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Walking in Shetland – information and advice

General hill walking in Shetland

Compiled by Gill Nadin - Green-badge Scottish Tourist Guide and Walking Group Leader for Go Shetland Tours 

  • The highest point is Ronas Hill at 450m, and only 15 hills are over 200m high, so all walking is on low-level hills. However, this does not mean that it cannot be challenging and the terrain is often very uneven with short steep sections and lots of crags and cliffs.

  • The coastal scenery can be spectacular, but special care should be taken near cliff edges (even very low cliffs) as the ground may slope towards the edge and be very slippery. There are many narrow gullies to watch out for and you may not spot them until you are almost upon them. Many cliff edges are undercut or unstable, so do not assume there is a substantial rocky support under the cliff you are standing on.

  • No place in Shetland is more than 3 miles from the sea, therefore navigation is generally aided by using the coastline as a guide. However long inlets (voes) can complicate the geography and quite large areas of open moorland exist especially in Central Mainland.

  • There are no rivers in Shetland, so water-crossing is usually straight-forward (small streams), but there is much boggy ground and even in the summer it is often difficult to get around it. Good sturdy waterproof footwear is therefore advised at all times of year.

  • Weather can change very quickly – ‘4 seasons in one day’ can be seen at any time of year. It is always advisable to carry waterproofs, something wind-proof and some warm clothes (including hat and gloves) in case of emergency. Enough food and drink should also be carried – appropriate for the planned route, duration and likely conditions.

  • Waterproof trousers provide no traction if you slip on a wet grassy slope – dangerous if it ends in a cliff!

  • Care should be taken with exposure to sun – the atmosphere is very clear here and sunburn can occur surprisingly easily, even when it is cloudy.

  • There are many marked routes with stiles, but for most hill and moorland walking this will not be the case. Where gates are used, leave them exactly as you find them. Where no stile or gate is available, cross a fence at the strongest, most stable point (next to a strainer post) to avoid injury or damage.

  • Mobile phones should be carried, but coverage can be very patchy. If you need to make a call, the general advice is to go to higher ground, where a signal is much more likely. In an emergency, where a casualty is not accessible by road / good track, the first responding emergency service would be the coastguard team (not mountain rescue).

  • Shetland is covered by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code 2005 – giving some of the best access rights in the world. You have the right to be on most land and inland water for recreation, education and going from place to place, providing you act responsibly. For more information, see the Access Code here. Also take a look at my blog: 'Where can I walk in Shetland - almost anywhere'.

  • Watch out for hidden uneven ground – rabbit burrows, hidden rocks, ditches, etc.

  • Trekking poles can be very useful on uneven terrain and can be a good defence against some birds, who may get aggressive if walkers stray near to nests or fledglings.

  • Promote Shetland has further advice regarding walking in Shetland, as well as some great ideas for walks available here.

Additional information for Go Shetland Tours guided walks

  • Guests are required to advise on booking of any significant health or mobility issues that may affect hill-walking abilities or route-planning. Consideration should be given to the relatively low level of ambulance cover in Shetland and potential response times to remote areas

  • Guests should ensure all essential medication is accessible during any walk.

  • Planned walks may be changed to suit weather conditions as required eg. in windy weather or poor visibility, walks near cliff edges may be modified or cancelled.

  • Suitable footwear (ideally waterproof) with good grip and ankle support is strongly recommended.

  • Planned walks may be modified if the Group Leader considers clothing, equipment, food/drink supplies or footwear to be inadequate for the potential conditions.

  • Guests should ensure they are adequately insured, by checking the definitions of activities that are covered - low-level hillwalking is often included in a standard travel insurance policy.

  • Guests will be briefed on emergency procedures, mobile phone coverage and safe escape routes in case the Group Leader is injured or becomes ill. Emergency contact details will be issued as appropriate.

  • If you have any queries at all about the planned walk(s) that you have booked, please contact us.



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