Shetland Islands walking tour
This walking tour takes in the many natural wonders and archaeological sites of the Shetland Isles. This is your chance to experience the most northerly islands of Britain, a unique place with long hours of daylight, beautiful landscapes, abundant wildlife and a rich cultural heritage.
Shetland is an archipelago of islands 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland. At 60 degrees north, Shetland enjoys almost 24 hours of daylight during the summer, and the sun, low in the sky, brings a quality of light that is quite unlike anywhere else in Scotland. The geology of the islands is ancient and complex. That, together with the erosive effect of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, has created a landscape characterized by dramatic cliffs, long fjord like ‘voes’ and beautiful sandy beaches.
The islands are a haven for wildlife. Walking through the landscape birds are ever present, grey and common seals are numerous and even sighting of otters and orcas are not uncommon.
The human history on the islands stretches back to Neolithic times. Iron age brochs and Norse archaeological sites are among the best anywhere in world. The Norse heritage of the islands has had a profound effect on the dialect, culture and way of life. The Shetlander’s welcome is warm and adds greatly to a visitor’s enjoyment of these wonderful islands.
We start the tour in Glasgow, travelling by train to Aberdeen where we catch the ferry to Lerwick.
The tour takes in the southern and northernmost parts of Shetland, including Fair Isle and seldom visited islands like Papa Stour. Our base is Shetland’s capital and main town, Lerwick. Although there aren’t always paths, short grass underfoot makes for easy going. On a number of the days we’ll use boats, ferries and planes to access remoter islands.
The programme will be subject to variables such as weather and the abilities of the group and changes may also be made to take account of lambing, deer stalking, etc. Any such alterations will always take into account the need to maintain the overall character of the holiday.
Sunday: St Ninian's isle, Jarlshof and Mousa
Our first day on Shetland is spent exploring the many fantastic sites south Mainland has to offer. One of the natural wonders of Shetland is St Ninian’s Isle, the best example of a tombolo in Europe. We take time to walk across the 500m long, sandy double beach to reach the grassy headland and the ruins of an early medieval chapel where Pictish treasure was found in 1958.
Next we visit Jarlsof, described as one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles. The site is comprised of a complex of dwellings from Neolithic times, the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Norse and Medieval Periods.
In the afternoon, we travel to Sandwick and board a small ferry for the 15 minute crossing to the uninhabited island of Mousa. The island is a haven for terns, arctic skuas, shags, bonxies (great skuas) and seals. About an hour of walking, with lots of stops to look at the wildflowers, views and wildlife, takes us the finest and best-preserved broch or round tower anywhere in the world. Build 2000 years ago, its 12m high walls remain intact, allowing us to explore inside and ascend to the top of the structure. A short walk at the end of the day takes us back to the ferry.
5 miles/8km, little ascent
Monday: Fair Isle
Fair Isle - ‘peaceful isle’ - is roughly halfway between the Shetland and Orkney Isles. It is the remotest of the UK’s permanently inhabited islands. Red sandstone cliffs, natural sandstone arches and stacks surround the island.
We travel there by plane. This is a 25 minutes flight and it gives us a chance to see the Shetland archipelago from the air.
Our route takes us along the coast towards the south end of the island, walking through the open moorland of north Fair Isle into the more fertile crofting area of the south. These two distinct areas were divided by the man made ‘Feely Dike’. The views along the way are very impressive, taking in some of the finest rock scenery of geos, sea caves, sea stacks and natural arches.
At South Harbour beach, we can still see the ‘noosts’ into which the yoals - small boats - used to be placed during winter.
We will continue north along the coast, visiting one of the Isle’s puffin colonies and Malcolm’s Head, an excellent vantage point. We then go inland back to the airstrip for our return flight to Mainland.
6 miles/9.5km and up to 985ft/300m of ascent
Today’s walk takes us to the northernmost tip of Mainland, to North Roe and Fethaland. Jutting out into the Atlantic, Fethaland was an ideal location for a 19th century Haaf (meaning ‘open water’) fishing station, a dangerous enterprise which entailed six man teams rowing 50 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean to set lines for ling and cod.
Reaching the ruined station involves an easy 2 mile walk along a good track. The station is sited on a stunning tombolo, between two rocky beaches.
There is plenty of time to explore the remains of about 20 fishing bothies, and to watch the numerous inquisitive seals that hang out here.
Beyond the fishing station, easy walking on short grass takes us to a small lighthouse and dramatic views. You can see the Rama Stacks, Unst and Yell to the north and east, Ronas Hill, Shetland’s largest hill, rising up to the south and the vast expanse of the Atlantic to the west.
The best Viking soapstone carvings in Shetland can be found not far from the lighthouse. Big bowl shapes can easily be made out on the slopes of Cleber Geo. We return the way we came, enjoying views of the great bulk of Ronas hill to the south.
5 miles/8km, 1310ft/400m of ascent
Wednesday: Stanydale Temple and Culswick
We'll go to the Westside for one of the finest walks in this part of Mainland. Our first stop is Stanydale Temple, a Neolithic hall, heel-shaped externally, and containing a large oval chamber. Around it are ruins of houses, walls and cairns of the same period.
The walk at Culswick follows the track through a dramatic valley, which narrows and rises when we reach the cliffs. The valley was once a sea loch. It is now separated from the sea by a shingle bar, creating a fresh water loch. At its lowest point, the track passes between high peat banks.
