Looking across Burravoe campsite, pier and marina, Yell.
It seems a little strange to be writing about our summer holidays as the first of the autumn equinox storms pass through. I’m sitting in the office in an oversized cardigan cupping a steaming hot mug of tea, listening to the wind gathering strength outside. But, for now, I will transport back to the first week of the school holidays and another brilliant trip to the North Isles. As soon as school broke for summer, we jumped on the ferry – with my grandparent’s caravan in tow – and headed to Yell and Unst. This blog will focus on caravanning in the North Isles and is a purely practical guide.
Burrafirth, Unst, looking towards Saxa Vord.
Shetland has many campsites that are affordable, friendly and well-equipped with good hook-ups, showers and information for guests. Our first stop was the Burravoe campsite, just a few miles north-east of the Ulsta ferry. We then went on to Uyeasound in Unst where we stayed at Gardiesfauld Hostel, Caravan and Campsite.
This blog will take you through the campsites of Yell and Unst. Fetlar that makes up the trio of North Isles has no designated campsite at the moment, but the community are trying to develop one so look out for that in the future. Plans are also afoot in Unst to install another campsite in Baltasound.
Looking across to Heoga Ness and the former Methodist Chapel, Burravoe, Yell.
Getting to Shetland with a motorhome or caravan:
Getting to Shetland with a motorhome or caravan is easy as you only have one option: Ferry.
Two ferries operate the route between Aberdeen and Lerwick, leaving each port every evening and making the 12-14 hour crossing overnight before landing in their respective ports at 7.30 am. The ferry is operated by NorthLink Ferries, and you can find out more and book here.
Inter Island ferry to Unst and Fetlar in Shetland's North Isles. Traditional boats in the foreground.
Getting to the North Isles:
Shetland has excellent internal links operated by the Shetland Islands Council, including a fleet of inter-island ferries that run between nine of the 16 inhabited islands. Ferries to Yell and Unst are very frequent, and booking is not always necessary, but if travelling with a caravan or motorhome it is recommended. You can view ferry timetables and book here.
Coastal views in Yell. Follow walk signposted 'Neapaback' from the Burravoe campsite, Yell.
Caravanning is a perfect way to see Shetland, and with 23 designated caravan sites, it’s an excellent way to see as much of the isles as possible. Most of the sites can accommodate campers, motorhomes or caravans, and it allows you the opportunity to pick the pace and travel around at a rate that suits you. Caravanning allows you total control of your holiday.
Burravoe Pier Trust Caravan and Campsite
Burravoe prices are very reasonable:
Motorhomes and caravans: £10 a night (8 touring pitches available)
Tents: £4 a night (4 pitches available)
Contact: Tel: +44 (0)1957 722315 or +44 (0)1957 722355 (although booking is not required)
Burravoe campsite, Yell.
There is no need to book; you roll up – literally – hook up and leave the money in an envelope inside the facilities building (it runs on an honesty basis). The site at Burravoe has thoughtful amenities, the building itself is made like a traditional boat-house with an upturned lifeboat from the SS Canberra forming the roof. Inside there are toilets, showers and laundry facilities as well as plenty of local information about Yell and beyond.
The campsite is sheltered and clean, overlooking Heoga Ness and the ruins of the first Methodist chapel built in Yell in 1827. The pier and marina are busy with local aquaculture boats and small pleasure crafts that use the sheltered marina.
The site offers hard standing for caravans and motorhomes, and there is a grassed area where tents can pitch. The site is on a bit of a slope towards the sea, so I would recommend that you bring your cheese wedges and a spirit level with you to level up.
6 ideas for your stay at Burravoe with children.
I’ve written about Yell already after a brilliant stay at Varda self-catering (which you can read about here) and no doubt we’ll be back again soon.
