No trip to Shetland would be complete without visiting the North Isles. There are three very distinct islands that make up this island group: Fetlar, Unst and Yell. Each one has something to offer and I would recommend visiting all three.
We will start with Yell, as Yell is the connecting island for visits to Fetlar and Unst. However, Yell is so much more than just a steppingstone.
Yell earns the nickname “The Friendly Isle” and you are sure to get a friendly welcome when you arrive there. When you arrive, keep your eyes peeled around the Ulsta ferry terminal, as otters can often be spotted there. Yell in general is a great place for spotting otters.
There are some stunning beaches on Yell but a large percentage of the island is covered in peat and moorland. It makes it a brilliant place for wildlife, especially during the summer months.
On the subject of wildlife, sheep roam free on Yell and don’t have the best road sense, so proceed with caution if you see them standing at the side of the road.
Yell is also home to what is thought to be the most haunted house in Shetland, Windhouse. It was built in the 1700’s but is now in disrepair.
No trip to Yell would be complete without stopping at the fantastic Old Haa. This little museum has a variety of displays dedicated to Yell’s history and heritage. It also has a tearoom and the cake served there is first class.
At the Sellafirth Business Park, you’ll find the most northerly art gallery in the UK, Shetland Gallery. They have a wide range of artwork for sale, including artwork from local artists plus various textiles for sale. On the subject of textiles, you’ll also find The Shetland Tweed Company there. The studio produces a variety of woven items for fashion and interiors.
Heading now across to the island of Fetlar.
Fetlar is locally known as “the Garden of Shetland”. This is due to the green, fertile landscapes and interesting geology.
A wide range of birds are attracted to Fetlar, including some rare species such as the Red-Necked Phalaropes, which stay in Fetlar during the summer months. The Mires of Funzie is an RSPB Reserve and a great place for birdwatching. Birds can be seen on the loch or from the hide. I counted 12 different breeds in one hour alone! The photo of the snipe sitting on the post is actually one of the first decent bird photos I’ve ever taken.
There are lots of interesting walks in Fetlar and plenty of beaches. I think my favourite was Tresta.
We paid a visit to Lisa’s Leatherworks workshop to see her upcoming developments. Lisa is one of many crafts people living on Fetlar.
Fetlar is thought to be one of the first places where the Vikings came ashore in a place called Gruting. There is evidence of other periods of settlement in Fetlar dating back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
In 1820, a house called Brough Lodge was built for the landowners at that time, the Nicolson family. It is currently being restored.
Nearby is the original flit boat, which was used to transport goods from the steamer boat to the island. Nowadays, you can get there using a roll-on, roll-off ferry to Yell then another ferry to Fetlar (via Unst).
There is a shop and café at Houbie if you need to refuel for your trip. Fetlar is also a good place to stay if you fancy a few days island hopping in the north.
Now we head over to Unst, which is the most northerly of the three islands and therefore the most northerly island in the UK and businesses are very proud to use that fact in their marketing.
Unst is a place steeped in history and heritage. There is so much to see when you get there, I hardly know where to start.
If we start with what there is to see outdoors, there is a vantage point to Muckle Flugga, which is a small island with a lighthouse that is the utmost top of the UK.
Hermaness is a designated national nature reserve and is renowned for its seabird colonies. Up to a 1,000 pair of Great Skuas (Bonxies) stay here through the summer months but other birds you can see here include puffins, dunlins, snipe and golden plover.
There is a Viking Long House and Skidbladner (a Viking longship) on display in Haroldswick as part of The Viking Unst Project. You are free to walk around and explore, both of these give a real feel for what life would have been like in Norse times.
Nearby is the wonderful Victoria's Vintage Tea Room, where you can get some refreshements before spending time in either of the two fantastic museums: Unst Heritage Centre and Unst Boat Haven. Unst Heritage Centre has a great display of local history but Unst is also famous for its Shetland lace knitting. A craft which was just recently added to the endangered crafts list by the Heritage Crafts Association.
Other highlights include Muness Castle, which was designed by the same Master of Works as Scalloway Castle and Bobby's Bus Shelter, the story of determination by one young man.
You can find details for the ferries on the Shetland Islands Council website, where they have an online booking system. I recommend booking, especially around peak times. Alternatively, you can call the ferry booking number and the staff there are happy to advise you on the best ferries for connecting. If you would prefer not to have to worry about, why not get in touch and book a guide for the day? We’ll do the hard work for you.