Fetlar, Shetland

Fetlar – the ‘garden of Shetland’ – a verdant, fertile isle lying east of Yell and home to around 60 welcoming folk, has a wealth of attractions to see and enjoy among its interesting natural and ecological heritage, rare breeding and migratory birds and beautiful beaches, as well as its community events.

Photo: Brydon Thomason Zoom Photo: Brydon Thomason The excellent Interpretive Centre at Houbie (ON hópr – a landlocked bay or lagoon) is a must for visitors and has a small craft shop as well as being a tourist information point. Fetlar also has a shop/post office, café, community hall, primary school and various accommodation options to choose from.

There are good sandy beaches and several natural arches along the varied coastline. Tresta beach holds a Rural Seaside Award from Keep Scotland Beautiful. Freshwater lochs, some with restricted access, offer fly-fishing for brown trout.

RSPB Mires of Funzie nature reserve is famous for red-necked phalaropes – long distance migrants and one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds. Most of the UK population breeds here but in very low numbers. These fascinating waders can sometimes be seen at the lush Mires of Funzie or feeding along the Loch of Funzie shoreline. Public access is carefully managed in the birds’ interest. Red-throated divers frequent the loch whilst whimbrels, Arctic skuas and golden plovers breed in the surrounding area. Breeding red-necked phalaropes, whimbrels and red-throated divers are sensitive and protected by law. RSPB Scotland’s ‘Wild about Fetlar’ leaflet gives further information.

In the summer months, access to the Statutory Bird Sanctuary in the north of the island must be arranged with the warden (01957 733246). Outside the breeding season, Fetlar also attracts a great variety of migrant birds, including rare vagrants.

Photo: Yolanda Bruce Zoom Photo: Yolanda Bruce Common and grey seals can be seen along the coastline, and otters haunt the entire coast, especially between Brough Lodge and Urie. Three-hundred species of flowering plant grow in Fetlar. Some of the rarest, in Shetland terms, are members of the sedge family, with water sedge at Papil Water. The east of the island is blanket bog, with deep heather on Lambhoga. 

Interpretive exhibits and a ‘geowall’ consisting of the island’s many rock types are at Funzie and the Loch of Funzie. 

The Finnigert Dyke (Finns Dyke) divides Fetlar into two almost equal parts. It is probably prehistoric and can be traced for most of its length. Finn names sometimes derive from ON vin (pasture), but this example relates to the Finns, a mythical creature with magical powers: a maritime equivalent of the trow. Two heel-shaped cairns on Vord Hill are Neolithic. The best preserved is the north cairn. The shelter built into the wall of the south cairn is from World War One.

The Haltadans – a 38-stone ring enclosing a bank inside which are two earth-fast stones, possibly a Bronze Age cairn – is north of Setter. Theory has it as a place of trial and judgement; folklore suggests a fiddler and his wife surrounded by dancing trows who were turned to stone when caught by the rising sun. One of Shetland’s popular traditional music bands goes by the name Haltadans.

Photo: Kim Rendall Zoom Photo: Kim Rendall There are brochs at Houbie, da Kin o’ Feal and Snabrough. The Giant’s Grave, a Viking boat burial site above the beach at Sjopli Geo, featured on TV’s Time Team in 2002. 

Around 1750, John Ross carried out fish curing from Aithbank and Funzie, trading with Norway for wood to build boats and houses. ‘Aithbank’ was renovated by Shetland Amenity Trust as a camping böd. Funzie dates from the 1700s and consists of a haaf (fishing) station where fish were salted and dried before being sent to the continental market. In 1851, this was a township of 13 houses and 70 inhabitants. 

Brough Lodge was built around 1820 for Arthur Nicolson who took over the Fetlar estate from the Bruce family. The folly behind was used as an astronomical observatory in the 19th century. There are plans to eventually restore Brough Lodge as a community amenity but in the meantime the trust, with the help of private sponsors and some ‘crowdfunding’, has established the ‘Shetland Peerie Makkers’ hand-knitting project for young people (www.broughlodge.org).

Leagarth (1900) was the home of Sir William Watson Cheyne, who was involved with Lord Lister in the pioneering developments of antiseptic surgery. He also served as MP and Lord Lieutenant for Shetland. Artefacts and historical details from both Brough and Leagarth are in the Interpretive Centre.

Zoom The Fetlar Church (1790) was built on the foundations of an earlier mediaeval chapel. The graveyard has memorials to the Cheynes, Sir Arthur Nicolson and Andrew Bruce of Urie, and to Sinclair Shewan who wrote Da Fetlar Lullaby.

The inter-island ro-ro ferry to Fetlar is from Gutcher (Yell) and Belmont (Unst). Bookings to 01595 745804; ferry information 01595 743971; www.shetland.gov.uk/ferries.

For accommodation go to our search page or check with Visit Scotland.


Visit The Shetland Times Bookshop for books, maps, guides and gifts.