Caravan Or Motorhome? A Great Way To See Shetland!

by Alastair Hamilton -

Maybe you want to spend some time in Shetland to explore all that the islands have to offer the visitor. Our website has lots of information about things to do. Or maybe you’re thinking of joining us permanently in Shetland, and want to get the measure of the islands as a place to live; again, we have plenty of practical information to help you do that and our Districts of the Month feature has articles about life in communities across the islands.

Whatever your reasons for visiting Shetland, a caravan or motorhome makes a great and very flexible base. There are licensed sites with facilities in many parts of Shetland and all of them have at least four hook-ups.

It’s easy to get here, by nightly car ferry from Aberdeen. Roads are good and frequent, economical car ferries connect the larger islands to the mainland.

The closest sites to your arrival point in Lerwick are at Cunningsburgh in the South Mainland, Bridge End in Burra Isle or South Nesting, all of them roughly 20 minutes’ drive from the town. Another south mainland site, at Levenwick, is a further ten minutes or so south of Cunningsburgh.

If you begin your exploration in the south mainland, there’s a lot to see, including the remarkable archaeological site at Jarlshof and the intriguing, astonishingly intact Broch of Mousa, reached by ferry from Sandwick, which is the best-preserved of its kind anywhere. Sumburgh Head is an ideal place for watching seabirds and it’s very easy to get very close to those inimitable puffins, but the lighthouse here also has a fascinating story to tell. There’s much more in this area: the beautiful tombolo and the evocative ruined chapel at St Ninian’s Isle; glorious sandy beaches; or glimpses into more recent heritage at the Croft House Museum or Quendale Mill. If sea swimming is outside your comfort zone, there’s a modern indoor pool next to the junior secondary school at Sandwick. There are shops in some villages and a bakery in Sandwick.

Bridge End is a good base for exploring not only Burra Isle itself – with beautiful beaches at Meal and Minn – but is also close to Scalloway, Shetland’s ancient capital, which retains its own identity and has a good range of facilities, including shops, a health centre and a swimming pool. The most striking building here is Earl Patrick Stewart’s castle; next door is the excellent local museum, which tells the moving story of the Shetland Bus operation that supported the Norwegian resistance against Nazi occupation.

You’ll certainly want to spend some time in the islands’ capital. Lerwick offers a wide range of shops and services and there are comprehensive indoor and outdoor sports and recreational facilities, plus the islands’ hospital. Here, too, is Mareel, a vibrant arts centre, with two cinemas, musical events and a convivial café-bar.

Heritage highlights in Lerwick include the excellent Shetland Museum and Archives. Clickimin Broch is less complete than Mousa but well worth a visit. Along the old waterfront, you can see the picturesque lodberries (literally, loading stones) where traders lived and did business. In the remarkably ambitious Victorian Town Hall, the beautifully-crafted 19th century stained glass is acknowledged as one of the finest installations of its kind in Britain.

Heading west from Lerwick, a 25-mile, 40-minute drive takes you to Skeld. With 19 hook-ups for caravans and motorhomes, plus comprehensive facilities, this impressive site by the pier and marina is the largest in Shetland.

Skeld is a good base from which to explore the west mainland. There’s archaeology, for example at the mysterious Staneydale ‘temple’ or the Broch of Culswick. Gardens and tree plantations are also a notable feature. Scores of lochs attract anglers and the coastal walking is memorable. The main centres are Walls (pronounced Waas), which has a bakery and shop and Aith, where you’ll find a modern leisure centre with a swimming pool.

In the north-east of the mainland, the caravan and motorhome site beside the community hall in tranquil South Nesting is about 25 minutes’ drive from Lerwick. It’s a useful base for exploring the central and north mainland, including the Lunna peninsula, with its Shetland Bus associations and a beautiful little church.

Farther north, there are caravan sites at the Delting Boating Club in Brae and in Eshaness. Brae is the main centre of activity in the north mainland and has a secondary school, a health centre, a supermarket and other shops, plus several places to eat. Users of the touring pitches at the Boating Club have access to the clubhouse, including the bar.

The Eshaness site, which has a restaurant on site, is perfect for exploring the district of Northmavine, a notably rugged part of Shetland, with rock outcrops and spectacular cliffs, but you can enjoy easy walking or mountain-biking in the beautiful scenery of Muckle Roe, explore the spectacular cliffs of Eshaness or make the trek to the deserted fishing station of Fethaland.

Over in Yell, less than twenty minutes by ferry, you’ll find a delightful little site at Burravoe with hook-ups. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you spot the facilities building, its roof a lifeboat from the liner, Canberra. Yell is known as one of the best places to see otters. There’s an interesting local museum in Burravoe and endless walking opportunities. Most of the island’s main facilities, including a junior secondary school and swimming pool, are located at Mid Yell.

Onwards to Unst, another short ferry crossing away, and you’ve reached Britain’s farthest north. The Youth Hostel at Gardiesfauld, in Uyeasound, offers hook-ups for caravans.

Unst’s services are mainly focused on Baltasound, where there’s a swimming pool, a junior secondary school and several shops, including a bakery. There is a National Nature Reserve at Hermaness, a fabulous place for walking and bird-watching. You’ll also find an excellent Heritage Centre, an absorbing Boat Haven and lots of Viking remains. Nor are you likely to forget a rather remarkable bus shelter, scene of countless ‘selfies’.

Camping or caravanning are great ways to explore the islands, enjoy all that Shetland has to offer and embrace the spirit of the place. I hope we can look forward to seeing you soon.