A trip round Shetland...
Come with us on a trip around Shetland! We like nothing more than setting off out of Lerwick to enjoy and explore our beautiful islands, so let us take you with us, and share our own personal experiences of Shetland – Oh! And remember to take the ‘Walkers Pack’, the rucksack we have already prepared for you with a flask, sandwich boxes, maps and information about areas that you can visit – you have to make the tea and sandwiches though!
Lets go…. North.
Driving out of Lerwick on the A970, to go North.
Having driven straight up to Brae where you can branch off towards the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal or if you carry on through Brae you will now come to Mavis Grind at the north end of Brae, which is an interesting place to stop - this is where the Atlantic Ocean almost meets the North Sea. Here the land narrows to a tiny stretch that allows the main road to cut through, though not much more. It has been said that here you can throw a pebble from one ocean to the other, but in truth it does require a good throwing power, though it is probably not impossible. If you park under the quarry, and go through the gate you will find a ‘geology’ wall that has recently been constructed to show the geological history of Northmavine, and it is the start of the Volcano Trail. There is a fantastic information pack (in the ruck sack) that takes you around the ‘volcano trail’, which really is excellent! On your way back south, you can eat at The Mid Brae Inn, Busta House Hotel or try Frankies Fish & Chip Café or Drumquin House.
If you head towards Ollaberry you will come to Collafirth Hill - there is a single track road that takes you to the top of the hill. From here you can leave the car and walk to the top of Ronas Hill – Shetlands highest peak at an impressive 1477ft! A bump in the road for some of you! But it is where people go at Mid Summer to watch the sun set and rise (on a clear night!).
You can carry on North to Fethaland, the most northerly tip of the mainland, which has a great walk into a derelict herring station from the early 1900’s. We saw the hugest seal when we went in there, and enjoyed lying on the cliff edge and watched the birds soaring on the thermal currents for ages. You can see all the oil tankers going in and out of Sullom Voe Oil Terminal – we have the largest oil terminal in Europe. This is also where Simon King spent the 1st part of his visit – albeit a few years ago now! The other fantastic walk at this end of the island is into Uyea. It truly is what we would call a beautiful place – A God Spot!
Instead of going into Ollaberry, then If you go straight on towards Hillswick then you will find The Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary in the little village of Hillswick. It is open every Saturday and Sunday, June to September.
Going in towards Eshaness you will come on Tangwick Haa Museum. The museum has displays of Shetland life from a bygone age, as well as the history of the Cheyne family who were the lairds of the area, and whose home the building was originally. Tangwick Haa Museum is open every day from May through to September, and admission is free.
A visit to Eshaness lighthouse is worth taking. The road runs west from Tangwick Haa and takes you to the edge of one of the most spectacular cliffs. Here the waves roll in from across the Atlantic Ocean. Even on a calm day there is always motion, and on a stormy day it can be quite stunning to see. Here you will pick up more of the Volcano Trail, and there is a really good information board that will point you in the right direction to see the various fascinating points of interest along the cliff edges... not to mention the bird life. Then of course on your way back out of Eshaness you will pass the sign to Jonny Notions Böd and, The Breiwick Café and camp site – which is well worth a stop.
Muckle Roe, a small island to the West of Brae is another wonderful walkers delight, with its beautiful views down along the west coast of Shetland mainland, and if you drive to the very south of Muckle Roe, there is a track that takes you into the Hams of Roe, with its stunning green hills and red cliff face.
Driving north again – from Lerwick, you will come to the turning (right) into Nesting, which offers a wonderful rugged coastline to follow. It is a great place to see otters and wild life, and many beautiful coastal walks to choose from. If you follow the road around you will come to the junction that will take you back out onto the A970, or turn right into Vidlin and Laxo. Also the ferry to Whalsay!
In Whalsay is The Hanseatic Booth, or Bremen Böd, which is a small museum. The museum is open all year round. It has details of Whalsay's Hanseatic fishing trade with north Germany in the late middle ages, as well as general historical details of the island. There is a small charge for entrance applied only to adults.
Just on from the ferry terminal, on your left is The Cabin in Vidlin, which is a small war museum. Wartime uniforms, cap badges and medals can be seen on display, as well as articles and books about Shetland in wartime. The Cabin also has a number of items on display from old Shetland life, such as an impressive collection of tushkars and a specialised tool for digging peat that is unique to Shetland. The Cabin is open, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, from April to October, and admission is free.
Drive on into the community of Lunnasting, and the village of Vidlin. There is a great country shop here at the crossroad – a point to note is that Shetland Country Shops are always worth a visit because you will be able to buy anything from a pint of milk to a sink plug, and usually worth an explore! You are also in Simon King Country, the last place he stayed was at the end of the Swinning Road. Straight on at the crossroads is the famous ‘Lunna House’, which had an important roll to play in WW2 when Norwegians were smuggled out of occupied Norway. If you follow this road out to the very end though, you will find a lovely walk to the ‘Stanes of Stofast’, and also ‘Outrabister House, where there is an antique and bric a brac shop – also well worth a visit!
