Well worth travelling off the ‘mainland’, for an outsider that seems a bit of a misnomer for the main Island of the Shetland, being it is so small, but then, I am merely from England. The smaller outer Isles are packed full of wildlife and spectacular scenery.
We began on Unst. Two ferries north from Lerwick. But all so easy. Quiet roads and ferries run to time. We had not consulted our timetable before setting off but managed to drive straight on to the 9.15 am from mainland to Yell, then on from Yell to Unst. First destination was the RSPB Nature Reserve at Herma Ness, the third largest breeding colony of great skuas in the world.
There are around 700 pair dotted around the moorland and, as I discovered, it does not pay to get too close to a nest. They do a good turn in aerial attack.
There are also, apparently, 25,000 pairs of breeding puffins in the reserve. But unlike Sumburgh they were not out enjoying the sunshine, at least when we visited. But upon reflection, it must be the equivalent of living in a war zone for the puffins. Great skuas attack other birds, particularly puffin and guillemot, until they drop their catch of food, take fledglings and, if all else fails, will take adult birds. I would not sunbath on my patio if there were snipers around. The odd few we did see made a quick landing straight into their burrows, or popped out for a quick recky before a fast take off for the fishing lanes.
The cliffs at Herma Ness differ from the others we have seen in that they are covered in grass and other foliage which is particularly appetising for the Shetland Sheep. They are incredibly agile and graze in seemingly impossible places amongst the puffin burrows.
From the moors on above the cliffs there is a clear view of the guillemot colonies and the lighthouse at Muckle Fluga. Both a contrasting white, for different reasons, than the green cliffs around.
Well worth a visit before leaving Unst is the Keen of Hamar. This little hill is a small desert with plant life, unexplained by science. Tiny flowers with thick hairy foliage, some absolutely unique to this tiny patch of Shetland. The wind, rain and ground rock mean that the rain does not penetrate the ground and makes a botanist’s delight. Linger to take photographs and then take a walk down to the cliffs back by the loch. Check for seals, we saw, and may be otter, we did not see.
The next Isle we spent a day on was Yell. We walked round the south of the island enjoying the wading birds and inquisitive seals. There are many otters on Yell, but unfortunately we did not see any. Plenty of otter holts, paw marks and other signs, but no otters.
The wading birds were scurrying around the beaches. Snip, golden plover, plover and turnstones. Arctic skuas tried to avoid being mobbed by nesting oyster catchers, while arctic turns fished with an agility that defied their recent flight from Africa.
Best cup of tea in Shetland – the Old Haa on Yell.
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