Although there are now fewer than 100 inhabitants in Fetlar, the social life of the island is varied and visitors are always welcome at local gatherings.

Since Norse times Fetlar's been known as the 'Garden of Shetland'.

Strolling around the varied landscapes of this beautiful island, visitors can trace human settlements from the Stone Age, through the Picts and the Norse, to the 19th century when the laird evicted whole townships of people to make room for sheep. The Clearances left gloomy ruins and empty lands where hundreds of people once scraped a living. But this man-made wilderness contains a rich variety of ancient sites, exquisite flowers and perfect habitat for ground nesting birds.

The name Fetlar means 'the island of the fat land' in Old Norse and its rich grazings and fertile soils were a prime attraction even before the Vikings colonised it 1,200 years ago. Local tradition says Gruting in Fetlar was the site of the first Norse landing in Shetland - although Haroldswick in Unst may dispute this! What is certain is that Fetlar has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years.

The Fetlar Interpretive Centre and museum at the Beach of Houbie is an essential part of a visit to the island, open daily from May to the end of September. Here visitors can enjoy:

  • Informative displays and multi-media presentations on the birds and other wildlife, wild flowers and the island's geology, archaeology and history.
  • Visitors can browse albums of old photographs, listen to recordings of local history, folklore and music, and see film of the island dating back to the 1930s.
  • Information is also available in French, German and Italian. The centre includes displays on Brough Lodge and Leagarth House.

There is also a cafe in Fetlar based at the local shop, which serves soups and light meals as well as a range of snacks and tasty homebakes, with vegetarian options available.

Funzie's Fabulous Phalaropes

Fetlar is the summer home of one of Britain's rarest breeding birds, the Red Necked Phalarope, a remarkably tame, brightly-coloured bird which in June and July can be seen at very close quarters from the RSPB hide at the Mires of Funzie (pronounced 'Finnie') and as they feed along the shores of the Loch of Funzie.

For almost 20 years the RSPB, local crofters, landowners and Scottish Natural Heritage have co-operated in a successful programme to maintain and improve the breeding grounds of this delightful little bird. As a result, although Red Necked Phalaropes have drastically declined throughout Britain and Ireland, the Fetlar population is recovering, with 30-40 pairs (90% of the UK population) breeding on the island.

Fetlar is extremely rich in wildlife: One of Britain's rarest birds, the delightfully tame Red-necked Phalarope, nests here.

...And Other Rarities

About 80 pairs of Whimbrel (15% of the UK breeding population) also nest in Fetlar. Whimbrels are very similar to their larger cousins, the Curlews, but have a pale stripe through the centre of the crown and a characteristic and evocative call. A good place to see them is along the road to the airstrip. Fetlar was once home to Britain's only pair of breeding Snowy Owls. Recorded in 1967 by the late Bobby Tulloch, they bred successfully each year until 1975.

Other Fetlar bird life includes Red-Throated Diver, Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Eider Duck, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Arctic Tern and Oystercatchers. Storm Petrels and Manx Shearwaters are usually around the Wick of Tresta in the late summer evenings and early mornings, while Fulmars, Black Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Shags and Puffins can be seen all around the coast.

Nowhere in Shetland are the summer wildflowers more luxuriant than in the rich soils of Fetlar. From April to August a succession of blooms brightens the landscape. The rarer varieties include the Frog Orchid, Creeping Willow, Water Aven, Knotted Pearlwort and Lesser Twayblade.

In the summertime a continuous stream of seabirds passes Fetlar through Colgrave Sound, on the way to and from the feeding grounds.
The ferry ride from Gutcher or Belmont is a wonderful experience in itself. As well as the seabirds en route you'll pass close to the uninhabited islands of Linga and Sound Gruney.

Getting to Fetlar

Two ferry crossings are involved in travelling from the Shetland Mainland to Fetlar. Although ferries to Fetlar are less frequent than those serving Yell and Unst, it’s easy to get to the island.

  1. On the Shetland Mainland, follow the A968 road to Toft;
  2. Take the car ferry across Yell Sound from Toft to Ulsta on the island of Yell; the crossing takes 20 minutes.
  3. Drive north across Yell to Gutcher; allow 25 minutes without stops.
  4. Take the car ferry from Gutcher to Hamar’s Ness on Fetlar; this crossing takes 30 minutes.

If you are already on Unst, you can travel to Fetlar from there, too. Whether travelling from Yell or Unst, you need to find departures in the timetable that are marked H (for Hamars Ness).

The ferries between the Mainland and Yell run every hour or half hour during the day and evening. Those between Yell and Fetlar are less frequent. You can view timetables for both ferries here. It’s important to note that all the times shown are departure times.

It’s not always essential to book these ferries in advance but we recommend that you do. The telephone number for the booking office is shown in a panel on the timetable; you’ll be asked where you’re going, the sailing you want to use, your name and your car registration number. You pay on the ferry on the outward journey only.

If you have more time, there are accommodation options on Fetlar and it would be worth spending more time here to walk around the island and explore the fascinating flora and fauna.

What next?

  • Visit Fetlar's official website
  • Visit the Fetlar Interpretive Centre's website
  • Download a Shetland Heritage leaflet about Fetlar (.pdf)
  • Check out the Fetlar Aerial Photography website for videos and pictures from this beautiful island
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