Shetland is an archipelago of islands 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland. At 60 degrees north, Shetland enjoys almost 24 hours of daylight during the summer, and the sun, low in the sky, brings a quality of light that is quite unlike anywhere else in Scotland. The geology of the islands is ancient and complex. That, together with the erosive effect of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, has created a landscape characterised by dramatic cliffs, long fjord like ‘voes’ and beautiful sandy beaches.
The islands are a haven for wildlife. Walking through the landscape birds are ever present, grey and common seals are numerous and even sighting of otters and orcas are not uncommon.
The human history on the islands stretches back to Neolithic times. Iron age brochs and Norse archaeological sites are among the best anywhere in world. The Norse heritage of the islands has had a profound effect on the dialect, culture and way of life. The Shetlander’s welcome is warm and adds greatly to a visitor’s enjoyment of these wonderful islands.
We start the tour in Aberdeen where we catch the ferry to Lerwick.
The tour takes in the southern and northernmost parts of Shetland, including the islands Papa Stour, Mousa and Unst. Our base is Shetland’s capital and main town, Lerwick. Although there aren’t always paths, short grass underfoot makes for easy going. On a number of the days we’ll use boats and ferries to access remoter islands.
The programme of hikes and visits will be tailored to your wishes and interests, but this is an example of how the holiday may look like.
We can change it to meet your interests, how much hiking you would like to do, the number of days you would like the adventure for and any specific places or islands you would like to visit. You can also choose the type of accommodation you would like to stay in: B&Bs/guest houses or (luxury) hotels.
Please send us an email with your requirements and we'll design a bespoke itinerary for you.
Day 1: Glasgow - Aberdeen - Lerwick
Day 2: Staneydale Temple and Culswick
Day 3: St Ninian's isle, Jarlshof and Mousa
Day 4: Unst
Day 5: Fethaland
Day 6: Papa Stour
Day 7: West Burra, Noss and Lerwick
Day 8: Aberdeen - Glasgow
The tour begins in Glasgow at Queen Street Station. After travelling to Aberdeen by train we board the ferry to Shetland, arriving the following morning at Lerwick. Travelling to Shetland by boat, you come to appreciate how far north the islands really are. On the way, if you stay up late, you may catch a glimpse of the Orkney Islands and Fair Isle.
On our first day on Shetland we'll go to the Westside for one of the finest walks in this part of Mainland. Our first stop is Stanydale Temple, a Neolithic hall, heel-shaped externally, and containing a large oval chamber. Around it are ruins of houses, walls and cairns of the same period.
The walk at Culswick follows the track through a dramatic valley, which narrows and rises when we reach the cliffs. The valley was once a sea loch. It is now separated from the sea by a shingle bar, creating a fresh water loch. At its lowest point, the track passes between high peat banks.
Near the coast, the track rises and the Broch of Culswick and ramparts appear ahead, above the Loch of the Broch. The green valley ends in pebble beaches fringed by sea stacks, cliffs and caves. The Pictish Broch of Culswick looks out on an awe inspiring view over Gruting Voe and Vaila Sound.
From the broch we head southeast along the cliff tops. There are remains of a monastic settlement on one of the sea stacks and a tiny dwelling on another. We continue following the shore back to the start of our walk.
We have a good chance to see lapwings, curlews, ringed plovers and mountain hares.
6 miles/9.5 km, 330ft/100m of ascent
Today we'll explore the many fantastic sites south Mainland has to offer. One of the natural wonders of Shetland is St Ninian’s Isle, the best example of a tombolo in Europe. We take time to walk across the 500m long, sandy double beach to reach the grassy headland and the ruins of an early medieval chapel where Pictish treasure was found in 1958.
Next we visit Jarlsof, described as one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles. The site is comprised of a complex of dwellings from Neolithic times, the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Norse and Medieval Periods.
In the afternoon, we travel to Sandwick and board a small ferry for the 15 minute crossing to the uninhabited island of Mousa. The island is a haven for puffins, terns, arctic skuas, shags, bonxies (great skuas) and seals. About an hour of walking, with lots of stops to look at the wildflowers, views and wildlife, takes us the finest and best-preserved broch or round tower anywhere in the world. Build 2000 years ago, its 12m high walls remain intact, allowing us to explore inside and ascend to the top of the structure. A short walk at the end of the day takes us back to the ferry.
