Shetland Nature

Wildlife, Birding & Photography Holidays

Scottish Tourist Board 5 Star Wildlife Experience
Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence 2017
Call: +44 (0)1595 760 333

The Shetland Islands Walking Holiday

Holiday overview

  • Seven days, seven special Shetland Islands
  • Unique itinerary written by native Shetlanders
  • Combined leadership of three resident guides
  • Informed insight: nature, geology, Shetland history and heritage
  • Small group size of up to 10 guests
  • Eight nights all inclusive package
  • In association with Geopark Shetland

2017 Dates:

  • Saturday 22nd July to Sunday 30th July, 2017

2018 Dates:

  • Saturday 21st July to Sunday 29th July, 2018

(holiday commences at 18:00hrs in the evening of the first day and finishes after breakfast on the final day)

A totally unique walker’s discovery of the Shetland Islands. Originally designed by three native Shetlanders, Allen Fraser of Shetland Geotours, James Tait of Island Trails and Brydon Thomason of Shetland Nature. This island-hopping walking itinerary is now run in association with Geopark Shetland and features the project officer Robina Barton. Your Shetland experience will begin at Sumburgh Head, the southernmost tip of Mainland, and finish at Hermaness on Unst at the very top of the British Isles.

With our unrivalled local knowledge and attention to detail and making sure our guests get the most out of their Shetland walking experience this itinerary offers a combination of circular and linear walks, targeting a diverse range of landscapes and features walks in all corners of the archipelago. Throughout the seven walking days we will explore seven of Shetland’s most enchanting islands where the combined leadership of three native Shetlanders will provide an unsurpassed insight into Shetland’s wildlife, geology, history and archaeology. We take each day at an easy pace so there is time for you to discover, explore and learn about our unique landscape and environment.

It was great to have 3 different guides – all very knowledgeable which gave the group a really comprehensive view of all aspects of life in Shetland; History, Geology, breathtaking scenery and magic moments with the local wildlife – especially with sightings of puffins, otters, dolphins seals and an amazing gannet colony! Each encounter created such excitement both for the group members and our guides! There was a real buzz for everyone involved! Also, I enjoyed our trips to the museums and craft shops . For me these visits brought the past and present together. I really appreciated the way our guides interacted with us – they were all so patient, enthusiastic, helpful, good fun and seemed genuinely to want each one of us to have the best experience possible – really lovely guys! It was nice that they joined us for an evening meal too.
Emma Dilnutt

Accommodation 8 nights

  • Saturday, Sunday, Monday and last night – Sumburgh Hotel
  • Tuesday & Wednesday – St Magnus Bay Hotel
  • Thursday & Friday – Saxa Vord Resort

Itinerary

Day one – arrival and getting acquainted.

We begin our adventurous week of discovery as we meet and greet you on Tuesday evening at the Sumburgh Hotel. Over dinner as guests and guide become acquainted we enthuse about the exciting adventure ahead and this is the perfect time to learn about the islands and indeed life in general in Shetland. This is something we feel plays a very important role in your Shetland experience and with an all resident Shetland team of leaders we really do take pride in this.

Day two – two island walks, on Mainland and on Mousa.

Sumburgh Head RSPB Reserve

Distance: 2.5km
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Height Gain: 80m

Guide: Robina Barton

We begin our Seven Islands journey of discovery, and break you in gently, with a walk up to Sumburgh Head, the southernmost tip of Mainland, our largest island. Perched high on the sheer cliffs of Sumburgh Head is the lighthouse built by the world famous Lighthouse Stevensons in 1821. It overlooks the treacherous tide rips of ‘da Roost’ where the turbulent waters of North Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet. This headland is a spectacular RSPB reserve and we should be treated to views the many breeding seabirds, including Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and our first Puffins! Sumburgh is the ideal setting in which to start to get to know some of Shetland’s breeding birds, with everything close at hand.

After our morning on Sumburgh Head we drive north to Leebitton, Sandwick where a ferry will take us to the Island of Mousa for our second walk of the day.

