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Out and About in Shetland: Free Family Fun

by Louise Thomason -

Finally, spring has sprung! Ok, so it might still feel like winter, but the days are much lighter and for Shetland families, this means one thing: more time to be spent outside!

You can’t guarantee the weather will be fine, but let’s face it – we live in Scotland, not Spain, and waiting for a sunny day will most likely mean missing out.

Being cold is no fun and it’s hard to enjoy even the most exciting adventure or beautiful beach if you’re shivering, but with proper outdoor clothes – a good waterproof, a fleece lined suit, or waterproof trousers over a regular warm outfit, and welly boots, hats and gloves, and you’ll be all set for exploring outside, however far you choose to venture.

Besides, children usually love being outside regardless of the weather, and doing so – getting out and about even on dull or dreich days – is a good habit to instil in them. It’s not just for the benefit of the kids, though. Being outside in the fresh air and catching whatever Vitamin D and fresh air that you can is essential to keeping a healthy mind as well as a healthy body.

It goes without saying that, as a relativity wild rural place, Shetland has a lot to offer those keen on the outdoors. Yet finding places to take children (and especially young children) isn’t always straightforward, nor are the best places immediately obvious. Lots of the coastline can be a bit hazardous for toddlers - notoriously prone to run off at any given moment – to be safe around, and heathery hills can be a big ask for little legs to tackle.

There are however plenty of wonderful places you can safely take your bairns to play and explore. We’ve rounded up a few of our favourites.

Michaelswood, Aith

Perhaps an obvious first choice, Michaelswood is a brilliant day out for young and old alike. A young woodland with a path winding its way through the trees, it was developed by the parents of a young Aith musician, Michael Ferrie, who died from cancer in 1996 aged just 21, as a tribute to their son.

It may have sad beginnings, but Michaelswood is certainly a very happy place: features such as a Teddy Bear’s picnic, a small playhouse and Captain Blackbeard’s ship and a dinosaur trail, with giant dinosaurs to find, all nestled among a huge variety (over 60 different species) of trees and shrubs, flora and fauna, make this a great place to play.

Kergord Woods

Trees are a rarity in Shetland, so for anyone used to the fun of climbing in branches and playing in woods I’d imagine the lack of them would be a real miss.

In Kergord, in the Weisdale valley, you can find Shetland’s largest woodland. Originally planted between 1913 and 1920, there are around 9 acres of a large variety of trees to explore, including spruce, larch, sycamore, firs and oak, making it a draw for birds and other wildlife.

Managed by the Amenity Trust, the area is full of paths, dens, and one area has a burn running through it, with a large swing. A must visit for children of all ages.

Beaches

Shetland boasts plenty of beaches with easy access. In the south Mainland, St Ninians is a popular choice, its huge tombola providing ample space to run around in, but there are dozens more – check out our page on Shetland’s best beaches.

There are plenty more than on this list, and some other gems include Reawick beach; Gulberwick beach (and the brilliant nearby playpark); Levenwick; and Sands of Sound, Lerwick.

Hoswick Burn

The village of Hoswick is in the south Mainland, close to Sandwick. It boasts plenty to do, with a Visitor Centre serving light lunches and homebakes in the summer, however the little-known burn is the highlight for most children! The burn and path can be accessed from a gate as you first come in to Hoswick. Follow the path and you’ll find trees and a bench and lots of places perfect for little feet to paddle in.

Nesting Play Kitchen

The benefits of outdoor play are well documented, and one school in Shetland has taken full advantage of this by building an outdoor mud kitchen in their grounds.

Nesting Primary School has very kindly allowed access to their kitchen – built using recycled materials, and complete with Galley boat and picnic area – to the public, but ask that people do not visit during school time and leave the area as they found it.

Sand Gairdins

With over seven acres to explore, Da Gairdins I Sand (dialect for "the gardens of Sand) on Shetland’s west side is an excellent place to let children roam around and learn in. There are ponds, meadows, flower beds, shrubs and woodland, all of which are a haven for wildlife.

Burland Croft Trail

On the island of Trondra, which lies just beyond Scalloway on the Shetland Mainland, the Burland Croft Trail is a brilliant place to come for a day out.

Run by Tommy and Mary Isbister since the 1970s, the aim of the croft is to maintain native Shetland breeds of animals, poultry and crops, using organic manure produced there.

The croft is situated in a beautiful area, and there are chickens to feed, sheep and cows, a turkey, Shetland ponies and more. It is open to the public and children are welcome to visit and learn all about the animals – it is a popular daytrip for toddler and play groups, school children and others.

We hope this list might help with planning days out! We'd love to hear your suggestions of your favourite places to take bairns - get in touch via email or any of our social platforms.

Many of these were suggestions made by members of the Peerie Explorers Outdoor Playgroup – an informal group of parents and carers who meet with their toddlers and preschool children to play outdoors, in a different location, once a week. Everyone is welcome; you can find out more details and where the next meet up will be in the closed Facebook group here.

You can find more suggestions for things to do on this list of our favourite places for children.

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