Visit the Shetland Crofthouse Museum
This is a wonderful small museum that shows how people lived in traditional croft houses. You can visit the living quarters, the sleeping quarters, the byre and the drying kiln. Also interesting is a large stack of peat blocks, thatched roof with rock anchors, an old boat (no longer sea-worthy) that has been turned upside down to form the roof of a shed, grinding stones, and fish being dried in front of a peat fire. You can see traditional box beds and a spinning wheel as well. There is an on-site volunteer interpreter who was very charming and knowlegeable
Open May-Sept, daily, 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. Admission freeRelated to:
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Watch the Ponies!
The Shetland Pony is everywhere on the Islands. They are darling, come in a variety of colors and are all very short and pudgy. They were "conscripted" into work inside the mines because their short legs and hardy nature made it easy for them to get around and haul heavy loads. Apparently the introduction of the ponies into mining began at the same time that laws were passed prohibiting the use of child laborers in the mines. Here are photos of some ponies I met.Related to:
- Farm Stay
Hermaness National Nature Reserve
This is a national nature reserve where you can do a good bit of hiking. The sea cliffs have huge nesting colonies of sea birds: Gannets, Guillemots, Puffins and Kittiwakes. You pass through Bonxie nesting areas on the way to the cliffs. It can get very windy along this area and it is very marshy in places so waterproof boots are advised. You cannot take dogs into the area. Sheep pretty much have the run of the area and can do some amazing things with getting to some seemingly inaccessible parts of the cliffs. You have a wonderful view of Muckle Flugga and its lighthouse (most northern in Great Britain) from Hermaness.Related to:
- National/State Park
Mousa is an uninhabited island with one of the best preserved iron age brochs in all of Britain. You get to the island by ferry and then hike to the broch. I was there on the summer solstice at midnight. We went specifically at this time because we could see the Storm Petrals coming in from sea and going to their nests which were built in the walls of the broch. It was a very clear night so we were lucky they came in - they prefer the cover of bad weather because they are pretty far down the food chain and get picked off pretty easy. The broch is double walled with a staircase between the walls. You can climb all the way to the top and get a wonderful view. This is an absolute must see. The picture at left was taken at midnight on the solstice. The shiny points are tags marking items being studied on the broch. Take a flashlight and warm clothing. We were lucky with clear weather and were able to hike by moon-light.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
Visit the Stevenson Lighthouses
The ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson are famous for the lighthouses they designed and built around Scotland. This one is of the Muckle Flugga lighthouse which is Britain's most northerly lighthouse. The building of some of these lighthouses is a true engineering feat.
There is a wonderful book on the lighthouses named "The Lighthouse Stevensons" by Bella Bathurst, published by Flamingo (Harper -Collins)
an article on the lighthouse Stevensons http://www.johnshepler.com/articles/lighthouses.htmlRelated to:
- Historical Travel
Hike to Fethaland
This is a beautiful walk that goes to an abandoned fishing village and a lighthouse. You need to cross private property to get to it and should make sure that all gates are closed behind you and that your follow the code of being responsible, taking care of the environement and respecting the interests of the landowner whose land you are crossing. Near the end of the walk is an abandoned fishing village. The fishermen used to spend a significant part of the year living in these isolated settlements when their families remained back at the croft. To access this land we had to drive through a pasture that was clearly marked "Bull" because the animal was apparently not real friendly and walking across the pasture was not deemed real safe. One of my pics shows what the vegetation is like on the cliff face where the sheep can't get to it. They really do eat everything. It is no wander that cattle ranchers in the West refer to them as "hooved locusts".Related to:
There is a wide variety of wild flowers growing in Shetland. Some are very common while others, such as Frog Orchid and Oyster Plant, are rare. A good place to see rare plants is the Keen of Hamar which is a wind-swept glacial area that has special designation. There are places where there is such an abundance of wild flowers, that I called it the "Shetland Bouquet". As to be expected, the vegetation is quite lush where the sheep can't access it - this happen only in the more remote sections of cliff faces. The sheep are pretty good climbers.Related to:
Go Bird Watching
The birding is out-of-this-world in Shetland. There are large breeding colonies of sea birds that can be seen from land and are especially visible from sea. Great Skuas, Arctic Terns, Shags, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Eider Ducks, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Swans and many more abound around the islands. One of the photos here shows a land nest with nest detritus - notice the dead Oyster Catcher - most likely the nest had belonged to a Bonxie (a.k.a. Great Skua) which will catch other birds as food for its young. A great boat trip to take is with Dr. Jonathan Wills aboard the Dunter III with Sea Birds and Seals http://www.seabirds-and-seals.com/ . Jonathan has an underwater camera aboard so you can see below the surface as well. You get great views of the cliff areas where numerous species of seabirds nest and you get to see Puffin Flotillas out in the ocean.Related to:
Visit abandoned churches and graveyards
There are abandoned settlements throughout Shetland. Many of these are due to the Clearances that also had a major impact on Orkney and the Highlands. They are dotted across the landscape. Many people have moved into newer homes and have left the old croft houses to fall into disrepair.Related to:
- Historical Travel
This is a beautiful, windy area where there is a lighthouse and a wonderful view of the cliffs. There is a lava flow here and a blowhole where water flies up through a break in the rock. It is a great location for walks.Related to:
Peat Cutting in Shetland
Some people in Shetland still heat their homes with peat. There are vast peat cutting areas where families have individual plots and cut peat using traditional methods. The photos here show peat stacked outside the Shetlands Crofthouse Museum plus several that show the peat cutting areas as well as the initial drying of peat bricks and their stacking for final drying before transport.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Beware of Nikademius the mischievous Trow
A walk down the daal to the 'Sneck o da Smallie' on Foula is a must for all people who like adventure ,who dont mind a 100ft rock scramble through a dank dark rock fault which cuts down to the sea giving access to teeming seabird colonies. Legend has it that a Trow (troll) called 'nikademius' lives in this recess! but we haven't found him yet.
