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By Toby SkinnerApril 2nd 2021

With almost 1,700 miles of geologically diverse coastline, from stacks to caves and remote beaches, Shetland is a paradise for kayaking. Angus Nicol, who runs the Sea Kayak Shetland tour company, explains some of its best spots.

“Shetland isn’t just one of the best places in the UK or Europe to kayak,” says Angus Nicol. “It’s one of the best places in the world. We have people who come to Shetland just for a day of kayaking. They often say that in other places they’d paddle all day just to see the kind of cave we see every five minutes here.”

Angus runs Sea Kayak Shetland with his wife Wendy and daughters Rosalind and Catriona. They launched the business 12 years ago, not long after discovering the sport and being hooked. They now run tailor-made tours for all levels, almost always with two guides so that they can give tips on technique as well as facts about the local wildlife, culture and landscape, which looks very different from the sea.

“The beauty of our trips is that you never know what you’ll see,” says Angus. “There’s so much wildlife in Shetland, and every day is different.”

Here, he picks out five of his favourite kayak spots in Shetland.

Ronas Voe, Northmavine

“Ronas Voe, near the northern end of the Shetland Mainland, kind of has it all, and is really sheltered if there’s a southerly wind. It’s got so many stacks, cracks, tunnels and caves, and these imposing red granite cliffs that have a real sense of grandeur. Like most of Shetland, you never know what wildlife you’ll see. Puffins breed out there in the early summer, and you’ll often see otters as well as the many seals, who are so used to us being there. I’ve seen osprey out there, which is quite exciting, and as you kayak through the tunnels, you’ll often see sea anemones and sea sponges through the clear water.”

Gulberwick to Quarff, South Mainland

“This is one we do a lot of tours to. It’s less well-known among kayakers than the island of Papa Stour, off the west coast, where the 300-metre Hol o Bordie is said to be the fourth longest sea tunnel in the world. But this trip is more accessible from Lerwick and has a lot of similar features, with lots of good long caves that you need a torch for. You often get this beautiful light bouncing off the water in the caves, and see puffins and guillemots flying under the high sea cliffs.”

Under Saxa Vord, Unst

“This trip tends to be for more experienced kayakers, but it has amazing geological drama, with gorgeous coloured rocks and quartz cliffs riddled with caves and tunnels. You can kayak all the way out to the Muckle Flugga lighthouse, close to the northernmost point in the UK, with gannets circling around you. It’s an amazing spot.”

Trondra, Burra

“This part of Burra is great for night paddles through the caves, where we’ll often see the ‘mareel’, the Shetland word for the phosphorescence that glows in the water when you stir it with your paddle. Some people find it claustrophobic in caves, but when you get that it can be completely magical.”

Bridge End to Scalloway

“This is one of the best paddles to do for a sense of history and culture. You might see otters and terns and Arctic skuas along the beautiful coastline here, but it’s also about Shetland life. When we do tours here, we’ll point out the cattle farms at Bridge End, as well as the salmon farms and mussel ropes on the way to Scalloway. We’ll point out the wooden wreck that appears in the opening credits of the Shetland TV series, and Scalloway Castle, home to the notorious Earl Patrick Stewart, who used forced labour to build the castle.”

And the rest

“Really, the beauty of Shetland is that the whole coastline is waiting to be explored. There are fabulous spots to kayak everywhere, including The Knab just on the edge of Lerwick, where there are these dramatic tunnels through the cliffs that you wouldn’t know were there. There’s brilliant kayaking around the red cliffs of Muckle Roe, near Brae, and also between Aith and Voe, where if the wind is right you can ride the waves.”

For more information and to book a kayaking tour, see seakayakshetland.co.uk