Near the coast, the track rises and Culswick Broch and ramparts appear ahead, above the Loch of the Broch. The green valley ends in pebble beaches fringed by sea stacks, cliffs and caves. The Pictish Culswick broch looks out on an awe inspiring view over Gruting Voe and Vaila Sound.
From the broch we head southeast along the cliff tops. There are remains of a monastic settlement on one of the sea stacks and a tiny dwelling on another. We continue following the shore back to the start of our walk.
We have a good chance to see lapwings, curlews, ringed plovers and mountain hares.
6 miles/9.5 km, 330ft/100m of ascent
Our visit to Unst is a day of ‘northernmosts’; the most northerly island, village, beach and bus stop! The rare serpentine rock underlying the islands is the remnant of a lost ocean sea floor – the Lapetus ocean of 600 million years ago. The rock gives a barren and stark look to the landscape and has created habitats for rare plants and flowers.
Unst is also famous for its Norse archaeological sites – it’s said that there are more Norse longhouse sites on Unst than in the whole of Scandinavia!
Our day starts by travelling north through the Mainland, across the island of Yell to Belmont on Unst. We then drive to the north of the island and visit Hermaness Nature Reserve. One hour's walk on good paths and boardwalks brings us to a huge and spectacular gannet colony on 558ft/170m high cliffs. This is a great place to see puffins as well.
Returning to to the minibus, we’ll spend the rest of our time on Unst visiting a replica Viking longhouse and longship at Haroldswick and the Keen of Hamar Nature Reserve to look for the rare Edmundson Chickweed, a flower found at this site on Unst and nowhere else in the world.
About 4 miles/6.5 km and about 560ft/150m of ascent
Friday: Noss and West Burra
After having been on top of many seabird cliffs during our holiday, today we will view them from the sea. Our boat takes us around the islands of Bressay and Noss. Noss - 'nose' - is a National Nature Reserve. The old red sandstone cliffs of Noss are carved by the sea into thousands of ledges. These are ideal sites for seabirds' dream-houses and competition is intense. We will get a close look at the cliffs packed with seabirds and our senses will be assaulted by the sight of thousands of birds, their deafening noise and the overpowering smell.
Our last walk on Shetland will be on Burra Isle. Connected to the mainland by bridges, it doesn’t take long to get there from Lerwick. We begin by walking along a beautiful white sand beach called Banna Minn. Beyond that we continue along cliff tops on short grass taking in lovely views of Foula, south mainland and the Westside. The profusion of sea pinks and other wildflowers give Burra a friendly and gentle feel.
4.5 miles/7km, little ascent
Returning to Lerwick we board the ferry for our journey back to Aberdeen.
Saturday: Aberdeen - Glasgow
After having breakfast on the ferry we disembark at Aberdeen and catch our train back to Glasgow arriving around midday.
Click on the picture to enlarge.
This walking tour is an excellent introduction to hiking in Scotland for people with good basic fitness. The holiday combines walking with visits to places of interest. Daily distances won't exceed 6 miles/10km plus varying amounts of ascent, and we don't expect to hike for longer than 4 hours (plus stops). Most of the hiking will be on paths, tracks or quiet roads, although the surfaces can be wet and rough. There will be some steep sections along the way, but no climbs greater than 1200 feet/365m, even in total.
If you're still not sure whether or not you can cope after you've read this along with the details of the week's programme, please get in touch to discuss it further.
You will need to bring boots with a good tread that provide adequate ankle support, warm clothing, waterproofs (top and over-trousers) and a rucksack big enough for your spare clothes, a packed lunch and whatever else you normally like to have with you (binoculars, a camera, etc.).
Boots are especially important. They don't have to be particularly heavy, but wearing ultra lightweight ones may mean your feet get wet and trainers definitely aren't adequate nor, on some of the rougher and steeper going, however short it may be, are they safe. Trekking poles can be very useful, especially for anyone with knee problems.
This is either in carefully selected Bed & Breakfast accommodation or Guest Houses. You can rely on the quality of the accommodation that we find for you - its comfort, its food and the professionalism and welcoming nature of those who run it. The B&Bs and guest houses we use are more personal and the quality of the accommodation is as good or even better than of hotels in the same category. Double and twin rooms will have an en suite or private bathroom.
If you have particular requirements or prefer to stay in a 4-star hotel, please let us know so that we can do our best to meet them.
Details of where you will be staying will be sent to you well in advance of your holiday.
Dinner is not included in the price, but your guide will take you out for supper every evening. We usually eat in a different place each evening, giving you the opportunity to try a range of Scottish dishes and ambiences.
|Description||8 days (Saturday to Saturday), accommodation in Lerwick in carefully selected B&Bs (5 nights) and 2 nights on the ferry.|
|Walking||An attractive, well thought out walking programme; never more than 6 miles (10 km) in a day, and mostly on paths or tracks - though paths may be wet and/or rough in places. An equally attractive programme of visits to places of interest complement the walks.|
|ST52||25 July - 1 August 2015||£1,135||Single room in B&B: £50 extra
Single cabin on the ferry: £110 extra
|ST61||7-14 May 2016|
|ST62||27 August - 3 September 2016|
|Groups of 4 or more can book other dates, please ask.|
The price includes:
and most especially
For general information and booking, please click here.