Districts Of The Month Round-Up
by Alastair Hamilton -
Over the past couple of years, we’ve highlighted a different part of Shetland each month, exploring what it has to offer if you’re thinking of a move. Many people have settled in Shetland and the community is keen to welcome more. So, which part of Shetland might suit you?
Clearly, it depends on your priorities, your circumstances and the kind of lifestyle you want. Maybe you want a complete change from the daily drag of packed commuter trains or tedious traffic queues: we might commute, but not like that! Perhaps you want to move somewhere that gives your kids a good education – with a markedly global outlook – and the kind of freedom and security that Shetland can offer.
Maybe you run the kind of small business that, these days, can operate from anywhere with a broadband connection, and you want to combine that with living in one of the finest natural environments in Europe, extraordinarily rich in wildlife, or in a surprisingly numerous (and talented) community of musicians and artists. Or perhaps you’re keen to live the dream of self-sufficiency.
We’d never claim that Shetland is for everyone, but people from the Picts and Vikings onwards have settled here and discovered that the islands have a remarkable amount to offer. That’s even truer today: as well as all the natural delights, we’ve sport and leisure facilities of an astonishingly high standard, not to mention an active and inclusive community.
For more about moving to Shetland, we’ve lots of information on the website.
Here, then, is our rough guide to places to live, starting with the most rural areas and the outer islands. These could particularly appeal if you have the kinds of skills that such areas often need, such as teaching, nursing or general medical practice, or if you want to settle in a small community that offers ultimate peace and quiet and you don’t mind not having a supermarket or a cinema on the doorstep. Our original ‘district of the month’ articles are available online in all but a couple of cases and we’ll reinstate the missing ones as soon as we can. Please note that some details, such as availability of some facilities, may have changed.
Our smallest and more remote islands include Fair Isle, Foula and Out Skerries, the latter covered in our feature covering both Whalsay and Skerries. These have small populations but committed and often very active communities, and all of them are spectacular environments in which to live. Each has a primary school and a district nurse, together with a community or school hall. Obviously, it’s not everyone who wants to live in a relatively isolated spot, but for people who do, and can bring their skills and resilience to the local community, these could be attractive options.
The northern islands of Unst, Fetlar, Yell and Whalsay have frequent connections to the Shetland mainland using roll-on, roll-off ferries, so if you do need access to the facilities of Lerwick, it’s not too difficult to get there. Fetlar has a small population and fewer facilities but the other three islands have schooling up to Secondary 4, medical practices, care homes, well-stocked local shops and very well-equipped leisure centres with swimming pools.
The Shetland mainland is larger than you might imagine and offers lots of choice; there are also islands that are connected to the mainland by bridges or, in the case of Bressay, a very short ferry journey. Almost anywhere on the mainland is within a manageable commuting distance from Lerwick, should that feature in your plans, though the more distant settlements are around 40 minutes’ drive from the town. Buses offer daytime connections for work from most places.
Northmavine, with its great cliff scenery and the Westside, which includes Aithsting and Sandsting, Walls and Sandness and the island of Papa Stour, offer lots of options for getting away from it all. Both these areas have primary schools, primary medical care and local shops. The Westside also has its own leisure centre at Aith.
Delting has seen lots of development associated with the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, but even the largest village, Brae, has only around a thousand inhabitants, and a walk on the cliff-crusted island of Muckle Roe (linked by a bridge) is very special. Brae has a health centre, a pool, a supermarket and a choice of places to eat.
Moving farther south, Nesting, Weisdale, Whiteness and Tingwall are popular and appealing places to stay, combining a very rural feel with good access to Lerwick. Again, there is a good provision of typical country facilities including local halls and primary schools. If you feel the need to commune with trees, Weisdale has Shetland’s largest plantations, complete with rookery and occasional cuckoo.
Scalloway is Shetland’s ancient capital and it has expanded considerably in recent years, mainly along the shores of East Voe. There’s a primary school, a college, a swimming pool, a hall, a health centre, several shops, two marinas and one of the largest of Shetland’s community museums. It has a beautiful setting, too. South of Scalloway, the islands of Trondra and East and West Burra have stunning beaches and lots of good walking, but with all the usual Shetland rural facilities including a primary school, three community halls and two marinas – boating is very much part of life around here.
South of Lerwick, the south mainland is a quite narrow finger of land stretching more than 20 miles to Sumburgh Head. Gulberwick, Quarff, Fladdabister and Cunningsburgh, Sandwick and Dunrossness all offer very welcoming communities, again equipped with all the facilities you could wish for in a rural area, including community halls, a swimming pool at Sandwick, marinas, primary schools, a health centre at Levenwick and a sprinkling of local shops. Many people have built houses in these areas, with Gulberwick particularly popular because of its proximity to Lerwick. The scenery’s terrific too, including the spectacular tombolo at St Ninian’s Isle, and lots of scope for hill walking. It’s also an area especially rich in archaeology. If you wanted to commute to Lerwick, it’s perfectly feasible from any of these districts.
Lying opposite Lerwick and sheltering its harbour is the island of Bressay, dominated by its hill, the Ward. The island is just seven minutes from the centre of Lerwick by ferry, so close that many Bressay folk, and school children, make the crossing daily. There’s a fishmeal factory and some agriculture; there’s a hall, too, and a marina. East of Bressay is another smaller island, Noss, with awe-inspiring cliffs and seabird colonies.
Lastly, we come to what passes for a metropolis in Shetland, Lerwick. It’s home to around 7,000 people, though of course it provides many services for all of Shetland’s population of about 22,000. If you’d prefer to have Shetland’s most comprehensive facilities right on the doorstep, the town offers them. There are two primary schools, a secondary school and a college offering courses up to university level. Lerwick has the islands’ biggest leisure centre; an arts centre with a concert hall and two first-class cinemas; a museum incorporating an art galler; the islands’ hospital; two supermarkets; a good library; and a wide range of smaller shops. There are all the professional services you’re most likely to need, such as solicitors and surveyors, plus all the main banks. The old town, with its feet in the harbour, is particularly appealing; if you’ve seen the BBC1 detective series, Shetland, Jimmy Perez’ house is one of the old ‘lodberries’ – buildings that originally combined a merchant’s house, warehouse and loading pier.
If a new life in Shetland appeals, there really is lots of choice. And you’d be joining thousands of others who’ve made the move: around a third of the population wasn’t born in the islands and you’ll hear accents from every part of the UK and languages from many parts of the world: it’s far more cosmopolitan than you might imagine. We hope our website and the blogs convey what it’s like to live here in all its diversity.
Posted in: Exploring Shetland