By Laurie GoodladApril 22nd 2021
Laurie Goodlad

One of the most satisfying things to do in Shetland, particularly on a fine day, is to pack up your stuff and head to a scenic spot for a family day out and a picnic. Laurie Goodlad, an avid picnicker herself, shares some insider tips on the best places to dine al fresco...

This year, I avoided making New Year resolutions, but I did make promises to myself. One of the promises, alongside reading two novels a month, was to go on a picnic twice a month – every month. If you don’t live in Shetland, you might scoff at this, but if you’re in Shetland, you’ll know that picnics in the winter months can be tricky. It’s hard to get the weather, and it’s hard to want to sit outside and eat cold sandwiches when the wind chill has driven the temperature to somewhere beyond baltic.

We’re doing good; so far this year, we’ve had picnics at Grutness, St Ninian’s Isle, under the Trondra Bridge, the Smugglers’ Cave in Burra, Westerwick, Sand Gairdins, Bannaminn (opposite Minn Beach), Footabrough and Skeld.

The single best thing that I’ve bought for taking on picnics is the Thermos King Food Flask. On these cold days of winter and early spring, I always brim these with thick, warm soup, which helps keep the cold out for long enough to eat!

The cold is always the single-greatest factor for cutting a picnic short, and it’s usually brought in on the wind, creating a wind-chill that is much below the registered temperature. Finding shelter is crucial, and when I look back through my photos – most of our picnics are eaten, huddled together inside a plantiecrub or dry stone wall.

One of the best places to ensure that you’ll find some shelter is in some trees; Kergord, Michaelswood or Sand Gairdins are all great for finding a space out of the wind. These are also excellent places to go if you have children as none of them has a long walk and there are things to occupy both younger and older bairns at each place. Sand Gairdins is perfect at this time of the year as the frogs return and the tadpoles begin to hatch before eventually developing into frogs. Kergord is an excellent place for getting to know trees and searching for pine cones, and, of course, the rope swing is a big hit with any older children.

Another place that you’re almost guaranteed to find some shelter is up a burn. A couple of the best burns to enjoy a picnic are the Burn of Lunklet near Aith and the Burn of Valayre near Voxter. Lunklet is ideally placed for a pit-stop at the Cake Fridge, where you can pick up some sweet treats to bribe little legs up the burn to the waterfall!

But, we don’t always have to cower in plantiecrubs and hide from the prevailing wind amongst trees, and under the bank of a burn, sometimes, we can enjoy picnics at the top of a hill or the beach.

The beach is one of the best places to enjoy a picnic – provided you don’t mind sandy sandwiches. Many beaches are a short walk from the car – perfect for little legs and their long-suffering parents who are always left carrying the picnics and a multitude of discarded jackets, hats and scarves. Beaches that are great for taking bairns on picnics include; St Ninian’s Isle, Westvoe, Maywick, Scousburgh, Levenwick, Meal, Minn, Sands of Sound, Hillswick, Heylor, West Sandwick, Norwick, Dale of Walls and Norby.

There are plenty of out-of-the-way beaches to visit for those who are feeling adventurous, which will involve a bit of a hike and effort to reach. Beaches that involve a reasonably big hike and will take the most part of a day to walk to and from include; Hams of Roe, Muckle Roe, Uyea, Northmavine, Fethaland, Northmavine, Da Lang Ayre, Northmavine and Deepdale, West Mainland.

Please be considerate when using the beaches and, especially if you’re hiking through farmland to get to your chosen picnic spot. Be aware that the land is used for grazing sheep and, particularly at this time of year, the sheep are lambing and should be avoided. It’s better not to take dogs into the hill during the lambing or bird breeding season. For more information on how to access the outdoors responsibly, please visit the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website and get to know the code.

If you do choose to have a picnic at the beach, it is worth checking out the wind direction as, even on a fine day, there’s often a chilling breeze that comes in off the sea. Finding a sheltered beach in the lee of the wind is much more enjoyable!

One of my favourite places to have a picnic involves a little more planning but is well worth the effort. I love to have a picnic within the broch at Mousa. Mousa is an uninhabited island with the best-preserved broch anywhere in the world. Daily boat trips operate into the isle throughout the summer, and guests are encouraged to pack their own picnic as there are no amenities on the island. Just remember to take your bruck home with you again!

Lerwick isn’t somewhere that instantly springs to mind when we think about picnic spots, but it’s a fantastic place to enjoy a picnic. The beauty of having a picnic in Lerwick is that you don’t have to make it! Many businesses offer takeaway options for you to take out and enjoy wherever the mood takes you. Why not buy a picnic lunch from the Peerie Shop or get a fish supper from the Fort Chip Shop and head outside?

Bain’s Beach, providing the tide is out, is such a relaxing place to while away an afternoon. PS – for those who follow the Shetland series, this is the beach beside the house of Jimmy Perez.

Lerwick’s King George V Flower Park is another good spot to enjoy a bite to eat. The walled confines of the park provide the perfect shelter, and the thoughtful planning ensures that there is something to see all year round – you’d be surprised what the determined gardener will get to grow.

Fort Charlotte is another great picnic spot, with a large grassy expanse and unrivalled views across the town; this is an excellent spot to watch the world go by.

How many times have you planned a picnic and found that on waking up in the morning, it’s raining and the bairns are upset because ‘you said we could have a picnic’? It happens! We can never really predict the weather but, don’t let that spoil your sandwiches.

Park up somewhere with a view and have your picnic in the car! Good car picnic spots include Wormadale viewpoint, The Knab and Sumburgh Head. Another great place to have a picnic in the car is at Heylor, where you can almost park on the beach and enjoy the views down Ronas Voe.

I’m not sure if this last suggestion can be categorised as a picnic, but I will run with it anyway. My favourite way to spend an evening in summer is off in the boat, catching our supper. Granted, if there’s nothing to catch, we usually just end up feasting on packets of crisps and gummy sweets, but when those glistening mackerel do come in over the gunwale of the boat under the summer sun, there’s no greater feeling.

We usually take our hard-won catch to a small island, moor the boat and get them on the camping stove – eating hot food outside definitely lifts a picnic into another dimension of food satisfaction!

In case you’re wondering, the dictionary definition of a picnic is “an occasion when a packed meal is eaten outdoors”, so perhaps not technically a picnic but, the buns and sweet chilli sauce to accompany the mackerel are packed!

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