Takes you to Scalloway, and the 2 islands Trondra and Burra. Scalloway is the 2nd largest community in Shetland, and is home of the Scalloway Castle, The Shetland Bus Museum, a swimming pool, an excellent butcher shop providing local meat, and 2 excellent fish shops. If you follow the road along the shore to the end, you will come to the North Atlantic Fisheries College & Da Haaf restaurant where there is a nice Café, and of course you will pass the Scalloway Hotel on your right, where you can get lovely seafood, and more recently The Corner Stone café.
Driving over to Trondra & Burra, takes you over 2 bridges. In Trondra we have The Burland Croft Trail, which is a wonderful visitor friendly, and especially children friendly, where native Shetland breeds of animals, poultry and crops can be seen. This is an eco-friendly croft where animals are allowed to roam free range as much as possible. The land is managed in a completely organic way in tune with nature. You can also see boat building and fiddle making here. Carry on across the 2nd bridge to Burra, where there are 2 beautiful sandy beaches (Meal and Bannamin). At Papil in Bridge End is a croft house museum, and at the other end of the island is the village of Hamnavoe.
Heading North up the A970, and then at Tingwall turn left to go west. This is where you would pick up the flights for any inter-island flying you may have opted to do! (See the air transport information on the Shetland Islands Council website). The west has some spectacular views of the islands to the west. As you drive through the small village of Weisdale, you pass Shetland Jewellery, where you can go in for a tour and visit their shop.
Weisdale Mill is in the north part of Weisdale. It was an old water mill, similar to Quendale Mill, that now houses the Bonhoga Gallery, the most northerly purpose built art gallery in the UK. Bonhoga Gallery exhibits 10 art shows a year. The gallery also has a cafe located in a south-facing conservatory. It is open throughout the year and admission is free.
There are many roads leading off the main road, and these take you to some wonderful spots to go walking, and spot the wildlife, or to just ‘be’. As you soak up the sights, sounds, silence and beauty of each area which has its own magic.
In Sandness there are the water mills and Jamiesons Woollen Mill - the only wool mill in the isles, which prides itself in making pure Shetland yarn from pure Shetland wool grown and spun within the isles (and where we got the blankets for all our beds).
At Bixter you can opt to turn right into Aith, where there is a pool, the West Side lifeboat, and more Shetland delights to behold. If you take the road through Aith towards the picturesque village of Voe, you will pass the burn of Lunklit, which is a lovely walk. In Voe there is The Pierhead Bar & Restaurant, where you can get some great food. Voe takes you back onto the A970.
Dotted all the way down to Sumburgh Head, the most southerly point, there are small villages, well worth driving or walking through.
At Sandwick, which is the largest community there is a Swimming Pool, as well as the ferry to Mousa.
Mousa Broch, the world's best preserved Iron Age Broch, stands proudly on the little island of Mousa, lying to the east of the village of Sandwick. There are over 100 Pictish Brochs on Shetland, most of them in a ruinous condition as their stones were often used to build dykes, or stone walls, separating field areas. The broch on Mousa was built around 100 BC. It stands some 13 metres high, and it is a flat topped, stone built conical tower. The broch is mentioned in the Norse Orkneyinga Saga. It is managed by Historic Scotland. You can visit Mousa over the summer months - Mousa Boats do day trips, and for a short period in June, July you can do night time trips to watch the Storm Petrels come in at night.
In Hoswick, which is the small villiage adjacent to Sandwick there is the Hoswick Visitor Centre. It is an interesting mix of cafe, craft centre and museum. The centre used to be a Shetland tweed weaving mill, and some of the old tweed weaving machinery is on display. Hoswick Visitor Centre also houses a radio collection from the wireless age, starting around 1900 and moving through the years right up to today's modern mobile telephones. There is no charge for entrance. Across from this lovely cafe is the well known Neil-a-Nel - a delightful little shop full of contempary designer knitwear.
Carrying south you can go on down towards Spiggie which takes you down the West side of the island where you will find St Ninian's Isle. This is where, in 1958, a young boy, Douglas Coutts, working with a team, engaged in archeological excavations, found an 8th century hoard of Celtic silver underneath the doorstep of an old chapel. It is thought that the treasure, now held in The Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, had been hidden during a Viking raid. A replica of the St Ninian's Isle treasure can be seen in the Shetland Museum in Lerwick.
St Ninian's Isle is also famous for having the largest active tombolo in the British Isles. The tombolo stretches for 500 metres and is above sea level, except during exceptionally high tides. This is a great sandy beach (tombola) to walk or play or swim at, and of course, takes you over to St Ninians Isle.
