Shetland's Most Beautiful Hidden Gems
Fair Isle, Shetland, Scotland | © Reading Tom/Flickr
Appropriately referred to as Ultima Thule, meaning ‘beyond the borders of the known world’, the Shetland Isles are in a league of their own. Sitting 60 degrees north, this subarctic archipelago consists of some 100 islands (only 15 are inhabited), each thronged with secret beaches, rare wildlife, a unique culture and menacingly handsome cliffs. From the wild to the ancient, explore Shetland’s most beautiful hidden gems.
Shetland’s Eshaness Peninsula is a masterpiece of Mother Nature. Vast imposing chunks of jagged cliff clash with the ferocious swells of the North Atlantic, highlighting the assortment of stacks, blowholes and geos (or narrow inlets). The intoxicating views feature in the BBC drama Shetland and boast a history as dramatic as their likeness. Some 300 to 400 million years ago, when Shetland had a tropical climate and lay close to the equator as part of a huge supercontinent, the Eshaness Volcano guarded the area. Today, the layered cliffs reveal what is regarded as the ‘greatest section through the flank of a volcano’ in the entire British Isles.
Skaw is special for a multitude of reasons. This stunner of a white sandy beach holds the title of the most northerly beach in the UK, and is tucked away on Unst at Skaw, a hamlet that plays host to Britain’s most northerly house, by a patch of grassland overrun with wildflowers. Strategically sheltered from the elements, Skaw has panoramic views, blissful solitude and swimming with seals. Those longing for true isolation can venture south for about a kilometre until the super remote beach at Inner Skaw makes itself known.
Hermaness National Nature Reserve
Hermaness National Nature Reserve is yet another Shetland gem perched upon wildly dramatic cliffs. Home to birds of all kinds like puffins, kittiwakes and fulmars, the surrounding moorland transforms into a patchwork quilt of colour during summer, thanks to the sea of heather, crowberry, bog bilberry and mosses. Down below, Shetland’s resident seals can be spotted basking as they please, while the atmospheric old lighthouse of Muckle Flugga, a tiny slither of a rocky island famed as Britain’s most northerly point, is also best viewed from this point.
The White Wife Of Otterswick
Gazing solemnly out to sea at the Ness of Queyon is a haunting statue called the White Wife of Otterswick, White Wife or Da Wooden Wife. Found with a bible in hand on the Isle of Yell, this woman is the reconstructed figurehead of a ship that sank nearby in 1924. The Bohus saw its last voyage when it veered off course due to a navigational error and the unfortunate set of events that followed, killing four crew members. Thankfully, a local with a fine throw managed to help save the majority by casting a line to the ship.
Ronas Voe is every adventurer’s dream. Adored by kayakers and those seeking a slice of solo serenity, this peaceful inlet is a fine example of Shetland’s breathtaking scenery. Expect grand sweeping panoramas of emotional skies, brooding sea-stacks and a sea with a mind of its own. The best part? Pure peace and quiet and more often than not, not a single soul in sight! Found around the northwest area of the Shetland mainland, this hidden gem extends out for six miles.
Fair Isle Bird Observatory And Guest House
As bonnie as can be, Fair Isle has long been a magnet for bird enthusiasts, as demonstrated by its world-famous bird observatory. Renovated to provide three-star accommodation, the Fair Isle Bird Observatory and Guest House is a haven of scientific research for seabirds and bird migration, and a true birding playground. Visitors are spoiled for choice with an array of guided or regular walks, and can even see the process of birds being ringed. Between the incredible hospitality and wondrous bird selection in every season, the ‘Obvs’ at Fair Isle is a truly special one-of-a-kind place cherished by all who visit.
From puffins to killer whales and with wondrous panoramic views, excitement doesn’t stray far from Fair Isle. Graced with an otherworldly cliff-lined coast, caves and a surplus of sea stacks, this beauty of an island is a slice of paradise. Rich in wildlife (particularly birds of all kinds) and flora and fauna, the island runs three miles long and 1.5 miles wide. The vibrant blanket of fields, sandstone cliffs, bayhead beaches and moors attract outdoor lovers, but most refreshing is the way of life, with its one shop and one museum. A number of skilled local craftspeople are always open to showcasing the traditional knitwear native to Fair Isle.
Bobby’s Bus Shelter
A testament to the Unst community spirit, perhaps the most unique of Shetland’s attractions is Bobby’s Bus Shelter. The story started when the original old weathered shelter (complete with iron chair) was torn down for safety purposes. Cold and bus shelter-less, a sharp local schoolboy petitioned for a replacement, sending a plea to the local paper. Shortly after the shiny new red shelter arrived, a wee wicker table and sofa appeared, and before long, a surplus of anonymously-donated furnishings kept coming. Since 2002, Bobby’s Shelter has been decked out according to annual themes, including a Nelson Mandela Tribute, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Tall Ships, the World Cup and sheep!
From pebble-strewn strands to sugary white wide-open sand, Shetland is overrun with beaches of all types. But there’s no denying the appeal of Quendale Bay when it comes to surfing the wild Shetland waves. With sizeable swells, this sweet spot is a must for those undeterred by the cold. Alternatively, Quendale is also suited to gentle meanders along the sandy carpet of a beach. Keep your eyes peeled for marine life like the pods of orcas known to grace the area with their majestic presence. The mirrie dancers, or northern lights, are also fond of the bay.
Ness of Burgi
The wonderfully moody Ness of Burgi is a must-visit, in part due to its dramatic location surrounded by three vertigo-inducing cliffs, and also because of the rugged grassland trek required to reach it. Found precariously on a rocky promontory at the very south of Mainland, this structure dates back to the Iron Age. It’s also a fine example of a ‘blockhouse fort’, which is described by Historic Environment Scotland as ‘a rare type of monument of which there are only three confirmed examples, all in Shetland.’ The views from the site are the stuff of dreams.
These recommendations were updated on August 1, 2018 to keep your travel plans fresh.