If you dream of adventuring at the edge of the world, in a place that feels as wild as it does welcoming, go to Shetland. I spent an incredible five days exploring Shetland with my friend Alexis, by kayak, foot and campervan. Wild camping on remote beaches, chasing glorious sunsets, being out in the sea surrounded by seals and puffins and eating fresh fish and seafood.
Shetland left me with a deep appreciation for saying yes to new experiences and all the wonder and joy that can come flooding into your life when you do. Here are my favourite hidden treasures of Shetland (and useful links at the bottom) to help you to plan your own magical adventure at the edge of the world.
Shetland, originally a Norse province, is made up of 100 islands but only 16 are inhabited. It has been part of Scotland since the 15th Century, it's history dominated by the influence of the Vikings, very much reflected in the culture here.
Watch my vlog here for ultimate adventure inspiration!
Places to Stay
1. Wild camping on the coast
On a mission to find the most remote and picturesque place to camp, we headed up Ronas Hill in Northmavine – the highest point on Shetland – before descending to the stretch of hidden coastline that lay beyond. On the summit (450m), it felt like we were on another planet. With 360 degree views and not another soul to be seen, we took a few moments to absorb it all before descending to the coast. On the way we stumbled across a babbling burn and had to make another pit stop. There’s something about water flowing that has such a calming effect on the soul!
Following directions scribbled on a piece of paper, we followed the V in the valley until we found a rope that made the final descent onto the beach. Scrambling down the cliff with a waterfall to my right and the waves crashing behind me, I turned around to fully take in where we were. Looking from left to right, there was only ocean, sunset and beach. “This is Shetland, this is your life!” I thought to myself as I looked at Alexis. Neither of us said anything, but our smiles said it all.
2. Johnnie Notions Böd
I often think how lucky I am that as an adult I get to do all the things I dreamed of doing when I was a child. My parents weren’t into camping or adventuring, but I would often make dens and set up camps in my garden or a friend’s shed. It felt like a big adventure to spend the night outside even though it was just in our gardens, having midnight feasts and playing truth or dare. I never in a million years imagined that my adult life, and in fact my job, would take me to all these unusual places to sleep and create memories in.
The moment I walked into the Johnnie Notions Böd, I felt a sense of childlike excitement! Inside we found two bunkbeds, a table and chairs, candles, a visitors book and a fire that runs on peat. Adjoining were two toilets, a sink and drinking/cooking water. After a brief debate about whether we preferred top or bottom bunk (always top for me) in which I clearly outlined the draw of top bunk “It’s half way up the room, how fun is that?” Alexis made up his mind, set up his sleeping bag on the other top bunk and we headed outside. The sunset was beckoning.
3. Sumburgh Lighthouse
Our first day on Shetland was jam-packed! Having spent a restful 15 hours on the ferry from Aberdeen via NorthLink ferries, we picked up our campervan and went grocery shopping before kayaking and picking up an entourage of seals! More on kayaking below, but for now let me tell you about sleeping in a lighthouse. We drove to the very South of Shetland, arriving at Sumburgh Lighthouse just as the sun was setting. Not wanting to miss a moment of the sunset, we grabbed a beer and went outside. We lost track of time watching the the mesmerizing flow of the seabirds swooping and diving around the cliffs - the best place to spot Puffins too - we realised we were starving and went to cook dinner.
Inside Sumburgh lighthouse is just as impressive as the outside and it’s views. Retaining all it’s original charm and features, but with little touches of luxury like an Aga oven making the kitchen warm and cosy, a power shower, fluffy towels and comfy beds. We lapped it up, knowing the next few nights would be a lot more rustic with showers few and far between.
4. Campervan and fishing bay
Another childhood dream come true! I always found the concept of campervans so intriguing, but never had the chance to road trip or sleep in one until now. As a Londoner, one of the major draws of Shetland and my beloved Scotland, is the opportunity to escape the city and immerse myself in nature. There’s nothing I love more than finding a quiet corner of the world to spend the night and forget about the pressures of everyday life. Shetland is the perfect place to do it!
Off the grid with no access to the world beyond, we found a secluded fishing bay on Northmavine to park the campervan and headed out for another sunset mission at the edge of the world. We saw a double rainbow, explored Viking ruins and played cards. In the morning we made bacon sandwiches on my jetboil before leaving without a trace and heading to Ronas Hill.
Shetland boasts 1700 miles of coastline, so it seemed a natural choice to jump in kayaks and explore it. Alexis comes alive in a kayak; it was quite special to observe! Watching my friend in his element, at one with nature, out there living his best life. It made me so happy! Not only did Rosalind from Sea Kayak Shetland greet us with a baby chick just hatched, but she proved to be the ideal guide. Born and raised on Shetland with her family, she took a huge amount of pride in her family’s business and showing us her world from the water.
We found hidden caves, secret tunnels, saw puffins and oh so many seals! They are so curious and by the time we finished kayaking a few hours later, we had picked up a following! “Look behind you” Rosalind said as we hauled our kayaks onto the beach. I turned to see 20 seals all looking expectantly at us, their heads bobbing in the waves.
