Shetland Slipways

On The Sea Roads

ROUTE LENGTH: 217 MILES

By Road

Take the south road out of Lerwick, up the hill to the A970. Turn right onto B9013, then left onot A970 to Scalloway (via New Road) to the castle. From Scalloway, return via New Road to A970, taking a left onto the B9074 onto the island of Trondra onto Burra. Hamnavoe will be straight on, then return and turn south on Burra to Papil.

To go to Bressay, return to Lerwick and take the ferry from there to. To visit Mousa, take the A970 south before meeting Lerwick. Turn left to Sandwick/Hoswick, for the boat to Mousa. To visit StNinian’s Isle, continue along A970, turning right onto B9122 to Bigton, where the isle is.

To visit Walls, take the north section of A970 out of Lerwick, then take left onto A971. Turn left onto the road signed to Stanydale Temple. Following, take a right onto road marked ‘WestBurrafirth/Papa Stour Ferry). You will come to a split, follow the right track marked Papa Stour Ferry. Return to A970, turning left to north passing Brae and going onto Northmavine. Follow signs to Hillswick, then follow A970 to North Roe. Return to Brae, turn left onto B9076 (passing Scatsa Airport), turn left onto A968 to Toft Ferry Terminal to Yell. Take ferry to Ulsta, and then travel along A968. Shortly before the terminal at Gutcher, turn left onto B9082 to Cullivoe. Follow through, then turn right onto Greenbank Road to Papil Ness. Earlier, you can take the B9081 to Burravoe. From Gutcher, take the ferry to Belmont on Unst. You can take a right to Uyea Sound or follow A986 to Haroldswick. Return south, taking the east roads (B9081 on Yell and A968 and A970 on Mainland).

By Cycle

From Lerwick, we recommend riding to each destination. The two roads out of Lerwick are very steep. The Museum, near to the Mareel Arts Centre, is on North Road meeting the Esplanade. From North Road, ride King Harald Street south, then turn right onto South Road (A970). Ride to Scalloway, following signs (turning right at the top of the hill to B9073), then left onto A970. In the town you will ride onto New Street. Turn left onto Castle Street, to reach the castle. Return slightly along the A970, turn right onto B9074, crossing bridge onto Trondra and then Burra. You will first reach Hamnavoe on Burra, then follow the road south through Burra to Papil.

For the south trip, take the A970 south (dir. Sumburgh). To go to Mousa, turn left art signs for Sandwick/Hoswick. Ride to Mousa Boat terminal.

To reach St Ninian’s Isle, follow A970 further south, but turn right B9122 to Bigton for the Isle.

For riding north to visit Walls, take the north section of A970 out of Lerwick, then take left onto A971. Turn left onto the road signed to Stanydale Temple. Following, take a right onto road marked‘West Burrafirth/Papa Stour Ferry). You will come to a split, follow the right track marked Papa Stour Ferry. Return to A970, turning left to north passing Brae and going onto Northmavine. Follow signs to Hillswick, then follow A970 to North Roe. Return to Brae, turn left onto B9076 (passing Scatsa Airport), turn left onto A968 to Toft Ferry Terminal to Yell. Take ferry to Ulsta, and then travel along A968. Shortly before the terminal at Gutcher, turn left onto B9082 to Cullivoe. Follow through, then turn right onto Greenbank Road to Papil Ness. Earlier, you can take the B9081 to Burravoe.

From Gutcher, take the ferry to Belmont on Unst. You can take a right to Uyea Sound or follow A986 to Haroldswick. Return south, taking the east roads (B9081 on Yell and A968 and A970 on Mainland).

By Public Transport

From Lerwick, take the 4 to Scalloway, then the 5 to Burra. To visit Mousa, take the 6 to Sumburghsouth to Sandwick’s Hall, and walking to the boat terminal – remember to arrange or check abouttransport over. To visit St Ninian’s Isle, continue on the 6 to Robin’s Brae, then take the 7F (dir.Channerwick) to Bigton, from which you can walk to the Isle.

To visit Walls, take the 9. The no. 23 goes north from Lerwick to Brae and the 21 to Hillswick in Northmavine. The 23 will take you from Lerwick to Toft ferry terminal to Yell. On Yell, you can take the 24Y from there to Unst.

To check times go to Traveline Scotland and click on Plan your Journey on left side of page.

Journey Links

Everywhere in Shetland seems a stone’s throw from the sea, shaped by the bays or voes and the smaller and more frequent geos- sheltered landing places. The Norse character seems even more pronounced than in Orkney, in the scenery, the seamanship, and the language with its unique admixture of Scots and Norn. There are more cliffs and more colour, or at least all of these things are more tightly packed than in Orkney. Early Celtic Christianity is surely less significant here? But that is a misunderstanding. Shetland fits perfectly the desirable destination at the ends of the earth. Moreover its rocky cliffs, peninsulas and offshore islands are a wilderness or ‘desert’ in the Celtic sense of the term- isolated places of retreat and spiritual contemplation. Early Norse chronicles recorded that Shetland was occupied by Picts and Papils ie by a Celtic culture similar tothe northern Scottish mainland and the Celtic monks. Many of their early settlements have been literally consumed by the elements, yet archaeologists keep finding more.

