Central Mainland

A landscape of intricate contrasts: where layers of limestone make slashes of green between brown hills; where long, narrow sea lochs run miles into the land; it's great walking and fishing country, with amazing scenery, wild flowers and birdlife.

Burra and Trondra Isles

At Burland on Trondra, the Shetland Croft Trail is a wonderful place for children to see old Shetland breeds of livestock and learn about crofting history and traditional crafts such as boatbuilding.

The Burra Bridge leads to the pretty fishing village of Hamnavoe, with a lovely coastal walk out to the lighthouse on Fugla Ness and along the Sands of Meal, one of Shetland's finest beaches and a favourite picnic spot (with convenient car park).

At the south end of West Burra the roofless kirk of St Laurence at Papil is famous for three early Christian carved stones found in the graveyard. Two of the original stones and a replica of the Monks' Stone are on show at the Shetland Museum in Lerwick. At Duncansclate there's a fine example of an old croft house with a thatched roof.

A footpath from the car park leads down to the Atlantic storm beach of Banna Minn and on to Kettla Ness, a wild headland with seals and colonies of Arctic Skuas and Arctic Terns; please keep to the edge of the nesting grounds - if you disturb these birds they will probably desert their nests.

Minn - One of the most beautiful beaches in Shetland, I have been to a few times - amazing on a fine day.

On an islet next to the bridge between East and West Burra is the Outdoor Centre, a former school now used as a hostel, ideally situated for kayaking, walking and nature study holidays. The short turf on Burra's rocky hills and shores makes perfect hiking country. A walk up to the reservoir on East Burra, past a seven-foot-high standing stone, gives one of the best panoramas of the islands. Beyond the hamlet of Houss lies Houss Ness, a promontory with more good walking, rock scenery, seabirds and seals. And, wherever you walk or drive in Burra, there's always that mysterious and dramatic silhouette of the isle of Foula, out on the Atlantic horizon.

Scalloway: 'The Ancient Capital'

The fishing port of Scalloway, Shetland's capital until the 18th century, is a picturesque and surprisingly leafy village, shielded from Atlantic gales by Trondra, Burra and several smaller islands. Travelling north and then west from Scalloway, the road leads through Tingwall's fertile valley and then through the memorable landscapes of Whiteness and Weisdale, which are among Shetland’s scenic highlights.

Overlooking the fine new harbour is Earl Patrick Stewart's Scalloway Castle, built by forced labour in 1600. It's a grand example of a Scottish fortified house, but was occupied for less than a century and is now roofless. Beneath the grand banqueting hall are large kitchens and a dungeon where 17th century 'witches', condemned to die on nearby Gallows Hill, awaited their fate. The castle is in the care of Historic Scotland and open to the public.

Scalloway has a good range of facilities, including:

  • A heated 17-metre indoor swimming pool
  • The public hall (much used as a concert venue)
  • A youth centre
  • A visiting artists' studio
  • Playing fields
  • Pubs and shops
  • If you’d like to make your base here, the village has a hotel (which has an excellent restaurant) and guest houses.
  • Out at Port Arthur, beyond the west marina and Scalloway Boating Club, visitors are welcome at the NAFC Marine Centre. The Centre’s restaurant, Da Haaf, is another great place to eat and you can peep into the mother and baby unit of a lobster hatchery.

Scalloway Museum and the 'Shetland Bus'

Next to the castle is the Scalloway Museum, which offers a fascinating and moving display on the wartime exploits of Norway's 'Shetland Bus' heroes, who made the village their secret base. The Museum also houses memorabilia from Scalloway's past, particularly the history of fishing in the district.

There are more reminders of the Shetland Bus elsewhere on the waterfront. From the museum, you can stroll along New Street (passing a curious stone plaque depicting a theory of tidal motion) and on to Main Street, where there is a memorial to the Shetland Bus crews who lost their lives. A little farther west is the Prince Olav Slipway, which was built by the Norwegians to repair the boats damaged by storms and enemy action during raids on their Nazi occupied homeland. Across the street, the red-clad Norway House was their barracks.

The museums in Lerwick and Scalloway are excellent.

The Port of Scalloway

Traditional boats drawn up on the shore recall the Viking past: in Norse times Scalloway (meaning `the bay of the booths') was the landing place for delegates attending Shetland's annual parliament or 'Ting', held on the Lawting Holm in Tingwall Loch, two miles north of the village. In those days there were no roads and most traffic went by sea - as it did well into the 19th century.

Nowadays the port of Scalloway sees a wide variety of craft, ranging from coasters and offshore oilfield tenders to trawlers, fish farm workboats and a growing fleet of pleasure boats and yachts in the two sheltered marinas.

For the visiting yacht skipper, Scalloway makes an ideal base for cruising the west coast of Shetland.

The Tingwall Valley

Heading north from Scalloway, the road threads its way along the Tingwall Valley through rich meadows. In June and July, this area is one of the best places to appreciate the variety and colour of Shetland's native wild flowers, including several species of orchid.

The valley is also the setting for a particularly picturesque golf course, laid out between the Loch of Asta and the Tingwall Loch, both of which are good for trout. The lochs are also home to Shetland's only resident Mute Swans and you may also see Whooper Swans. Other birds include Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, and Common and Black-headed Gulls.

At the north end of Tingwall Loch is the Lawting Holm, a promontory (though it was once an islet) which was the seat of the Shetland parliament in Norse times; ‘Tingwall’ comes from the same root as ‘Tynwald’, the parliament of the Isle of Man. Here laws were made and justice was dispensed. A lively local debating society which meets over the winter in the local school maintains the tradition. On the rising ground to the north is Tingwall Kirk, the 'mother church' of Shetland, with its ancient graveyard.

Whiteness and Weisdale

The road west from Tingwall rises gently to provide a spectacular view from Wormadale Hill. Below is the long inlet of Whiteness Voe and, beyond, a panorama that can extend to Fitful Head, Foula and even Fair Isle, 50 miles away. The road north passes just west of the Loch of Strom, bridging the tide-race which links it to Stromness Voe, a narrow sea inlet. There’s a tiny ruined castle on the loch shore nearby. A short distance farther north the road crosses into Weisdale and passes the workshop of Shetland Jewellery.

There’s much to see in Weisdale. The head of Weisdale Voe is a good place to look out for wading birds, while three hundred yards up the B9075 road is the beautifully restored Weisdale Mill, housing the Bonhoga art gallery, which shows a continuous programme of touring and local exhibitions. There’s a small shop with unusual gifts and a café overlooking the stream, from which you may be able to watch the local heron as you relax over tea or coffee.

A little farther north, beyond the Mill, is the largest stand of trees in Shetland, transforming the upper part of the valley into a landscape quite unlike any other in Shetland. In one of the plantations stands the secluded farmhouse of Flemington, or Kergord, which once served as the Special Operations Executive's HQ for the wartime Shetland Bus operation. The plantations, now being managed and extended, attract woodland birds rare elsewhere in the islands, including chaffinches and rooks.

Returning to Weisdale Voe, the road west climbs steadily towards the Scord of Sound, giving magnificent views to the south. Below, there are more trees and, in this case, they shade a churchyard. Nearby is the birthplace of John Clunies Ross, self-styled 'king' of the Cocos Islands in the 19th century.

It’s possible to base yourself in Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale, as there is a small hotel and several guest houses.

Two of the loveliest views in Shetland are from the hilltop lay-bys at the Scord of Sound, Weisdale and at Wormadale, Whiteness.
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