Carry on south and you come to another fantastic beach at Spiggie. This is also where the Spiggie Hotel is situated, and is a great place to stop and have lunch or evening meal, either in the cosy bar or the lovely restaurant. The road through Spiggie takes you then to Quendale where you will come to a particularly lovely village and the Quendale Water Mill, which is a restored water-powered mill of the over-shot type. It is now a visitor attraction. The mill was built in 1867 to grind the grain from nearby farms and crofts. Quendale Water Mill, which lies a short distance to the northeast of Sumburgh Airport, is open every day to visitors from mid April to mid October. There is a charge for entrance.
Taking the road out of Spiggie you come out at Boddam, where Mainlands shop is situated before the junction back onto the main road. Mainland is a good place to re-fill your car, and also one of those country shops where you will find everything and anything!
Continuing south you now come to The Shetland Crofthouse Museum at South Voe in Dunrossness, which will take you back to the 19th century and allow you to glimpse into a past age of Shetland that has long since disappeared. This is a traditional croft house and associated buildings, typical of what could be seen all over Shetland in earlier times. The museum was opened in August 1971 and is now open every day, including weekends. There is no charge for entrance.
You then come to Sumburgh which has Old Scatness where you can discover an exciting mix of Bronze Age, Pictish, Viking and Medieval buildings and remains. The collaborative archeological excavations between Shetland Amenity Trust and Bradford University are still ongoing. Old Scatness is open during the summer from the first Sunday in May and is really worth a visit/tour.
And then around the corner, not even a mile away you can discover Jarlshof which is right beside the Sumburgh Hotel, (another good place to eat). According to local archaeologist, Val Turner, Jarlshof is, ‘one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles.’ Jarlshof covers a continual occupation from 2,500 BC up to the 17th century. Here you can see Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pictish, Norse and Medieval eras, unbroken all the way through to the mid 1600s. Jarlshof is open from April to September.
Sumburgh Head is the most southerly point of mainland Shetland. It is also a popular point to go and see the puffins and other birds that nest and soar around the cliffs, recently a new visitor centre and cafe was created out of the existing Lighthouse Buildings which really is a must.
Lerwick & Bressay
Exploring in Lerwick provides you with many options as there are so many different things to do.
**There is The Böd of Gremista which is now the Textile Museum, on the northern outskirts of Lerwick and is the building where Arthur Anderson, co-founder of The Penninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company was born. The company is better known today as P & O. This fully restored building is now a museum dedicated to Arthur Anderson's early life. It is open from Wednesday through to Sunday, May to mid September and entrance is free.
At Clickimin Loch, there is a footpath, which can be incorporated into a coastal walk. The 25-year-old 5 star Clickimin Leisure Centre is along the east side of the loch, and at the south end of the loch you will find Clickimin broch, the second best preserved Iron Age broch in Shetland. Situated in the southwestern part of Lerwick, it is ideally placed for visiting. The site is managed by Historic Scotland and there is no charge for entrance. Heading in towards Lerwick you will pass 'Tesco's' and Fjara (F-Y-ara) which is a lovely café/bistro with stunning wildlife views out into Breiwick Bay. There are not many ‘Tesco's’ that can boast seals bathing on there doorstep!
In the centre of Lerwick, you will find the Victoria Pier, where there are opportunities to take trips out to sea! There are Sailing trips on a Viking longship replica, the 'Dim 'Riv', through the summer months. This hands-on Viking experience will take you out of Lerwick from the small boat harbour slipway and let you get a feel for sea travel from a bygone age. There is a charge for the sailing trips.
**There are daily sailings to the little island of Noss on the east side of Bressay. The seabird and seal colonies at Noss are among the finest in the world. Dunter III and the Ruby May also have underwater cameras to show visitors what is going on beneath the waves. There is a charge for the sailing trips, and booking is advisable.
Fort Charlotte, named after George III's wife, is a pentagonal shaped fort built on the orders of Charles II in 1665, at the beginning of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. A Dutch fleet decided not to attack in 1667 as they thought the fort was much more heavily manned than it actually was. However, they burned down the fort during the Third Anglo-Dutch War in 1673. Fort Charlotte with its impressive canons, trained out to sea, is free to visit. Shetland Museum and Archives at Hay's Dock in **Lerwick is an impressive new complex opened in 2007. It is Shetland's main museum and archival vault, and is perhaps the best place to visit to learn about Shetland and its history, and where it stands in the world today. It is open every day throughout the year and admission is free.
