The north-west of Shetland (Northmavine) is undoubtedly the most rugged, wildest part of Shetland with some of the grandest scenery.
The gateway to Northmavine is at Mavis Grind. 'Mavis' comes from the Norse word meaning 'narrow isthmus of land.' 'Grind' is the Norse word for 'gate'. This is the narrowest part of the Shetland mainland. It’s the place where the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea almost meet.
Beyond the 'Gate', the landscape dramatically changes, a reflection of the underlying geology. This area of igneous intrusive rocks is dominated by Shetland's highest point, Ronas Hill, 1,486 feet (450 metres) above sea level. It is formed from a very distinctive red granite intruded into the Earth's crust some 350 million years ago. Ronas Hill is home to some rare alpine plants though accessing them is beyond the scope of this tour! The steep, southern slopes drop abruptly into Ronas Voe, *the only true fjord in Shetland. We visit Heylor, on the southern shore of the voe. At one time this was one of the most important herring stations in Shetland. It is also a good place for Otter spotting!
From Heylor, we travel west to the district of Eshaness and in doing so transit to the land of volcanoes. The road takes us to, and ends at, the Eshaness lighthouse. There at Calder's Geo, one can see the remains of an ancient volcano, active some 390 million years ago. The layers of ash, lava and agglomerate are still clearly visible.
A popular target for photographers is the 'Dore Holm', a natural arch made of the volcanic rock andestite. Nearby is the picturesque Beach of Stennes, one of the main 'Da Haaf' (Deep Sea) fishing stations in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Our trip north usually includes a visit to the Tangwick Haa Museum. At this point you will be introduced to a character from the past known locally as 'Johnny Notions', but more about that on the trip!! We then head back south to Lerwick and on the way catch a glimpse of the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, the second largest in Europe.
* Note, the word voe is the term used in Shetland for a sea loch.
David can arrange to book lunches/snacks at the Braewick Café but cost is not included in package.
As with any tour of Shetland, flexibility is inbuilt, not least because of the weather. A good pair of walking boots is advised for this trip as well as warm, waterproof clothing.
The Central Mainland is one of the most picturesque and fertile areas in Shetland, the latter beindue to the limestone nature of the soil. It is also steeped in history because not only was Scalloway with its castle the ancient capital of the islands but the Tingwall Valley was home to the Norse parliament for over 300 years.
The tour usually begins by a visit to the islands of Trondra and Burra, connected to each other and the mainland by bridges. These islands are a photographer's paradise! At secluded spots, one can regularly see North Atlantic Grey Seals hauled out of the water at low tide. Also, there are Shetland Ponies in abundance. The churchyard at Papil has produced several Christianised Pictish stones, in particular the 'Papil Stone' and the 'Monk's Stone', the originals now in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. A short drive and an even shorter walk give a breath-taking view of the Minn Beach.
We then return to Scalloway and visit the castle, built in 1595 by Earl Patrick Stewart, a relative of Mary Queen of Scots. Nearby is the Scalloway Museum with excellent displays, and majoring on the 'Shetland Bus' operation which forged a link between Scalloway and Norway during the Second World War; a link which remains strong today, with many Norwegians coming to visit the museum and other areas in the village that tell the story of events during these troubled times.
From Scalloway we head north through the fertile Tingwall Valley which in the summer months, abounds in wild flowers. The Asta and Tingwall Lochs are favourites with anglers due to the excellent Brown Trout population. Whooper Swans which normally breed in Iceland are commonly seen migrants but Tingwall can boast its own breeding pair.
At the north end of Tingwall Loch is the site of the ancient 'Ting', the Norse word for 'parliament'. Here the Lawting took place annually for more than three centuries.
We then head westwards to the district of Whiteness stopping at the Wormadale viewpoint with its stunning view south over Whiteness Voe. The road winds its way north to the parish of Weisdale. A viewpoint high up on the west side of Weisdale Voe helps one appreciate that these voes are valleys that have been progressively drowned by rising sea levels following the melting of the last ice-cap some 12,000 years ago.
Our tour then takes us eastwards up the Weisdale valley passing the old Weisdale Mill, now restored and housing a shop, café and the Bonhoga Gallery, a venue for art exhibitions. Around us is evidence of the clearances which took place in the 19th century to make way for sheep farms. We also pass the house which was the Executive Headquarters for the 'Shetland Bus' operation during the Second World War. Here also is Shetland's forest!! The Kergord plantations boast the greatest number of trees in Shetland. If your mind is on some other matter, even for a couple of minutes, then the likelihood is that you will miss your tree experience!!
A short distance further on there is a distinct change in the topography, the limestone giving way to metamorphic rock, thus the greenery giving way to the brown tones of heather-moorland and peat. We join the main north-south road taking the turn south that will eventually lead us back to Lerwick. On the way, we pass the Loch of Girlsta. A geological fault runs through this loch. Not only is it the deepest loch in Shetland but it is the only one that supports the Arctic Char, a fish related to Trout and Salmon. The loch is named after a Norse girl, Geirhildr, who drowned in its waters some 1,900 years ago.
A short distance from Lerwick, we pass the 18-hole golf course at Dale, a popular place for locals and visitors, especially in the long days of summer when we have forgotten what darkness is!
As with any tour in Shetland, flexibility is inbuilt, not least because of the weather. Although there are no long walks on this tour, it is advisable that visitors have adequate footwear and warm, waterproof clothing.
Tea, coffee and biscuits can be had at the Scalloway Museum which also has toilet facilities.
This shorter tour is particularly suitable for cruise-ship passengers.
This tour which usually begins at Scalloway, the ancient capital of Shetland and at one time was dominated by the castle built in 1595 by Earl Patrick Stewart. The village lies on the Atlantic seaboard, six miles west of Lerwick and played a central role in the 'Shetland Bus' operation in The Second World War.
