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Shetland, a rugged and exposed island group – or archipelago – sits about 200 miles north of Aberdeen. Its western seaboard is battered by the unbridled power of the North Atlantic, while, on the east coast, the North Sea challenges the ever-changing coastline. The 1,400 miles of coastline is an ever-changing landscape, at the mercy of the sea. Put simply, Shetland is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to the UK's urban powerhouse, London.
Getting to and from Shetland is really quite simple – you can get here by sea or air.
A rail link is out of the question as there are no trains and the biggest risk to travel arrangements will always be the weather. Being the only land-mass in a vast ocean brings its fair share of difficulties with wind and fog being the biggest perpetrators of travel chaos for visitors hoping to arrive and depart from the northern isles.
One of the first questions that I always get (along with where should we stay) is ‘what’s the best way to get to Shetland?’ The next question is, ‘should we take the boat or plane?’ To simplify this for you and to make it easier to make an informed decision, I’ll go through the pros and cons of each, here on the blog so that you can choose the best option to suit your needs, budget and time.
I should also say that:
The first option for getting to Shetland is by boat. This service is currently run by NorthLink Ferries, bookings can be made via their website. Two boats operate this life-line service – The Hjaltland and Hrossey – running between Lerwick and Aberdeen daily – each boat passing each other on their respective passages north and south – the journey times vary between 12 and 14 hours (depending on whether or not the boat calls in at our island neighbour, Orkney 50 miles to the south-west).
The boat can be booked via Northlink's website.
Now, this is where I must try not to be negative as flying does have its benefits…
Flights in and out of Shetland are fairly easy from all the main Scottish airports. There are daily flights, operated by Loganair to and from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Orkney, Manchester and in the summer we have a weekly service to Bergen.
Undoubtedly, this is the quickest option (if all goes to plan), flights take between an hour and an hour-and-a-half (compared to the 12-14 on the boat). However, this is not always the most reliable way to get here (or away) and, as any islander will probably confirm, if you want to avoid the risk of lengthy delays and cancellations – take the boat (and bang, there goes any chance of sponsorship or freebies for me from Loganair).
Flights can be booked via the Loganair website.
Benefits of flying:
This next point has absolutely no bearing on getting here or away, it’s just interesting. The east-west runway spans the entire width of that part of of the island so one end is flanked with the North Sea and the other by the North Atlantic, and in order to get to the airport, vehicles must drive over the runway – so remember to look both ways!
A few points to consider:
One thing I personally always take into consideration is the time of year which I’m travelling. In the winter the boat is more likely to be cancelled or delayed due to weather (strong gales and heavy seas) and, in the summer, the fog can bring the airport to a halt. It really is a gamble and the savvy islander will make sure that they have a backup ferry booking (just in case!) when they plan on travelling.
One amusing anecdote I always tell people about is Brussels Sprout Gate. A few years ago we had some particularly stormy weather in the lead up to Christmas. This meant that the boat – which also brings in our food and fresh goods (turkeys and sprouts) – couldn’t get in for some days. People began panic-buying – a frustrating reaction to cancelled sailings – fearing that Christmas would be a lean one if the boat didn’t make it in time. And as the shelves emptied, tensions soared.
What ensued was probably one of the most amusing headlines of the year. Two women in Tesco (one other supermarket is available) actually began to argue in the aisle over the last solitary and proud bag of sprouts on the shelf. So, love ‘em or hate ‘em, they almost caused a riot in our leading supermarket.
In order to stop the escalating crime spree, Tesco chartered a military Hercules plane to bring in the much needed fresh supplies the islands craved, and Christmas peace was once more restored to our northern shores.
So, there you have it! Two sides to every coin and two options – both with pros and cons – about how to get to Shetland.
I hope that this has maybe given you some answers – I still don’t know the best way to get here and I’ve been coming and going from my island home for 32 years now. At the end of the day it all falls down to how much money, time and what kind of experience you want to have.
But, psssst … I would choose the boat every time ...
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.