The Shetland Museum in Lerwick is a good place to start, sampling the rich succession of cultures and the abundant archaeological record. From Lerwick we go southwest to the old island capital at Scalloway which in its turn had replaced Tingwall as the meeting place of the Shetland Althing or parliament. The notorious Earl Patrick Stewart built himself a fine castle here after the Scottish takeover of Shetland. It is worth crossing here to Hamnavoe on West Burra. There was a Celtic monastery on this southern landfall at Papil and two fine carved stones survive, one still on site. The importance of the monastery which had a round tower is also shown by the Monks’ Stone in the Shetland Museum. It depicts five monks moving towards a High Cross. Four are on foot with their leader on a pony, while each one carries a crook and a book satchel for their Gospel manuscript. No artwork in the Celtic world brings us closer to these early missionaries and travellers. The stone is the side panel of a shrine which clearly contained relics of an important individual whose identity has been lost.

From Scalloway we return to the main road south, touching on harbours and brochs. Offshore to the northeast is Bressay which has a church and carved stones, and due east lies Mousa with its outstanding broch, which is a skilfully designed combination of watchtower and prestigious stone dwelling. Back on the west side near Levenwick a narrow isthmus joins the mainland peninsula to St Ninian’s Isle. This was the site of a clifftop Celtic monastery beneath whose chapel the St Ninian’s Isle silver hoard was concealed, perhaps in anticipation of a Viking raid. Fragments of a saint’s shrine were also excavated here and are on display in Lerwick, though the treasure itself is in the National Museum in Edinburgh. At the foot of the peninsula, definitely unmoveable to Edinburgh, is Jarlshof, an astonishing sequence of settlements built one on top of the other.

Our second loop goes northwest from Lerwick out to Walls and Sandness. There is some fertile croftland in this region and many inland lochs in addition to the expected indented coastline. South of the Walls road is the Neolithic settlement and temple of Stanydale. At the end of the road west is Papa Stour, the priests’ island, once a flourishing community and now almost deserted. We must return as we came in order to go north again, traversing mainland segments that feel like islands. Muckle Roe, an actual island, sits solidly to the west.

Keeping north we swing west to Hillswick where there is an enterprising wildlife sanctuary and cultural centre. Further west is Esha Ness with its cluster of scenic features including the old burial ground and church site at Crosskirk. Again we must retrace our steps to go further north to North Roe, arriving finally at Isbister. Nearby on the east coast at Kame of Isbister, looking east to Yell, was a major Celtic monastery in the jaws of the ocean. Archaeologists have traced nineteen cells or chapels here with others lost to the waves. It should be stressed that access to this site is difficult, and that in rough weather these wild coastlines are hazardous.

Returning south we then go on the northeastern side to Yell and Unst. These islands have experienced significant depopulation in modern times. There is though plentiful evidence of earlier settlement with chapels at Cullivoe, Kirk of Ness, and at Mid Yell. At Papil Ness further north there is an even remoter chapel site only accessible by foot. There was also a large monastery at Birrier, now completely inaccessible because of the collapse of the land bridge. St Colman’s Episcopal Church at Burravoe in South Yell however shows that not every church is closed or washed into the sea. On Unst there are remains of traditional chapels at Clibberswick by Haroldswick, and to the south at Gletna Kirk in Uyea Sound and on Uyea Island. Fetlar west of Yell has always attracted those with an eremitic disposition, and there have been modern monastic ventures connected with both Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. The main Celtic monastery was on the inaccessible rock stack at Outer Brough- ascetic with a capital ‘A’.

We return to Lerwick on the east side where the fishing island of Whalsay is visible offshore. Hugh MacDiarmid the twentieth century poet lived here for a time and wrote some gritty poems in praise of the Shetland fishermen and women. The mainland coast is again multiply indented and rocky. Back in Lerwick the Magnus story can be found depicted in stained glass in the handsome town hall and again in the attractive St Magnus Episcopal Church which exhibits all the colour of the nineteenth century liturgical revival. This was a period when Shetland protestants were much influenced by Methodism. The predominant trait is now undoubtedly agnostic or indifferent to institutional religion, but that conceals a keen sense of the natural world, of community values, and of an unspoken sense of wider spiritual context. Human life here calls for solidarity in the face of elemental powers of creation and destruction.

O life of the ever changing
Flowing from the glory of the eternal,
Making all things new, kind to all,
Making friends to God in all,
The light of life send upon us,
The joy of peace send upon us,
The gladness of goodwill send upon us.
Come at evening time with light
And in the morning with your glory
To guide our feet into the way of peace.

Pilgrim Journeys

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