Tingwall and Central Mainland, Shetland
Photo: Kim Rendall Containing some of the most spectacular vistas and green and verdant landscapes, the central part of mainland Shetland is a boon for photographers, golfers, ornithologists, otter spotters, historians, anglers, botanists, geologists and art lovers. From the fertile Tingwall Valley and the deepest loch at Girlsta to the offshore isles at Nesting and the ‘forest’ at Kergord, the area is full of scenic and interesting attractions.
Leaving Scalloway, head through the Tingwall valley with its rich soil and profusion of wild blooms. The loch has nesting swans and ducks. The road is mostly single track with passing places, so drive carefully.
The name Tingwall is from ON Þingvöllr (field of the parliament). Law Ting Holm at the north of the loch was the site of the Alting – the annual Norse parliament – an assembly of freemen and a court of law. Camp was set up in the valley but the meeting was held on the islet, which was accessible by briggistanes. Interpretive panels at the loch side give more details.
Photo: Anne Macdonald The lochs of Asta and Tingwall are almost joined together and should be on any angler’s ‘to do’ list. The Tingwall trout have a tendency to bottom-feed, so if things are looking dour try the more free-rising Asta trout. If you're keen on walking, the chain of hill lochs to the west of Tingwall makes an enjoyable day out.
Asta Golf Club’s nine-hole course, lying between the road and the loch, is open to visitors and small groups. There are two course layouts in use and the tees are switched mid-month. The clubhouse is also the venue for fortnightly musical evenings throughout the year. Check the information board for details.
Tingwall Church (1790) is built on the site of an earlier kirk and has the grave of Andrew Crawford, architect of Muness and Scalloway castles and the Earl’s Palace in Orkney, in the kirkyard.
Turn left leaving the valley to find Tingwall Airport, the base for regular inter-island flights to the outer isles. The flight operator, Airtask, may also arrange short airborne sight-seeing trips – a unique tour opportunity to add to your ‘to-do’ list!
Photo: Kim Rendall The Loch of Strand in the northern part of Tingwall valley is a good loch for sea and brown trout fishing and the Tingwall hall is a well-used community facility.
Laxfirth was the site of Hanseatic trading with Germany in days past. Laxfirth House at the head of the voe has been the home of the present family for over a hundred years. On the point of the east side of the voe, at Hawks Ness, are the remains of a broch.
There are fine walks and good views of Dales Voe and north from the Califf and Braewick areas.
The rocks that make up the central ‘spine’ of Shetland are the roots of the ancient Caledonian Mountain Chain, the remains of which can be seen as far afield as North America, Greenland, Scandinavia, Scotland and Ireland.
The small settlement of Girlsta has Shetland’s largest and deepest loch. The islet in the loch is said to be the last resting place of Geirhildr, who drowned in the loch in 870AD while accompanying her father on a trip to Iceland. The name Girlsta is from ON Geirhildarstaðir (woman’s name).
Photo: Austin Taylor The loch is home to brown trout and Arctic char (stranded there after the Ice Age) and offers good fishing. The loch is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Shetland Anglers’ Association request that any char caught are returned alive. Other lochs in this area will add to a good day’s fishing. These are big fish waters, with Girlsta, Benston and Houlland all capable of producing trout well over 3lb. It’s worth saying that the secret of successful angling in Shetland is to change lochs rather than persevere with changing flies on a loch where the trout are not co-operating!
Entering Nesting you pass Catfirth, a First World War base for seaplanes and a safe anchorage during the Second World War. A memorial stone marking RAF Catfirth, and the first flight to Shetland in 1918, was unveiled here in 2018. Otters, seals and occasionally killer whales can be been seen in this area.
The short drive out to Gletness is rewarding, with lovely views to the offshore isles, which inspired the late John T. Barclay to write the popular song Da Isles o Gletness.
The Moul of Eswick is an attractive area with trees affording good birdwatching opportunities. Slightly further north, The Neap is an interesting walking area with wonderful views across to Whalsay.
