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 small charity 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. In 2024, it will go on display for the fourth year, still hosted by the heritage centre.

All the photos were taken by Shetland-based photographers, 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.

Sky Trail

Wild Skies Shetland has now developed a 13 stop Sky Trail with audio benches, listening posts and information panels located in beautiful sites across Unst.

All of the sites are in Unst, with each having a different theme. The one at Hermaness, on the side of the new NatureScot interpretation centre, provides information on storms and wild weather, being the nearest site to the iconic Muckle Flugga lighthouse. The site at the replica Viking galley Skidbladner tells how the Vikings navigated using the stars.

Other sites speak about the dramatic difference in day length in summer and winter, the Northern Lights, the influence of the moon and the tide and many play local Shetland tunes, or speak to you in the Shetland dialect.

Planetary Trail

While in Unst make sure you enjoy the Planetary Trail (April-September), which runs along the side of Saxa Vord. You can walk the whole solar system in less that half an hour – that’s faster than the speed of light!

The planets have all been designed by Unst residents and friends of Unst. Starting at the Sun (designed and made by Early Years at the Baltasound School) you can walk to Pluto, passing a knitted Mercury and Neptune made of glass.The planets are all positioned at relative distances from each other, just as they are in space.

It’s an amazing walk, with unrivalled views across Burrafirth and onwards towards Muckle Flugga.

The planetary trail was developed with support from the Institute of Physics in Scotland. As well as planets there is one board celebrating a very special asteroid – an asteroid named Unst. Yes, asteroid 394445 Unst is orbitting in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

You can also watch a film Wild Skies made about this asteroid, and an imagined visit to the place with which it shares its name, meeting a variety of Unst characters along the way.

The Wild Skies Shetland Sky Trail was named the winner in the 2023 SURF awards (Scotland’s Regeneration Forum) in the Creative Regeneration category. This was in recognition of the multi media trail and it makes it a must for all visitors to the island.

You will be very welcome to the Island Above All Others!

This blog post was updated in April 2024 and the information is correct as of 15th April 2024.

Discover more about Unst and plans for a spaceport there.