10 ways to Rediscover Shetland
by Promote Shetland -
As part of our Rediscover Shetland series, here are 10 classic ways to get out there and enjoy Shetland life to the full. For non-locals, consider it inspiration for whenever we can welcome you again.
Remember, as we ease out of lockdown it's more important than ever that we remain respectful of the beautiful coasts and countryside and the people who live in these areas. See the bottom of this blog for more detailed guidance on responsible rambling in Shetland.
Hike the seven-hour Uyea epic
Literally at the end of the road in the North Mainland, the little Sandvoe beach is the starting point for possibly Shetland’s most epic walk: a seven-hour circular route to the curious, craggy island of Uyea. The walk follows the dramatic, often hilly coastline, passing the strange reddish rocks at Wilgi Geos, which are the oldest in Shetland at more than 2,500 million years old. The dramatic endpoint of the walk is a tombolo leading to the stacks and arches of Uyea, which you can see from the cliff, as well as a magical rocky bay that’s often home to scores of bathing seals (go quietly if you don’t want them to shimmy into the sea en masse). You can walk back along the coast or walk inland and make your way back to Sandvoe via a path across the beautifully bleak rolling moorland.
Get up close with Muckle Flugga
The walk across bleak Hermaness to see the Muckle Flugga lighthouse should be world-famous. It’s an epic hike, first across boggy moorlands with menacing bonxies (great skuas) circling overhead, and then along the edge of dramatic cliffs to the end of the headland, where the edge of the British Isles is marked only by a humble wooden sign. The tiny islet of Out Stack is technically the northernmost point in the UK, but the Muckle Flugga lighthouse, on a little stack just beyond the headland, is the photo opportunity. The story goes that it was formed by a battle between the giants Herma and Saxa, who had fallen in love with the same mermaid and took to hurling rocks at one another, before both drowning trying to follow the mermaid to the North Pole. It takes about three hours to walk from the car park to the wooden sign and back – and it’s hard not to feel a sense of mythic awe on one of Shetland’s most iconic walks, especially the moment when you pass the crest of the hill and see the sea beyond the cliffs.
Find out more about the walk to Hermaness
Walk across an empty Breckon Sands
Breckon Sands, just north of Cullivoe in the northeastern corner of Yell, is like a beach from a Hollywood dream sequence. A crescent of near-white sand, it can feel bleakly foreboding on a winter’s day, but almost tropical in the summer, when the water turns to limpid turquoise and the beach grass sways gently behind the bay. It’ll often be just you in this magical corner of Shetland, searching for its hidden treasures. At the western end of the beach, there’s a little cave to walk through at low tide. And if you walk across to the eastern edge and keep going, there are beautiful cliffs on the other side, and gorgeous walks either east or out to sea along a narrow headland, where you might be sharing the views up the west coast of Unst with only curious seals.
Read about more about Shetland’s best beaches
Go forest bathing at Kergord
It’s tempting but not correct to say that Shetland has no trees. It just doesn’t have many. But the forest at Kergord, near Weisdale in the centre of the Mainland, makes a legitimately soothing spot for forest bathing, or shinrin-yokuas its Japanese creators call it. The forest is mostly made up of Sitka spruce and Japanese larch trees, which were planted by estate owner George Munro between 1913 and 1920. It’s only nine acres of woodland, but inside it feels like being deep in the forest, with the muffled sound of birds and the tinkling stream as you walk up towards the rope swing at the top of the hill.
Find out more on walking in Weisdale
Do the South Mainland beach cruise
Shetland’s South Mainland is unfairly blessed when it comes to great sandy beaches, and the drive from Bigton to Scousburgh on the way to Sumburgh Head is one of the prettiest coastal routes in Shetland – ideal for stuffing wetsuits and picnics into the car. From the south, start with Quendale, a beautiful arc of yellow sand which is great for swimming and occasionally surfing in, with cliff-jumping spots out on the headland. Then head north to the Peerie Voe at Spiggie, another classic sandy bay, which looks especially beautiful as you drive past, on the way to St Ninians Ayre. This hourglass-shaped sandy tombolo is one of the most beautiful of its kind in the UK, leading to a beautiful island where a Pictish treasure trove was discovered in 1958. Watching the sun set as the tide comes in from either side, causing the sand to gradually disappear, is a quintessential Shetland experience.