5 miles/8km, little ascent
Gannet colony Hermaness, Unst
Our visit to Unst is a day of ‘northernmosts’; the most northerly island, village, beach and bus stop! The rare serpentine rock underlying the islands is the remnant of a lost ocean sea floor – the Lapetus ocean of 600 million years ago. The rock gives a barren and stark look to the landscape and has created habitats for rare plants and flowers.
Unst is also famous for its Norse archaeological sites – it’s said that there are more Norse longhouse sites on Unst than in the whole of Scandinavia!
Our day starts by travelling north through the Mainland, across the island of Yell to Belmont on Unst. We then drive to the north of the island and visit Hermaness Nature Reserve. One hour's walk on good paths and boardwalks brings us to a huge and spectacular gannet colony on 558ft/170m high cliffs. This is a great place to see puffins as well. We continue our walk along the coast with good views of more gannet colonies and Muckle Flugga lighthouse, the most northerly lighthouse in the UK.
Returning to to the minibus, we’ll spend the rest of our time on Unst visiting a replica Viking longhouse and longship at Haroldswick and if time allows the Keen of Hamar Nature Reserve to look for the rare Edmundson Chickweed, a flower found at this site on Unst and nowhere else in the world.
6 miles/9.5 km and 1050ft/320m of ascent
Soapstone quarry, Fethaland
Today’s walk takes us to the northernmost tip of Mainland, to North Roe and Fethaland. Jutting out into the Atlantic, Fethaland was an ideal location for a 19th century Haaf (meaning ‘open water’) fishing station, a dangerous enterprise which entailed six man teams rowing 50 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean to set lines for ling and cod.
Reaching the ruined station involves an easy 2 mile walk along a good track. The station is sited on a stunning tombolo, between two rocky beaches.
There is plenty of time to explore the remains of about 20 fishing bothies, and to watch the numerous inquisitive seals that hang out here.
Beyond the fishing station, are a small lighthouse and dramatic views. You can see the Rama Stacks, Unst and Yell to the north and east, Ronas Hill, Shetland’s largest hill, rising up to the south and the vast expanse of the Atlantic to the west.
The best Viking soapstone carvings in Shetland can be found not far from the lighthouse. Big bowl shapes can easily be made out on the slopes of Cleber Geo. We return the way we came, enjoying views of the great bulk of Ronas hill to the south.
6.5 miles/10.5 km, 1130ft/345m of ascent
Papa Stour - ‘big island of the priests’ - is formed from volcanic lava and ash. Exposed to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, some of the most impressive coast line in Shetland can be seen here with caves, arches, stacks, skerries and subterranean passages.
Only 15 people live permanently on the island, but it was an important place in Neolithic, Bronze Age and Viking times with evidence of this all over the island.
The ferry crossing is 40 minutes and we will have 6 hours on Papa Stour. Our walk will go around the wild and remote western part of the island.
6 miles/9.5 km, 330ft/100m of ascent
Our last walk on Shetland will be on Burra Isle. Connected to the mainland by bridges, it doesn’t take long to get there from Lerwick. We begin by walking along a beautiful white sand beach called Banna Minn. Beyond that we continue along cliff tops on short grass taking in lovely views of Foula, south mainland and the Westside. The profusion of sea pinks and other wildflowers give Burra a friendly and gentle feel.
After having been on top of many seabird cliffs during our holiday, today we will view them from the sea. Our boat takes us around the islands of Bressay and Noss. Noss - 'nose' - is a National Nature Reserve. The old red sandstone cliffs of Noss are carved by the sea into thousands of ledges. These are ideal sites for seabirds' dream-houses and competition is intense. We will get a close look at the cliffs packed with seabirds and our senses will be assaulted by the sight of thousands of birds, their deafening noise and the overpowering smell.
We'll finish our last day on Shetland with some time off in Lerwick.
We board the ferry for our journey back to Aberdeen in the evening.
4.5 miles/7km, little ascent
After having breakfast on the ferry we disembark at Aberdeen and catch our train back to Glasgow arriving around midday.