In this tour, we cover a lot of ground, so before you set off, it might be a good idea to check the fuel tank before you leave!
To begin the adventure, leave Lerwick via the north and Holmsgarth Road, passing NorthLink Ferry Terminal and Mair's Pier. Many of the islands' fleet of pelagic and whitefish boats are berthed here. Lerwick's new fish market opened here in 2020 – you may have visited the old fish market during the Lerwick Tour. Join the A970 and follow the signs towards Hillswick.
Leaving Lerwick, you will pass an 18-hole golf course at Dale. This golf course was funded by the oil companies who invested in North Sea oil and constructed the Oil Terminal at Sullom Voe in the 1970s – but more about that later in the tour.
From here, follow the road north for 12 miles until you reach Sandwater Junction, leading to Kergord and Weisdale (on the junction with the B9075) at Sandwater House.
The A970 is the main artery road that runs north to south through Shetland. The house sits alone at Sandwater junction and is known locally as the Halfway House. Please note that this is a private residence, and visitors should not trespass or intrude on the owner's privacy. This house was one of the filming locations during series three of the show. You may remember it as the place where the peculiar artist had a stash of dead animals in his freezer!
Interestingly, the house has always been an important waymarker in times past. Locally, everyone knows it as a kind of landmark – from here, you are pretty much in the middle of Shetland and, one mile north, is the spot furthest from the sea anywhere in the isles – three miles from the sea. In Shetland, you are never more than about a mile and a half from the sea, so it's little wonder that Shetlanders are said to have saat in da blöd [salt in the blood].
The Halfway House was used as a coaching inn, where tired and weary travellers and their horses could bed down and stable their animals for the night. This was also an important place for crofters and farmers – the annual livestock roup [auction] was held in the field to the right of Sandwater that is now a new access road.
This area here is an expanse of peatland – peatlands make up 50 % of the Shetland's landscape. It's hard to imagine a time when Shetland wasn't cloaked in a blanket of peat moor, but if you were to have landed here in Neolithic times – some 5,000 years ago – the landscape would have been very different. With a more temperate climate and lower sea levels, much of Shetland was made up of reasonably good agricultural land blanketed in a covering of low-growing hazel, birch and willow. The introduction of grazing animals and a deterioration in the climate – combined with rising sea levels – put pressure on populations. By the Iron Age, much of Shetland's landscape was covered in blanket peat moor.
Continuing north along this stretch of road – known locally as Da Lang Kames – you will pass the loch of Petta Water. This is an area high in 'trow activity'. Trows are a feature of Shetland folklore. They are creatures, similar to humans but smaller and uglier, who live in the hills – particularly the heathery peatlands inland from the sea – such as here! They would only come out at night to work mischief in the human world. If a trow were to get caught out by the rising sun, it would turn to stone before it could get back to its underground layer. Many of Shetland's standing stones are said to be petrified trows.
Continue along the road for a few more miles until you reach the small village of Voe, a picturesque community tucked into the end of a long fjord-like voe, sheltered from the worst of the weather.
Take the B9071 towards Lower Voe. At the pier, park up and have a wander around to stretch your legs. The Sail Loft, now a self-catering camping booth, was used as a filming location in series one. This was where student archaeologist Hattie lived – before she was murdered, of course. It was also used in series three.
The area around Lower Voe is culturally important to Shetland's past. This was where Adie's of Voe was based throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Think of Adie's like a great big shopping complex – the family-run business had everything from general grocers to a weaving factory selling cloths to all the big fashion houses. There was a fish curing station and associated coopers – and a bakery was established in the First World War to service the 10th Cruiser Squadron based in the area. The bakery today still produces local bread throughout the isles. Be sure to pick up a Voe bannock or a Voe pie on your travels – you won't regret it!
Adie's also produced knitwear that was shipped all over the world. Most famously, the jumpers worn by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay when they became the first people to conquer Mount Everest in 1953 – if that's not a sign of quality, I'm not sure what is.
Head back towards the main A970, turning left towards Upper Voe. Follow the road for a quarter of a mile before turning right on to the A968 towards Toft and Sullom Voe. Drive 11 miles to Sullom Voe, taking the B9076 at Mossbank towards Sullom Voe.
Sullom Voe Oil Terminal was built in the 1970s and has provided economic prosperity for Shetland since its opening. When oil was discovered in the North Sea, and a terminal proposed, Shetland's councillors were keen to ensure a good deal for the isles. Shetland had suffered an economic decline since the end of the Second World War, and many people had been forced to move away in search of work. The council were able to strike a good deal, and for every barrel of oil landed in Shetland, the community got a percentage of the profit. This money was held in a charitable trust fund and has paid for much of the islands' infrastructure, care and leisure facilities, and a vibrant cultural scene.
The oil terminal is tucked away in Sullom Voe, largely hidden from sight. At the time of building, it was the second-largest oil terminal in Europe – following an extension, Rotterdam is now the largest. Oil began to flow at a rate of 800,000 barrels a day along two pipelines from 1978. Today, fewer barrels of oil are landed here, but it is still an essential part of the local economy (oil and gas are worth around 15%).
Sullom Voe and the surrounding Sella Ness docks were key locations in series two and series five – you may remember the Sella Ness area as the caravan park. Access to Sullom Voe is restricted, but it's good to drive to the viewpoint and get a sense of this part of a more industrial Shetland. There are interpretation panels at the site gates detailing the history of the area.
During the Second World War, Sullom Voe was a strategically important RAF base where flying boats were based.