Read more about the St Ninians Circular Walk
Get a dose of Iron Age at the Ness of Burgi
For a sense of the Iron Age in the South Mainland, people often head straight for the ancient settlement at Jarlshof, one of the UK’s most remarkable archeological sites, where some of the remains date back to 2,500BC. But many miss the Ness of Burgi, a ruined Iron Age stone blockhouse reached via a beautiful rocky path across a narrow peninsula, with views across the water to Sumburgh Head and back along the peninsula to Quendale.
Find more Shetland hidden gems
Have a picnic on a cliff edge at Silwick
The west side of Shetland is full of beautiful hidden spots, but one of our favourites is Silwick. Here, the road ends and you walk across an unassuming little field, with no sense of what’s to come: a steep cliff edge overlooking some of Shetland’s most dramatic stacks, especially if you walk west round the cliff edge. It’s a great spot for a picnic, watching the sun set and the birds springing like boomerangs from the cliff, strangely peaceful as the water crashes on the strangely desolate rocks below.
Read more on Shetland’s best cliff-walking
Get high on Bressay
Strangely, the little island of Bressay often gets overlooked, partly because it’s just a little ferry across the water from the centre of Lerwick. But there’s lots to explore: from the lighthouse on its southwestern corner to the puffin-rich cliffs at Ord, in the southeastern corner, to the wild walks and seabird-rich cliffs on the eastern side, with views across to the steep cliffs and gannets of Noss. And, if Bressay’s a sort of Shetland in microcosm, it’s also one of the best places to get a sense of the whole archipelago, especially on a clear day. At 258 metres, the Ward of Bressay offers views all the way across to Foula on the west side, to the white orb of Unst’s Saxa Vord radar station in the north, and south beyond Sumburgh Head all the way to Fair Isle. It’s an old track to the top of the hill, so unless you’re in a sturdy vehicle, we’d recommend it as a walk.
Read more about Bressay
Play Britain’s northernmost golf course
The 18-hole golf course on Whalsay, built by local volunteers, is the northernmost golf course in the UK. More importantly, it’s also a beautiful place for a round, with sea on both sides and some treacherous shots, including a second across a gap in the cliffs to the green on the 16th. Distractions include spotting seals and the occasional orca, or stopping play for planes landing on the Whalsay airstrip. But the course is open 24 hours, so if you play late into the simmer dim, there’s little chance of taking out a charter plane with your nine iron.
Read more about golfing in Shetland
Ramble to another planet at Lang Ayre
In the endless debate around Shetland’s most spectacular beach, there are many who will plump for the otherworldly Lang Ayre (Long Beach) in Northmavine. It’s reached via a nine-mile circular hike over Ronas Hill, the highest point in Shetland at 284 metres, passing geocaches, cairns and Neolithic axe factories. The long reddish pebble beach is backed by striated cliffs and rock formations that create a surreal pop against the blue sea. Especially for those who’ve spent months under lockdown, it might feel like you’ve left Shetland and arrived on Mars.
Read writer Tom Morton’s argument for Lang Ayre as one of the world’s best beaches
Responsible travel within Shetland
Please be aware that although all of these recommended walks and hikes are on public footpaths, many of them run across private land. We ask that everyone remain responsible and respectful of other people's property and stick to the designated footpaths.
If you have to use gates or stiles, use gloves or hand sanitiser. If a gate is closed when you find it remember to close it securely behind you – after all, they're there for a reason and particularly important for the safeguarding of livestock.
And, it goes without saying, do not light fires or BBQs on farmland or open moorland. Dog owners must keep their dogs on leads at all times and please remember to take all your litter home with you.
For more information on enjoying the Shetland coasts and countryside responsibly, please see the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
With more Shetlanders travelling out and about, as well as visitors from the Scottish mainland and beyond, it's also vitally important to continue to adhere to social distancing rules and the Scottish government guidelines on coronavirus. If you have any symptoms at all, please stay at home and do not travel.