The halls at North and South Nesting usually serve teas in the summer, on alternate Sundays. There’s a caravan park near the South Nesting hall, a super school playground, and a well-stocked general store at Skellister. The Nesting and Girlsta Up-Helly-A’ takes place in February each year.
Photo: Kim Rendall The drive through North Nesting takes you to Laxo. A right turn here leads to Vidlin (see Lunnasting & Delting section). A left turn will take you back onto the main A970 road where you turn left again for Lerwick.
On the right you pass the Loch of Pettawater (from péttr – a Pict). Pict names are thought to relate to Shetland’s pre-Norse inhabitants, and often have association with local folklore. At Pettawater the story goes that a giant was so fed up with the local trow population that he decided to round them all up into a kishie and carry them away. The trows escaped from the bottom of the basket and caused him to trip; the loch is the imprint of his foot, and the nearby gap in the hill at Kneefell is where his knee is said to have come down!
The old coaching inn at Sandwater was the site of 19th-century livestock roups (sales), with animals driven here from all over the Mainland. Take a right turn here for the next part of your journey.
Shetland’s ‘forest’ is the plantation at Kergord, where around nine acres of mixed conifer and deciduous trees, planted 1909-21, are now home to a colony of rooks. Kergord House, built 1850, was previously part of the Flemington estate and in 1940 the house was requisitioned as headquarters for the daring ‘Shetland Bus’ wartime operations.
Photo: Kim Rendall The two parallel fertile valleys that run roughly north-south through the heart of the islands – Weisdale and Tingwall – have been carved by erosion from crystalline limestone, while more resistant schist forms the peat covered hills on either side. The peat is formed by blanket bog that forms a natural habitat for moorland nesting birds including rare whimbrel and red-throated diver.
This area is currently undergoing change due to the controversial construction of a large wind farm. In the 19th century, the Weisdale valley saw change when 318 crofters were evicted during the ‘clearances’. Local author John Graham wrote two novels on this theme.
Bonhoga Gallery, with popular café and shop, shows exhibitions of local, national and international art and craft. The gallery is housed in Weisdale Mill (1855), which was restored in 1994. Beside Weisdale Voe is the site of ‘Da Aamos Kirk’, named for the offerings or ‘olmusa’ left by seamen who made this a place of pilgrimage. A community garden beside the Weisdale kirk building was created by local volunteers with the help of the Beechgrove Garden TV programme.
If you’re continuing to the west mainland stop a while at the viewpoint up the Scord of Weisdale.
Photo: Agnieska Gardner Weisdale was the birthplace of John Clunies Ross (1786-1854), a seaman, explorer and adventurer who is best known for his connection with the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean. He established a settlement and coconut plantations and claimed the islands as his own, ruling them until his death. Formally given to the Ross family by Queen Victoria in 1886, the islands were fully integrated with Australia almost 100 years later, in 1984.
The Whiteness and Weisdale public hall is well used by the community. Sometimes, especially in sporting terms, the area is referred to as ‘Whitedale’. There are general stores in both Whiteness and Weisdale.
The workshops of Shetland Jewellery are beside the Loch of Hellister. Visitors are welcome to pop in and watch unique silver and gold items being created.
A detour into Stromfirth, with its picturesque burn, gives a nice spot to stop for a picnic and have a wander.
Photo: Shetland Jewellery/JG Rae Past the Loch of Strom, with the remains of a mediaeval ‘castle’ on its isle, is the road to South Whiteness with some spectacular displays of wild flowers along its verges, also worth the detour. Otters may be seen along the shores of Whiteness Voe.
The camping böd on the shore at Nesbister, Whiteness, was originally a fishing böd.
Some of the most breathtaking scenery in Shetland can be seen from Wormadale Hill. Take time to stop at the viewpoint and admire the landscape of inlets and islands – ancient hills and valleys ‘drowned’ by rising sea levels since the last Ice Age.
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