Out Skerries, Shetland
Photo: John Irvine Skerries is the most easterly of Shetland's islands and is a great place for birdlife (including migrants), wildflowers and sea life, and popular with divers to the many shipwrecks around the coastline. Lying 24 miles northeast of Lerwick, the isles boast some of the most beautiful natural harbours and sounds in Shetland, carved through erosion and sea-level rise.
Housay and Bruray (the east and west isles), the uninhabited Grunay, and many other islets and rocks make up Skerries. The total land area is less than two miles square (consisting of a variety of rock types ranging from the bare outcrops of gneiss along the coasts to the fertile limestone band through the centre of the islands) and there is one mile of road.
Photo: Alastair Christie-Johnston Bird watching and botany are of major interest, with many of the UK’s rarest birds and flowers to be seen. Rare migrants have included dark eyed junco, Isabelline shrike, pine bunting and thick-billed warbler. Resident wildlife includes seabirds, seals and otters. Sea pinks are abundant on the cliff tops and alpine and meadow flowers give a colourful show in the fields and verges.
The seas around Skerries offer some of the best diving in Britain with crystal clear waters warmed by the passing North Atlantic Drift. Interesting shipwrecks include the Dutch East Indiamen Kennemerland (1664) and De Liefde (1711), and the Danish warship Wrangels Palais (1677). Artefacts can be seen in the Shetland Museum. Wood, procured from the wrecked German sailing ship Norwind (1906), was put to good use by islanders.
Photo: Agnieska Gardner Bound Skerry lighthouse (now automatic) was built at a cost of £21,000 in 1857. This is Shetland’s easternmost point and Robert Louis Stevenson’s signature appears in the visitors’ book. The lightkeepers were housed on Grunay.
The name Out Skerries is from (ON) sker – a rock in the sea; Housay is from húsey – house island; and Bruray from brú – bridge (the island forming a ‘bridge’ between Housay and Grunay (ON groeney – green isle).
There are small stone circles from the Bronze age, the largest being the 42ft circle at Battle Pund. In Scotland battle punds were the site of blood feuds, settled in single combat.
Skerries has two shops (post office in West Isle shop), a kirk and public hall, and until recently also boasted Scotland’s smallest cinema. Although the resident population has dwindled to around 40, due mainly to the closure of the isles’ salmon business and secondary school, the community is determined to overcome this and still offers its well-known warm welcome and generous hospitality to all. Guided tours of the isle can be arranged.
Photo: John Coutts Guided tours of the isle can be arranged.
The inter-island ro-ro ferry sails from Vidlin and sometimes from Lerwick. Bookings to 01595 745804; ferry information 01595 743975; www.shetland.gov.uk/ferries.
For details of visitor berths at the marina see www.shetland.org/visit/do/outdoors/sail.
For accommodation options check with Visit Scotland.
Visit The Shetland Times Bookshop for a great selection of books, maps, guides and gifts.