perfect setup.

The mail shop. A right turn to follow the course. The low wall held our bags. The finish is to the left after the low wall (but is almost straight on from the road on the right when you actually run/walk it). Credit: Google maps.

There’s no bag-moving service, so those in the know, and those of us who always travel with a running bag just in case, set off with our bags on our backs, then cast them aside at the mail shop, which marks the corner before the finish. A helpful marshal was there to take them from us and arrange them nicely on the wall. That helped me greatly. For one, I didn’t want to run with my bag the whole way. For two, I had offered to scan barcodes once I’d finished, so being able to collect my bag for the last 200m without having to find wherever I’d dropped it was super efficient. I have run and scanned before, but it always feels like a bit of an indulgence, and not necessarily that helpful unless you know you’ll finish first, as someone else has to be there to scan at least till you get there (and realistically, why would they then stop?). Now I’m several minutes slower than I was, even more so, but they were still looking for people at 7pm on Friday and wanted two scanners, so I figured offering would help make sure the event went ahead and my lack of pace wouldn’t be too awful – a look at previous events suggested I ought to be fairly well in the first half of finishers. It worked out, at any rate – and I’d happily have dropped out had a third person offered. As it was, I was able to finish, scan several of the people behind me and get to chat to several of them after they’d finished, as well as some of the other volunteers.

Left turn into the finish.

The route itself is undulating. They did warn us of a hill, and there is one, but it’s short and mean rather than a huge obstacle. The start is downhill, which is always exciting, and then it’s a case of up, flatten, down, up, up, flatten, and so on – a classic example of a course that rarely lets you go. That hill is towards the end of the long out, so reappears into the final mile, to test you, and there’s a little more uphill heading towards the finish itself to keep everyone breathing heavily.

As for returning, it’s possible to finish and walk/run the mile back to get on the 10:30 ferry, but I joined the crowd in the cafe. Table service at the moment makes it very simple, and you don’t even have to keep an eye on the clock with the 11:30 ferry in mind: there was a general movement at 11:00, some finishing of drinks and conversations, and a fairly leisurely walk up Gunnista road (not on the course) and left to make it to the ferry without rush.

Happy gang of volunteers.

All parkruns are great, and each have something to recommend them, but there’s a lot in the combination of hopping on a ferry, running somewhere remote with scenic views, and most of the participants being able to fit in the cafe, a cafe right on the finish line, to make this a really special one. Book your ferry!

Results from Bressay parkrun, event 120, 9/10/21.

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