Almost but not quite a separate island, Northmavine is joined to the rest of the Shetland Mainland at Mavis Grind (which translates as 'North of the Narrow Isthmus') where the Atlantic Ocean has nearly cut through to the North Sea.

A quick introduction

The parish of Northmavine has some of the finest views and best hill and coastal walking in Shetland, although you can reach many of its most beautiful corners by car. Tucked in between the rugged coastline and wild hills are dozens of small crofting settlements, making this one of the most picturesque corners of the islands. Popular sights include Ronas Hill (Shetland's highest summit) and the spectacular cliffs at Eshaness.

Northmavine is home to around 840 residents, mainly living in the communities of Hillswick, Ollaberry, Sullom and North Roe.

How to get to Northmavine

If you're driving, follow the A970 north towards Hillswick. You'll pass through Voe and Brae before reaching Northmavine. There's a big sign on the hill when you get there!

Where to stay

There are a number of self-catering properties in Northmavine, for a full list see the Northmavine website. There's also the St Magnus Bay Hotel in Hillswick, camping and wigwams at Braewick Cafe and Caravan Park and a Johnnie Notions Camping Bod at Hamnavoe.

Useful information
  • There are shops at Hillswick and Ollaberry.
  • Public toilets can be found at the Hillswick waterfront, the Braewick Café, Collafirth Pier and the Ollaberry shop.
  • Public halls are often open in the summer for Sunday Teas serving delicious homebakes.
  • There are moorings for boats at Collafirth. See our Sail pages for more information.

Things to do

Admire the views from Ronas Hill

From Mavis Grind you enter a vast and magical landscape dominated by Shetland's highest hill, Ronas Hill (1475ft/450m), topped by a prehistoric chambered burial cairn. The summit has a sub-Arctic climate, with patterns created by freezing and thawing in the stony soils and some rare Arctic/Alpine plants.

The view from Ronas Hill is on an epic scale, showing all of Shetland and in exceptionally clear weather even the top of Fair Isle. To the north lies an ice-carved wilderness of low hills and dozens of freshwater lochs – including some of the best trout fishing in Shetland.

To the north-east are the jagged rocks of the Ramna Stacks, with background silhouettes of the Gloup Holm in North Yell and the Muckle Flugga rocks north of Unst.

An entirely different landscape opens to the south-east over the scattered islands and bays of Yell Sound and Shetland's largest sea loch, Sullom Voe. Well beyond them are Skerries, Whalsay, Noss and Bressay, while in clear weather the noble outline of Fitful Head is visible, 43 miles (70km) to the south.

Foula's outline rears out of the ocean to the south-west, while just across St. Magnus Bay are Papa Stour and the Ve Skerries reef. Immediately below Ronas Hill is the fjord-like inlet of Ronas Voe, fringed by stupendous cliffs, offlying stacks and magnificent beaches such as Da Lang Ayre.

Walk the cliffs at Eshaness

The cliffs at Eshaness are one of the most dramatic sights in Shetland, particularly when there's plenty of swell in the sea crashing against the rocks. The cliffs themselves are between 350 million and 400 million years old and were carved when volcanoes erupted, revealing layer upon layer of lava and volcanic ash.

Geological highlights to look out for include 'The Drongs', a dramatic group of sea stacks, and the incredible 'Dore Holm' rock arch. Near Eshaness Lighthouse is Calder's Geo, a deep dark rocky cleft cut into the rock stretching back from the sea. You'll also find the Holes o' Scraada ('Devil's Caves'), a series of collapsed caves, and the Grind o' da Navir ('Gate of the Borer'), where stormy seas have smashed a great hole in the sea cliff wall and thrown thousands of tons of rock through the gap.

View a circular walk of Eshaness in our Walking section. You can also find more walks in the area on the Northmavine website.

Loch fishing

There are several lochs in the area for keen anglers. The roadside lochs of Haggrister, Punds Water and Eela Water are worth an hour or two on the way past. If you are a hill walker with a trout rod, the ultimate day out will be a trip to the Ronas Hill lochs – remember not to pass even the smallest of ponds, anglers have been surprised before! See our Angling page for more information on fishing in Shetland.

Tangwick Haa Museum

This former laird's house offers a fascinating insight into the history of Northmavine and the people who lived here. The Laird’s Room gives you an idea of what the room would have looked like in the 19th century and is filled with Victorian artefacts, while the Reception Room displays tools and household objects from the period. There are also exhibits relating to the area’s crafting and fishing industries.

You'll also find toilets and tea and coffee making facilities at the museum, as well as WiFi and local tourist information.

Fascinating facts

  • The first bombs to drop in Britain during the Second World War landed in Sullom. The Germans were targeting HMS Cardiff, HMS Coventry and a number of cargo ships berthed at Sullom Voe. The only casualty was a rabbit, which was said to have inspired the popularity of the song 'Run Rabbit Run' during the war.
  • Fethaland at the northern tip of Shetland's Mainland was once the islands' busiest haaf fishing station. Sixty sixareens were based here and the ruins of twenty lodges, which housed workers between June and August, still stand, retaining the atmosphere of the time. A circular mound close by is believed to be the remains of a 4,000 year old homestead. View a circular walk of Fethaland.

Read more