Yell, the largest of Shetland's North Isles (83 square miles/212km²), is one of the best places in Europe to see skuas, red-throated divers and otters.

Crofting townships fringe Yell's long and varied coastline but much of the island is uninhabited moorland, known as 'da Wilds o' Yell'. There are nationally important nature reserves such as the RSPB's Lumbister, the Yell Sound islands and the island of Hascosay. But the whole area teems with wildlife, especially during the summer, so there's always something to delight birdwatchers, hill walkers or casual strollers. You never know when a Whimbrel, a Red-throated Diver, Golden Plover, Common Seal or Otter may put in an unscheduled appearance - and that's just while you're still sitting in your car.

Peter Guy’s series of books entitled Walking the Coast of Shetland are classics - and essential companions - as you explore Yell and other islands. South of Mid Yell, at Otterswick, a short walk takes you to the figurehead known as 'Da White Wife' from the 1924 wreck of the 'Bohus', a German sailing vessel.

Yell offers some lovely coastal walks and, thanks to the locally-based author and rambler Peter Guy, it's exceptionally well-documented.

On the road from Burravoe to Ulsta a track leads north through Arisdale to the Catalina Memorial, commemorating the crew of an RAF flying boat which crashed in the hills during the Second World War. At the other end of the island, the Gloup Memorial commemorates 58 fishermen drowned when disaster struck the Haaf fishing on the night of July 21st 1881.

The Old Haa museum and heritage centre at Burravoe is one of the best of its kind. A fascinating permanent exhibition on the history and folklore of Yell is complemented by annual displays on different local themes, a gallery showing the work of local professional and amateur artists, a craft shop and a home-bakes café in the style of a traditional croft house interior.

Amenities in Yell

  • Leisure centre and heated indoor swimming pool that welcome visitors.
  • There are well-stocked shops
  • Excellent bed-and breakfast establishments
  • Yell is also home to two Keep Scotland Beautiful Seaside Award beaches; Breckon (since 2009) and West Sandwick (since 2011).


Yell has especially desirable 'real estate' for wandering families of Otters because there's plenty of low-lying peaty shoreline where they can excavate holts with good fresh water supplies. These are the normal European river otters (Lutra lutra), not Pacific Sea Otters, and in Shetland they catch most of their fish in salt water - so after each hunt they must rinse their fur in fresh water to keep its insulating properties.

Shetland is one of the best places in Europe to spot otters.

With luck and binoculars, you may spot Harbour Porpoises some distance offshore or, less frequently, dolphins and Killer Whales, particularly in Bluemull Sound and Yell Sound. Local ferrymen often keep notes of cetacean sightings and are pleased to share information with passengers if you ask what they've seen today.

Yell was home to a famous Shetland naturalist, musician and author, the late Bobby Tulloch, the RSPB representative here for many years. As well as logging rarities like Fetlar's Snowy Owl, Bobby did much to publicise Shetland's treasure house of commoner birds, animals and plants worldwide. At the Old Haa there's a special section devoted to Bobby Tulloch's wonderful collection of wildlife photographs, most of them taken in his native island.

We really enjoyed staying in Yell. It was a really good holiday, digging up family roots as well as sightseeing and walking.

Getting There

A car ferry service operates from Toft on the Mainland to Ulsta in Yell. The crossing takes 20 minutes and ferries run regularly throughout the day. It is very possible to make a day trip to Yell or there is accommodation should you like to spend a few days exploring this beautiful island. From Yell you can take the car ferry onwards to Unst and/or Fetlar.

  • Ferry timetables can be viewed here, booking is advised.
  • It is also possible to visit Yell using the local bus service.

What next?

  • Download a Shetland Heritage leaflet about Yell (.pdf)
  • Visit the Old Haa Museum, and have a stop off in their tearoom
  • View the art and high-end craft on exhibition in Yell at The Shetland Gallery
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