Shetland UNESCO Global Geopark

We’ve compiled a list of places you can visit to discover more about the history of Shetland’s magnificent foundations…

Shetland has UNESCO Global Geopark status, meaning that it has an outstanding geological heritage. Beneath your feet are some of Britain’s oldest rocks, an ancient foundation formed by fire, water, wind and ice. The scenery around you veils a powerful story of mighty collisions, violent eruptions and continual change.

The geology of our islands is unusually diverse and the landscapes reveal just about every geological phenomenon ever known, as demonstrated at these spectacular sites.

North Mainland

Ronas Hill

If you’re ready for a good hike climb to Shetland’s highest point (450m) – a broad dome of stony granite tundra. Features found at the top of Ronas Hill are typical of an Arctic environment – the granite was shattered by the constant freezing and thawing of water.

Access is from Collafirth Hill. Descend by the same route.

Duration: 4-hour walk

Terrain: Rough ground, moderate climb and steep in places

Getting there: Take the A970 north past Brae and Mavis Grind to Northmavine. Head north through Northmavine. Take a right, following signs to Collafirth and North Roe. Park at the masts at the top of Collafirth Hill — look out for unmarked track road off to left about 6 miles (9.5km) from the junction, before the pier and small marina.

Eshaness

Around 350 to 400 million years ago Eshaness was a barren desert that volcanoes erupted on to. Today Eshaness offers Shetland’s most dramatic coastal scenery and is the best section through the flank of a volcano in Britain. Ice ages and the relentless power of the ocean have since shaped this spectacular landscape. Look out for signs of lava and volcanic bombs as you go.

Start your walk at Eshaness Lighthouse, and head north along the coast. Routes are marked on a panel next to the car park. For more information, explore the Northmavine Volcano Trail.

Duration: 2-4-hour walk

Terrain: Moderate ground and stiles to cross

Getting there: Take the A970 north past Brae and Mavis Grind to Northmavine. Follow signposts to Hillswick (A970). At Hillswick turn right towards Eshaness (B9078). After 5 miles (8km) take the junction signposted ‘Lighthouse’, and park at end of road.

Please note: All directions are given as if driving from Lerwick. Many roads are single track – please use passing places provided.

Back o Ollaberry

To explore enormous earth movements that happened 100 to 160 million years ago, head to the beach at the Back o Ollaberry. Walk over a massive fault line, part of the Great Glen Fault, that stretches as far as the west coast of Scotland. The rocks on one side of the fault have slid more than 100km past those on the other side.

Walk around the churchyard then follow coastline until you reach an interpretive panel. From the panel, follow the coast until you reach a track road, which leads back to church.

Duration: 1-hour walk

Terrain: Moderate ground and stiles to cross

Getting there: Take the A970 north past Brae and Mavis Grind to Northmavine. Head north through Northmavine and take a right to Ollaberry (B9079). Drive through Ollaberry. Turn right at post office, then an immediate left to church. Park next to church and churchyard.

West Mainland

Wormadale

If you’re heading west, stop and enjoy the stunning view of voes and small islands at Wormadale. You are, in fact, looking at a flood. Thousands of years of rain has created the valleys and rounded hills here at Weisdale. Under the water is a vast landscape last exposed 10,000 years ago, before sea levels rose at the end of the last glaciation. Rainwater has slowly dissolved bands of soft limestone, leaving more resistant rocks standing in high ridges.

Duration: 10-minute visit

Getting there: Take the A970 north out of Lerwick. At Tingwall, take the A971 signposted to Walls and Sandness. There’s a parking area and viewpoint approximately 2 miles (3 km) from the junction.

North Isles

Gloup Voe

The valley at the narrow sea inlet of Gloup Voe in Yell was carved 10,000 years ago by a huge river of melt-water flowing underneath the glacier. When you look at the narrow voe it’s surreal to think the melt-water alone formed the valley; you can only imagine how immense the ice sheet was.

For the best views, walk from the memorial to the head of the voe.

Duration: 1-hour walk

Terrain: Moderate ground.

Getting there: Take the A970 north. At Voe turn right onto the A968 to Toft. Take the Yell ferry from Toft to Ulsta ferry terminal. Follow the A968 to Gutcher. Turn left onto B9083, signposted to Gloup Fisherman’s Memorial. At Gloup, turn right to Kirks, park at the Fisherman’s Memorial.

Hagdale Chromite Quarry

Shetland’s most northerly island Unst is made from a section of ocean floor. When continents collided 430 to 500 million years ago slices of ocean floor were thrust up above sea level, and minerals like chromite became exposed. Hagdale was once the biggest chromite quarry in the country and is also home to the only surviving horse-driven crushing circle.

To view the quarry, walk down to the bottom of the track road.

Duration: 1-hour visit

Terrain: Uneven ground, moderate slope in places

Getting there: Take the A970 north. At Voe turn right onto the A968 to Toft. Take the Yell ferry from Toft to Ulsta ferry terminal and then the A968 to Gutcher. Take the Bluemull Sound ferry from Gutcher to Belmont. From Belmont follow signs for Baltasound and Haroldswick. After Baltasound, go past Littlehamar junction and take the first right after the garage (signposted to Hagdale Horse Mill). Park at the gate.

Funzie

At Funzie beach on the island of Fetlar you will discover ancient cobbles set into the cliffs which were squashed and stretched under immense heat and pressure 400 million years ago. The cobbles were squashed when a section of ocean crust was thrust upwards over continental rocks.

Duration: 30-minute visit

Getting there: Take the A970 north. At Voe turn right onto the A968 to Toft. Take the Yell ferry from Toft to Ulsta ferry terminal and then the A968 to Gutcher. Then take the Bluemull Sound ferry from Gutcher to Hamars Ness. Follow the B9088 to Funzie, and park at the end of the road next to beach.

To ensure you get the most from your visit:

Be safe

  • Shetland weather can change very quickly! Always take warm and waterproof clothing. Some walks are unsuitable for poor weather conditions.
  • Be careful at cliff edges.
  • Be responsible for your own actions.

Be prepared

  • Not all areas of Shetland have a shop or a fuel station — check relevant area leaflets.
  • At peak times North Isles ferries can be busy, booking is recommended.
  • Off-road wheelchairs available from Disability Shetland. Booking essential.
  • Allow plenty of time for your route.

Be considerate

  • Respect people’s privacy.
  • Leave all gates as you find them.
  • Use a path or track if there is one.
  • Keep your dog under control and dispose of dog dirt.
  • Leave the environment as you found it – do not leave litter, or pick flowers.
  • Be careful not to disturb wildlife or livestock.

South Mainland

St Ninian’s Isle

The beach at St Ninian’s Isle is not to be missed. This spectacular sand tombolo is the best of its kind in Britain. We’re not going to say any more; go and see for yourself!

Duration: 1-hour visit

Terrain: Sandy beach

Getting there: Head south on the A970, turn off right on to the B9122 towards Bigton. Follow signs to St Ninian’s Isle, a single-track road leads to a car park at the beach.

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