"Sea, sky, seals, seabirds, space and silence..." Top 5 Page for this destination Shetland by leics
Shetland Travel Guide: 187 reviews and 469 photos
You don't go to Shetland for the shopping, the nightlife, the clubbing, the busy city experience, the food or the architecture.
You go to Shetland to experience space and silence (apart, perhaps, from the wind and the sea and the birds and the seals). Shetland, like Orkney, is balm for the soul....a return to a quieter, simpler, less hurried time. Where people have the time and inclination to chat, where roads are empty for miles on end, where you can walk and walk and see no other human beings, where you can sit on a white-sand beach for hours and hear nothing but nature.
I loved Orkney so much, but Shetland has truly taken my heart. Its main island larger than Orkney mainland, it has a much wider range of landscapes, it has far fewer inhabitants and far fewer visitors, its archaeology is not as obvious but still as interesting, its geology is unique, it abounds in birds and sea mammals...and, if you hit on 4 days of warm, near-windless sunshine as I did, it is paradise.
But, of course, I was so very lucky. Shetland does have extreme weather, rarely windless, often with winds to near-hurricane force. It is cold and wet for much of the year. Snowfall is commonplace in winter and can be heavy (Shetland is *very* near the Arctic Circle).
And, in the deep of winter, daylight lasts barely more than 3 hours or so. But, to balance that, the 'simmer dim' means weeks of almost constant daylight; even when I visited, in mid-August, it was only truly dark for an couple of hours or so.
I experienced a little of Shetland's true colours when I landed in near-gale force wind and horizontal heavy rain. It was certainly an 'interesting' landing in the 36-seater propeller plane, with many a wobble and 'bump' on our approach and a hop, skip and jump as we touched the ground. Well done that (female) pilot!
I was drenched before I'd even got to the terminal building (you just walk from the plane at Sumburgh). I picked up the hire car in a howling gale, almost unable to see anything because of hair-in-the-face and rain-on-the-glasses. The drive to Lerwick (the capital of Shetland, where I was staying) took place in thick mist (ok, cloud!). So for 30 minutes or so I had absolutely no idea what the landscape looked like.
I quickly discovered my waterproof coat wasn't actually Shetland-waterproof, but fortunately Lerwick has several charity (thrift) shops and I was able to find a better, warmer version in my size. But then, inevitably, the rain stopped and the wind gradually died down....and by the next morning the last clouds were clearing and we were embarking on 5 days of warm, almost-windless sunshine.
I'm glad I hired a car. Shetland has a good, subsidised bus service (and subsidised inter-island ferries too) but obviously these only serve the main settlements and are tied into islanders' needs. A car allowed me to see so much of the main island (no time to explore other islands, so I must go back) but not nearly as much as I wanted to see. Mainland Shetland is a big island and, even though the roads are excellent and there is very little traffic, getting around took time...not least because I had to keep stopping to take photos! Plus the roads in Shetland have lots of laybys and 'passing places' (on the many single-track roads) so stopping and exploring was much too easy!
I explored many places during my short stay. Each deserves their own page, so that's what I've done (if the place is in the VT database):
Lerwick itself, obviously, with its Victorian architecture, its busy harbour and its magnificent new (2007) museum.
Scalloway: once the 'capital' of Shetland but now a peaceful but still busy fishing 'town'. On across narrow bridges for a brief exploration of the tiny island of West Burra, with its exquisite jewel of a beach.
Tingwall: barely even a village yet massively important in Shetland's past history.
Sumburgh, with the superb Jarlshof and Old Scatness archaeological sites and the magical Sumburgh Head, an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) nature reserve.
The gently-rolling districts of Nesting, North and South, with Lunna, once so very important in the Shetland war effort.
A little of the Westside: Shetland mainland has a 'spine' of rough hilly moorland running down much of its western side. Consequently, settlements lie mainly to the east: there are very few west-east crossing points in south Mainland. But St Ninian's Isle, with its early Celtic chapel excavation and its unique tombolo beach, was an essential 'must-see' for me.
Up north to Sullom Voe, to see for myself what the oil terminal there looked like. For decades the name 'Sullom Voe' has been synonymous with Shetland oil and, in the past, with couple of nasty oilspills. I was pleasantly surprised to see how unobtrusive the terminal was.
To the island of Mousa, by boat, for the Iron Age broch (still standing 13 metres high after 2000+ years) and the seabirds and seals. Another RSPB site and a wonderful 4 hours of exploration (with seals, porpoises and being attacked by a bonxie [Great Skua] to add interest).
By boat around the islands of Bressay and Noss, to see the huge seabird colonies on the cliffs. A heavy swell (4-5 feet in places) leftover from the previous day's strong wind proved to my that my seasickness pills do indeed work (thankfully!). Shetland was once a mountainous area until covered by the sea. The surrounding seabed is not flat but consists of valleys and hills, with steep sheer drops. So it's not a gentle sea at the best of times, and even that day's wind was enough to roil it all up for at least 24 hours after the wind had finally dropped. But the sight of thousands upon thousands of gannets on the cliffs, the seals, the kelp 'forest' (courtesy of an underwater camera) and even a distant otter made all the rolling and bouncing worthwhile.
But....best of all, for me...a trip to the wilds of Northmavine, the north-western part of Shetland Mainland which is so very nearly an island, joined by a narrow isthmus (Mavis Grind) only 100 yards or so wide. I wanted to go to Eshaness, part of Northmavine but not in the VT database, for the magnificent cliffs, the natural arches and geos (clefts), the seabirds and the geology. This is a volcanic landscape formed many millions of years ago, its cliffs revealing layers of lava and ash, battered by the full force of the Atlantic (there is nothing between here and N America). It was a misty day, at times, the combination of sea-mist, low cloud and bright sunshine creating strange, eerie effects of both light and sound. And I walked for 8+ miles (slowly), just looking and listening and watching. In the 5 hours or so I spent exploring Eshaness I saw just 5 other people...but only in the distance. I passed no-one. It was a wonderful day.
Have I over-enthused? Quite possibly. I was inspired enough to make a not-very-good video to give a glimpse of what I saw and felt in Shetland.
I'm not stupid. I know that Shetland is not always like this. But these bright jewels of days *do* happen and, I think, must more than make up for the wet, dark chill which Shetland suffers for much of the year.
If you want to experience silence and space, if you are happy to dress yourself for any type of weather, if you like birds and wildlife and geology and landscape, if you want to go back to a less-stressful life for a brief while...then Shetland is for you.
- Pros:Wonderful scenery, wildlife and history, friendly people, good roads
- Cons:Weather very changeable: take layers! :-)
- In a nutshell:Sea, sky, seals, seabirds, space and silence...
I have absolutely *no* idea why I did not write this review before: the accomm review is usually the first one I write.... more travel advice
You'll need a car (or a long walk) to get to this Neolithic settlement and 'temple' site, but it really is worthwhile... more travel advice
Written Aug 20, 2011
Sky and sea, shore and hill
Written Aug 20, 2011
The creatures I saw....
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