The Shetland Nature Experience

Holiday overview at a glance:

  • A unique Shetland Island holiday itinerary running over eight 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
  • Written and designed by native Shetlander for unique natural and cultural heritage insight
  • Dedicated Otter-tracking day – small group size offers unique insight
  • Boat trip to a world-renowned seabird colony & late-night excursion for Storm Petrels
  • Two hotel venues used to suit logistics, practicality and locations
  • Visit to a peatland restoration site to learn of & support important climate/conservation work
  • This tour may include a short beach clean as part of our commitment to protecting Shetland’s natural environment

Shetland in spring and summer is a very special place, marked by a heady cocktail of breath taking scenery, isolation and tranquility. The wealth of stunning wildlife-watching opportunities mixed with a rich cultural heritage combine to enthrall 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 eight-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 two hotel venues. The Sumburgh Hotel at the southern tip of the Mainland, and then on to the St Magnus Bay Hotel in the north westernmost corner from where we are well placed for day tripping the northern isles of Unst, Yell and Fetlar.

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 Shetland’s 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!

Day One

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 Shetlanders 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.

Overnight at Sumburgh Hotel.

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.

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.

Overnight at St. Magnus Bay Hotel.

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.

Overnight at St. Magnus Bay Hotel.

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! In the absence of Badger or Fox, the Otter takes centre stage. With a higher density than anywhere else in the world, it is little wonder that Shetland has long been recognized as the best place to see and study this wonderful mammal. It was in fact around this very species that Shetland Nature was evolved, through Brydon Thomason’s lifelong passion and experience of them. It is little wonder that Otter watching is therefore our signature specialty, 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 Shetland’s 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 Shetland’s Otters is as renowned as our success with guests’ encounters. We operate under a government legislation Schedule 2 license issued by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Today we also meet Sue White (Peatland ACTION Project Officer for Shetland), for a fascinating insight into one of Shetland’s Peatland Restoration projects. Here we will see the work that David and his team have done to mitigate the impacts of climate and grazing on Shetland’s blanket bog. We’ll learn about the importance of this habitat, not only for Shetland’s unique biodiversity, but also in the global effort to combat climate change.

Overnight at St. Magnus Bay Hotel.

Day Five – Fetlar ‘The Garden of Shetland’

Island-hopping today, we leave Mainland for the island of Fetlar. Famed for ornithological highlights such as breeding Snowy Owls in the 1960’s and ‘70’s this magical island is still the UK stronghold for one of the nation’s rarest and most charismatic breeding waders, the Red-necked Phalarope. 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 to these compelling creatures which, along with popular traits such as elegance and beauty, 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’.

En 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.

Overnight at St. Magnus Bay Hotel.

Day Six – Shetland Mainland and Boat Trip to Noss ‘Seabird City’

After breakfast we head south for Shetland’s capital, Lerwick, where we join the multi award winning Shetland Seabird Tours. Onboard the MV Ayda Ruby II we enjoy the renowned expertise of skipper and naturalist, Phil Harris, for an unforgettable two-hour trip to the tiny island of Noss. Here we visit 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. We enjoy an exhilarating cast of seabirds including Kittiwake, Shag, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin, but the star of the show is the Northern Gannet, with well over 12,000 breeding pairs, not to mention the spectacular feeding frenzy, plunge diving just metres from the boat, is not to be missed!

After lunch we take time to explore and enjoy central Mainland, visit some of the more secluded side-roads of the East and West, 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!

Overnight at St. Magnus Bay Hotel.

Day Seven – Unst, the Most Northerly Island in Britain

Today, for the penultimate day we journey to the very top of Britain, the island of Unst. 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 hope to be first greeted by Puffins before breathtaking views of Muckle Flugga and the most northerly lighthouse in Britain. These and 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.

On route to and from, the ferry crossings are ideal opportunity to scan for cetaceans, with a good chance especially of Harbour Porpoise and our fingers will of course be crossed for Orca…

In the evening we take time to reflect on the highlights of the week.

Overnight at Sumburgh Hotel.

Day Eight

Transfer and departures.

Our Itinerary

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.

 

Booking – Holiday Dates

Principal Tour Guides
Fitness Level Required
Moderate
Walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain
Price: £1,825
2023 Dates
Saturday 20th May to Saturday 27th May, 2023 Available
Saturday 27th May to Saturday 3rd June, 2023 Available
Saturday 3rd June to Saturday 10th June, 2023 Available
Saturday 17th June to Saturday 24th June, 2023 Available

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.
  • 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.
  • 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 ‘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.

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.

 

Watching Killer Whales in Shetland