Mousa RSPB Reserve Circular

Distance: 3km
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Height Gain: 20m

Guide: Robina Barton

The ferry across to Mousa takes about 15 minutes. Mousa Sound is one of the best places in Britain to see the Harbour Porpoise. Our walk around the RSPB reserve will take us along cliffs that are favoured nesting places for Fulmar and Shag; also Black Guillemot and Gannet may be seen fishing offshore. Inland across the moor we may see the streamlined Arctic Skua or its more robust cousin the Great Skua, known locally as the Bonxie. On the cliff-top you will see a high-level storm beach were large slabs of flagstone have been plied up by giant waves generated by the great storm of 16th February 1900. On the walk we will observe lagoons that are a favourite haul out for both Common and Grey Seal. We also pass a small loch a favourite bathing pool for Arctic Terns and has been known to accommodate a nesting pair of the Red-throated Diver. The final highlight of our visit to the island will be to explore Mousa Broch. This almost complete broch stands 13m tall and is the best preserved example of an Iron Age (c.300BC to 200AD) broch in existence.

Day three – Ness of Ireland (morning) and St. Ninian’s Isle (afternoon).

Ness of Ireland (Circular)

Distance: 8km
Difficulty: Moderate
Height Gain: 70m

Guide: James Tait

The village of Ireland (Ayre-land) takes its name from the beach (ayre) that forms the shore of Ireland Wick near the village. Our walk around the Ness (headland) will take in magnificent coastal scenery of steep-sided geos (narrow inlets), sea stacks, skerries and cliffs with wonderfully folded and banded rocks. In summer Shetland’s ‘pirate’ visitor the Great Skua or Bonxie favours this headland. From the east side of the headland there is a great view of the settlement of Maywick and its beach of silver sand. To the south of Ireland is the magnificent ‘ayre’ or beach tombolo of St. Ninian’s Isle that we will cross for our afternoon walk.

St. Ninian’s Isle (circular)

Distance: 6km
Difficulty: Easy To Moderate
Height Gain: 40m

Guide: James Tait

The sand tombolo that connects Mainland to St Ninian’s Isle is the best example of its kind in Europe. This became Shetland’s very own Treasure Island in 1958 when a rich Pictish treasure hoard was found in the ancient Chapel site on the island. The cliff scenery around the island is spectacular and the area is excellent for identifying sea-birds. The now uninhabited island has a long history of settlement and shipwreck that will be recounted by your guide.

Day four – Burra Isles and Lerwick

Guide: Robina Barton

A laid back and leisurely paced day taking in the beautiful bridge-linked islands of Trondra and East and West Burra, culminating in a fascinating journey through Shetland’s history and heritage with an afternoon in Shetland’s Five Star accredited Museum in the islands capital town, Lerwick.

The opportunity for guests to visit museums, gift shops and cafe’s is always extremely popular and so a visit to this award winning facility and venue is a must.

Day five – Esha Ness, the volcano in the north.

Hamna Voe to Stenness

Distance: 10km
Difficulty: Easy To Moderate
Height Gain: 50m

Guide: Robina Barton

Today we will leave our base in the south of Mainland and start our journey north to our new base on Unst. En-route we will take a detour through the dramatic landscape of Northmavine for our last Mainland walk on the volcanic peninsula of Esha Ness. Few places in Shetland can rival Esha Ness, either for scenery or historical interest and this featured on BBC TV series ‘Coast’. Our walk will take along the flank of an ancient volcano where flows of lava and eruptions of ash have been cut by the Atlantic storms into a myriad of sea-stacks, caves, goes and blow-holes. Following our walk we will continue north via two car-ferries to the Islands of Yell and Unst.

Day six – Yell, two walks on a new island.

Burra Ness (circular)

Distance: 7km
Difficulty: Moderate
Height Gain: 60m

Guide: Martha Smith

Our first walk of the day is a circular walk from the Daal of Kirkabister around Burra Ness, the area where the naturalist Hugh Miles shot much of his acclaimed wildlife film ‘On the Track of the Wild Otter’. Although Burra Ness is not the ‘otter hotspot’ it once was we still stand a chance of an encounter with this captivating mammal along this remote shoreline. Today the headland is quiet and deserted but in 1861 there were 17 families living in the crofting toonships of Burraness and Kirkabister, including the nearby crofts of Bixsetter and Unkadaal. An Iron Age broch on the north shore of Burra Ness has walls over 4m thick and is one of the best preserved in Shetland.

