Wonderful walking and superb sights
by Steve Mathieson
Photo: Agnieska Gardner If you really want to get to know Shetland, there is only one way to do it – get out and get walking! You will be in for an experience like no other, whether tramping the dramatic coastline or exploring ruined settlements and dark, mysterious lochs.
One of the first things a visitor new to Shetland notices is the lack of trees, which is soon recognised by the walker as giving a particular advantage for the unimpeded, panoramic view it affords. This is particularly highlighted when peering down from a towering cliff or lofty hilltop and finding the incredibly clean air provides a view that seems to go on forever. Away from the roads and settlements the sense of peace and solitude is palpable, along with the realisation that you really are exploring one of the last remaining wild areas of Britain.
Bearing this in mind, it is good common sense to take some precautions before setting out, particularly on longer walks, such as ensuring you have the proper attire for what may be fast-changing conditions – as the saying goes, there is no such thing as poor weather, just poor clothing and equipment. As part of your preparation you should always try to listen to a local weather forecast. If the sun is shining you will see a beautiful landscape like no other, while being out in harsh weather, with the wind whipping the sea into a frenzy around the stunning coastline will provide a totally unique and exhilarating experience, providing you have your waterproofs on!
Photo: Agnieska Gardner From Fair Isle in the south to Skaw in Unst, Shetland is approximately 100 miles from south to north and has something to offer walkers on all levels, whether you are planning overnight expeditions involving wild camping or just looking for a short stroll. Impressive cliffs give way to golden, sandy beaches and wherever you roam inland you will never be more than 5km from the ocean. Although you are free to explore just about all of Shetland, there is a well-developed network of core paths you may want to utilise, and please remember to follow the advice of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code wherever you go, with particular attention to things such as avoiding disturbing livestock and controlling dogs.
Walking the coastline will bring ample opportunities to encounter wildlife at close quarters, with basking seals in abundance and otters flitting amongst the rocks and kelp, whilst a good look-out should always be kept on the sea for whales, dolphins and porpoises. In the summer months the cliffs teem with seabirds, from soaring and diving gannets to comical but hardy puffins, while on the hills you will come across mountain hares and red grouse, amongst others.
The whole of Shetland is designated a Geopark. For instance, in Unst you can walk on an ancient ocean floor containing very rare flora at the Keen of Hamar, while at Eshaness you can explore an extinct volcano. Virtually all of Shetland is accessible to the walker, and this includes the archaeology which you will literally find at your feet as you go. World-class structures such as Mousa Broch are obvious, but in fact Shetland has over 6,000 recognised archaeological sites dating back over 6,000 years, from the Neolithic Staneydale Temple near Walls to thousand-year-old Viking settlements and more recent Second World War remains. Photo: Agnieska Gardner
To get the most out of your Shetland walking you can purchase one of the excellent guides available in the Shetland Times bookshop or in the Tourist Office, enlist the help of a ranger or look into joining a walk with Shetland Field Studies Group (April-October). There are also a number of private operators you can book who will take you on more specialised walks around the islands, perhaps helping to spot local wildlife or giving a fascinating insight to the geology or archaeology. Details for all these are available at the Tourist Office in Market Cross, Lerwick.
- Shetland has 2700km of coastline and 138 sandy beaches
- Shetland has 19 ‘Marilyns’ (hills over 150m high) and more than 80 ‘Trig’ points (triangulation pillars used by Ordnance Survey)