It’s no secret that a trip to Mousa is one of my favourite things to do, not only on tours but with my family too.
This year, The Mousa Boat is reopening following a period of closure due to covid and, although tourism is still restricted and the broch doors remain closed (for now, we hope they will reopen soon), this remains a fantastic trip nonetheless. This is the perfect family outing for those looking for staycation ideas within Shetland this summer and, we’re announcing a fantastic giveaway with this blog.
Trips to Mousa begin tomorrow (1st May) and, for locals or those travelling to Shetland from within the UK, these day-trips are the perfect way to explore one of Shetland’s best uninhabited islands.
Mousa takes its name from the Old Norse “Mossy Island” and sits on the 60° North latitude line, helpfully marked by a beautiful wooden bench, made from reclaimed driftwood that washed ashore on the isle and was crafted into a contemplative place to sit by Mousa Boat’s skipper, Rodney Smith.
Mousa has been inhabited since prehistoric times and, despite being no more than one-and-a-half miles long and one mile wide, helps explain the story of Shetland’s human history from the Neolithic to the present day. With remains of a neolithic homestead, Bronze Age burnt mound, Iron Age broch and the ruined remains of a 19th-century croft and haa house, the island offers us a tantalising glimpse into times past.
Getting to Mousa is easy. The Solan IV, better known as The Mousa Boat, operates daily trips into the isle from the Sandsayre Pier, near Sandwick (unless otherwise specified), and this year, to encourage more local visitors, they are running on both Saturday and Sunday. Booking for day trips is unnecessary; ensure that you are at the waiting room at least 15 minutes before departure. Tours depart at 11.30 (returning 14.30) on weekdays and Saturday and 13.30 (returning 16.30) on Sunday.
Payment is collected on the boat: Adults £16 and children (up to 16 years) £7. Please note that card payments are not accepted.
Further information about tours and pricing is available via the Mousa Boat website.
Stepping ashore on Mousa, guests are given a short introduction to the island and its history by Rodney, who skippers the boat. You are then left to enjoy the island at your own pace with instructions about returning to the pier before departure back to the Mainland. On occasion, there are guides available to do a guided island tour, and these are open for anyone to join for a small fee.
The first building that you see on Mousa is the Ham House, sitting on the edge of the stone beach. This was an important area for drying fish, and the small stone building, built around 1770, was used as a fishing böd [booth].
From here, you can choose the direct route to the broch, along the west coast of the island, or you can go in a clockwise direction along the island’s east coast, following the rough coastal path.
My preference is always to go clockwise around the isle, heading first to the east side – this also tends to avoid the ‘crowds’ who tend to make straight for the broch. The path around the island is a rough, grass path and, if you feel you can’t manage the circular, you can head directly to the broch and follow the same route back to the pier.
*Please note that, due to covid restrictions, the broch will remain closed at the moment. Historic Environment Scotland are working closely with the Mousa Boat to ensure that the doors can reopen this season. However, the island still provides a fantastic all-round experience!
As you walk around the isle, look out for the wildlife, including; seals, black guillemots, Arctic terns, great skuas, fulmars, shags and the Shetland wren, a distinct subspecies that is slightly larger than its UK counterpart and carries a flatter song. If you’re really lucky, you may even see an otter or passing whale! Last year, on tour, we were lucky enough to see killer whales passing through Mousa Sound.
For most, the highlight of any trip to Mousa is the impressive 2,000-year-old broch. Mousa is the best example of an Iron Age broch anywhere in the world and has recently been voted the Best Broch in the World in the World Cup of Brochs, hosted by Caithness Broch Project!
Mousa Broch stands at about 13 metres tall with a stone staircase that leads to the top of the giant drystone structure. Despite being closed for 2021, to stand in the broch’s shadow, soaking in its sheer size, is something not to be sniffed at!
People often ask what a broch is, and, in a nutshell, a broch is a 2,000-year-old round tower built in the mid-Iron Age. They are unique to the north and west of Scotland, and archaeologists still do not agree on their purpose. Were they defensive structures? Agricultural grain stores? Homes for high-status members of the community or bolt-holes in times of strife or trouble? Perhaps we will never know? We know that they have a unique construction, built with a double wall, giving an inner and outer wall with a staircase between the two, leading to the top.
Evening tours, held around midsummer are also operated by The Mousa Boat. These twilight adventures coincide with the return of the storm petrels to their breeding grounds within the broch walls and the surrounding boulder beach, Burgi Ayre. Storm petrels are small seabirds that return to the breeding grounds at dusk to avoid predation, and it’s quite a spectacle to see them! I wrote more about this experience here. Bookings for this trip are essential and all sailings depart from Sandsayre (unless otherwise specified) at 10.30 pm, returning around 12.30 am. Bookings can be made for this trip here.
Beyond the broch is the Haa House, built by James Pyper, a local merchant who, worried about his wife’s drinking habits in Lerwick, purchased the island, built the Haa, and ensconced her there, away from the bottle. Unfortunately for Mr Pyper, Mousa has always been on the local ‘smugglers’ trade routes’ – with evidence of this going back as far as the Vikings – and Mrs Pyper’s brandy bottle never ran dry. Eventually, the drink was to be her downfall. After her death, Mr Pyper remarried. His second wife, Anne Linklater, loved the isle and was among one of the last residents there when she died in 1852.
The island was finally abandoned in 1853. The Knowe House that sits on the hill overlooking the broch has a poignant reminder of one of the last families to go – in May 1842, Andrew Jameson, a young boy at the time, inscribed his name and the date they departed in the north gable of the building.
The Knowe House, with its impressive kiln structure, served the Haa and its residents, farming the nearby fields to supply the island’s subsistence needs. The house sits close to the South Loch where the remains of a traditional click mill can still be seen.
The broch and its surroundings are the perfect place to enjoy a family picnic lunch before heading back to the boat with tired legs and full hearts.
Mousa truly is a memorable way to spend an afternoon, and I’m always amazed how many locals have yet to visit and experience the magic of this little island off Shetland’s east coast.
In the spirit of encouraging more local people to visit, and in conjunction with Rodney and The Mousa Boat, we are offering a fantastic giveaway to celebrate Mousa’s reopening.
We're not just offering one winner, but three winners, and the lucky winners will receive a FREE trip to Mousa with a friend, and, once there, will enjoy a guided walk around the island with Shetland with Laurie.
To find out more about entering, check out The Mousa Boat’s Facebook page for details. The closing date for entering this competition is Friday 14th May.
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.