The Shetland Nature Experience
Holiday overview at a glance:
- A unique Shetland Island holiday itinerary running over nine days
- All inclusive holiday itinerary – everything from your arrival to departure
- Maximum of six to eight per group – guest to guide ratio ensures quality and value
- Led by resident naturalist guides – unrivalled local knowledge & insight into Shetland life
- Dedicated Otter-tracking day – small group size offers unique insight
- Late-night excursion for Storm Petrels
- Boat trip to a world-renowned seabird colony
- 3 Hotels venues used to ensure best locations and logistics for itinerary
On Friday we got home from a Shetland Nature holiday lead by Gary Bell, which we enjoyed so much that we wanted to write and thank everyone involved.
From the moment we arrived, everything was so well organised that we had nothing to think about except enjoying the amazing scenery and wildlife. Gary was a wonderful guide and showed us so many things that we would not have seen if we were on our own – we are really glad that we decided to do this tour. Please pass on our thanks and best wishes.Alastair and Fran Jepson
Shetland in spring and summer is a very special place, marked by a heady cocktail of breath taking scenery, isolation and tranquillity. The wealth of stunning wildlife-watching opportunities mixed with a rich cultural heritage combine to enthral and delight visitors to the islands. The reward for travelling this far north is a dazzling combination of wildlife, so rich and varied it’s hard to squeeze into a few words. It is easy to see why the Shetland Isles feature in so many natural history documentaries and why ‘Lonely Planet’ listed it as one of its Top 10 regions in the world to visit: to quote “this might just be the last untamed corner of the United Kingdom”.
Designed by a native Shetlander, this nine day wildlife adventure showcases the Shetland Islands, its cultural heritage and, most of all, its outstanding natural environment like no other, offering a unique insight into the islands that no other wildlife tour company can offer. So our guests enjoy a fuller overview of the islands and their wildlife we use three different hotel venues, spread from the Sumburgh Hotel at the southern tip of the Mainland, on to The St Magnus Bay Hotel in the north westernmost corner and on Unst, the most northerly of the British Isles, Saxa Vord resort. Logistically this allows us to make the most of each location whilst it also allows us to maximize our time with wildlife and less time travelling.
From the moment you arrive with us in Shetland till the morning your holiday ends, we take care of everything for you. Your guide is there not only to ensure you enjoy the best of Shetlands wildlife but equally to make sure you enjoy the social aspects of a group holiday too and is with you from breakfast through to dinner in the evenings and very often beyond! All accommodation, meals, transport and excursions are included, all that’s left for you to do is relax and enjoy!
Put simply, this trip will sample the very best of Shetland’s outstanding natural heritage, as we take time to savour all its star attractions to the full: iconic landscapes, spectacular displays of wild flowers, awe-inspiring ‘seabird cities’, some of the nation’s rarest breeding birds, dedicated Otter-watching day and the expertise of guides and researchers who make Shetland their home. On top of all that, you will be in the best part of Britain to stand a chance of seeing Killer Whales!
Our week begins in the evening when we meet and greet you at the Sumburgh Hotel on Saturday evening. 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, the wildlife and indeed life in general in Shetland. This is something we feel plays a very important role in your Shetland experience and with all our core season team of guides being resident Shetlander’s we take pride in this.
The standard for excitement and adventure is set from the off on this first evening with a late night excursion as we visit the enchanting island of Mousa, a small R.S.P.B. reserve which lies to the east of south mainland. Here during the twilight of the late evening thousands of dainty Storm Petrels, our smallest breeding seabird, return to their nest-sites in the walls of the Iron Age broch – arguably the most impressive broch of its kind. Watching the petrels fluttering like bats against the summer night sky and listening to their incredible purring song is a simply unforgettable experience! We will also provide an exclusive insight into the petrel’s behaviour, ecology and breeding success.
Day Two – From the Southern tip of Shetland Mainland to the Northernmost, Hillswick & Eshaness
We begin our voyage of discovery in the South Mainland, at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Sumburgh Head reserve, with its thousands of 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.
From the southernmost tip of Shetland Mainland, we journey north to the northern part of the Shetland Mainland. Along the way we will soak up the stunning scenery and make strategic wildlife stops; this, combined with commentary from your guide throughout the journey, is an ideal way to adapt and become familiarized with the Shetland environment.
Wow, what a week! With an Excellent guide, Gary, we had fabulous views of Shetland, lots of different birds and good weather. The list can be expanded, but to “quote” Bryndon: so many highlights I can hardly think where to start or stop!