Gardiesfauld Hostel, Caravan and Campsite
Gardiesfauld prices are more expensive than Burravoe but still reasonable:
Motorhomes and caravans: £20 a night (5 touring pitches available)
Tents: £8 adults (£4 children) a night (27 pitches available)
Staying in the Hostel: £16 adults (£9 children) a night (35 beds available)
Contact: Tel: +44 (0)1957 755279 (booking is essential as this is a busy site)
Caravan site at Uyeasound, Unst.
After a few days in Yell, it was time to move on to Uyeasound in Unst. This is a site that we visit year after year. You really can’t beat the location – right on the shore with the waves lapping on the sandy beach and views across to Uyea Isle.
It’s crucial to book this site as it gets very busy during the summer months. And more often than not, there is not enough space to meet the demand. The site is linked to Gardiesfauld Hostel, a house gifted to the community and operated as a hostel ever since.
The hostel offers excellent value. Guests have access to the kitchen, dining room, lounge, conservatory, coin-operated laundry, showers (coin-operated) and bedrooms with en suite facilities.
The site itself has hard standing, plug-in electric and every pitch has enough space for an awning and/or vehicle parking. The site is flat making it easier to level up motorhomes, and there are public toilets.
6 ideas for your stay at Uyeasound with children.
Unst offers endless opportunities for a holiday but to get you started, read my blog about a walk to the most northerly point; Hermaness. You can read that here.
Commercial Street, Lerwick on a busy summer day.
A beginners guide to Shetland
You’ve read the travel guide? Great. You’ve seen the Shetland TV series, even better; now read a real guide from a local. Delve a little deeper into the fascinating culture of the place I call home: Shetland.
Our island’s culture and tradition is unique and distinctively ‘not Scottish’ – if that’s a thing? We’ve only been part of Scotland for 550 years so don’t expect to find any haggis, kilts or bagpipes here.
So, for those arriving here for the first time, I’ve compiled this little Survival Guide – a beginner's guide to Shetland, if you will. It’s by no means comprehensive and should be taken a little tongue-in-cheek, but here you go:
First things first, welcome to Shetland – hiyi, noo den, whit lik’, or whatever – you’ll find a few variants of this common greeting. We’re a friendly bunch, and you’ll find that people will be only too happy to help you while you’re here, so please, don’t be afraid to ask locals for directions, tips or any other little thing which might spring to mind.
If it’s your first time to Shetland then pop into the Tourist Centre and meet the staff – a more helpful team you couldn’t ask for. You’re sure to leave feeling inspired and bursting with ideas for your holidays.
Lerwick Tourist Centre where a friendly welcome awaits.
*note* WE DRIVE ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD.
With introductions over, it’s likely that one of the first things you’ll do as a visitor to our islands, is rent a car (several car rental companies are available, such as this one, this one and this one).
You will then find yourself on one of our minor, single-track roads with passing places. We have rules for these, which are unwritten, but strictly observed by islanders. Below is your handy guide to Passing Place Etiquette:
A Shetland passing place, many people visiting ask what "passing place" means on the road signs.
Using one of Shetland's passing places in Fetlar.
A few notes, or additional points to consider when driving in Shetland:
Be aware of vehicles displaying car hire logos. They may, or will almost certainly be unsure of where they’re going, or how to navigate the roads. We expect this from self-drives. Remember that for many, they’re driving on the opposite side of the road to what they’re accustomed to. This is as much a reminder to locals (and myself) as anyone else because it can be frustrating when rushing to get somewhere only to come up behind a car going at 35 mph on a 60 stretch.
Be aware that unless specified, you’re probably going to end up with a manual car if you rent one, and one that has about as much power under the bonnet to get up the hills as my hairdryer. That said, Shetland’s car hire companies are very good, and the vehicles are usually reasonably new.
Cyclists are a problem here too. I joke (kinda). Please just be aware that we have a lot of cyclists on the roads and there are no dedicated cycle paths, other than a few around town and one leading into the village of Hoswick. I wrote a blog about cycling in Shetland that you can read here.
