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 eight guests
  • Eight nights all inclusive package
  • In association with Geopark Shetland
  • This tour will include a short beach clean as part of our commitment to protecting Shetland’s natural environment

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 Saturday evening at the Sumburgh Hotel. Over dinner as guests and guides 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-Shetland-resident team of guides, 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

Guides: James Tait and Martha Smith

We begin our Seven Islands journey of discovery and break you in gently with a coastal walk up to Sumburgh Head, the southernmost tip of Mainland, our largest island. Perched high on the sheer cliffs of Sumburgh Head is Shetland’s oldest lighthouse, built by the world-famous Robert Stevenson and first lit 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 of 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

Guides: James Tait and Martha Smith

The ferry across to Mousa takes about 10 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 where large slabs of flagstone have been piled 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 Red-throated Divers. The final highlight of our visit to the island will be to explore Mousa Broch. This almost complete broch (stone tower) 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

Distance: 6km
Difficulty: Moderate
Height Gain: 70m

Guides: James Tait and Martha Smith

The village of Ireland (Ayre-land) takes its name from the beach (ayre) that forms the shore of Ireland Wick near the village. This is where your guide for the day James Tait lives, the 6th generation of his family to live in the area. 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. Up on the Ness we also take in heather moorland where the local people used to cut peat. In summer Shetland’s ‘pirate’ visitor, the Great Skua or Bonxie, favours this headland. This walk enjoys panoramic views, west out over the sea to Foula and north over the neighbouring Islands of Havera and Burra. 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

Guides: James Tait and Martha Smith

The sand tombolo (causeway) that connects Mainland to St Ninian’s Isle is the best example of its kind in Europe. The area became Shetland’s very own Treasure Island in 1958 when a rich Pictish treasure hoard of silver was found buried beneath the ancient Chapel site on the island. The cliff scenery around the island is spectacular and the area is excellent for identifying many species of sea birds both on the cliffs and on the water below. The now uninhabited island has a long history of settlement and shipwreck that will be recounted by your guide. This is one of the most visited and photographed areas of Shetland boasting spectacular scenery with the unique geology of the tombolo located below the site of the famous St. Ninian’s Isle treasure hoard!

Day four – Bressay and Lerwick Museum

Bressay (circular)

Distance: 6.7km
Difficulty: Easy To Moderate
Height Gain: 40m

Guide: Martha Smith and Rob Fray

Leaving our base in the south we journey to the beautiful island of Bressay. Our walk will take in views across Noss Sound to the uninhabited island of Noss – a Nation Nature Reserve and home to one of Shetland’s most important seabird breeding colonies. Our route will take us past relics of human occupation covering millennia; from Neolithic cairns, burnt mounds and the remains of an ancient broch to the more recently abandoned crofting township of Wadbister.

After a short ferry journey back to Shetland’s capital town of Lerwick, we will take a fascinating journey through Shetland’s history and heritage with a visit to its Five Star accredited Lerwick Museum. The opportunity for guests to visit museums, gift shops and cafes is always extremely popular and so a visit to this award-winning facility and venue is a must before we end our day travelling northward to St Magnus Bay Hotel in Hillswick.

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

Stenness to the Grind of the Navir (circular)

Distance: 10.5km
Difficulty: Easy To Moderate
Height Gain: 50m

Guides: Martha Smith and Rob Fray

Few places in Shetland can rival Eshaness for its dramatic landscape and historical interest which featured on the BBC TV series ‘Coast’. Our walk takes us through the picturesque old haaf fishing station of Stenness, sheltered by Stenness Isle and onwards to Eshaness along the flank of an ancient volcano where flows of lava and eruptions of ash have been cut by the Atlantic storms into myriad sea-stacks, caves, goes and blowholes – none more impressive than the Grind of the Navir, (Gateway of the Borer) a staggering geological and natural feature.

Day six – Island-hopping through Yell

Gloup to Papil

Distance: 8.5km
Difficulty: Moderate
Height Gain: 40m

Guides: Martha Smith and Rob Fray

Today we leave our base at St Magnus Bay Hotel and travel north to the island of Unst. Our journey takes us island-hopping through the island of Yell where we will walk the spectacular coastline of North Yell. From the Memorial to the 1881 haaf fishing station disaster of Gloup, around the Ness of Gloup and the Wick of Breckon to Kirk Loch and Papil Bay. Our route will take us down onto the beautiful Sands of Breckon. The white shell sand of Breckon 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. Mica, garnets and cowrie shells are some of the natural treasures hidden along this route.

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

Strandurgh Ness – Everland to Funzie (Circular)

Distance: 10.5km
Difficulty: Moderate
Height Gain: 40m

Guides: Martha Smith and Rob Fray

The island of Fetlar is known locally as The Garden of Shetland. 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, Arctic Skua, Golden Plover and Dunlin are among the many species which abound. Though late in the season, we might have 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 myriad skerries, sea stacks, caves and arches. Several 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, ‘Island above all others’.

Hermaness National Nature Reserve

Distance: 7 – 11km (depending on weather and group choice)
Difficulty: Moderate
Height Gain: 200m

Guides: Martha Smith and Rob Fray

Our last – and by no means least – walk of the week takes us to 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 may be greeted by the charismatic Atlantic Puffin. As we reach the very top of the British Isles, breath-taking views of the cliffs and sea stacks of Muckle Flugga and the lighthouse, along with Shetland’s largest Gannet colony, are a worthy spectacle for our journey’s 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.

Our day ends, buoyed by the memories of our journey from the southernmost tip to the northernmost at the top of the British Isles, we are bound for Sumburgh, where it all began.

Day nine – transfer and departure

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
Price: £1,695
2022 Dates
Saturday 16th July to Sunday 24th July, 2022 1 Space Remaining

Contact Us to Book

Private Tour Options: This holiday can also be arranged exclusively for private booing for couples, families or small groups.

Contact us for information and cost proposal for your own exclusive/tailor-made holiday. Email: [email protected]

Additional holiday information:

  • Read about the hotels we use – view our hotel providers.
  • All meals, accommodation, guiding fee’s and excursions as well as ferry fares and transport are included in package cost.
  • All boat trips are subject to weather availability.
  • Not included in cost are items of a personal nature or hotel bar tabs nor is travel to and from Shetland included.
  • No single supplement charged.
  • On booking please advise of any special requirements medical or dietary.
  • Please note that all itineraries are subject to change but guests will be advised in advance should it be necessary to make any major changes.

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 eight, 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.

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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