Of course, to watch an Otter fishing and eat the fish on shore is one, the stunning male Snow Bunting another.Per Olof Fagerström
Day Three – Hillswick and Eshaness
Today we begin to explore the magnificent and rugged north-western part of Shetland Mainland. From a geological and landscape perspective, this remote corner of the islands is unique and there is much to admire. At 450 metres above sea level, Ronas Hill is hardly a mountain yet it is the highest point in Shetland. At Eshaness lighthouse, the breathtaking views of one of Shetland’s most iconic vistas are guaranteed, and an examination of a nearby blowhole is not for the faint-hearted. If the weather is good, we will spend time scanning for whales and dolphins out at sea. Risso’s, White-sided and White-beaked Dolphins, Minke Whales and of course Killer Whales have all be seen from here with a bit of luck and a keen eye. Harbour Porpoises are the most common cetacean and perhaps more predictable, and we should be able to find these at our regular sites.
On our way back we will we stop off at Urafirth to admire one of the few remaining mainland colonies of the beautiful and nationally scarce Oysterplant.
Day Four – All About Otters
Unique to Shetland Nature, we will spend the day devoted to one of Shetland’s star wildlife attractions, the wild Otter! Otter watching is the signature specialty of our company, and we pride ourselves on our unrivalled otter encounters. We have yet to have a group leave disappointed and we have every confidence in our continued success.
Here is one of the many areas that our guests experience first-hand the benefits of our small group size and the leadership of local naturalists. Our approach is based on our unsurpassed knowledge of Shetlands Otters, where and when to stand the best chance of encounters and most of all how to search and observe without disturbance. We will visit some of the best sites in the islands to give you a unique insight into the secret lives of one of the nation’s most evocative and captivating animals.
Our sensitivity towards Shetlands Otters is as renowned as our success with guest’s encounters. We operate under a government legislation Schedule 2 license issued by Scottish Natural Heritage.
In the evening we travel north to check into Saxa Vord on Britain’s most northerly island, Unst.
My Shetland Nature Experience was fantastic. Led by knowledgeable and laid back guide, Rob Fray, within an hour or so of leaving the ferry, our group had already seen our first puffins and gannets, and the sightings only increased. Accommodation and food were super. By the end of the week I was able to identify many bird species I had hitherto not known and enjoyed many enchanting sightings of otters which were a first for me. The small group and guest to guide ratio made a world of difference.
I left Shetland feeling enriched and my knowledge of and respect for nature and the perils it faces having considerably expanded. A 5* and unique experience!Fiona Halliday, freelance journalist and photographer
Day Five – Unst, the Most Northerly Island in Britain
We begin our North Isles experience by savouring the rich flora and fauna of Unst and 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, some of the 25,000 pairs of Puffins which make Hermaness their summer home. Breathtaking views of Muckle Flugga and the most northerly lighthouse in Britain are a further distraction, whilst the surrounding stacks and cliffs boast well over 20,000 breeding pairs of Gannets, the largest colony in Shetland. As well as seabirds, we shall be serenaded by other moorland species during our walk, from bubbling Curlews and cryptic Golden Plovers to the parachuting song-flight displays of Meadow Pipits and the ubiquitous Skylarks.
Later in the day we visit the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve, one of the UK’s most remarkable botanical sites, where the moon-like landscape of serpentine rock, collection of Arctic Alpines and an endemic plant, Edmonston’s Chickweed (found nowhere else in the world), make this a firm favourite. We shall also take time search for species such as Frog Orchid, Moonwort, Norwegian Sandwort and Northern Rock Cress and others.
We will also take time to explore Skaw and Lamba Ness, the former boasting a beautiful secluded beach with the backdrop of Britain’s most northerly house. Lamba Ness is the most easterly point of Unst and if the weather conditions allow we may spend time on a cetacean watch.
Day Six – Fetlar ‘The Garden of Shetland’
Island-hopping once again, we leave Unst and take the 25-minute ferry crossing to the neighbouring island of Fetlar. As a former RSPB warden on Fetlar few are better placed than Martha Smith to offer a unique insight into one of the Nations rarest and most charismatic breeding waders the Red-necked Phalarope, for which the island is renowned. Recent research on the Fetlar phalaropes has even put this fascinating birds into the National news headlines with the data recovered from a tracking device they fitted to a bird on Fetlar breeding grounds.
From late May to early August the island is home these compelling creatures which along with popular traits such as elegance and beauty they have complex breeding roles and unusual feeding behaviour. Fetlar supports over 90% of the British population of this stunning Arctic wader, although in recent years they have become increasingly more elusive. With patience, persistence and our local knowledge we hope to connect with this charismatic and nationally very rare breeding wader.
The island is also home to some of the highest densities of moorland breeding birds anywhere in Britain, with nationally important numbers of Whimbrel and the wonderfully evocative Red-throated Diver. Good numbers of Arctic Skuas, Golden Plovers and Dunlins are among the many species which abound on the isle. With this rich density of breeding birds and wild flowers it is easy to see why the island is known locally as the ‘Garden of Shetland’.
