Cruise liners are now a common sight in the picturesque confines of Lerwick Harbour and Friday 16 August was no exception as the Marco Polo arrived in against lashing rain and a stiff, cool breeze. It wasn’t the day that organisers had hoped for, but this is Shetland after all, and a bit of ‘authentic’ weather would only add to what was set to be a very different kind of cruise call in the town.
Eagerly waiting to get ashore were over 700 hash runners – members of a unique, if not unusual club that’s described as being either ‘a running group with a drinking problem’ or ‘a drinking club with a running problem’. Hash harriers are an international group of non-competitive running social clubs, with participants calling themselves hashers or hares and hounds. They had arrived in Shetland as part of Euro Hash 2019, a four-day event that would take the club on a series of trails and excursions around Edinburgh, Shetland and Orkney before ending (presumably) with a bang in Glasgow.
My role on the day – as I believed it to be (and we’ll come back to this) – was simply to pick up a coach load of hashers at Victoria Pier and give them some of the culture and tradition and point out the main points of interest along the way, throwing in one or two non-PC jokes for good measure.
As the group began to make their way onto the pier from the tenders, I knew that this day would be unlike any other I’d experienced as a trained tourist guide. They were colourful, flamboyant and the first roll call of questions included: "Where can I buy beer?", "Can I take beer on the bus?" and "Where’s the beer?"
Shore excursions are common in Shetland, as with most cruising ports, but the list of excursions for this special event was slightly different to the usual offering of panoramic tours promising puffins, ponies and maybe a cup of tea or coffee. These excursions, set out by the Shetland Hash Harrier’s Club, promised cross-country trails, mud, wild swimming, smuggler’s caves and for those who could take it; the ballbreaker course.
Soon the 10 coaches and a further seven trails were leaving Victoria Pier and heading to all corners of the islands. The coach I was ‘hosting’ contained 50 eager hashers and the buzz onboard was exhilarating as we wove our way out of Lerwick towards our destination: Burra.