The dramatic scenery, historical interest, outstanding wildlife and, not least, the warm welcome of the Skerries folk make a visit to this mini-archipelago unforgettable.

A quick introduction

On the map, Skerries looks almost too small to be inhabited, yet around 35 people live on these two square miles (4km²) of rock and pasture. In Old Norse the name means 'the eastern islets' and indeed the Bound Skerry Lighthouse is only 164 nautical miles (320km) from the nearest light in Norway.

The remains of a broch on the north shore of Grunay, suggests there has been people in Skerries since at least the Bronze Age, and there has been permanent settlement since the Norse period.

The two inhabited islands, Bruray and Housay, are joined by a bridge but the road is less than a mile (1.6km) long so the best way to see Skerries and meet the islanders is to explore on foot. A third island, Grunay, is currently uninhabited.

Like Whalsay, which lies four miles to the south-west of Skerries, the main industry is fishing.

How to get to Skerries

A car ferry runs from the Shetland Mainland terminal at Vidlin (or Laxo if there are strong northerly winds) and once a week from Lerwick. The journey takes 90 minutes from Vidlin and 2.5 hours from Lerwick; booking is essential. If you look at the timetable, you’ll find that a day trip is possible on the weekend.

Useful information
  • There are two shops in Skerries – Alex Humphray's in Bruray and the West Isle Shop in Housay, which also has a post office.
  • Skerries Marina has visitor berths available for boats and yachts.
  • There are toilets, showers and services at the pier on Bruray.

Things to do

Walking in Skerries

From the top of Bruray and Housay there's a superb view over the rugged east coast of Shetland, all the way from Noss to Unst. Around the Skerries shoreline you'll find plenty of interest, from rocky coves where famous wrecks occurred (such as the 17th century Dutch East Indiaman De Liefde) to driftwood beaches and the abundant wildlife. From the pier, you can walk round both Housay and Bruray in a few hours, depending on your pace.

In summertime, Skerries has nesting flocks of Eiders, gulls, terns and other seabirds and waders. Seals are common and the sea around the islands is one of the best places in Shetland to see Harbour Porpoises and Minke Whales.

During the spring and autumn migrations, Skerries can rival Fair Isle for sightings of rare birds, mainly because this is the first landfall after flocks leave Norway. Some of the local folk take a keen interest in ornithology and record their sightings, so there's often a second 'migration' of 'twitchers' from Mainland Shetland when something exciting blows in.

Skerries Eela Competition

An 'eela' is a sea-fishing competition where the anglers go off in a boat, with various prizes for the biggest fish and the most caught. It's usually followed by a supper of fried fish and a social night over the bridge in the hall on Housay. This is an annual event, the date varies but it's normally held in July.

Fascinating facts

  • A skerry is a rock in the sea or a rocky island and it is often assumed that the Skerries were so named because of the islands’ remoteness. In fact it stems from the Old Norse word for 'east', distinguishing Skerries from the Ve Skerries (meaning west).
  • The shores in and around the harbour bear the signs of Skerries’ fishing heritage: at the North Mills on the West Isle and the Lang Ayre on Bruray, you can see the remains of the lodges lived in by haaf (deep sea) fishermen during the summer season; by the pier sits one of the last iron kettles in Shetland, once used to melt fish livers and later to prepare cutch bark for coating fishing lines and nets by those same intrepid fishermen.
  • To avoid the Press Gangs, men fled to hideouts in the hills or to caves along the shores of Housay where they hid until the ships had left. Annie Elspeth’s Resting Place is where a woman stood and scanned the sea for ships, while delivering food to the men hiding in the Paet’s Hoose on Mioness. Another hideout on Queyness was called Tammie Tyrie’s Hoidy Hol, but has now been washed away by the sea.