This remote island lying 20 miles west of the Shetland Mainland covers five square miles and has five distinctive peaks, including one of the highest sheer sea cliffs in Britain – Da Kame (1,233ft). Foula is said to be 'on the edge of the world' and the tranquil atmosphere is ideal for a relaxing, away from it all, experience.

A quick introduction

Like much of the rest of Shetland, there's evidence of settlement in Foula dating back to the Iron and Bronze Ages. Around 800 AD, Norsemen conquered Foula and took up residence in the fertile Hametoon, leaving us croft names like Norderhus, Krugali, and Guttren, and many other descriptive Norse placenames.

Due to its remote location, it is believed that Foula existed for many years almost as an independent entity in its own right. It was one of the last places in Shetland where the old Norn language, a relic of Norse times, was spoken.

After the Scots took over Shetland in the 15th century, Foula became part of a west Shetland estate.

Today, Foula is home to around 35 islanders, who share it with thousands of birds, hundreds of hardy and colourful Foula sheep, Shetland ponies and even its own sub-species of field mouse. It is an island rich with folklore and history and has a strong musical tradition.

How to get to Foula

You can get to Foula by ferry from the pier at Walls, in the West Mainland, which operates three times a week; the crossing takes 2 hours 15 minutes. Please note that this is not a car ferry and booking is essential. It is not possible to make a day trip to Foula by ferry, as the ferry is based on the island and, on the days when it operates, it makes only one return trip.

There are also regular flights by Airtask from Tingwall Airport, just outside Lerwick. It is possible to make a day trip using the plane, giving you a few hours to explore but better still is to book accommodation for 4-5 nights and really see what the island has to offer.

Both the air and the sea service are very dependent on weather, so it's best to check with the operators before you set off for the pier or the airport.

Where to stay

Foula has self-catering accommodation available; see the Foula Heritage website for more information.

Useful information
  • There is no public transport in Foula, but locals can provide transport to and from the airstrip and pier by arrangement.
  • Public toilets are available at the airstrip.
  • There's no general store but but postcards and small souvenirs are available from the Post Office and the school.
  • For guided walks and tourist information, contact Foula Heritage.
  • Local tour companies operate trips to Foula. To see what's available, check out the operators on our Trips and Tours page.

Things to do

Bird watching

Foula's Old Norse name was Fugla-ey, meaning ‘bird island’. Seabirds and moorland birds, including high numbers of ‘Bonxies’ – the Shetland dialect name for the Great Skua – as well as Puffins, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Fulmars, to name a few, inhabit the impressive sandstone cliffs and open moorland. It is a good place for migrant species, too.

Diving

There are many interesting shipwrecks surrounding Foula. One being the RMS Oceanic owned by the famous White Star Line, makers of the Titanic. Launched in 1899 the ‘Queen of the Ocean’ was called into the Navy shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, but unfortunately, within a fortnight of its maiden voyage of naval duty the vessel was run aground on da Shaalds, three miles east of Foula. See our Dive page for diving charters.

Walks in Foula

With it's dramatic clifftops and spectacular coastline, as well as its abundant bird and wildlife, Foula is a fantastic place to walk. Guided walks are available from the Foula Ranger Service and can be tailored to your interests and the time you have on the island. Foula Heritage can also give you maps and information on self-guided walks.

While there, be sure to check out the Gaada Stack, an extremely distinctive sea stack with two arches, supported on three legs, and the Sneck o da Smallie, a massive natural fissure in the rock that leads down to the sea. It is 2 metres wide, 200 metres long and 70 metres deep at its deepest point. Both are awe-inspiring.

Fawn over the flora

In the long midsummer days, Foula's wildflowers provide a glorious burst of colour. Sea Pinks, blue Spring Squill and yellow Tormentil carpet the shoreline while Marsh Marigolds and wild orchids blossom gold and purple in ditches and marshes, with white tufted Bog Cotton, Sphagnum Moss, Sundew and Crowberry making patterns across the moorland.

Sheep spotting

Foula is famous for its native sheep. A long-term ban on imports of sheep to the isle means that there's been no cross-breeding of the sheep, unlike in other parts of Shetland. Foula is home to a completely unique population of un-modernised Shetland sheep that are characterised by their diversity of colours and markings present in their wool. If someone wants to put more “Shetland” into their Shetland sheep they will typically buy some Foula sheep. The sheep are an important part of the island's economy and the islanders work hard to continue to keep this native breed going.

Fascinating facts

  • When viewed from the Mainland the isle can make quite a spectacular scene, particularly under snow, when it is often likened to a huge iceberg on the horizon.
  • Foula remained on the Julian calendar when the rest of the UK adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. As a result, Foula is now one day ahead of the Julian calendar and 12 days behind the Gregorian, observing Christmas Day on 6 January and New Year on 13 January.
  • The island has no connection to the national grid, therefore the islanders have to run their own electricity scheme. This is a hybrid scheme, with three wind turbines, a hydro generator, solar panels, battery banks and a distribution network. The Foula Electricity Trust has pledged to transition the island to zero carbon.
  • Michael Powell’s classic film The Edge of the World was made in the isle in 1936.