Trip 1: 12-19 july 2014
12-7 Saturday – Welcome Dinner & Mousa Broch Storm Petrels
Late afternoon / early evening rendezvous at the Sumburgh Hotel. After our welcome dinner and orientation we take a boat to the island of Mousa. Mousa Broch dates back to the Iron Age and is the largest example of its kind in Scotland, standing at a staggering 43 ft high! The broch is the summer home to hundreds of European Storm Petrels, which return ashore to their nests as darkness falls – their bat-like displays as they fly in from the ocean are a truly awesome sight. We depart Mousa just after midnight and return to Sumburgh. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.
13-7 Sunday – Seabirds & Selkies
During the morning, we visit Sumburgh Head to view multitudes of seabirds, including our first Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Shags. We’ll also be seeking out Shetland’s commoner passerines – Wheatears, Rock and Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Twite and the Shetland Wren. If seas are calm enough we’ll spend time looking offshore for Minke Whales, White-beaked Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises. In recent years we’ve also recorded both Killer and Humpback Whales. Then on to the peninsula of Scatness for breeding Arctic Terns – and both Common and Grey Seals – and to the Loch of Hillwell and Loch of Spiggie for an excellent assortment of breeding wildfowl and waders. We end the day at Dalsetter, observing typical moorland-breeding species like Curlew, Whimbrel and Arctic Skua. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.
14-7 Monday – Tingwall Valley & Britain’s best bird cliff!
We spend the morning in the crystalline limestone valley of Tingwall, where we hope to observe our first Red-throated Divers, Red-breasted Mergansers and Britain’s only breeding Whooper Swans! Arctic Hare is also a Tingwall speciality and we would hope to encounter several individuals in the upper reaches of the valley. After lunch, we board our boat for an unforgettable cruise around the island of Noss for spectacular views of the famous seabird colony, often referred to as “Britain’s best bird cliff.” We’ll meet 20,000 Gannets, 40,000 Guillemots and 5,000 Kittiwakes! We’ll also visit Common and Grey Seal colonies and look for Harbour Porpoises along the way. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.
15-7 Tuesday – Fetlar – the Garden of Shetland
We travel north, across the island of Yell, to connect with the morning ferry to the island of Fetlar. The prize here will be the handsome Red-necked Phalarope, famous for its breeding role reversal. Fetlar holds over 90% of the British breeding population, although the birds’ stay on the island is brief – they generally arrive during the third week of May and are gone by the end of July! We should also see a wide variety of other breeding birds including Red-throated Diver, Whimbrel, Golden Plover, Dunlin and, if we’re lucky, a summering Great Northern Diver. We’ll also search the north shore of the island for Otters. Fetlar’s fertile land produces a dazzling display of wild flowers and we should find several species of Orchid with ease. We cross Bluemull Sound late in the afternoon and arrive on Unst, Britain’s most northerly island. Overnight at the Baltasound Hotel, Unst.
16-7 Wednesday – Unst – The end of Britain!
We have a full day to explore our favourite sites on Unst. The magnificent glacial inlet at Burrafirth will reveal inshore species like Black Guillemots, Red-throated Divers and Red-breasted Mergansers and we will also witness magnificent displays of wild flowers at the ‘hanging gardens’. The moorland nearby at Saxa Vord hosts impressive gatherings of Bonxies and we should also find Whimbrel, Golden Plovers and lots of Wheatears. We’ll also visit Britain’s most northerly settlement at Skaw and search the lush flower-rich meadows of Norwick for breeding Redshank, Snipe and Curlew. In the afternoon we explore the sheltered bays and wetlands of southern Unst. Otters and seals will be our prime targets along with handsome brick-red Black-tailed Godwits. Only a handful of Black-tailed Godwits breed in Shetland and they belong to the race islandica, which is more widely distributed in the Faeroes and Iceland. We should also encounter Dunlins on breeding territory giving their trilling display song. After dinner we visit a small marsh and listen for one of Britain’s rarest breeders – Spotted Crake. Our chances of seeing this Starling-sized skulker are probably nil but we should hopefully hear its weird, whip-whistling song. Overnight at the Baltasound Hotel.
17-7 Thursday – Unst – Hermaness & Keen of Hamar
We spend the morning walking on Hermaness National Nature Reserve. A walk on this reserve is essential to appreciate just why Hermaness is one of Europe’s most important wildlife sites. The moorland is home to 800 pairs of Great Skuas – the second largest ‘Bonxie’ colony in the world – and the cliffs house 50,000 Puffins, 40,000 Guillemots, 28,000 Fulmars and over 20,000 Gannets! The cacophony of bird cries and the smell of guano make this an overwhelming wildlife experience! Amidst the tapestry of Heather, Crowberry, Bog Bilberry and Bog Cotton we’ll search for the carnivorous Sundew and Butterwort. In the afternoon we visit the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve. Hiking on this barren serpentine fell-field has been likened to walking on the Moon but, as we explore this unique habitat, a diverse eco-system appears. The reserve is home to an array of rare wild flowers, including Arctic Sandwort, Frog Orchid and Shetland Mouse-Ear Chickweed – found here but nowhere else in the world! Late in the afternoon we will island-hop south and overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.