Gloup to Breckon

Distance: 5km
Difficulty: Moderate
Height Gain: 40m

Guide: Martha Smith

Our second walk will take us along the spectacular coastline of North Yell from Gloup Ness to the Wick of Breckon. From the Memorial to the 1881 haaf fishing disaster of Gloup we walk along the spectacular coastline of Gloup Ness and the Wick of Breckon and down onto the beautiful Sands of Breckon. The white shell sand beach is part of a sand dune system undergoing constant change through wind and wave action. The ‘sands’ have been the site of archaeological discoveries since the 1860s. This beach is one of four in Shetland that hold seaside awards from Keep Scotland Beautiful.

Day seven – Fetlar, ‘The Garden of Shetland’.

Funzie to Strandburgh Ness to Wick of Gruting (Still farm).

Distance: 10km
Difficulty: Moderate
Height Gain: 40m

Guide: Martha Smith

The island of Fetlar is known locally as ‘The Garden of Shetland’ and with its diversity of rich fertile soil and serpentine heath it is home to some of the highest densities of moorland breeding birds anywhere in Britain. Nationally important numbers of Whimbrel and the wonderfully evocative Red-throated Diver and good numbers of Arctic Skua, Golden Plover and Dunlin are among the many species which abound, and although it is a little late in the season, we might stand a chance of the island specialty, the Red-necked Phalarope. From the south-eastern corner at Funzie bay we will follow the east cliffs north. The stark beauty of this rugged coast is not all that is special about it for here we can see where boulders of conglomerate have been deformed by tectonic forces and squashed into discs or stretched into rods, sometimes twenty times their original length. The Ness of Strandburgh is surrounded by a myriad of skerries, sea stacks, caves and arches. A number of buildings have been recognised on both Inner and Outer Brough. The Strandburgh complex of ruins was the largest Norse monastic cliff top settlement in Shetland. At the Geo of Hestaness soapstone bedrock shows signs of quarrying in Norse times to make cooking utensils and other artefacts.

Day eight – Unst, two walks on the ‘Island above all others’.

Collister to Westing

Distance: 6km
Difficulty: Moderate to easy
Height Gain: 30m

Guide: Martha Smith

In the morning before our journey of discovery reaches the very top of the British Isles we will enjoy one of Unst’s lesser known walks to the remote wild and western coast from Collister to Westing. From the road end at Newgord we walk down a gentle decent to the beautiful long deserted crofting settlement of Collister. To the north from here we enjoy stunning views of Unst’s wild and wind swept western coast and its stark beauty. Collister is a fertile plateau at the foot of steep ridge of Valla Field. From here we follow the shore line south across maritime heath exploring the many nooks and crannies towards the picturesque storm beach of Westing where our transport awaits us and we enjoy our picnic lunch and enjoy view across Bluemull Sound to Cullivoe on Yell.

Hermaness National Nature Reserve

Distance: 8km
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
Height Gain: 200m

Guide: Martha Smith

In the afternoon we head out onto Hermaness National Nature Reserve. Setting out on foot through the heart of the reserve, we can guarantee ‘up close and personal’ encounters with Great Skuas, known locally as Bonxies, which nest in large numbers on the moorland interior. Reaching the spectacular cliffs on the west side of the reserve, we will be greeted by perhaps the most captivating and charismatic birds of the trip, the Atlantic Puffin. Over 20,000 pairs make these cliff tops their summer home. Continuing north as we reach the very top of the British Isles, breathtaking views of the cliffs and sea stacks of Muckle Flugga and the lighthouse along with Shetlands largest Gannet colony are a worthy spectacle for our journeys end.

