Sandwick Beach, Unst Shetland’s natural landscape and its surrounding seas offer ample opportunity for outdoor pursuits and water-based activities. Walk the coastline or hike the moorland and hills, fish for hard-fighting trout or record-breaking ling, kayak around stacks and in caves, play golf on the cliff tops, have a leisurely sail with seals and dolphins, dive interesting shipwrecks, cycle, bowl, swim, beachcomb… the list is endless.
If you need to get indoors for a spell you can spend some time at one of eight leisure centres and swimming pools at locations across the islands, or even try escaping from ‘locked rooms’ in Unst or Lerwick!
Surfing at Quendale Beach. Shetland’s isles and sheltered voes have attracted cruising yachts since the 19th century although the islands’ seafaring traditions go back much further. Anchor in a remote bay, enjoy the silence and view spectacular sunrises and sunsets; or tie up in Lerwick, Scalloway, Brae, or one of the rural marinas with visitor berths to enjoy the local delights (www.shetland.gov.uk/ports/yachting).
The sea may not be the warmest in the world but it is mostly clean and clear, and sailing, yachting, rowing, kayaking and angling feature prominently in the summer calendar.
There are hundreds of beaches and coves around the coastline, from white sand tombolos to boulder-strewn geos; many are safe for swimming, but be vigilant of tides and currents.
Sea fishing for cod, halibut, ling and mackerel is always exciting, and quite often record-breaking. Most boat trip operators can be chartered for angling trips and gear can be hired. For more details contact Visit Scotland or see www.shetland.org.
...at the loch side
Trout fishing at West Burrafirth Shetland has over 300 trout lochs ranging from rich limestone lochs to dark mysterious, peaty pools, sprinkled all over the mainland and main islands. This is truly a trout fisherman’s paradise. Be prepared for hard-fighting, wild trout in wild places, where your only fishing companions may be otters and herons.
Shetland Anglers' Association's Trout Fishing in Shetland leaflet carries useful information and details on fishing permits and other news can be found at www.shetlandtrout.co.uk
- Brown trout season runs from 15th March to 6th October.
- Sea trout* season runs from 25th February to 31st October.
*It is illegal to fish for sea trout on a Sunday.
If you’d rather stay on dry land, Shetland is an excellent place for walking. From challenging treks over rough, hilly moorland to gentle strolls along the coastline, there is certainly plenty of scope for walkers of all abilities. And cyclists are pretty spoilt too, with the openness of the countryside providing great cycling, often with nothing but the sounds of nature to accompany you. Cycle hire is available in Unst and Lerwick. (Note that town roads can be fairly busy at peak times.)
Spectacular sea cliff scenery in the north Mainland Peter Guy’s superb series of books on Walking the Coastline of Shetland are interspersed with snippets of local history and legend relevant to each area. Books can be bought from the Shetland Times Bookshop or on a visitor's ticket from the Shetland Library.
Guided natural history and wildlife walks are also arranged by Shetland Field Studies Group (advance booking with Visit Scotland is essential), Shetland Amenity Trust Ranger Service, RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage as well as independent tour operators.
Birdwatchers at St. Ninian’s Isle Useful websites for walkers:
If you’d rather walk around a golf course, the Asta course near Scalloway is a picturesque nine-holes where visitors are welcome (www.astagolfcourse.com), and there are 18-hole courses at Dale, just north of Lerwick (www.shetlandgolfclub.co.uk), and at Skaw on the island of Whalsay (www.whalsaygolfclub.com). A free nine-hole course is sited at the Knab in Lerwick where you’ll also find a skatepark to amuse those, perhaps younger, family members. Traditional playparks are located throughout the isles, often in school playgrounds, but mostly accessible all year round.
Bowling at the Lerwick green. The bowling green in the King George Park, between King Harald Street and St Olaf Street in Lerwick, is open from mid-May to September and visitors are welcome. The ‘flower park’ also has a tennis court and putting green available for public use. Ask park gardener for details or check with the Islesburgh Complex across the road.
Horticultural tourism is on the rise and there are some wonderful and unusual ‘private’ Shetland gardens open to visitors, usually for a donation to charity. It’s also worthwhile making a visit to the Westside to stroll in Lea Gardens at Tresta, Michaelswood at Aith (which is also home to a dinosaur or two!) and Da Gairdins at Sand. See www.scotlandsgardens.org for more details.