District of the Month: Bressay and Noss

by Alastair Hamilton -

Each month, we visit a different part of Shetland to see what it has to offer for anyone thinking of making the move to our beautiful – and remarkably varied – islands. This month, we look at the island of Bressay and its smaller neighbour, Noss.

Bressay lies just east of the Shetland mainland, separated from it by Bressay Sound, which forms Lerwick's harbour, and it's just a seven-minute ferry ride from the town.

Much of the west of Bressay is low-lying, with some good agricultural land. The south and east is higher, heather moorland, rising to 226m (742ft) at the Wart of Bressay, the highest point, which was chosen as the site for Shetland's main television and radio transmitters. Much of the eastern and southern coastline is formed of cliffs. The island is mostly composed of old red sandstone which, in the past, was quarried for roof slates and flagstones.

Around 350 people live in Bressay; many of them work in Lerwick or elsewhere in Shetland but there is some local employment in agriculture, a fishmeal plant and tourism. The island no longer has its own primary school and island children travel to Lerwick. There is, however, a well-stocked shop and post office; a community hall that often hosts local events; and a heritage centre. Many locals have a boat in the marina and for landlubbers there's no shortage of interesting walking, with a range of historical and archaeological sites to explore.

Seen from the north or south, the island of Noss appears as a huge wedge on the horizon just east of Bressay. The two islands are separated by a narrow, shallow sound. Again, the land is lowest in the west and rises steadily to Shetland's most spectacular seabird cliffs. The island is a National Nature Reserve and isn't permanently inhabited, though two reserve wardens live in the old farmhouse during the summer.

So, why move to Bressay? It's a small but very welcoming community in a spectacular setting, with plenty to involve you, indoors or outdoors, right through the year. However, a short trip on a frequent ferry means that you can be in the heart of Lerwick in just a few minutes, so facilities such as the swimming pool, leisure centre, cinemas and shops are very easy to reach. For many people, that's an excellent combination.