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Island Holidays
Established 1987

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.

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
  • This holiday is currently unavailable. Please contact us if you'd like to be informed about future tour dates.
  • Meal Basis: Full Board
  • Activity level: Moderate
  • Tour leader: Phil Harris & Deryk Shaw
  • Maximum Group Size: 14
  • 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.

Your tour leaders

Phil HarrisPhil Harris first visited Shetland in 1997 as a member of the RAF stationed at Saxavord where he was based for 18 months. From then on he visited several times a year until finally settling in Lerwick in 2013. He has been a keen birder since childhood and now works as a fire fighter at Sumburgh airport. He is an experienced tour leader and know the islands like the back of his hand. Phil will be your leader in Unst.

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

By popular request we have timed our Shetland/Fair Isle holiday to end as the Orkney one begins so that, if you want, you can join both. It's simply a question of getting off the ferry in Kirkwall instead of Aberdeen. Early booking is strongly recommended.

Day 1
The NorthLink ferry leaves Aberdeen at 1700 hours. Outside twin-berth cabins (for twin or single occupancy) are included in the cost of the holiday, as is dinner in the cafeteria. If you prefer to eat in the à la carte restaurant you can use your voucher in part payment.

Day 2
The ferry arrives at 0730 hours but we suggest a leisurely breakfast on board setting off. Your tour leader, Deryk Shaw, 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 the island to reach the second ferry. Our accommodation for the next two nights will be 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 as well as 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 Phil) and head to Fair Isle where Deryk Shaw will be waiting to meet you - but not before we've spent a little time pottering round the island of Yell. In the late morning we take the ferry to Mainland where we'll have a quick lunch in a local pub before heading south to Tingwall, the airstrip from which inter island flights operate, for our departure for the most southerly of the Shetland Islands, Fair Isle. It's a 20 minute flight on an 8-seater islander aircraft (the group has to be split into two departures). 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 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 here, 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
Our flight leaves in the afternoon and there's none of this horrible check-in procedure you find at "real" airports! Upon arrival in Tingwall we pick up our vehicle and return to Lerwick to check in to the Breiview Guest House which will be our accommodation for the next two nights.

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. The operator has an underwater camera which gives an insight into what goes on amongst the kelp and rocks below us. 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 and wonderful unspoilt beaches and clear blue waters. We'll visit the spectacular seabird colonies at Sumburgh Head 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 sites at Jarlshof and Scatness 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.