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Island Holidays
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Shetland and Fair Isle

The crossroads of the North Atlantic

Fair Isle Observatory

It is their geographical location as the crossroads of the North Atlantic which gives the Shetland Islands their importance both historically and ecologically. Lying midway between Norway, Britain and the Faroe Islands, they were a staging post for the maritime traffic which plied the North Atlantic; equally they benefit from seas around them being rich in nutrients, so supplying the needs of the whales, dolphins and seabirds which make the islands their home in the summer months. Of equal importance are the major archaeological sites such as Jarlshof. The whole tapestry is interwoven by the strong Norse Heritage of the islanders and their music.

Lying far to the north of Scotland, Shetland is much bigger than you would imagine. It comprises over 100 islands, of which only 14 are inhabited, and stretches some 100 miles from the southern tip of "Mainland" up to the island of Unst which has Britain's most northerly everything!

In mid summer it never really gets dark – there's just a short time when the sun dips below the horizon before re-appearing. In the isles it's known as the "Simmer Dim". At this time of year it's the natural history of the islands on which we concentrate and our holiday includes a trip under the dramatic cliffs of the island of Noss with its tens of thousands of sea birds – Puffins, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags all filling the air with a cacophony of sound. At the same time, during our exploration of these islands from north to south we'll be enjoying the flora (including the endemic Edmonston's Chickweed) and keeping an eye out for that most elusive of animals, the European Otter.

During our time in the islands we'll be exploring their length and breadth using the excellent inter-island ferry service which is all part of the experience, as is the flight to Fair Isle. As well as two overnights on NorthLink ferries, we'll spend three nights in Lerwick and two on Unst.

Ferry boats at Fair Isle

Key facts

  • Shetland and Fair Isle: History, birding and wildlife with specialist local guides
  • Fully guided group tour
  • Departure: 22 May 2019
  • Nights: 9
  • Fully inclusive cost: £2,190
  • Single room supplement: £215 for1st room, thereafter £245
  • Deposit: £400
  • Meal Basis: Full Board
  • Activity level: Moderate
  • Tour leader: Jon Dunn & Deryk Shaw
  • Maximum Group Size: 8
  • Travel: Northlink Ferries
  • Departs: Aberdeen
  • Included in cost: Ferry from Aberdeen (outside cabins with facilities), inter-island ferries, full board accommodation, transport, entrances and boat trips.
  • Not included in cost: Travel insurance, tips, drinks and items of a personal nature.
  • Shetland & Fair Isle 2019 detailed itinerary

Your tour leaders

Jon DunnJon Dun is a natural history writer, photographer and wildlife tour guide based in Shetland. Born and brought up in the rural West Country of England he soon developed what would become a lifelong interest in all aspects of natural history. He has travelled widely both in the British Isles and further afield. He moved to Shetland around 15 years. His written work includes Britain�s Sea Mammals and his latest book, Orchid Summer, published in 2018 has been met with critical acclaim. Jon is also a “people person” who enjoys sharing his passion for birds, flowers and all living things with others.

Deryk ShawDeryk Shaw was Warden of Fair Isle Bird Observatory for more than 10 years, a post he relinquished once the future of the new Obs had been secured. He now lives on Fair with his wife and four children where he runs a croft and works as crew on the island's ferry, The Good Shepherd. His interest in natural history was instilled by his father at an early age who trained him as a bird ringer. Having graduated in zoology he undertook several short ornithological research contracts before moving to Fair Isle.

Your itinerary

Day 1
The NorthLink ferry leaves Aberdeen at 1900 hours. Outside twin-berth cabins (for twin or single occupancy) are included in the cost of the holiday, as are dinner and breakfast in the cafeteria.

Day 2
The ferry arrives at 0730 hours but we suggest a leisurely breakfast on board setting off. Your tour leader will be waiting in the terminal building to meet you at 8.30. We'll be heading to Unst today, Britain's most northerly island, but we'll take the whole day to get there, learning a little about Shetland along the way and getting to know each other. Our route will take us up the west coast of Mainland (as the principal island is known) and out to the north-west and the dramatic cliff scenery of Eshaness. We'll stop at a local café for a light lunch before heading up to the ferry which will connect us with the island of Yell. There won't be much time to explore today as our destination is the next island, Unst, and it's just a quick crossing of Yell to reach the second ferry.

For the next two nights we'll be staying at Saxavord, previously an RAF base. Our accommodation is in very comfortable houses – the only downside is sharing a bathroom but the other facilities more than make up for it.

Day 3
We'll have a full day to explore Unst – the island which has Britain's most northerly everything. We'll visit the National Nature Reserve which is the fabulous botanical site at the Keen of Hamar with its extraordinary geology where we'll be looking for the endemic Edmonston's Chickweed before heading right up to the north of the island, stopping en route to drop in to the Heritage Centre and at a local shop for soup and sandwiches.

Day 4
It's time to head leave Unst and head to Fair Isle, the most southerly of the Shetland Islands. It's a 20 minute flight on an 8-seater islander aircraft (the group has to be split into two departures) and we suggest you take an extra small bag with you to leave behind anything you don't need as the capacity for baggage is very limited. On arrival we're met and driven to the famous Bird Observatory which was rebuilt a few years ago and which is at the same time has remained both comfortable and relaxed.

Days 5 & 6
Being based at the Bird Observatory means that we'll have plenty of opportunity to learn about the work which is carried out there, as well as to meet some of the islanders as we wander around Fair Isle. On the whole transport is not required, although this can be arranged for anyone who finds walking a bit difficult. Our time on Fair Isle always passes too quickly, and is a delightful mix of seeing seabirds at close quarters almost everywhere on the island and exploring community life on one of Britain's most remote inhabited islands. All that in a supremely beautiful setting!

Day 7
It's time to return to Mainland where we'll spend two nights staying in the Lerwick Hotel. Upon arrival in Tingwall we'll be met by taxis to take us and our luggage into the town.

Day 8
This morning features a boat trip round the National Nature Reserve of Noss with its dramatic cliffs and its huge seabird colonies. It's also probable that we'll see both Common and Grey Seals and there's a possibility of whales as well. It's a very special trip. After lunch and a free afternoon we go out to a local restaurant for dinner.

Day 9
Today we'll head to the South Mainland, the softer, more agricultural part of the archipelago with wonderful unspoilt beaches and clear blue waters. We'll visit the spectacular seabird colonies at Sumburgh Head (an RSPB reserve) where we should have some really close views of Puffins at this most accessible site. It's worth keeping an eye open for passing cetaceans as well. Other highlights of the day will be visits to the fantastic archaeological site of Jarlshof and perhaps a walk across the isthmus which connects St Ninian's Isle to the Mainland. It was here that Viking treasure was discovered by an inquisitive school boy in the 1950's. We return to Lerwick to join the ferry for our sailing to Aberdeen.

Day 10
The ferry arrives in Aberdeen at 0700 hours but you can stay on board until 1000 hours if you so wish.

Please note that the itinerary can be changed without notice at the sole discretion of Island Holidays or your tour leader.