Off The Beaten Track...
Off the beaten track ...
Shetland is a brilliant place to visit and explore the outdoors by yourself or with your family. I want to introduce you to my work in the wild places of Shetland and give you some tips about how best to explore safely and responsibly.
Since moving here four years ago and through my work as the Outdoors Access Officer for Shetland Islands Council, I've explored much of Shetland by foot, bike, kayak and yacht. With a love of being out and about, you could say it's pretty much a dream job for me, but there's still much I have yet to see – and I've not explored by horse … yet!
One of my roles is developing the Core Paths Plan, which lists and gives protection to 108 formal routes stretching 455km across Shetland. In addition to these I am responsible for managing and developing 57 access routes of 38km which give formal access to lochs, beaches and other points of interest.
Much of my time is spent out and about inspecting paths, organising improvement works and talking to land managers. It is also good to get involved with community groups and other interest groups who are looking to improve access for their specific interests.
But as you can probably guess my time in the outdoors isn't just limited to the working day. As I drive across Shetland I am never more than three miles from the sea and I find amazing viewpoints, beaches and other places of interest as I go. However, when you visit, I would encourage you to park the car and go off the beaten track. If you do, a whole new experience of Shetland awaits you.
Some of the great places I have explored with my family include walks to the Broch of Culswick, the Broch of Burraland, Burgi Block House, the Burn of Lunklet, Kergord Woods and various points along the Eshaness coast. But also less well known local places that are only a hop, skip and jump from the road such as the waterfalls at Catspund, John Boyne's Burn, Burn of the Twa Roes, Njugals Water and Huxter Mills. Often we'll have a picnic or cook on a simple stove and just have a nice family time outdoors.
Promote Shetland have a comprehensive list of popular walks on their website. The walks are graded to help you choose an appropriate one for you and your family.
For my own grown up adventures with friends time is usually split between sailing with my friend on his yacht Märta and longer walks to more remote locations like Uyea, Da Lang Ayre and the Muckle Roe coast. I also enjoy kayaking around some of the coves and caves on calm days. And it's a rare day when my trusty camera doesn't join me on my ventures.
In Scotland, under the Land Reform Act 2003, you have what is commonly known as a right to roam. This isn't strictly true as there are limitations to where you can go, but in effect most of the hills and coast are yours to explore and your rights and responsibilities are explained in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Some simple tips from the code are to avoid people's houses, gardens, farmyards and work places; don't walk through crops; use stiles and gates; keep dogs under close control; and generally respect the countryside, its wildlife and its people.
When setting off on your own outdoor adventure, a lot of what you need to consider is common sense. A good pair of waterproof boots or supportive wellies will pay you dividends, as will robust waterproof clothing. Make sure you take adequate food and water for your activity and it's always a good idea to let someone know roughly where you are going and when you intend to be back. I'll often leave a note in my car, particularly when camping, so that no one living locally worries unnecessarily about my return.
One of the beauties of Shetland is its often unspoilt character. With relatively low visitor numbers accessing the hills, paths are still often little more than sheep tracks as opposed to the constructed paths you may find elsewhere in the UK, so a basic level of navigational skill can be useful, though most popular paths are waymarked. With open access there is often no need to stick exactly to the path, so if a view takes your interest you can explore – just take care near cliffs as they can be unstable and grassy banks and rocks are often slippy.
Sometimes people think that being outdoors just involves walking, but this wonderful free resource is available to all with unmotorised access to the land, sea and lochs permitted. So, bicycles and horses are included in these rights, as well as kayaks and other motorless watercraft.
However, not all routes and ground are suitable for all activities; if you are on a mountain bike or a horse you may need to plan your outing carefully to avoid easily damaged ground and areas without gates. Also if you have a dog with you you'll need to beware of disturbing sheep with lambs or cattle with calves and find a way to navigate around them.
On lochs and the sea you can go fishing, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, swimming and snorkelling, even model boat sailing. On the land you can walk, run, ride, climb and camp; and then there's photography, drawing and painting, wildlife watching, geology, collecting materials for crafts. You can even just have a lie down, enjoy the day or fly a kite. I've recently combined flying a kite with photography and sailing to do some aerial photography from Märta!
Walking is well covered with the range of SIC core paths and access routes along with the Shetland.org website. Some community groups have also created their own local walks leaflets, so look out for them while you're out and about. And linked to many of the walks is the Shetland Geopark where you can get a free app for your smartphone to discover fascinating facts about the ancient rocks of Shetland.
And to get hands on experience of the rocks you can always go climbing. Climb Shetland is the climbing club for Shetland with nights on the indoor wall at Clickimin Leisure Centre and climbing guides available through them.
Shetland Wheelers are a largely road cycling club for Shetland, but they do have a mountain biking offshoot and Cycle Shetland has a range of information with suggested road cycling routes in Shetland.
If the water is your thing both Shetland Canoe Club and Shetland Windsurfing Club welcome beginners and have regular meets both at their venues and further afield. And if you're looking to go fresh water fishing then check out Shetland Anglers" Association who even have loch boats to hire for a very modest fee.
Of course many know Shetland for its wildlife from numerous programmes on television. There is a range of commercial tour operators who take groups and individuals out as well as non-commercial groups like Shetland Bird Club, the Shetland Field Studies Group and the RSPB Wildlife Explorers for children.
So if you like the outdoors and getting away from the road get yourself a set of Explorer Ordnance Survey Maps or use some of the route maps in the links above and explore this wonderful free resource. Please follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, it'll make for a better experience in the countryside for yourself and others and make my job easier too!
If you do come across an issue that you need to report you can contact me on 01595 744169 or at email@example.com
Posted in: Exploring Shetland