A guide to Shetland
For a completely immersive travel experience, head to Shetland. A collection of islands in the north sea, Shetland is actually closer to Norway than it is to Edinburgh, and subsequently shares many cultural themes with both Scandinavia and Scotland. The islands have strong musical and literary scenes, celebrating fiddle music and prose and poetry in the Shetland dialect especially.
Shetland comprises more than 100 islands, so you’re never further than 5km away from the sea. The three largest islands – Mainland, Yell and Unst – have much to offer visitors who want to take in the scenery from the comfort of their Rockinvan.
Things to do
The natural beauty of Shetland makes it the perfect place to watch the sun rise – Lonely Planet voted it one of the best places to do so in the world. Because of its northerly location, Shetland is also the best place in Scotland to be in with a chance of seeing aurora borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. From September through to April, or thereabouts, the sky can be seen to take on a greenish glow – but don’t count your hopes on it, as it’s weather dependent.
Shetland is also home to many indigenous plants and flowers unique to its islands. On the west Mainland, Lea Gardens is a two-acre botanic green space that was formed in the 1980s and today boasts 1500 plant species and collections. The gardens received a Shetland Environmental Award in 2011 and host blooms not just from the islands but also from as far afield as New Zealand, South Africa, and South America.
A great way to explore the smaller islands is by boat. The Noss and Bressay Cruise passes the Noss National Nature Reserve by water where passengers can see thousands of gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes and razorbills before cruising past sheer cliff faces dating back million of years. The tour also passes through The Giant’s Leg, and with the use of the cruise’s underwater camera, plankton, starfish, crabs and sea urchins can be observed.
Shetland is home to two breweries that make their own distinctive ales and beers. Lerwick Brewing Co offers appointment-only weekly tours to newcomers and exciting seasonal specials, as well as a core range of brews. On Unst, Valhalla takes the title of the UK’s most northerly brewery, but it’s well worth the trip. In operation since 1997, it produces six core beer and also offers tours.
In an area ripe with mouth-watering natural produce, it makes sense that Shetland holds its own in the food stakes. Shetland Cheese is housed in a former smokehouse 28 miles from Lerwick where award-winning cheeses are produced, including St Ninians – a soft cow’s milk product. An on-site cafe will fulfill the needs of anyone flagging.
Frankie’s Fish & Chips isn’t your regular chippie – far from it. As well as catching all its own fish and seafood just a stone’s throw from its premises, it recently won the UK’s highest chippie accolade in the form of the Independent Takeaway of the Year Award in the National Fish and Chip Awards. No mean feat. Situated in Brae with stunning views, this is one for the bucket list.
A list of campsites and caravan sites in Shetland can be found here: http://visit.shetland.org/caravan-and-camping-parks.php