On route to and indeed on Fetlar is a good time to take a close look at the birds that are characteristic of the Shetland landscape – subspecies such as the Shetland Wren and the Shetland Starling are unique to the islands and will have become ‘part of the scenery’ in the past few days. These and other Northern specialities which we have so far failed to mention – from Tysties to Linties (Black Guillemots to Twites) – will all have been enjoyed at some point but today is designed as a day to take stock, make an effort to see anything that is missing but mainly just to soak up the whole Shetland Nature experience in its entirety.
Day Seven – Shetland Mainland and Boat Trip to Noss ‘Seabird City’
Saying a fond farewell to Unst, we travel to Mainland, via any strategic stops necessary and visit some of the more secluded side-roads of the East and West Central Mainland, enjoying a leisurely safari-style adventure in search of Mountain Hare, Red Grouse, Otters and much more. This being Shetland, there could also be the odd surprise in store for us!
After lunch we arrive in Shetland’s capital, Lerwick, where we board MV Dunter for an unforgettable three-hour trip with the award-winning Seabirds-and-Seals crew. We are bound for the spectacular Noss National Nature Reserve to marvel at its breathtaking cliffs, which are alive with the hustle and bustle of one of the largest seabird colonies in the islands. The sight of thousands of Gannets wheeling around the boat and courting at their nest sites is one not to be missed! The crew will also give us a truly unique insight into life beneath the waves as they explore the depths with their underwater camera. After marvelling at the ‘Gannetries’ of Hermaness from above this exhilarating excursion compliments our visit to the cliff- tops wonderfully, as we enjoy a seabird city from a totally different perspective. Late afternoon we return to the Sumburgh Hotel.
Day Eight – winding down, taking stock & savouring the sights
Back in Shetland South Mainland we shall take time to savour such iconic vistas as Loch of Spiggie (an R.S.P.B. reserve), the stunning St Ninians Isle, which is joined to the mainland by a world famous sand beach tombolo and the tops of Mossy Hill. We may even venture slightly further north into central Mainland depending on recent sightings on the grapevine. And finally, as Sumburgh Head was the ideal introduction to Shetland with its many breeding seabirds, so too it is the perfect way to end our holiday and who knows perhaps a Minke whale will delight us as it surfaces amongst the waves off shore…
Over breakfast on the last morning guests have time to reflect and discuss the highlights, species and spectacles of the holiday before transfer and departures after.
Throughout the week, your guide will be fully in touch with the local grapevine and news of what might turn up throughout the islands. Circumstance such as weather conditions, tides and receiving any exhilarating news of Killer Whale sightings for example (always a possibility!) can all have an effect on the itinerary – with this in mind we remain as flexible as possible, and to maximize our chances of enjoying Shetland’s stunning wildlife to the full we may re-arrange the days we visit certain sites and locations.
- Eshaness Peninsular
- Hermaness National Nature Reserve
- Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve
- Mousa R.S.P.B. reserve
- Noss National Nature Reserve
- Sumburgh Head R.S.P.B. Reserve
Booking – Holiday Dates
|Saturday 25th May to Sunday 2nd June, 2019||Sold Out|
|Saturday 1st June to Sunday 9th June, 2019||1 Space Left|
|Saturday 8th June to Sunday 16th June, 2019||1 Space Left|
|Saturday 22nd June to Sunday 30th June, 2019||Sold Out|
|Saturday 23rd May to Sunday 31st May, 2020||Available|
|Saturday 30th May to Sunday 7th June, 2020||Available|
|Saturday 6th June to Sunday 14th June, 2020||Available|
|Saturday 20th June to Sunday 28th June, 2020||Available|
Private Tour Options: This holiday can also be arranged exclusively for private booing for couples, families or small groups.
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.
- 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. A reasonable level of fitness is advised however this is run at a leisurely pace. We can also provide holidays at an even more leisurely pace; please contact us for details.
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 ‘Shetland Nature Experience’ holidays are for group size of maximum of six to eight. It’s also a nine day itinerary so gives one full week of wildlife days with arrival and departure days at either end and eight nights full board accommodation.
Some of our other itineraries are for larger groups (however they will always feature multiple leaders) but we feel our guest to guide ratio ensures 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 naturally most of all – the encounters with wildlife. This is very important to our whole ethos as a wildlife tour company.
Will we see otters?
To maximize our chances with what is arguably its star attraction we dedicate a full day in the itinerary. It should go without say that like all wildlife mentioned above, there are no guarantees and least of all with otters. This is however something of a signature species of ours and we are proud to offer an unrivalled insight through a full day dedicated to tracking, learning and learning about their fascinating lives. This again is where our small group size comes to the fore. No one has gone home disappointed to date!
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 Conduct Authority in accordance with The Package Travel, Package Tours Regulations 1992. This insurance has been arranged by Towergate Chapman Stevens through Zurich Insurance 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 specialise solely in Shetland and do not include travel to or from the Shetland Islands and therefore do not require that cover.