The Shetland Nature Experience – with Iolo Williams

Holiday overview at a glance:

  • SN holiday guests with Iolo Williams on UnstLed by TV wildlife presenter Iolo Williams
  • Co-led by resident Shetland Nature guides
  • All inclusive holiday itinerary – from your arrival to departure
  • A unique Shetland Island holiday itinerary running over eight days
  • Unrivalled insight and expertise of multiple naturalist tour leaders
  • Dedicated Otter-tracking day – small group size offers unique insight
  • Late-night excursion for Storm Petrels
  • Boat trip to a world-renowned seabird colony
  • Targeting some of the Nations rarest breeding birds & endemic sub-Arctic alpine plants
  • 3 Hotels venues used to ensure best locations and logistics for itinerary
  • Maximum of ten guests
  • This tour will include a short beach clean as part of our commitment to protecting Shetland’s natural environment

Throughout the holiday Iolo will explore the wild and beautiful Shetland Islands and the exotic wildlife they inhabit. Featuring high on the itinerary target list Iolo will be especially keen to showcase species he enjoyed on the very popular BBC Springwatch TV series he presented in 2015 such as the Red-necked Phalarope, Great Skua, Puffin and Otter – all of which were profiled on the series.

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. 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.

So our guests enjoy a fuller overview of the islands and their wildlife we use three different hotel venues, spread from the the Sumburgh Hotel at the southern tip of the Mainland, on to The St Magnus Bay Hotel in the northern most corner. On Unst, the most northern 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!

Day One – arrival, meet and greet

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 behavior, 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.

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.

Day Five – Unst, the Most Northerly Island in Britain

We begin our North Isles experience by savoring 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 & 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 Ruby May for an unforgettable three-hour trip. 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

Over breakfast with Iolo on the last morning guests have time to reflect and discuss the highlights, species and spectacles of the holiday before transfer and departures after.

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.

  • Eshaness Peninsular
  • Fetlar
  • 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

Fitness Level Required
Walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain

2023 dates Sold Out

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.

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