6. Trail Running/Hiking
The people we meet when we travel give us the truest flavour of the culture and leave a lasting impression. On a sunshine filled morning, I met Sophie (another Sophie) at our designated meeting place on Muckle Roe. I immediately knew we were going to get along great by her smile and relaxed attitude. With small backpacks stuffed with water, jelly babies and my GoPro, we began our 9 mile run around Muckle Roe.
Soph and I swapped stories the entire time; we are the same age so she's the perfect person to tell me what it’s like living here as a young person. She explained there’s a lot more going on than people might think, lots of folk music and a real community feel. She grew up in Northumberland, but fell in love with Shetland (and her beau here) 10 years ago.
Although we were treated to five days straight of unadulterated sunshine and calm weather, I understand this is definitely not the case during the winter when it can be pretty windy. At 60 degrees north, Shetland is further North than Moscow and very close to Norway, making the months between May - October the best times to visit! Shetland offers superb hillwalking with views for days!
7. Sailing on The Swan
On our last day, we had a real treat in store. We set sail on The Swan, a 120 year old fishing boat with a group of local people brimming with pride for the boat and the experiences she has brought to so many people. “You can sail to Norway in a day and a half from here” Ruth told me as we pulled out of Lerwick harbour “you should come with us!” The Swan is a working boat, as in, when you are on her, you work. It’s a team effort (largely run by volunteers) to sail safely and we loved learning the commands and getting stuck in. We sailed out to sea with the wind picking up and towards a cliff with thousands of birds swirling around or nestling on it.
After spending a few days in remote locations with just each other’s company, it was the perfect gateway back to the real world and a insight into life on Shetland for the people who live here. Thank you to everyone on-board who made it so special!
That's a wrap on Shetland!
Between seeing a double rainbow from end to end, the glorious sunsets, the inquisitive seals that popped up to say hello whenever we were on the coast, wild camping under the stars and eating the best fish and chips I’ve ever had, it would be hard to choose my favourite moment from our week on Shetland.
I’ll leave you with this; there is a real community feel on Shetland, a feeling of pride and passion. Shetland isn't on your doorstep, but it's totally worth the effort. A great destination to get away from it all and come back refreshed and rejuvenated. It’s easy to travel around and make an experience your own. I feel exceptionally grateful for these days in Shetland, for the memories I’ll keep with me forever, for spending quality time with my friend Alexis, and being overcome with awe for the world we live in. For this, and so much more, thank you VisitScotland, NorthLink Ferries and PromoteShetland.
How to get there:
I decided to make a road trip of it and take in the scenery on the way from London. I took the train from London to Sheffield, then drove to Aberdeen and took the 15 hour ferry via NorthLink Ferries from Aberdeen to Lerwick, Shetland. It also stops at Orkney. I love ferries and was really looking forward to 15 hours to relax and get ready for our adventure! We saw dolphins as we left the harbour, watched the sunset, bought Puffin Poo in the shop (you have to try it!) enjoyed local ales, ate fish and chips and had a restful sleep in our cosy twin cabin. On the way home, I flew from Aberdeen to London.
Useful Links and Information:
NorthLink Ferries: http://www.northlinkferries.co.uk - Onboard you can find comfortable cabins, a 3-course dinner from local produce, a bar, cinema, shop and great views on the deck
Promote Shetland: https://www.shetland.org
Johhnie Notions Bod and Others: http://camping-bods.com/Johnnie-Notions-g.asp - can be booked for £10 a night pp or exclusively for £32
Sea Kayak Shetland: http://www.seakayakshetland.co.uk - a half day trip costs £45 pp
Campervan/Car Hire: http://www.boltscarhire.co.uk
Sumburgh Head Lighthouse: https://www.sumburghhead.com
Shetland Lighthouse Accommodation: https://www.shetlandlighthouse.com - 3 you can choose from!
The Swan: https://www.swantrust.com
Frankie's Fish and Chips: https://www.frankiesfishandchips.com
Brae wick Cafe and Caravan Park: http://www.eshaness.moonfruit.com
Hill Walking/Trail Running/Nature Exploring Options:
Outdoor Activities: https://www.shetland.org/things/outdoor/
Sumburgh Head: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/shetland/sumburgh-head.shtml
St Nininan's Isle: https://www.shetland.org/things/outdoor/walking/st-ninians-isle-circular
Seabird & Seals Boat Trip: https://www.seabirds-and-seals.com
Northmavine and Mavis Grind: https://www.shetland.org/plan/areas/north-mainlan
Camping and Outdoor kit:
You need layers for Shetland. I lived in my down jacket, leggings, waterproof jacket, beanies and buy KEEN hiking boots. We wore the light and durable waterproof Alpine Pro jackets from Montane for men and women. Used the Minimus and Alpinist Montane sleeping bags and carried our kit in Osprey Kestrel 68L and Tempest 30L backpacks. With a 1200 mile round trip from London to Shetland, I needed a bag that would fit all my outdoor kit, camping kit, camera equipment and clothes. My friends at Osprey sent me the Shuttle 130 which proved to be the perfect choice and travelled with ease on the multi-stage journey via train, car, ferry and plane!
This blog is in partnership with NorthLink Ferries. PromoteShetland and VisitScotland. All photos and videos are mine and captured with GoPro Hero6.