I should also give you a little heads-up about roundabouts in Shetland, especially for our American visitors who have never encountered this quintessentially British intersection. Basically, on entering a roundabout, give priority to traffic approaching from your right. You will find these randomly situated throughout the isles, and lots of people living here are quite unaware of how to use them too (!). Be prepared for lengthy stand-offs – the roundabout stare-off – as people unblinkingly gaze from one car to the other, wondering who dares to go first. It can be quite fun (if you’re not in a hurry) and I like to treat it as if it were a competitive sport – always disappointed when someone has the guts to enter the roundabout before me. Basically, this system to ‘keep traffic flowing’, more often than not brings traffic to an absolute standstill.
But don’t worry, traffic hold-ups in Shetland are short-lived and infrequent and if you’re still unsure about navigating a roundabout check out this advice from the Highway Code.
If you want to understand a little more about how to use passing places and general ‘Shetlandy stuff’ check out this helpful YouTube video.
So that's the roads covered.
Who lets a little rain stop them anyway? A rainy day in Yell. Welcome to Shetland summer.
Small talk & weather
Despite a surge in tourism in recent years, visitors can still come here and catch a glimpse of the islands distinct culture. Shetland remains true to its roots in many areas – despite the fact we all have iPhones, instant messenger and wifi.
I’m listing small-talk and weather together here because they seem to come as a package. All small-talk begins with the weather, and the weather is the first thing that we ever talk about. We have weather here in abundance, and it can change in a millisecond – providing us with endless opportunities for small-talk.
If you meet a local, be prepared to be given a run-down on the weather (especially if you meet my mother-in-law), it’s how we start most conversations here.
‘Fine day, daday’ – It’s a good day, today.
‘It’s a day o’ dirt’ – It’s a horrible day today.
‘It’s steekit’ mist’ – It’s extremely foggy.
‘A laar o’ wind’ or ‘a scaar o’ wind’ – Not much wind, or, a little more wind...
‘It’s a day o’ shite’ – I’ll let you figure that one out for yourselves.
And one of the nicest things you can hope for is ‘a day atween wadders’ – a calm day between storms when the birds come out singing, and everyone appears outdoors after being stuck in! (As I write, we’ve enjoyed a ‘day atween wadders’, and I’m writing on the rainy end of it).
On a serious note:
Be prepared for four seasons in one day. And, be prepared for the wind chill – It’s a real thing here despite our temperate Oceanic climate. It will surprise you – it still surprises me!
So, pack wisely and layer up.
I wrote a blog about what to wear in Shetland that can be found here.
What not to say to a Shetlander:
Never say that you are ‘on Shetland’, or ‘on Unst’ for example – us Shetlanders can’t abide it (even if it is grammatically correct). Just bear in mind that when visiting; you are ‘in Shetland’ or you are ‘in Unst’, never on.
Another never never is – the Shetlands. We’re not the Shetlands; we are just Shetland. Period. Call us the Shetland Isles, or an island archipelago, or da auld rock, or da rock – whatever, just don’t call us the Shetlands. This is a sure-fire way of getting off on the wrong foot, or most usually, corrected.
Although, as mentioned, Shetlanders are a friendly bunch and will probably helpfully correct you with a smile of knowing sympathy at your error.
Fair Isle knitwear is the national dress in Shetland; not tartan.
Don’t ask what our tartan is; a real Shetlander doesn’t have a tartan – our roots are very much Scandinavian (if you want to know more about our ‘non-Scottish’ culture you can read my blog post here).
You will perhaps want to buy some of our locally made Fair Isle knitwear, and this can be picked up all over the isles from larger shops on Commercial Street to small community museum shops.
Knitwear has always been important to our economy – much more than tartan ever has. But that’s for another day.
One of the Shetland fishing fleet; supplying fresh local fish to market.
Food & Drink
Again, this is another blog post, but for now:
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I hope that you find what you're looking for, whether you are planning that perfect holiday or maybe you're from Shetland and looking for some inspiration. Hopefully, there is something here for everyone.