“You have to remember that Shetland is one large rock sitting on a big piece of bog,” the lady at the tourist office told me, “You can go up to your waist in it if you go off track.”
I grimaced. That was not what I had envisaged. The only issue, though, is that there aren’t any mapped tracks to wander off while hiking in Shetland.
With my Ordnance Survey maps in one hand, and a list of places to visit in the other, I vaguely mapped out my routes. A yellow wiggle spread across Mainland as I met people, each telling me of must-visit destinations.
“Whalsay is like a little outpost where they speak their own dialect. It’s the ‘millionaires’ island’ and I think it’s law for all the locals all to say hello to strangers, they’re all so friendly,” a Glaswegian told me who now lived in Shetland.
“You have to go to Eashaness, the coastal scenery is incredible,” I heard from everyone.
“The coastal walk to Sandness is stunning,” the welcoming tourist office woman said, without mentioning bog.
Suddenly, my route spanned 130 miles. The idea of being there for three to four days vanished as fast as the blazing sun that originally greeted me in Lerwick.
Taking in the right to roam in Scotland, my pogo legs and I jumped an astronomical amount of fences to find some incredible scenery and Neolithic sites. I wandered down roads, cursed in a lot of peat bogs, roamed across hilltops and skipped over heather mounds. Hiking in Shetland was fun, unplanned and oozed tranquillity between gusts of wind.
Great places for hiking in Shetland (all are on Mainland):
• The coastal path (not marked on maps) from Annifirth near Mid Walls to Sandness.
Access Shetland have earmarked this as a trail and have some signposts pointing you to the next style. There are a couple of fences to jump at first, but none are barbed wire.
• Across heathland from Sandness Hill to Kellister and over to Hulma Water (make your own route). This takes in the coast and then a plethora of inland lochs, straddled between vibrant orange grass, clumpy heather and the legendary bog. I adored this Jane-made route, with its utter remoteness and only the birds to keep me company.
• The coastal path around Eshaness is waymarked with Access Shetland signs. Its abundance of natural arches are astounding, as is the volcanic rock formed millions of years ago; the Stevenson lighthouse; and turquoise sea. This is a great spot for hiking in Shetland if you want to avoid fence-hopping.
• The road along Nesting, it has a wide-stretching view along the coast, where you might spot seals. The road isn’t busy and you can walk along the gravelly bit on the road to avoid cars.
• Whalsay island – you can walk along the whole of the east coast and cross the golf course without issues (again with the right to roam this is perfectly legal as long as you’re not disrupting play).
Tips for hiking in Shetland
• Ask locals if there is a path in the area you’re thinking of walking in as many aren’t marked on Ordnance Survey maps. Access Shetland has designated some areas that have styles and blue markers. These are quite often, though not always, on coastal areas.
• Take advantage of the right to roam and go exploring.
• Use a 1:25,000 OS Explorer map as it has the boundaries marked on it and you can figure out how many fences you’ll need to jump.
• If you’re not agile enough to climb over fences and gates, you‘ll be road walking instead of hiking.
• In Shetland, avoid the bright green bog, it is the sinkable sort.
• If you’re unsure of where the bog is, follow the sheep tracks because as daft as sheep are, they generally avoid it (sheep tracks are everywhere, don’t be fooled by thinking they are footpaths).
• Fill up water in lochs while hiking in Shetland (except in Whalsay, the lochs are dirty) but always purify the water as there are sheep everywhere. Chlorine dioxide tablets taste less chloriney than just the chlorine tablets.
• It’s pretty tough to get lost in Shetland as it’s only a few miles from the sea at the most inland place and you’ll be surprised at how many houses are dotted around.
• If you’re camping, use old sheep folds or crofters’ houses for shelter against the wind, it can be ferocious.
• You can take a bit of plastic piping with you to put over the few barbed-wire fences (most aren’t barbed wire here, though).
• Post offices double up as shops so you can buy basic food supplies there. Some are open for a couple of hours on Sunday, some are closed.
• Camping gas is only sold in Lerwick in the two outdoors shops on the main road.
• Avoid the Eshaness campsite if you’re in a tent. It has no shelter and was so windy I ended up decamping and going wild camping!