Yell is one of the three 'north isles' and the second largest of all the Shetland Islands. Covering 83 square miles, there's a huge variety of coastal scenery and beautiful beaches, wild moorland, small settlements, birds, seals and wildflowers, and history old and newer to explore.

A quick introduction

Yell is a rectangular-shaped island much of which is covered in peaty moorland and grazing sheep, who often quite happily wander out onto the open road – so drivers beware! The untouched moorland is interspersed with coastal crofting communities, the largest of which is Mid Yell.

The island has been inhabited since Neolithic times and there are 12 known broch sites. The Vikings settled during the Norse period, as is evident in placenames like Dalsetter and Gossawater. In the 17th century, Burravoe in Yell became an important Hanseatic trading post and the fishing industry was an important part of the island's economy right up to the 1950s.

More recently, in 2014, Yell became the site of the world's first community-owned tidal power generator in Bluemull Sound, in the north of the island.

How to get to Yell

Scheduled daily ferries run from Toft in the north Mainland to Ulsta in Yell. You can also take the car ferry onwards from Yell to Unst and/or Fetlar.

A bus service runs several times a day between Ulsta in south Yell and Cullivoe in north Yell. There are various less-frequent bus services throughout Yell, and also to/from Lerwick. See the ZetTrans website for the latest timetables.

Where to stay

There's a range of self-catering and bed and breakfast options in Yell; see Visit Scotland and Airbnb. You can also book to stay at Windhouse Lodge camping bod, located near to Shetland's most haunted house, Windhouse. Read more about Windhouse in this blog on Shetland's abandoned places.

Useful information
  • There are general convenience stores in Ulsta, Aywick, Mid Yell and Cullivoe.
  • Public toilets can be found at the ferry terminals at Ulsta and Gutcher.
  • Bikes are available to hire from the operators of Quam B&B in Westsandwick.
  • There are camping and motorhome pitches at Burravoe Pier Caravan and Campsite.
  • Fuel is available at Ulsta, Aywick and Cullivoe.
  • You can berth your boat or yacht at the piers found at Ulsta, Burravoe, Cullivoe and Mid Yell.

Things to do

Old Haa Museum

The Old Haa heritage centre in Yell's oldest building at Burravoe documents the history of the island, including the whaling years and shipwrecks, natural history, genealogy and a picture and sound archive. There's also a tearoom, a gallery of local art and craft, a small shop, and a large picnic garden with a boat for the children to play in. There's also a tourist information point offering a range of general and Yell-specific information and leaflets.

Wildlife watching

There are nationally important nature reserves such as the RSPB's Lumbister, the Yell Sound islands and the island of Hascosay. But the whole area teems with wildlife, especially during the summer, so there's always something to delight birdwatchers, hill walkers or casual strollers.

Yell has especially desirable 'real estate' for wandering families of otters because there's plenty of low-lying peaty shoreline where they can excavate holts with good fresh water supplies.

With luck and binoculars, you may spot harbour porpoises some distance offshore or, less frequently, dolphins and orcas, particularly in Bluemull Sound and Yell Sound. Local ferrymen often keep notes of cetacean sightings and are pleased to share information with passengers if you ask what they've seen today.

Yell was home to a famous Shetland naturalist, musician and author, the late Bobby Tulloch, the RSPB representative here for many years. As well as logging rarities like Fetlar's Snowy Owl, Bobby did much to publicise Shetland's treasure house of commoner birds, animals and plants worldwide. At the Old Haa there's a special section devoted to Bobby Tulloch's wonderful collection of wildlife photographs, most of them taken in his native island.

Walking in Yell

Yell is blessed with some of Shetland's most beautiful beaches, including two award-winning beaches: Sands of Breckon and West Sandwick. The beaches at Gossabrough, Vatsetter and Hamnavoe and the double tombolo at Ness of Sound are also well worth visiting. If you're looking for self-guided walks around Yell, see the Walking section of this website.

The Shetland Gallery

An enjoyable diversion on a trip through Yell is The Shetland Gallery, which lies just off the main road at Sellafirth, in the north of the island. It's the most northerly gallery in the UK and showcases works from Shetland's most talented artists. The gallery is open from Easter until the end of September, except on Mondays, and at other times by appointment.

Fascinating facts

  • There are multiple theories behind the distinctive island name 'Yell'. According to Wikipedia, it may have originally been a Pictish name, or the Proto-Norse was 'Jala' or 'Jela', which may have meant 'white island' referring to the beaches. Or then there's the Old Norse 'Gjall', which means 'barren'.
  • Excavations have been made of an Iron-Age settlement at the Tafts of Bayanne at Sellafirth. Information about the site is available at Bayanne House where there are also facilities for family history research.
  • On 21 July 1881 a fierce storm hit Shetland, resulting in the death of 58 haaf fishermen near Gloup Voe, west of Cullivoe. It was one of Shetland's biggest fishing tragedies, leaving behind 34 widows and 85 orphans. There’s a poignant memorial commemorating those lost at Gloup and a nice walk down to the beach below.

Find out more about Yell