From Scalloway we head south diverting through the very picturesque district of Fladdabister. Like most places in Shetland, the name derives from the ancient Norse language and means 'flat farm'. Fladdabister is a good place to see Shetland Ponies and hosts an abundance of wild flowers in the summer time. A few miles further on we approach the Sandwick viewpoint. Nearby is the site of what was the Sand Lodge copper mine which operated from 1799-1923 and, in its day, was the biggest such mine in Scotland. From the viewpoint, we can also look eastwards to the island of Mousa on which the best preserved broch (Iron Age tower) in Scotland stands some 13 metres high and dating back to around AD200. It is best viewed through a pair of binoculars.
Our next stop is Bigton, looking over to St Ninian's Isle and the famous tombolo stretch of shell sand that connects the island to the mainland. If time and weather permit, we can walk over to the island and visit the site of the ancient church. In 1958, an archaeological dig was taking place at this spot. An eleven-year-old school boy was helping and whilst digging in the nave of the medieval church he struck silver! - a wooden chest containing 28 silver objects, thought to be Pictish in origin and dating to around 800AD. They are now housed in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Our southward journey takes us past some exotic beaches and landscapes where, at certain times of the year, it is possible to see dozens of North Atlantic Grey Seals hauled out on the sand.
A further 15 minutes or so takes us to the south end of the Shetland mainland. The road crosses the main runway of Sumburgh Airport (don't worry, it is safe!).
At the eastern end of the West Voe Beach is Jarlshof, one of the most important archaeological sites in Scotland. The name was coined by Sir Walter Scott in his novel, The Pirate, published in 1822. In the 1890s, after some terrific storms, the site was partially exposed. A series of excavations have taken place and it is now possible to follow a clear timeline tracing evidence of continuous human habitation, dated at the time of the excavations, from 2,700BC to the 1600sAD.
Our final stop is Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, now a visitor centre. It is a fairly steep climb up the winding tarmac pathway from the visitor car park to the lighthouse complex but the views are magnificent and from mid-April to mid-August the cliffs are host to thousands of seabirds: Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and of course, everybody's favourite, the remarkably tame and cute Puffin! Also, from the cliff-side walk, one can glimpse other birds such as Great Skuas, Arctic Skuas, Gannets and do keep an eye out for whales, especially 'Minkes' and 'Killers'. (Transport up to the lighthouse can be arranged for anyone with mobility problems).
On the return journey to Lerwick, we call by the Shetland Croft House Museum where one can get an idea of what croft life was like a hundred years ago or so.
As with any tour in Shetland, flexibility is inbuilt, not least because of the weather. It is advisable that visitors wear adequate footwear and bring warm, waterproof clothing. The walk to St Ninian's Isle is really only practical for visitors doing the full-day tour. When cruise ships are visiting, some of the popular sites like Jarlshof and the Croft House Museum can be congested and may best be avoided unless a 'must' on your agenda.
For full-day tours, David can, if you wish, book lunch at the Sumburgh Hotel. Please note that the costs of refreshments and admissions are not included in the tour package.
Unst is the most northerly of the Shetland Islands and the third largest in size. Getting there is a bit of an adventure as it involves two trips on car ferries. On Unst you can see the most northerly house, visit the most northerly shop and walk on the most northerly beach, not just in Shetland but in the entire British Isles.
The Unst tour focuses on geology and botany, the latter being very seasonal, though there is much else to savour besides. Shetland is an international, global Geopark, one of only two in Scotland. For such a small land mass, the islands have a remarkably varied geology but the jewel in the crown must be the Ophiolite of Eastern Unst. Ophiolite is an exposed section of oceanic crust and it is quite exciting to think that one can see, touch and walk on rocks that normally would lie miles beneath the surface of the Earth, hidden in the lower crust and upper mantle.
When we disembark off the ferry at Belmont, a 20-25 minutes drive north-east takes us to our first destination, the Skaw Beach. Here a number of geological delights and treasures await us. On our return journey, we visit Norwick Beach where a small headland jutting out into the sea indicates the boundary between oceanic and continental crust. We then pay a visit to the Unst Heritage Centre where displays include examples of Unst's famous lace knitwear. Our next port of call is the Hagdale café/shop. If you wish, you can stop for a soup and sandwich lunch. On our way, we pass a replica of a Viking longship and next to it a reconstruction of what a Viking dwelling may have been like, both powerful reminders of Unst's very strong Norse heritage. After our café visit we turn our attention to the Keen of Hamar. This small area is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating natural history sites in Shetland, if not in the whole of the British Isles. Made up of partially serpentinised dunite rock, the Keen is home to several Arctic-alpine plants, the most famous being 'Shetland Mouse-ear', also known as 'Edmondston's Chickweed' after local boy, Thomas Edmondston, who first described the plant in 1837 when aged 11 years. He was appointed Professor of Botany at Glasgow University at the age of 20 years but was tragically and accidentally killed within a year whilst on board a ship, waiting to disembark on the shores off the coast of Ecuador. The dunite rock is rich in chromite and in the 19th century Hagdale Quarry was the largest of its kind in the UK.
There is a working talc quarry in Unst and if time permits we usually pay a visit to the Baltasound Pier where there is often a 'mountain' of talc waiting for shipment to England.
Our tour normally ends in the south-east corner of Unst with a visit to Muness Castle, built in 1598 by Laurence Bruce, a relative of Earl Patrick Stewart who built Scalloway castle.
As with any tour in Shetland, flexibility is inbuilt, not least because of the weather. Although there are no long walks on this tour, it is essential that visitors have a good pair of walking boots and warm, waterproof clothing.
David will book ferries but the costs of ferries, admissions and refreshments are not included in the package.