Just up the road from Corbie, is The Up-Helly-Aa Summer Exhibition, which can be seen in the Galley Shed in St Sunniva Street in Lerwick. Up-Helly-Aa is a spectacular fire festival held in Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January. It involves almost 1,000 'guizers', men dressed in various fancy dress carrying blazing torches, headed by the Guizar Jarl, the chief Viking for the evening and his Viking longship, who march in procession around the town. The culmination of the procession is when the longship is burned in an impressive blaze from all the torches. The Up-Helly-Aa Summer Exhibition is open on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, mid May to mid September, and admission is free.
**Bressay Heritage Centre is a local museum on the island of Bressay, which lies directly across from Lerwick. There is a regular ferry service every day, and as the museum is located close to the ferry terminal, it is not essential to take a car across. Bressay Heritage Centre is open throughout the summer months and admission is free. Five minutes walk from the ferry is the Maryfield House Hotel, where you can get some lovely food, and is well known locally for its seafood dishes. It may be advisable to phone ahead to check they are open.
The North Isles
We really enjoy taking time to go up to Yell, Fetlar and Unst, where there is so much to see and do. The ferries run very regularly, and while generally you do not need to book, there are peak times when the islanders are commuting to the mainland for work, so if you thought you were going to hit those periods then it would be advisable to book. It is actually possible to be in the north of Unst (most northerly point) within 2 hours! If you time the ferries properly. On the ferries you pay once going across to Yell, and this covers you for a return trip to either Unst or Fetlar – but not both!
**The Old Haa Museum is in Burravoe in the south part of the island of Yell. The Old Haa of Brough in Burravoe dates from 1672 and has displays about past life in the island. It also has a coffee shop that occasionally features home-baked items. There is a garden adjacent to the museum where visitors can relax. It is open every day of the week except Wednesday, May through to the end of September. There is no charge for admission.
The Gloup Memorial stands in the north of Yell at the township of Gloup where a fishing disaster occurred on 20th July, 1881 that wiped out most of the men of the township. Of the 58 men from all over Shetland who lost their lives in the summer storm, 36 of them were from Gloup alone. Around 200 people, mostly women and children, were plunged into destitution as a result, because they were totally dependent on the men who had died for support. The memorial features a statue depicting a widow and her child looking out to sea, and below her is a wall with the names of all those who died on that day.
Muness Castle lies in the southeast part of Unst, the most northerly inhabited island in Shetland, and therefore the island where almost everything is ‘the most northerly’ in Britain. The building of the castle was started in 1598. The castle today is a two-storey structure, all that remains of the original three-storeys. Over the doorway is written in old Scots: ‘List ye to knaw yis building quha began, Laurence the Bruce he was that worthy man, Quha ernestly his airis and ofspring prayis To help and not to hurt this vork alwayis. The zeir of God 1598.’ The castle is managed by Historic Scotland and there is no admission charge.
Unst Heritage Centre is the local island museum, and is located at Haroldswick, a township in the north of the island. The museum features artifacts of past island life, as well as interpretations of its history. You can learn about the Vikings in Unst, the longhouse at Underhoull and other Viking remains at Hamar. It also features some fine lace knitting, a skill that Unst women were once famous for. The museum is open every day from may to the end of September. There is a charge for admission.
**The Unst Boat Haven is the island's other museum. This one, as its name suggests, features a permanent exhibition on small Shetland wooden boats. There are over 20 boats in the museum. Most of them were involved in the fishing trade, and in many cases in the herring fishing of the late 19th century, of which Unst played a pivotal role within Europe. The museum is open every day, May to the end of September. There is an admission charge.
Fetlar Interpretive Centre is a small community museum in the middle of the island, which lies to the east of Yell and south of Unst. It is served by a regular daily ferry service. The island is known as The Garden of Shetland due to its verdant and fertile land. The museum features aspects of Fetlar life, both old and new. It also houses the only permanent exhibition in the UK to Sir William Watson Cheyne, the eminent surgeon who grew up on the island in the late Victorian area, and who went on to be the assistant to Lord Lister. Together they discovered antiseptics, which changed surgical practices forever. The house that Sir William Watson Cheyne built for his retirement, which featured spectacular gardens in its day, is just a short distance east of the museum. The museum also features a small self-service café, and it is open every day from May through to the end of September. There is an admission charge for adults.
The Red-Necked Phalarope is one of the rarest nesting birds in the UK. Most of the UK population can usually be found on the island of Fetlar, often around 20 breeding pairs each summer. On the east side of the island near the Loch of Funzie (pronounced Finnie), there is the Phalarope Hide erected by the RSPB, which overlooks a wetland area where the Red-Necked Phalarope's tend to breed. However, they can most often be seen from the road that runs close to the loch edge where they feed on the calm waters for insects. The bird is small and not very shy, often allowing careful visitors to come within two metres or so. Many visitors, hoping to photograph the little bird, arrive with large telephoto lenses on their cameras, but soon realise that they can easily get so close to the bird that they don't need them!