Scotland's Year of Coast & Waters

Photo: Andrew Simpson Zoom Photo: Andrew Simpson Scotland’s Year of Coast and Waters has been carried over to 2021 after all events were cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid19 outbreak. This theme is a perfect fit for Shetland, which boasts over 2,700km of coastline, equating to approximately 15 per cent of the entire coastline of the UK. The coastal scenery of the archipelago is incredibly diverse, being spread over 100 islands, 15 of which are inhabited, and comprising everything from towering cliffs to serene silver beaches.

The unique scenery of Shetland is due to its diverse geology, with gneiss rocks dating back over three billion years to when Shetland was part of the North American continent, just one of the reasons why Shetland is designated a Unesco Global Geopark. Once located close to the South Pole, it has moved north over millions of years, with evidence left around the shoreline such as the Shetland Ophiolite. These serpentine rocks were formed around 500 million years ago when part of the floor of the ancient Iapetus Ocean was forced up over the North American continental crust and are now exposed in parts of Unst and Fetlar.

There is something different to see along the entire shoreline for the visitor travelling around Shetland. The high cliffs of Foula (at 376m the Kame is one of the highest in the UK), Hermaness, Sumburgh Head, Noss and Fair Isle are home to internationally important seabird colonies that are a spectacular sight to see in summer.

Eshaness has black, volcanic cliffs constantly battered by the Atlantic wind and waves that have resulted in stacks, blow holes and the biggest sea cave in the UK at over 20m high. There is also a ‘Stevenson’ lighthouse at Eshaness to accompany the other three at Muckle Flugga (Unst), Sumburgh Head and Bressay. The island of Papa Stour also has some amazing sea caves and cliff scenery.

Photo: J Henry Zoom Photo: J Henry At Mavis Grind the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea are separated only by a very narrow isthmus. The island of Mousa has the best-preserved broch (Iron-Age round tower) in Scotland as well as a colony of rare storm petrel seabirds in summer, while St Ninian’s Isle is reached via Europe’s finest tombolo beach and is the site of a nationally important discovery of silver Pictish treasure.

Archaeology is abundant around the coast of Shetland, with Bronze and Iron Age sites sitting alongside Viking and medieval, with the famous Jarlshof site containing elements of them all.

Shetland has some of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the world, with Sands of Breckon and West Sandwick in Yell, Tresta in Fetlar and St Ninian’s Isle and West Voe in the south mainland regularly winning Blue Flag awards from the Keep Scotland Beautiful environmental charity.

Wildlife is plentiful on the Shetland coastline where 12 per cent of the UK’s otters live, while orcas and other cetaceans often patrol just offshore in seas which have some of the richest fishing grounds in the world.

For more information on this themed year, see

by Steve Mathieson