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Guidance for walkers in Shetland

by Laurie Goodlad -

Shetland is a walker’s paradise; with long swathes of uninterrupted coastline, peaty moorlands, heathery hills and inland lochs offering something for all walkers who come here to enjoy the spectacular scenery.

While we want you to enjoy every inch of our beautiful islands, we also want you to stay safe. Here's some useful guidance to follow when you're out and about roaming the Shetland countryside...

With the right to roam in Scotland, comes responsibility; the responsibility to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and the responsibility to remain safe in your surroundings.

Following the Outdoor Access Code includes:

  • Leaving gates as you find them
  • Keeping a dog on a lead when near livestock or breeding birds
  • Taking all litter home with you – leave only footprints
  • Avoid fields with crops

I would add a few specific points to this when visiting Shetland; particularly coastal areas with high cliffs:

  • Don’t take selfies on cliff edges and never walk backwards near a cliff
  • Be aware of strong winds near cliffs as they can cause dangerous gusts
  • Remember that access to some beaches, such as Deepdale, da Lang Ayre and Roesand (sometimes known as Zoar) may be hazardous with loose stones so take extra care with your footing and be sure that you have the means to climb back up

There is often an idea that, in a small place like Shetland, walkers will not come into difficulty or become lost; this is a misconception, and with the best will in the world, walkers are often caught unaware as low cloud or mist roll in off the sea reducing visibility and making it difficult to find the route back to safety.

Walking in low cloud and fog quickly becomes disorientating and areas such as that surrounding Ronas Hill, Shetland’s highest point, often become fog-bound, even on what appears to be a fine day.

We would urge walkers, or anyone for that matter, who is visiting Shetland to download the free What3Words app on their smartphone. The app is used in 193 countries daily and is available in over 45 languages and is already used by millions of people worldwide.

It’s not only useful for finding remote locations, streets, events and in assisting deliveries but also to ensure safety when you’re out-and-about enjoying the outdoors. When walking, it’s often impossible to give emergency services an accurate positioning of where you are, or where you think you may be; our outdoor spaces are vast, and many places remain inaccessible and hard to reach. The What3Words app allows emergency services to find you quickly by describing exactly where you are using three simple dictionary words.

What3Words, described by The Times as “a fiendishly clever solution”, divided the world into three-metre squares and gave each square a unique combination of three words, meaning that it’s the easiest way to find and share exact locations. For example, if I were standing at the Market Cross on Lerwick’s Commercial Street, my location using What3Words would be: ‘combos.looked.lunge’, and picking a spot on Ronas Hill, I could be at ‘eventful.riot.hence’.

So how can this app help you? Quite simply, if you were to become lost or injured while walking and needed emergency assistance, you could relay the three-word code from the app to the emergency services, allowing them to locate you faster and more effectively, saving precious time and resources.

Lizzie Russell from What3Words says: “It's very easy to panic when in an emergency situation. The What3Words app makes communicating your location as easy as reading three words, allowing for a faster emergency response. You can read through some real-life stories of how What3Words has been used for emergencies on our website. The app is also great for saving and sharing locations – starting points for walks, the best viewpoints, wildlife spots to revisit etc.”

Shetland Coastguard is urging people to download the app and take it with them when they are out walking. This reminder comes after they recently assisted two walkers who had become disoriented and lost in the Ronas Hill area. This app is fantastic, it’s free, and it could, quite literally, save your life.

Senior coastal operations officer for Orkney and Shetland, Daniel O’Connor, says that the app is "a useful additional tool to other location tools” and is “simple, intuitive and everyone is able to use it.” With the help of the app, the coastguard recently was able to pinpoint walkers effectively, and the multiple languages feature ensured that they were able to break down any language barriers and safely locate the walkers.

He reminds walkers that they should:

  • Be prepared; ensuring you have clothing for all weathers, supplies to last a few hours and a pocket first aid kit
  • Remember, in Shetland the weather can change very quickly and unexpectedly
  • Download the app before setting off (the app uses GPS so should work wherever you are if you have it already downloaded)

While What3Words could literally be a lifesaver, it's worth bearing in mind that not all parts of Shetland currently have mobile coverage, so even if you have the app downloaded on your phone you might not be able to contact anyone for help using it. Shetland’s outdoor access officer, Kevin Sergison therefore recommends that you always have a back-up plan and don't rely completely on technology.

"It is always good to have a range of options for identifying your location, should you need emergency help," says Kevin. "Without doubt though, the key good practises if you are out and about on the hills is to carry a map and compass and know how to use them, and to let someone know where you are going and when you are likely to be back.”

If you find yourself in an emergency situation or spot someone else in trouble, you should call 999 and ask for the coastguard.

We hope you found this guidance useful and it will help you plan your next walk. This website features many fantastic walking routes, many of which are off-the-beaten-track, secluded and remote – see our Walking pages for more details.

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