"Blissful in the sunshine...." Saint Ninian's Isle by leics

Saint Ninian's Isle Travel Guide: 0 reviews and 11 photos

What can I say?

Not only does St Ninian's have wonderful walks along its cliffs (watch out for rabbit-holes...there are seemingly thousands of rabbits!), superb views, a myriad of seabirds nesting on its cliffs and soaring over head, a fascinated excavated chapel and associated graveyard which yielded a box of Pictish silver 'treasure' (now in a museum in Edinburgh and an earlier Iron Age settlement...but also one of the best sand tombolos ( a natural sand causeway) to be found in Europe!

No wonder I, with my interest in archaeology, birdlife and geology found it 'blissful' on the warm, sunny morning when (for a while) I was its only visitor.

St Ninian's lies off the west coast of mainland Shetland and is accessible via the tombolo except at the highest of tides and in the roughest of weather. It is well-signed form the main A970 road and there's ample parking (it's a favoured spot for Shetlander's 'days at the beach'.

St Ninian's has no inhabitants; the last family left in the late 1700s. There are just sheep and rabbits (lots of those, including black ones!) and birds.

The chapel whose ruins you can see today was excavated in the 1950s and around 2000. The 'treasure' (wonderfully intricate silverware) was discovered during the earlier excavation, by a schoolboy who was helping out. You can see photos of it here.

The existing chapel lies over an earlier building and, when excavated, its graveyard produced both pre-Christian and Christian graves. You can tell the difference easily: pre-Christian graves tend to contain grave goods, Christian graves are aligned east-west.

It is a wonderful spot to explore, although (as always) you need to take care near the cliff edge. Some of what appears to be solid ground may in fact be a wafer-thin overhang...and, obviously, on windy and/or wet days even more care is needed, for the short springy grass is very slippery. But you'll see birds galore and, quite probably, seals too..maybe even whales or porpoises further our to sea.

Another of the many 'must-sees' which lie in Shetland, although easiest to access by car because the bus service to nearby Bigton (on the mainland) is very limited indeed.

St Ninian's Chapel excavation. The central stone marks the position of the alter.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Unique tombolo, wonderful island for birds and views.
  • Cons:Weather can be grim, of course.
  • In a nutshell:Entirely unmissable.
  • Last visit to Saint Ninian's Isle: Aug 2011
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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“'Take clothes you can layer....' :-)”

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