Gazing out over the Atlantic horizon from the cliff tops of ‘the edge of the world’, few words are needed as we soak up the atmosphere of the seascapes and ‘seabird cities’ and delight over our walking journey over seven days and seven islands.

Day nine – transfer and departure

After breakfast and leaving Unst buoyed by the memories of our journey from the southernmost tip to the northern most at the top of the British Isles we are bound for Sumburgh, where it all began. You can choose this day to leave Shetland by sea or air or you may choose to stay another few days to relax in Shetland before journeying home.

I have been looking at the hundreds of photos I took and can’t believe how much we’ve seen and how different the islands all are. Whether it was taking photos of birds, wild flowers, seeing the museums on the islands and meeting the people who run them and stopping to take photos of Shetland ponies, we never felt rushed. Having the 3 guides gave a different perspective on each day. James with his history and stories and love for his local area, and pointing out the Common dolphins on the beautiful and sunny Ness of Ireland walk; Alan with his geology expertise, especially around the dramatic Esha Ness, and his being a superb weatherman, and showing me my first puffin; and Brydon, the highlight of your walks for me was the stunning shoreline walk from Collister to Westing, the birdlife, and you pointing out the super-pod of White-sided dolphins and the ‘icing on the cake’ was the family of otters. Thank you for such an amazing walking experience.Debbie Hart

Booking – Holiday Dates

Fitness Level Required
Moderate
Walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain
Price: £1,350
2017 Dates
Saturday 22nd July to Sunday 30th July, 2017 Limited Availability
2018 Dates
Saturday 21st July to Sunday 29th July, 2018 Available
Please note all holidays commence at 18:00hrs in the evening of the first day and finish after breakfast on the final day when we can arrange and advise transport for onward travel.

Contact Us to Book

Contact us for more information or to enquire about alternative dates for your own exclusive/tailor-made holiday.

Email: info@shetlandnature.net

  • All boat trips are subject to weather availability
  • On booking please advise of any special requirements medical or dietary
  • Throughout the holiday some of the activities will potentially involve walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain. There will require a reasonable level of fitness. We can also provide holidays at a more leisurely pace; please contact us for details

View Terms & Conditions for booking

So why choose us for your Shetland experience?

In a FAQ’s style summary we’d like to highlight the selling points that attract guests to us over other operators:

• Your holidays appear to be more expensive than some others?

Yes, but for very good reason; you get what you pay for. All our core season holidays are for group size of maximum of six, with the exception of this walking holiday which because of the combined leadership of three guides is for up to ten, as opposed to groups of anywhere from eight to twelve with other operators. A larger company might aim for a more generic program of holidays with bigger groups, more departures and at a lower price.

However there is nothing wrong with larger groups but we feel our guest to guide ratio ensures our guests attentions are catered for to a higher standard on all levels; interacting out in the field, rapport with guide, hospitality with accommodation providers and perhaps most of all the encounters with wildlife. This is very important to our whole ethos as a wildlife tour company; it stands to reason that with wildlife watching the bigger the group- the bigger the risk of disturbance.

In addition our core season Shetland Nature Experience Holiday and our Wild Shetland Weekend are eight-night and four-night itineraries respectively.

• Will our guide be a resident Shetlander?

Yes all our core season holidays are led by resident Shetland naturalists who live and work here. We are extremely fortunate and grateful to have such ongoing support of the team we do. It perhaps sounds twee but one of the key factors in our success and continued development is built around a network of trusted friends.

• Are our payments protected?

Yes all your payments are fully covered by Financial Failure insurance in accordance with The Package Travel, Package Tours Regulations 1992. This insurance has been arranged by Towergate Chapman Stevens through HCCI International Insurance Company PLC. (Towergate Underwriting Group Ltd are authorized and regulated by the Financial Services Authority, so you can rest assured that your booking, deposits and payments are completely safe).

Many of the larger tour companies who run holidays overseas and therefore include flights and travel to and from Shetland and beyond need to provide ATOL/ABTA cover. However we specialize solely in Shetland and do not include travel to or from the Shetland Islands and therefore do not require that cover.

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