be prepared to get wet and dirty. sounds like an ordeal but it is well worth it!
other places to see on foula are The Kame..one of the highest ,sheerest sea cliffs in britain...1200ft drop into the Atlantic...not for the faint hearted or vertigo sufferer !
The sea stack 'Gaada ' at the north end of the isle is spectacular .It is made up of 3 pillars towering 130ft ...nesting seabirds wheel in and out of it as the clear blue lashes about its feet.
A traverse of Foula's hills is a must and it is possible to walk them easily within a day. the highest being 'The Sneug' at 1400 ft. On a clear fine day it is must.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
Take a boat-trip
If you haven't arrived in your own boat a boat-trip will show you a side of Shetland which is otherwise inaccessible.
There are several trips operating out of Lerwick, including the 'Seabirds-and-seals' trip which I took (see the Lerwick page for the review). Well worth the money.
Or you could take the Mousa ferry from Aithsvoe (see my Mousa page), probably seeing porpoises on the way and certainly giving you 3 hours or so on the island to explore its wonderful birdlife and its magnificent Iron Age broch, the best-preserved example in existence.
Or you could take the regular ferry from Lerwick to Bressay and/or perhaps drive across that island to take the ferry (an inflatable boat) to the Noss National Nature Reserve.
Or you could drive up to Toft and take the ferry to Yell, and perhaps onwards to Unst.
Ferry options and timetables can be found on the link below.
Lots and lots of options, whether you have a car or not. But, definitely, take some sort of boat trip whilst you are visiting!Related to:
- Family Travel
Walk and walk and walk....
Drive to get to places, of course...or take the bus.
But Shetland is made for walking. Unlike Orkney, it has very few cows....it's sheep country....so you need not worry about crossing fields full of nursing cows or bullocks here!
And Scotland does not have the public footpaths you find in England, so you can walk anywhere...but sensibly, of course.
Don't walk through growing crops (remember grass is a crop, for hay); walk round the edge of the field.
Leave gates as you find them and, if you must climb a gate or fence (because it is otherwise un-moveable) then make sure you climb nearest the hinged gatepost, where it's stongest.
Don't leave litter of any type. Not only is it ugly, it can (and does) also kill wildlife.
Avoid frightening sheep (it can make them abort when pregnant, it can lead to them breaking limbs at other times) or seals (they loll because they need to do so, not because they are lazy).
Avoid frightening birds too: many birds will abandon their nests if frightened, but the skuas and fulmars (especially the bonxies) will make very sure they frighten *you*!. Even though they rarely hit you, being dive-bombed by screaming, angry skuas or fulmars is remarkably scary and unpleasant...put your hand above your head and beat a hasty retreat.
When you are walking you'll see birds and flowers, wonderful geology and landscape, superb views around every corner. Along the coast you'll see seals, maybe porpoises.....maybe whales if you are seriously lucky!
There are more than 6000 archaeological sites in Shetland. Many are not signed in any way, but you'll see them marked on the Ordnance Survey maps (well worth buying these before you come). Walking is the only way to visit most of these......Iron Age brochs, Neolithic barrow tombs, Bronze age 'burnt mounds', ancient standing stones...
So.....wear the right clothes, wear the right footwear, pack something to eat and drink (shops are few and far between), remember your binoculars and your camera... and set out to explore. If you are exploring wild country, such as Northmavine, take Ordnance Survey map, compass and emergency supplies with you.
Enjoy! :-)Related to:
- Family Travel
- Hiking and Walking
Lerwick is the capital of Shetland, with stone-flagged streets and many narrow 'closses' (alleyways), shops, cafes and a couple of supermarkets...and a population of less than 8000, although almost half of the whole Shetland population (totalling 22000) live nearby..
So, as you can imagine, it's not really a huge capital city. It's just a small town, where people know each other, where the community is strong but visitors are welcomed.
I'll write in more detail about the town on my Lerwick page. It has a really excellent (and new) museum, a lovely (and busy) set of harbours where you can watch boats and birds, several interesting bits of architecture and lovely walks along the Knab.
It is from Lerwick that most buses and boat tours around the island operate...seabirds and seals and stunning cliff scenery. The ferry to Bressay leaves regularly (every 30 minutes or so, a 10-minute trip) so it's easy to visit there too. A car helps hugely but you can still see a lot of the islands by bus.
If you visit Shetland you'll almost certainly visit Lerwick, and definitely so if you come on a cruise: it's Shetland's cruise port. You'll enjoy it! :-)Related to:
- Family Travel
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