Walking on Shetland, the most northerly archipelago of Britain, which boasts abundant wildlife, a spectacular coastline and dozens of archaeological sites. Voted by Lonely Planet as one of the places to visit.
Landscapes and seascapes that make you feel as if you have found one of the most remote coastlines in the world; superb wildlife and a history that stretches from the last war right back to the dawn of civilisation - you can experience all this on Shetland. The islands that make up Shetland lie far out in the North Atlantic, geographically and historically closer to Norway than to Scotland.
The Shetland Islands lie at about the same latitude as the south of Greenland, but, thanks to the North Atlantic Drift, the climate is much milder. The main island is Mainland with many huge headlands cut by beautiful, long, fjord-like seaways. There are hundreds of islands off Mainland, only fourteen of them are inhabited.
The Shetland Islands have been inhabited from Neolithic times. The first contact with Christianity was in the 6th century, but the islands did not come under church authority until the 8th century.
Norseman began to colonise the Shetland Islands in the 8th century and the islands became a vital link in their western sea routes. The Vikings used Shetland as a hub, for raiding the west coast of Scotland and Ireland, trading with the Isle of Man and crossing the Atlantic to Iceland and Greenland. Following the Battle of Largs in 1263, and the loss of the Western Isles in 1266, Shetland and Orkney were the only parts of Scotland to remain in Norwegian hands. It wasn't until 1468 that Shetland became part of Scotland.
Generally the rocks on the Shetland Islands are Precambrian and of the Dalradian group. These rocks do not decompose into fertile soil. Consequently there are large areas of blanket peat and few rock outcrops. The coastline has been eroded to form high cliffs which intrude everywhere. There are also large areas of red sandstone on the islands.
The wildlife to be found on Shetland is superb. The islands are a birdwatchers' paradise and one of the major seabird breeding and feeding areas in the North Atlantic. More than a million birds breed in very large colonies. Nowhere else in Britain, and hardly anywhere else in Europe, can you get so close, so easily, to so many seabirds. You can sit on a cliff top watching puffins just a few feet away from you, or you can savour the spectacle of thousands of gannets diving into the sea.
We will certainly see common and grey seals. Shetland is one of the otter’s main strongholds in the UK, so there’s a good chance of seeing otters too. There are frequent sightings of harbour porpoises and occasionally dolphins and whales.
Botanical attractions include rare arctic-alpine plants, wildflower meadows, mosses and lichens. The ungrazed holms and sea cliffs are Shetland’s ‘hanging gardens’ with some of the lushest vegetation in the islands.
The programme will be tailored to your wishes and interests, but this is an example of how the holiday may look like.
Saturday: Glasgow - Aberdeen - Shetland
We will meet in Glasgow and travel by train to Aberdeen. In Aberdeen we will board the overnight ferry to Lerwick.
Sunday: Fitful Head
Fitful Head is a dramatic point near the southern end of Mainland Shetland, and from the top at 930ft/283m the cliffs drop steeply to the sea.
The views from Fitful Head are excellent. Crofts and farmland are fringed by shell sand beaches and secluded coves. Across the sea are the dramatic silhouettes of Fair Isle and Foula.
6 miles/9.5km, 985ft/300m of ascent
Today's walk takes us to the Stuis of Graveland starting near Grimister where the sea almost splits Yell into 2 islands.
Most of Yell is uninhabited and covered in peat blanket with many fresh water lochs dotted around the moorland. This characterises our walk as soon as we leave the tiny settlement of Grimister on the Whale Firth behind us. We will overlook Whale Firth to the east and Yell Sound to the west during most of the walk.
As one can expect of the Shetland Isles, we will enjoy spectacular coastal scenery with good views to Northmavine in the west.
7.5 miles/12km, 985ft/300m of ascent
This is one of the finest stretches of coast line on the east side of Mainland. The coast and surrounding hills are packed with field systems, houses, burial cairns and fortifications from ancient times.
Combined with the wonderful cliff scenery and views towards Whalsay, Out Skerries, Bressay and Noss, this area offers wonderful walking with a good chance to see otters.
We can choose from 2 walks, one at South Nesting and the other at North Nesting, both very much worth doing.
Up to 10 miles/16km and up to 490ft/150m of ascent
Wednesday: Papa Stour
Papa Stour - ‘big island of the priests’ - is formed from volcanic lava and ash and then sculpted by the sea, resulting in an impressive coast line with caves, arches, stacks, skerries and subterranean passages.
It is one of the most fertile of the Shetland Islands - its only failing being a total lack of fuel in the form of peat.
The ferry crossing is 40 minutes and we will have 6 hours on the island. Our walk will take around the wild and remote western part of the island.
8.5 miles/14km, 330ft/100m of ascent
Thursday: Uyea, North Roe
A walk on Lewisian gneisses, the oldest rocks of Shetland, and indeed of Great Britain. These rocks are part of the original crust of the continent of Laurentia and were formed between 3,000 and 1,500 million years ago. Mostly granite-like in origin these rocks have experienced numerous upheavals in the Earth's crust or 'mountain building events', that have deformed and metamorphosed the rocks.
Uyea, North Roe
We start the walk from Sandvoe through an extensive moorland landscape. At the Beorgs of Uyea where a plug of magma forced its way into the metamorphic rocks, we will visit the Neolithic Axe Factory. Here they quarried the felsite on an industrial scale for the production of highly polished stone knives, axes, adzes and maces.
Near the coast we pass through the ruins of the crofting township of Uyea and the Uyea Haaf station.
The tidal island of Uyea is the furthest point of our walk.
The return leg follows the dramatic coastline ascending and descending very steep slopes into and out of glaciated valleys. Not far from Sandvoe we reach Roer Mill beach, the only safe landing place along the coast between Uyea and Sandvoe.
A good chance to see golden plover, red-throated diver and mountain hare.
9.5 miles/15km and 985ft/300m of ascent
Friday: Muckle Roe
Muckle Roe offers splendid isolation with a dramatic coastline at your feet. There is so much to enjoy, one could spend days exploring Muckle Roe.
Our walk will take us to the Hams. The Hams of Muckle Roe get their names from Old Norse and translates as the Havens (or Harbours) of the Big Red Island. There is a deserted settlement between the beaches of North Ham and South Ham, which is set among spectacular red granite cliffs.
Our next stop is the Geo of Stromness, above which is the ruin of a croft outbuilding. We then continue south along a coastline which abounds with cliffs, geos and beaches.
8.5miles/14km and 460ft/130m of ascent.
After this last walk of our Shetland holiday, we travel back to Lerwick and board the overnight ferry to Aberdeen.
Saturday: Aberdeen - Glasgow
We will arrive in Aberdeen around 7.00 hours. After breakfast on the ferry, we will travel back to Glasgow by train.