Monday 8th June 2015
The mainland of Shetland is stunningly beautiful with barren uplands sweeping down to sea. There are cliffs in many areas and desolate beaches in isolated bays. Also, out in this lonely landscape there is a absence of something we take for granted, the humble tree. It is truly wild and there are no people. Well, just a few, but mostly in and around the capital, Lerwick.
It would be wrong to imply that Lerwick is in any way pretty like the rest of Shetland, because it simply isn’t. I would suggest that basic would be a suitable adjective. It is very much a working port as the islands are at the centre of the oil supply industry. We didn’t visit all that many pubs, mainly because they are rather thin on the ground. Some were quite comfortable, yet others were very spartan.
Linda and I arrived on the overnight ferry from Aberdeen at around seven in the morning, although we were allowed to remain on board till around 09.00 and so had a nice breakfast that was included in the price. We walked the mile or so into Lerwick. This served two purposes, one to have a look and get a feel of the place and secondly to kill time before opening time.
So it was, we were the first customers in Captain Flint’s. It is a pleasant first and second floor pub located above a shop. Given its name it’s not surprising that it’s in a nautical style. According to Robert L. Stevenson Captain Flint was a murderous pirate captain. The only person he feared was Long John Silver, his Quartermaster who in his disdain for the Captain named his parrot after him.
Outside and in the pub the parrot motif is apparent and on a shelf we found the old bird itself, wearing a pirate’s hat and steadfastly guarding two jugs from its rum collection, please see photo.
Once at the top of the stairs we turned right to find the bar on the right. It is fronted by a number of stools and has a large television screen above. After ordering two beers we settled right at the front of the pub. This space had a large green stuffed leather fitted banquet with loose tables and seats in front. In fact this is repeated through the pub as there are many similar alcoves down the side of the room both opposite the bar and beyond it. In the middle of the room was an upturned barrel around a post which acted as an upright table.
I noticed the new-looking wooden floor and actually there is a lot of wood used in this pub, despite the lack of trees on the islands! You can see that it intended to look like the interior of a boat. The area where we were sitting was raised slightly higher than the rest of the room so I guess this where the bands play when there is live music.
There was an interesting view from the window of the old harbour and beyond, over the sound, to the island of Bressay. It is time to mention that the cask beer situation throughout the Shetland Islands, which is somewhat strange. Scotland as a country has never been fertile ground for this type of beer with the exception (in the last forty years) of the big cities.
We could only identify four cask ale outlets in Shetland, yet there are two breweries. It must be said that they both produce a considerable amount of keg beer, some of it sold on the ferries. Nevertheless, both send a lot of casks to the Scottish mainland. They are the Lerwick Brewery in the capital and the Valhalla brewery on the most northern island, Unst. To get to a pub in say, Aberdeen or Orkney their beer has to travel on three ferries! Of course the raw ingredients have to arrive the same way.
So now to cask beer, there was Caledonian (Edinburgh) First Dawn (3.7%), a golden ale made with three American hops. It’s amazing to me that this beer had come almost 400 miles to this hand pump without leaving Scotland. The other was Swannay Brewery (Elvie, Orkney Islands) Island Hopping (3.9%) made with New Zealand hops with some American. This beer had only come 120 miles. Yet, just think how far the hops used in both of them had come! There is normally one cask beer from Swannay in this pub.
Although we had both of the beers in Captain Flint’s we wished we had stayed for longer as our excursion out to the Westings Inn at Wormadale on the west coast of Mainland was a waste of time as they were no longer open at lunchtimes, at least on a Monday. That was followed by an abortive visit to the Grand Hotel in Lerwick where the lone hand pump pumped no cask beer!
We then went to the ferry terminal for the 110 mile, five and a half hour journey to Orkney passing Fair Isle, very impressive, see photo. The habitable part is the other (eastern) side.
This is a very likeable pub and despite being in the limited cask ale market that is Shetland, would probably be worth going to wherever it was.
Captain Flint’s, Ellesmere Stores, Esplanade, Lerwick, Mainland, Shetland ZE1 0LL
Tel: 01595 692240
Hours: Monday-Sunday 11.00-01.00
Captain Flint’s is an easy pub to find, being on the Esplanade overlooking the old harbour.
It’s about four hundred metres from the bus station and about a mile from the Holmsgarth Ferry Terminal.