District of the Month: Burra And Trondra

by Alastair Hamilton -

Every month, we look at what each district in our islands can offer for new residents. This month, we visit Burra (East and West) and Trondra.

This is a particularly beautiful part of Shetland and in fact forms part of Shetland's National Scenic Area. The islands are essentially low, rounded ridges running roughly from north to south, with sheltered waters between them; however, West Burra is exposed to the open Atlantic and its occasionally spectacular winter storms. There are several beaches and the sands at Meal and Minn are deservedly popular with locals and visitors.

The three islands lie parallel to, and a little west of, Shetland's South Mainland. At their closest, East and West Burra are separated by a channel just a few yards wide and have been connected by a bridge since the 19th century or earlier. However, it was only in 1971 that West Burra, Trondra and the mainland were connected by bridges. Before then, islanders relied on a passenger ferry that ran to Scalloway, just north of Trondra.

Historically, the main occupations on Burra and Trondra – as elsewhere in rural Shetland – were fishing, crofting agriculture and knitting or weaving. Today, these continue in various forms. Salmon and mussel farming have been added to the mix and a croft in Trondra specialises in rare Shetland breeds. Creative skills are sustained by artists and craftspeople involved in painting, jewellery, writing, poetry and conceptual art; and East Burra is also the birthplace of the adorable Burra Bears.

The new bridges brought everyone within about 20 minutes" drive from Lerwick and little more than half that from Scalloway, opening up new job opportunities for islanders. Meanwhile, many people have moved to the islands and enjoy one of the more appealing daily commutes, by car or bus, to be found anywhere. There's been a steady increase in housing, in population and the range of occupations. Roughly 800 people now live in the area.

The largest settlement in Burra and Trondra is Hamnavoe, in West Burra. It has a primary school, a general store and post office, a modern community hall, a marina and a repair garage with a filling station. Around Bridge End, where East and West Burra are linked, there are a smaller community hall, two equestrian centres, an outdoor centre and a marina, which is a popular base for kayakers. Secondary school pupils travel to Lerwick and the nearest GP practice is in Scalloway.

Why move to Burra and Trondra? For those who live there, it combines a great environment with convenience. On the one hand, there are miles of coastal walks, excellent beaches, good boating or canoeing and frequent appearances by seals and sometimes otters. On the other, there's quick and easy access to all of the shops, services and entertainment available in Scalloway and Lerwick.