South Mainland Tour
This shorter tour is particularly suitable for cruise ship passengers. (approx. 5-6 hours)
This tour which usually begins at Scalloway, the ancient capital of Shetland and at one time was dominated by the castle built in 1600 by Earl Patrick Stewart. The village lies six miles west of Lerwick and played a central role in the 'Shetland Bus' operation in The Second World War.
From Scalloway we head south diverting through the very picturesque district of Fladdabister. Like most places in Shetland, the name derives from the ancient Norse language and means 'flat farm'.
Fladdabister is a good place to see Shetland Ponies and hosts an abundance of wild flowers in the summer time. A few miles further on we approach the Sandwick viewpoint. Nearby is the site of what was the Sand Lodge copper mine which operated from 1799-1923 and, in its day, was the biggest such mine in Scotland. From the viewpoint, we can also look eastwards to the island of Mousa on which the best preserved broch (Iron Age tower) in Scotland stands some 13 metres high and dating back to around AD200.
Our next stop is Bigton, looking over to St Ninian's Isle and the famous beautiful tombolo a stretch of shell sand that connects the island to the mainland. If time and weather permit, we can walk over to the island and visit the site of the ancient church. In 1958, an archaeological dig was taking place at this spot. An eleven-year-old school boy was helping and whilst digging in the nave of the medieval church he struck treasure- a wooden chest containing 28 silver objects, thought to be Pictish in origin and dating to around 800AD. They are now housed in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Our southward journey takes us past some exotic beaches and landscapes where, at certain times of the year, it is possible to see dozens of North Atlantic Grey Seals hauled out on the sand.
A further 15 minutes or so takes us to the south end of the Shetland mainland. The road crosses the main runway of Sumburgh Airport.
At the eastern end of the West Voe Beach is Jarlshof, one of the most important archaeological sites in Scotland. The name was coined by Sir Walter Scott in his novel, The Pirate, published in 1822. A series of excavations have taken place and it is now possible to follow a clear timeline tracing evidence of continuous human habitation, dated at the time of the excavations, from 2,700BC to the 1600sAD.
Our final stop is Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, now a visitor centre. It is a fairly steep climb up the winding tarmac pathway from the visitor car park to the lighthouse complex but the views are magnificent and from mid-April to mid-August the cliffs are host to thousands of seabirds: Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and of course, everybody's favourite, the remarkably tame and cute Puffin! Also, from the cliff-side walk, one can glimpse other birds such as Great Skuas, Arctic Skuas, and Gannets. ( Transport up to the lighthouse can be arranged for anyone with mobility problems).
Throughout the tour we can stop for photos of the amazing scenery, visit cafes and places of interest depending on your interests and requirements.
On the return journey to Lerwick, we call by the Shetland Croft House Museum where you can experience a flavour of the harsh Shetland life a hundred years ago.
As with any tour in Shetland, flexibility is inbuilt, not least because of the weather. It is advisable that visitors wear adequate footwear and bring warm, waterproof clothing. The walk to St Ninian's Isle is really only practical for visitors doing the full-day tour. When cruise ships are visiting, some of the popular sites like Jarlshof and the Croft House Museum can be congested and may best be avoided unless a 'must' on your agenda.
NB. Tours in association do not involve any long walks. However, good footwear is advised. For your own safety, please keep well clear of cliff edges and if walking on rough grassland, watch out for holes, especially rabbit burrows as they can cause nasty injuries to the ankle.