Last weekend we visited Sumburgh Head and the fantastic new Unken Caffee. With commanding views out to sea and north across the South Mainland, it got me thinking about how past people lived and about the architecture, defensive or otherwise, that they built here.
Shetland’s South Mainland, at one time, was a highly fortified area. If we rewind about 2,000 years to the Iron Age and place ourselves at Sumburgh Head, the landscape would have been very different and, likely, quite intimidating.
At Sumburgh Head, where we stayed, an Iron Age fort, now lost to history, stood proudly on the headland. The next prominent headland to the southwest is Scatness and, right at the point of this headland sits the Ness of Burgi, the subject of today’s walk.
Winter can be a really special time to go for an adventure. On a cold, calm day, the air is crisp, and the low light casts dramatic shadows across the parched landscape. We’ve been fortunate this winter in that the ground has been frozen. If it’s not frozen, sticking to coastal routes can help keep feet warm and dry in Shetland’s (usually) wet winters.
The smugglers’ cave in Burra is a brilliant walk to do with children because there’s plenty to see and it’s not too far to walk. Once they reach the destination, there’s the added promise of smuggling and piracy to keep them curious and engaged.
It’s not often that January brings prolonged periods of still and frosty weather, but that’s exactly what we had here throughout January and, as we battle with homeschooling and the ever-present threat of cabin fever, it’s definitely nice to get out into the fresh air for a few hours.
We recently walked around St Ninian’s Isle and, as well as being great for adults, this walk is also fantastic for anyone with children. It’s not always easy to persuade bairns to go on a hike, but this one is perfect as there’s a beach, plenty of wildlife and the promise of buried treasure at the end to keep them engaged.
Similarly, this is a walk that is just as rewarding in all seasons. I have highlighted it in winter because, unlike some other walks that can be too wet and boggy at this time of year, this walk is still relatively dry in winter (although you will need walking boots).
This is also a walk that I often do on tours of the South Mainland as the walk and distance can be adapted to suit everyone’s mobility. If you book a tour with me and want to do all or part of this walk, we can discuss that.
There is nothing better than coming back from the beach with sandy pockets, burgeoning with gifts from the sea but, as with everything, we must collect responsibly and always ask, ‘how will my actions impact the natural world around me?’ We are all magpies; we search for treasure, scouring the shoreline for a glittering shell or a salt-encrusted sea-worn pebble. And that’s fine, as long as we do so responsibly.
Shetland’s shores are a veritable treasure trove where the discerning eye can pick out sea glass, precious stones, shells and, most highly-coveted of all, the elusive grottie buckie (cowrie shell), thought to bring luck and prosperity to the finder. It’s supposed to be good luck to carry one in your purse, so that’s precisely what sits in mine; alongside the loose change and crumpled receipts.
Tomorrow is hallowe’en, that time of the year when bairns go guising (trick or treating) brandishing neepy lanterns – not pumpkins, although we do carve these too. Anyone who has tried to carve out a neep (turnip) will know how much of a labour of love this is!
Hallowe’en is held on the eve of All Hallows’ Day, a Christian celebration dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows). The celebrations are punctuated with spooky tales and stories of ghosts, ghouls and paranormal activity.
Shetland is no stranger to ghostly tales; in fact, I spoke a lot about this on this week’s podcast with Alexa Fitzgibbon.
This week, I thought I would share a few ghost stories with you; so draw up a chair, dim the lights and pull a blanket around your shoulders because things might get a little spooky …
A fire pit made using stones from historic buildings at Fethaland. Photo: David Murray
This blog is a little reminder, and hopefully a helpful guide to accessing the outdoors safely and responsibly in Shetland. I first published this in the Shetland Times, our weekly newspaper, to raise awareness amongst locals. The message remains important to everyone visiting Shetland, particularly those who hope to access some of our many beauty spots.
People are being urged to get-to-know the Scottish Outdoor Access Code before heading into the countryside after what has been described as “a crazy summer” by one westside crofter.
Shetland’s top beauty spots have seen more traffic than Piccadilly Circus this summer as locals, lifted from lockdown, took the opportunity to visit places such as Westerwick, Fethaland, Muckle Roe’s scenic area and Uyea.
The Burn of Valayre, Delting, Shetland.
It strikes me that despite having children, I’ve never really written about things to see and do with them, so in this blog, I’ll share a short walk to do with kids. Many of the trails that I write about are long and involve carrying tired legs for a part, or all, of the way – great if you want to build muscle, not so great if you want to relax and soak in the scenery.
Here in Shetland, we are just heading into the second week of the October holidays, where more and more, as parents, we begin to run out of ideas for things to do to occupy our little monkeys. Hopefully this blog will give you a new idea and inspire you to pack a picnic and head out for a few much-needed hours outside.
For those who want to dive a little deeper into the wild, Tingon, Northmavine is a great place to get-away-from-it-all.
Tingon is a peninsula on Shetland’s rugged north-west coast. To the west is the North Atlantic, flanked by sheer cliffs that create an imposing barrier to any boats, and to the west, the skyline is dominated by Ronas Hill, Shetland’s highest point.
Walk: 4 miles (6.5 km)
Terrain: Fair, walking boots/hiking trainers would be best to wear
Time: 3 hours (we spent three hours exploring the area, this allows lots of time to enjoy the sites at a leisurely pace)
Wildflowers at the Crofthouse Museum.
There's a lot to smile about at the moment; we've just had the simmer dim (midsummer) where we enjoy 19 hours of daylight, but, more than that, the wildflowers have been putting on a tremendous show of colour this year.
Shetland is an excellent place to see wildflowers, much of the reason for this lies in the rocks beneath our feet and the unique geology that makes up the islands. Geologically complicated, Shetland's geological landscape varies hugely from place to place, with each area hosting a unique environment for the plants that grow. Sites such as the Keen of Hamar and Ronas Hill boast plants so rare, or endemic, in the case of the Keen of Hamar, that they can only be found in a few places across the globe.
St Ninian's Isle beach in Shetland's South Mainland.
Whether it’s hidden coves, sweeping sands or stony strands, Shetland has it all and, among the many beaches that make up Shetland’s breathtaking coastline, there are five that have been included in the national Beach Awards, part of the Keep Scotland Beautiful charity.
These awards “are the benchmark for quality, celebrating clean, well managed and sustainable beaches.” Those selected “demonstrate excellent beach management and environmental best practice, and maintaining high standards.”
As 2020 is the Year of Coast and Waters I thought I would bring you a list of Shetland’s award-winning beaches. As many people are spending this time planning their next holiday, why not start with some top-rated beaches to get your next holiday off to a flying start.
A little about Laurie
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.