By Promote ShetlandAugust 5th 2021

Papa Stour has the smallest population of Shetland’s inhabited islands with just a handful of permanent residents. While it may be lacking in people, it’s abundant in other riches, including varied wildlife and spectacular coastal scenery, as local lass and influencer Shetland Islands with Leah finds out.

In the third of her island hopping adventures this summer, Leah visited Papa Stour, a rugged and impressive island that lies west of the Shetland Mainland.

Here are her top tips if you’re planning a visit to Papa Stour…

1. Enjoy the facilities at the ferry

Papa Stour is a 35 minute ferry journey from West Burrafirth and visiting the island really feels like you’re stepping into a peaceful haven. There’s one self-catering property you can book to stay for a few days, otherwise it’s the ideal place to visit for a day trip.

To make a full day of it in the summer months, it’s best to go into Papa on a Friday or Saturday, when you can catch the 9am ferry in and then the 18.55 ferry back out again. See the SIC ferry timetable for up to date sailing information. The island doesn’t have a shop so if you are going in for the day, you’ll need to bring your own refreshments. That being said, there’s excellent facilities at the ferry terminal, including information about the island, toilets and a kettle if you want to make a hot brew.

2. Step back in time

The name Papa Stour comes from Papey Stóra in Old Norse, and means the big island of priests, referring to the Celtic missionary priests that once lived there. The island was a strategic outpost for the Norsemen and is rich with archaeology and history from that time.

One of the first places I came across when I got to the isle was the partial reconstruction of a stofa, a Scandinavian building made from logs where wealthier Norse farmers lived centuries ago. The reconstruction, at Da Biggins, is on the site of an original stofa belonging to Duke Hakon Hakonsson of Norway. It’s fascinating to think of all the people who used to live here and how prosperous the island must once have been.

3. Visit the kirk

While in the isle, it’s also worth popping into the Papa Stour Kirk and visiting the Commonwealth War Grave. Again, you’ll find out lots of interesting history about the island here and see a beautiful stained glass window designed by Victor Noble Rainbird in 1921.

The Papa Stour History & Community Group bought the kirk from the Church of Scotland in 2016 and are in the process of restoring it so that it can continue as a church but also as a community and visitor centre. It’s heartening to know the community are working together to preserve an important piece of the island’s history and give it new lease of life for the future.

Visiting Papa Stour
  • Ferries to Papa Stour leave from West Burrafirth. Note that they don’t run every day, so see the SIC ferry timetable for booking information.
  • There’s no shop on Papa Stour, so remember to take your own supplies for the duration of your trip.
  • For more things to see and do, see the Papa Stour History & Community Group website.

4. Be wowed by the coastline

As someone who loves nothing more than an invigorating hike, Papa Stour is just wonderful, particularly if you really just want to get away from it all and enjoy complete isolation. The west coast of the island is especially stunning with phenomenal cliffs, stacks and caves.

One of the best-known caves is Kirstan’s (or Christie’s) Hole, which is a huge tunnel under the coastline. You can see the cave from above by looking through a hole in the top of the cliff. The collapse of a small loch into the roof of the cave happened in 1981. It really is quite spectacular; probably even more so if you’re lucky enough to access the cave by boat.

The nice thing about walking around Papa is that even though there are cliffs, the ground itself is relatively flat and hard, making it easy to walk on. Just remember not to go too near any cliff edges!

5. Savour the experience

There are lots of places in Shetland where you can get off the beaten track but there’s something special about Papa Stour where you feel that you’re really alone and at one with nature.

The day I went to Papa, I was walking along the coastline when I chanced upon an otter going about its business. I sat and watched it for about three minutes before it scampered. Then, just 10 minutes later I looked out to sea and saw a pod of big dolphins gliding through the water. It really was magical. You feel really privileged to be able to see wildlife in its natural habitat. It’s breath-taking.

See more of Leah’s adventures in Papa Stour adventures on our Instagram page. Simply click on Leah: Papa Stour in our highlights. To keep up to date with Leah's latest travels around Shetland, follow her at Shetland Islands With Leah.

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