Dale of Walls, West Mainland
In contrast to Meal, the beach at Dale of Walls is normally deserted. Although it can readily be reached by car, with just a short walk down to the shore, it feels a remote place. Exposed to the full force of the incoming Atlantic breakers, the pebbles have been piled metres high by the sea. There is fine, well-signposted walking in the area. In summer, a wander up the burn that flows to the beach will reveal banks rich in wild flowers. For the more adventurous and properly-equipped, a challenging walk leads over the hill and along a spectacular coast to the dramatic Deep Dale, a distance of about three kilometres. From there, a steep climb of about another two kilometres will take you to the top of Sandness Hill. Dale of Walls is a place that’s usually guaranteed to blow any cobwebs away. However, on a calm day it’s a perfect place to enjoy real peace, perhaps in the company of seals or even an otter.
The beach at Fethaland, in the far north of the district of Northmavine, has powerful historical associations. Today, this is one of the remoter corners of Shetland,
reached on foot by a track from Isbister, 3 kilometres to the south. During the 19th century, though, it was the scene of intense activity. It was from here – and other places like it – that fishermen set out on perilous expeditions to catch the fish that paid their rent. They used ‘sixareens’, six-oared boats, and would search for cod, ling or other species fifty miles or more offshore. Some trips ended in tragedy, the boats being overwhelmed by sudden squalls. Fethaland was one of the largest of Shetland’s summer ‘fishing stations’, with the remains of around twenty of the booths clearly visible; at times, perhaps 400 fishermen and shore workers would have made a hard living here. Those exploring the area will also find evidence of much earlier inhabitants in the form of the remains of a broch, other prehistoric structures and soapstone workings. All of this makes for a fascinating walk.
The beautiful sandy beach below the hamlet of Tresta also holds a Seaside Award. Stretching for almost a kilometre, it faces south-east over the Wick of Tresta and gains good shelter from the promontory of Lamb Hoga to the south. It’s one of a number of Shetland beaches backed by a small loch, in this case Papil Water. An ancient church is believed to have stood here, although its remains have proved hard to discern: however, names such as Papil or Papa do indicate the presence of priests or monks. Today, local people take great pride in the beach and the links behind it, which are the setting for the annual Fetlar Foy, a June weekend filled with music, games, food and entertainment. There’s a great deal more to explore in Fetlar: an RSPB reserve is home to the tiny Red-necked Phalaropes that fly thousands of miles to breed here each Spring. The island has an excellent, small interpretive centre. There are abundant archaeological remains and some interesting, more recent buildings including Brough Lodge, due for restoration.