18-7 Friday – Northmavine
We spend the day in the north Mainland – a beautiful region composed mainly of red granite and diorite. We will spend the morning at one of our favourite patches of moorland, looking for the elusive Arctic Hare along with Red Grouse and an array of breeding waders such as Dunlin, Snipe and Curlew. Continuing north towards the picturesque village of Hillswick, we make a stop to find the rare and declining Oysterplant. We lunch at the awe-inspiring Eshaness Cliffs, where caves, crags and rocky ‘geos’ form some of Shetland’s most dramatic and iconic scenery. We visit the Grind o’ da Navir – an incredible amphitheatre formed by the huge seas of violent winter storms and on our return, we will stop to admire the Holes of Scraada – a 132-yard collapsed cave. On our return to the lighthouse we will keep an eye offshore for plunge-diving Gannets and Terns, and with luck we may sight whales and dolphins. In the late afternoon, we head back to the south Mainland for our farewell dinner. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.
After breakfast we’ll transfer you to Sumburgh airport, or make arrangements for you to travel to your onward destination in Shetland. However, you may like to join one of our follow-on holidays!
I explored the peninsula of Scatness near Sumburgh in the afternoon.
Trip 2: 20-26 july 2014
19-7 Saturday – Welcome Dinner
Late afternoon / early evening rendezvous at Sumburgh Hotel. After our welcome dinner, maybe stroll along the beautiful beach at Scousburgh Sands or walk around the RSPB Loch of Spiggie. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.
20-7 Sunday – Sumburgh Head & St Ninian’s Isle – 8 miles combined
Our first morning sees us on a circular walk from around the most southerly point of Shetland Mainland. From the heights of Compass Head, we will get breathtaking views of the east coast of Shetland, before heading along the cliff tops above ‘The Slithers’ to Sumburgh Head, dominated by the impressive lighthouse built by Robert Stevenson in 1821. Sumburgh Head is home to an array of seabirds and we should see plenty of photogenic Puffins! After a picnic lunch, we’ll follow the coastal trail back along the shore of West Voe via the archaeological site of Jarlshof, where a series of settlements exist, some dating back to the Neolithic period. In the afternoon we drive to the township of Bigton and head west to one of Shetland’s most iconic attractions – St Ninian’s Isle. The isle itself is connected to coast of the Mainland by the largest active tombolo in the UK. After crossing this sandy isthmus, we will visit the ruins of the 12th Century chapel which is famous as the site where in 1958 a local schoolboy discovered a hoard of Celtic treasure under a cross-marked slab in the floor whilst helping visiting archaeologists at a dig on the site! On our way around the isle we will take the time to enjoy the sight and sounds of the beautiful seascapes, perhaps with a glimpse of Foula out to the west, Sandness Hill to the north and Fitful Head to the south. The waters around the isle are particularly good for Harbour Porpoise and both Common and Grey Seals.
21-7 Monday – Quendale to Spiggie – 8 miles
Our walk today starts at the beautiful Quendale Bay and takes us through the deserted village of Garths Ness before heading through the Noup, to the summit of Fitful Head – the home of ‘Norna’ the witch, who features in Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Pirate. We’ll enjoy a panoramic view of St. Ninian’s Isle to the north, Foula to the west and Fair Isle to the south. After a picnic lunch, we follow the towering cliffs north along Fora Ness and the Wick of Shunni. From our high vantage point we’ll see thousands of seabirds, including Great and Arctic Skuas, Puffins, Guillemots and Fulmars, watch Seals fishing beneath us and maybe even encounter a small party of Harbour Porpoises. We end the walk at the beautiful Peerie Voe, where the north isles steamer used to call in during the last century. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.
