"For the birds....." Mousa Island by leics

Mousa Island Travel Guide: 3 reviews and 13 photos

Mousa is a smallish island just off the coast of Shetland mainland. It is still a working sheep farm, but is also a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve.

It also has the best-preserved broch (Iron Age dry-tone tower) in Europe, standing over 13m high.

You can land on Mousa by yourself if you have access to a boat, but most visitors using the daily ferry run from the mainland. The excellent boatman, Tom Jamieson, is soon to retire and the business is up for sale...but I'm sure it will be taken over by someone equally pleasant and knowledgeable.

The boat trip (during which the chances of seeing porpoises are very high) is swift and you get around 3 hours on Mousa itself, more than enough to explore the broch and walk all round the nature reserve...if you follow the waymarked paths. But if, like me, you lose your way and end up walking all the way round the island you risk not only walking a long walk and worrying about whether you'll get back to the boat but also being dive-bombed by fulmars and bonxies (Great Skuas). Luckily for me I visited at the very end of the nesting period, so the birds left me alone!

Mousa is silent and beautiful in windless sunshine and., I'm sure, totally exhilarating in stormy, windy weather. High on the tops of some cliffs there is a massive 'storm beach', made up of huge stone slabs piled there by a great storm in 1900. Such sights really do bring home the terrifying power of the sea.

Bonxies breed there: you really can't miss these wonderful 'thugs', unless you visit during the winter (which they spend at sea in the Atlantic) . And Fulmar, Shags and Arctic Skuas too; a myriad other seabirds pass by.

You'll almost certainly see seals as well. they particularly like lolling around the two fairly shallow 'pools' in the main photo. If you visit in summer seals are moutling and so they need to keep out of the water to avoid being chilled. So you'll see (and hear) plenty of them lying around, grunting and snorting and 'hallooing' to each other.

Mousa broch was probably never much taller than it is now. No-one knows quite why it has survived to almost its full height when all the other brochs (unique to Scotland) have been ruined and are much smaller...but it is entirely unmissable for anyone who has any interest in the past.

Brochs date from the Iron Age. Mousa is thought to =have been constructed around 100BC and is mentioned in the famous 'Orkneyinga Saga' of the Vikings. there is considerable debate about the purpose and interior arrangement of brochs, but it is likely that Mousa had at least two wooden internal floors.

There has been no excavation around the broch (others often have associated buildings) but there are few 'lumps and bumps' which would indicate other structures still buried under the soil. Perhaps the settlement was elsewhere on the island and Mousa has always stood alone, gazing across the sea to the mainland?

Whatever its purpose, it is truly a fantastic experience to walk up the narrow staircase within the double drystone walls (very steep, with very narrow treads...perhaps Iron Age people had smaller feet than even I do?) and to emerge at the top for almost exactly the same view over sea and island as those who built the broch would have seen more than 2000 years ago.

Unmissable.

So...for the birds, and the broch, and the seals, and the sheer pleasure of walking an almost-uninhabited island (even if the boat is full you soon 'lose' the others) .....do go to Mousa!

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Birds, seals and a wonderful broch.
  • Cons:Beware bonxie attacks! :-)
  • In a nutshell:Seabird, seals, history and walking.
  • Last visit to Mousa Island: Jul 2011
  • Intro Updated Sep 2, 2011
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leics

“'Take clothes you can layer....' :-)”

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