Papa Stour

This low-lying, fertile island off the west coast of the Shetland Mainland is home to about 20 people, most of them involved in traditional crofting.

The coastline, with its numerous rock arches, stacks and skerries, is one of the most spectacular in Shetland. Papa Stour has some of the most impressive sea caves and reefs in Britain which support a range of marine flora and fauna. For that reason, it has been designated as a marine Special Area of Conservation. The full force of the Atlantic Ocean has carved the western cliffs into beautiful arches, stacks and caves - the most famous of which is the Kirstan Hol. In calm weather divers and small boats can enter this labyrinth of magnificent caves where a riot of submarine life carpets the cavern walls.

There is an internationally important colony of terns and several sites of great geological and archaeological interest. The island also played an important role in Shetland's early history.

For walkers, birdwatchers and those just looking for solitude, Papa Stour has much to offer. Those who discover the delights of a peaceful holiday here tend to return again and again.

Papa Stour is famous for its sea stacks, spectacular cliffs, tranquil bays and extraordinary sea caves (the longest in Britain).

Exploring Papa Stour

As the ferry passes Brei Holm visitors get their first glimpse of impressive sea caves: a large tunnel where, in calm weather, it's possible to take a small boat right through. At the entrance to Housa Voe is the Frau Stack where tradition says a Norwegian lord imprisoned his daughter for refusing an arranged marriage. She had given her heart to a humble fisherman who rescued her from solitary confinement and eloped with her.

The hill dyke divides the fertile, sandy soils of the 'inbye' croft land from the moorland of the common grazings to the west. In the past islanders removed turf and peat from the hill for fertiliser and fuel, creating a 'scalped' heathland of short, wind-clipped vegetation growing on gravelly subsoil.

Suspected leprosy sufferers from the Shetland Mainland were once banished to huts whose foundations you can see on Hilla Fielle. To survive they relied on the islanders to leave food for them by the hill dyke. In fact they were probably suffering from dietary deficiencies, not leprosy.

Areas of interest:

  • Virda Field is the highest point, with a panoramic view of Papa Stour. To the north west the treacherous Ve Skerries reef just breaks the surface.
  • Above the beach at Housa Voe is a circle of stones, the remains of a ting, or local assembly, where Lord Thorvald Thoresson, the man accused of corruption in the 1299 document, fought and won a duel.
  • Excavations at Da Biggins have uncovered foundations of a medieval Norse house. The remains of wooden floors suggest that this was once a very important building.
  • In the open hill beyond the kirk and primary school are the remains of several Neolithic burial chambers known as heel-shaped cairns.
  • The small stone buildings around Dutch Loch are good examples of vertical-shaft water mills, some of them still in use until the early 20th century.

Getting There

The inter-island ferry from West Burrafirth takes about 45 minutes to reach Papa Stour and operates five days a week. Booking is essential.

Although the ferry, Snolda, carries cars, there's only one short road on the island, so the best way to see Papa is on foot. There is accommodation on Papa Stour, allowing more time for exploring the island. However, it is also possible to make a day trip: please consult the timetable for possible days.

Inter-island flights also operate to the Papa Stour airstrip. You can obtain details from Direct Flight at Tingwall Airport, 6 miles outside Lerwick.

What next?

  • Download a Shetland Heritage leaflet about Papa Stour
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