22-7 Tuesday – Eshaness Peninsula – 9 miles
The combination of dramatic coastal scenery, unusual natural features and historical sites make this an event-filled day. Our walk begins at Eshaness lighthouse, 200 feet above sea level. We head north along the coast on a springy grassland of plantains and Sea Pinks, among some of the most dramatic scenery Shetland has to offer. The coastline, indented with caves and natural arches, culminates at the Grind of the Navir, a cross between a quarry and an amphitheatre created by the huge seas of violent winter storms. On the return to the lighthouse we will stop to admire the Holes of Scraada, a gaping 132-yard collapsed cave, and explore the Houlland broch set in a shallow tranquil loch and boasting a diameter of 57 feet! Then we will set off via Ronas Voe to the Isle of Fethaland (the fertile land) the most northerly tip of the Shetland Mainland. The ‘island’ is actually connected to Mainland by a storm beach, on which an Iron-age homestead and one of the best remaining ruins of Shetland’s Haaf (deep sea) fishing stations is situated. It is a site of both great poignancy and beauty. We will walk on to the Point of Fethaland, overlooking Ramna (raven) Stacks across green pastures, which are full of flowers in season. Throughout the day we will see most of Shetland’s seabirds, including Puffins and Arctic Terns, and also several of Shetland’s northern waders including Ringed Plover. Late in the afternoon we catch a ferry to Yell and then cross Bluemull Sound to Britain’s most northerly inhabited island – Unst. Overnight at the Baltasound Hotel.
23-7 Wednesday – North Unst – 8 miles
We spend the day hiking on Hermaness National Nature Reserve. From the old lighthouse shore station at Burrafirth we cross the heather moorland to reach the towering cliffs, which are home to over 100,000 seabirds, including some very approachable Puffins. A true seabird city! We skirt the western flank of Hermaness to reach the northern edge of the reserve. This is as close as one can get on foot to Muckle Flugga lighthouse and the Out Stack – the most northerly point in Britain! We’ll spare a thought for Lady Jane Franklin, wife of the ill-fated Arctic explorer, Sir John. Lady Franklin visited Unst in the 1850s and asked to be taken to the most northerly spot. Jessie Saxby wrote: “She stood on the Out Stack and said ‘send love on the wings of a prayer’, quite silent with tears falling slowly and her hands stretched out toward the north”. Hermaness is also a wonderful place for wild flowers – amidst the tapestry of Heather, Crowberry, Bog Bilberry and Bog Cotton we’ll search for the carnivorous Sundew and Butterwort. After dinner there’s an optional walk to the Keen of Hamar to seek out more rare flora – in particular Shetland Mouse-Ear Chickweed – found here, but nowhere else in the world! Overnight at the Baltasound Hotel.
24-7 Thursday – South Unst – 8 miles
We spend the day hiking around the southwest corner of Unst. We start at Belmont (where photographers will find some pedigreed Shetland Ponies!) and skirt the coastline of Hoga Ness – an excellent spot for Otters. From here we walk northwards along the shore of Blue Mull Sound, where the tide, in full flow, rips by at 6 knots carrying seals and seabirds and sometimes freewheeling Harbour Porpoise. Then on to the headland of Blue Mull itself, where there are ancient outlines of buildings thought to have been Iron Age watchtowers or monastic settlements. Here we will have lunch looking west across to the north coast of Yell and north along the rugged west coast of Unst itself. In the afternoon we will descend the Mull to Lunda Wick and spend a little time exploring the 12th century church of St Olaf. We then cross the beautiful sandy beach of Lund and make our way to Shetland’s largest standing stone at Boardastubble. From there we will cross the moorland to the now isolated and deserted crofts of Easterhouse, Westerhouse and Southerhouse, all built from the stones of a once huge broch, now in ruins. We complete the circle back to Belmont, via the Loch of Snarravoe, with a brief visit to the partly excavated remains of a Viking longhouse. Overnight at the Baltasound Hotel.
25-7 Friday – Muckle Roe – 7 miles
This morning we cross back through Yell to Mainland, passing by Sullom Voe and its well-hidden and well-managed oil port, to Muckle Roe. Throughout the week we will have walked over almost every example of Shetland’s rich geology. From the sandstones of Fitful and Sandness, to the tuffs and lavas of Eshaness and from the calcareous rocks of Fethaland to the schists and serpentines of Unst. We complete our ‘geological tour’ on the rugged and red granite rocks of Muckle Roe. Our walk starts from Little-Ayre and takes in the Hill of Tongues and Pict’s Ness as well as the wild west coast of the island. There is much that is different from the rest of Shetland on this hike – the moorland is rich in the prostrate northern shrubs of bilberry, bearberry and juniper and, early in the season, the coast is dotted by the pin-cushion flowers of Moss Campion. We will also pass by one of Shetland’s very few Cormorant colonies. If we have time (and energy!), we may hike the extra mile to the spectacular Erne (eagle) Stack on the north coast, unfortunately no longer occupied. From there we will return across the moorland via the deserted crofts of the Hams. We drive back to Sumburgh for our well-earned farewell dinner. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.
After breakfast we’ll transfer you to Sumburgh airport, or make arrangements for you to travel to your onward destination in Shetland.
I went on to Lerwick youth hostel and explored the town.
Cycling on West Burra peninsula.
Cycling on Bressay island near Lerwick
Bus to and walking around Wall in west-Mainland.
For more information on the travel agency see: Shetland Wildlife