By Adam CivicoNovember 1st 2021

Known as the “island above all others” Unst has set its sights even higher – thanks to a new community project celebrating the skies over the island.

As far north as you can go in the UK, Unst can legitimately claim to be the "top" Scottish destination for skywatching.

From the northern tip of the island there is nothing but a vast expanse of ocean between Unst and Arctic Circle – and whatever the season there are always spectacular skies.

Some may argue that those skies come to life most during the winter months. That's understandable.

Unst's dark nights make it an ideal location for marvelling at the Milky Way or, if you are lucky, witnessing one of nature's most spectacular displays – the Northern Lights. While in the summer you can experience stunning cloud formations and the 'simmer dim', when the sun barely dips before rising again.

The magnifence of the skies over Unst is not lost on those who live there, which is why Wild Skies Shetland was formed in 2021. It is a group run by volunteeers who want to encourage visitors to the isle to find inspiration in the skies above them.

The group's first event was a photographic exhibition at the Unst Heritage Centre featuring 10 stunning images of the skies.

All were taken by Shetland-based photographers and each shot was taken in the isles, featuring everything from cloudscapes, the Northern Lights (known locally as the Mirrie Dancers), the Milky Way itself and the atmospheric phenomenon known as “Steve” – Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

The group was also active in June when there was a partial solar eclipse and their "eclipse packs" featured on BBC Radio 4's World at One.

Sky Trail

Wild Skies Shetland is also developing a Sky Trail with benches, listening posts and viewing shelters located across the islands.

There will be outposts at Sumburgh Airport, the NorthLink ferry terminal in Lerwick and at Shetland Islands Council ferry terminals at Toft and Gutcher.

Most of the sites will be in Unst, with each having a different theme. One at Hermaness will provide information on the northern lights and the site at the replica Viking galley Skidbladner will contain details of how the Vikings saw the sky and used it to navigate.

Other posts will be themed on the Moon and another on Shetland dialect terms for things you may see in the skies over the isles.

Planetary Trail

While in Unst make sure you enjoy the new Planetary Trail, which has been installed at Saxa Vord ­– close to where Shetland Space Centre is planning to launch its first rockets next spring.

Developed with support from the Institute of Physics in Scotland, the trail winds its way along a picturesque route with information boards along the way.

But as well as walking through spectacular landscapes the trail will also take visitors on a “walk across the solar system”.

Each of the planets of the Milky Way has its own board with each spaced proportionately along the Saxa Vord peninsula to represent its position in relation to the other planets and each is decorated with artwork completed by the Unst community.

As well as the planets there are boards focusing on other astral features including the asteroid belt and one asteroid in particular – named Unst.

Yes, there really is a 2km diameter mini planet named after the most northerly inhabited island in the UK.

And it is due to become a “star” … Wild Skies Shetland has created a film about the asteroid.

All in all, there really is something out of this world going on in Unst.

Discover more about Unst and plans for a spaceport there.