If you're looking to experience some of Shetland's incredible wildlife, you definitely need to add a trip to Noss to your list of things to see and do in Shetland. Joining Seabirds & Seals recently, I was able to 'act the tourist' for a morning and witness the incredible gannet colonies of Noss.
The experience is an astonishing spectacle – the natural world's equivalent of a teeming seabird apartment block, bursting with all the associated sights and sounds of one of Europe's largest gannet colonies. For this tour, you need look no further than Lerwick's Victoria Pier, where you can step onboard Seabird for a memorable boat tour around the islands of Bressay and Noss.
I know what it's like when planning for a holiday – so many questions and no one place where you can find the much sought after answers. I spend a lot of time answering questions online, whether on Instagram or my Patreon page. A lot of the time, it's the same questions that come up time and time again.
I've done several podcasts on my Patreon page that cover many of the frequently asked questions in depth (you can see the topics covered here). The following are some of the general 'top tips' I would give anyone planning to visit Shetland.
Jarlshof, sitting at the southernmost point of Mainland Shetland, is a fascinating archaeological site spanning some 5,000 years, outlining the various stages of human habitation in the islands.
The site is complicated and complex, yet fascinating and awe-inspiring – in fact, this is my favourite site on the Mainland to guide visitors around.
Jarlshof is mind-blowing. It's a site that will immediately put you in your place. It has the power to ground you and make you feel like an insignificant speck in a moment in time.
I've picked out a few fun facts to help you understand the site on a visit – some of these are more serious than others! And, for ease, I'll present them chronologically!
The return of the seabirds is one of my favourite times of the year. It’s filled with hope and the reassurance that, despite everything, the cyclical processes that guide the natural world continue regardless of the latest news story that’s making the headlines and keeping us awake at night.
Shetland is a birders paradise, with over one million nesting seabirds returning to their noisy colonies every summer, breeding on cliffs, moors, beaches and, even within the walls of a 2,000-year-old broch, their return is a welcome sight after a long winter.
People often ask why the seabirds only return to land in the summer, and the answer is simple. Seabirds can’t lay an egg at sea, so they have to come ashore to breed. Once breeding is complete and the chick/s has fledged, they return to the sea – sometimes thousands of miles from the breeding grounds.
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.
As we move into the New Year, it’s difficult not to feel as though we’ve been short-changed. We all liked to imagine that 2021 would be like hitting the reset and bring a fresh start, a line in the sand of sorts. Yet, we are still fighting the same struggles we were in 2020, and coronavirus is still an ever-present threat to the world.
Travel looks like it may well remain hampered into 2021 as restrictions continue and nations race to get mass-vaccinations rolled out as our health systems, as ever, bear the brunt of the coronavirus fallout.
I’ve received many emails looking to book tours for 2021 and, at present, my diary remains closed as the situation continues to change and develop on almost a daily basis. That’s not to say things won’t improve as the year wears on, but for now, I believe we are best to wait, dream and plan.
This blog is earlier in the week than usual but, let’s face it, who wants to read my blog on Christmas Day! – big thanks to you if you do!
To celebrate the 12 days of Christmas I thought I would share some of my blog archives with you. So, over the 12 days of Christmas, I will share a new (old) blog every day from the archive. It occurred to me that I’ve been writing a fortnightly blog for almost three years and there are many that you may have missed, not had time to read or you may be new to the blog so I hope this will give you a chance to read back and discover more.
I hope these will give you a deeper insight into life here and some holiday inspiration for when it’s safe to travel again.
It was funny going through all the old blogs, and amazing that there were a few I forgot I’d actually written. I’ve picked out a few of my favourites, your favourites, and ones that I hope will help with holiday planning (for when it's safe to do so again).
For those who don’t want to wait for a new instalment every day, I’ve summarised them below and I will share them on Facebook and Instagram throughout the 12 days of Christmas.
This week, as we transition into December, I wanted to share something a bit different on the blog, and I wanted to tell you about a fantastic day out I had recently with Mike Finnie of Red Houss Shetland.
It pains me to say it, but with Christmas approaching, we’re all looking for that extra special gift, idea or experience and Mike’s jewellery making workshops make a fantastic gift. Choosing presents can be so tricky as we all have so much already, and it’s often hard not to buy things that are just adding to the layers of ‘stuff’ people already own. I like to try and choose unusual gifts; ones that support local businesses and are unique and meaningful.
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.
‘Whiskers’, a favourite grey seal at Shetland Catch. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Wills.
With more and more of us looking to literature to get our daily break away from the news, I thought that in this blog, I would share a book review I wrote for The New Shetlander. The New Shetlander is a magazine founded in 1947 – the oldest literary and community journal in Scotland. It comes out every quarter, and the editors welcome contributions about Shetland and the world. If you would like to subscribe to the magazine, you can do so here.
The New Shetlander is Scotland's oldest literary and community journal.
The book that I reviewed is very fitting to an audience of would-be Shetland visitors. Recently published, it was written by Jonathan Wills who operated guided boat tours around Lerwick and Noss for over 20 years. He shares his knowledge and recollections from his time as a tour guide in this lavishly illustrated paperback.
Hello from Laurie
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I hope that you find what you're looking for - whether you're planning that perfect holiday or maybe you're from Shetland and looking for some 'home' inspiration. Hopefully, there is something here for everyone.