"Take a walk on the wild side at Hermaness National Nature Reserve.”
A hike to Hermaness
For those who love wild places and nature, Hermaness has it all. Shetland’s most northerly island, Unst, is home to several spectacular nature reserves, but coming in at the top of the list for me is Hermaness.
Outstanding scenery at Hermaness National Nature Reserve
Hermaness National Nature Reserve is a walk that will take you over vast, open moorland to the coastal fringes of Britain’s most northerly frontier.
Barren and wild, this area really feels as if it stands on the edge of the world. It is dominated by the imposing Muckle Flugga lighthouse, precariously perched on a small rocky island where the sky meets the sea. The lighthouse, built by Thomas Stevenson, is carefully woven into the barren rock and has stood up to 150 years of assault from the Atlantic. Until 1995 it was the most northerly inhabited island – home to a lighthouse keeper throughout the year until the light became automated and the keeper moved out.
Shetland’s Atlantic coast where Hermaness lies, is spectacular rising to 170 metres. The cliffs, stacks and skerries off Hermaness will take your breath away. It’s also a place rich in wildlife; there are over 100,000 breeding seabirds to watch. Puffins and fulmars proudly dominate the crags, stacks and cliffs, while nesting great skuas (1,000 breeding pairs) command the moorland, their dark silhouettes camouflaged by the heathery hills. Perhaps the most astonishing sight of all is the vast colony of gannets – 25,000 breeding pairs – who live in a raucous cacophony of noise on the outlying rocks.
According to folklore, Hermaness was home to a giant called Herman, and together with Saxa, a giant from the neighbouring headland of Saxa Vord, they fell in love with a mermaid who lured them into the sea. Challenging them to swim to the North Pole, the mermaid promised her affections to the winner. Unfortunately for Herman and Saxa, neither could swim, and both were drowned, leaving this wild and remote area to the birds. I spoke about these legends in a podcast about folklore.