Looking for an exciting new destination to visit this year? With pristine landscapes, a fascinating history and an incredible food and drink scene, The Shetland Islands are unlike anywhere else in the UK. Here are just 10 reasons to visit the stunning Scottish archipelago in 2018..
Head to Muckle Flugga – the very tip of the UK. The name comes from the Old Norse, Mikla Flugey, meaning “large steep-sided island” and it is home to the UK’s most northerly lighthouse. Robert Louis Stevenson visited Muckle Flugga with his father Thomas in 1869 and there is a school of thought that the island of Unst influenced him in his writing of “Treasure Island”. Not far from Muckle Flugga is Skibhoul Bakery, where they collect sea water from the Atlantic Ocean to add into their Oceanic Oatcakes tasteofshetland.com/producers/skibhoul-baker
Sample amazing gin at the Saxa Vord Distillery, the most northerly in the UK. It was started by four people sharing a passion for producing top quality products in local communities. Produced in Shetland’s only distillery, Shetland Reel Gins are made where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. tasteofshetland.com/producers/shetland-reel
Stay at Belmont House, a beautifully restored Georgian mansion overlooking Bluemull Sound – the strait of water that runs between Yell and Unst. This fabulous example of fine 18th-century architecture has been rescued from a near-ruinous state, and now offers accommodation, through the National Trust of Scotland. belmontunst.co.uk
Spy on native Shetland sheep! Shetland Lamb has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status in the same way as Stilton cheese or Parma ham. Shetland sheep – just half the size of many other breeds – have a historic reputation of being the creme de la creme of lamb. The meat has outstanding flavour and a fine texture, a result of the sheep living their lives roaming the heather-covered hills or grazing on the seashore on grass and seaweed.
Pick up a feast at Mackenzie’s Farm Shop and Café where the family have lived and farmed the 38-hectare croft for over 500 years. The café features all the best fresh local ingredients, from beef, lamb, pork, and seafood to freshly made jams, chutneys, preserves and sauces for lunch and tea-time snacks. tasteofshetland.com/outlets/mackenzies-farm-shop-cafe
Head to St Ninian’s Isle – one of the finest sand tombolos in Europe – and take a moment to watch the world go by. There you can get to see otters, dolphins and an amazing amount of other wildlife as well as take in the spectacular scenery. Take a delicious salt beef bannock with cured Shetland beef from Andersons’ Butchers, Shetland Fudge, Puffin Poo (white Belgian chocolate with toasted rice and mallow, hand rolled in coconut) or Sheep’s Pirls chocolate treats with you for some sustenance. shetland-heritage.co.uk/st-ninians-isle
Sample heritage ‘Shetland Black’ potatoes. As the name suggests these potatoes were originally grown in the Shetland Islands. It is unknown exactly when the potatoes were introduced there, but it was added to the National Collection in 1923. It’s a second early potato and produces lots of small- to medium-sized oval tubers with a distinctive black ring inside. The potatoes are floury in texture and so make excellent chips or roast potatoes.
Eat the region’s famous fresh mussels. Shetland successfully grows rope-grown mussels, with thinner shells and a higher meat content than the type grown on the sea bed. The Shetland mussel industry is worth £5.1 million to the local economy and has been built on its outstanding reputation for quality. Sample mussels and chips at the award-winning Frankie’s Fish and Chips located in Brae on the shores of Busta Voe; it’s open seven days a week. tasteofshetland.com/outlets/frankies-fish-chips
Visit the Taste of Shetland Festival (5-7 October 2018). The event celebrates everything that is great about Shetland’s food and drink, including producers big and small. It also hosts the live final of the Taste of Shetland Cooking Challenge which provides talented cooks with a chance to display their culinary skills whilst also putting local produce at the heart of the event. Find out more and order tickets at tasteofshetland.com/festival
Experience a solid 19-hours of daylight! Because Shetland is so far north, from mid-May to mid-July it enjoys the ‘simmer dim’ (summer twilight) when the sun only dips below the northern horizon for a few hours, and sunset and sunrise merge. It is said that you can take a photograph without flash at midnight on the longest day, it is so light. In winter, when temperatures drop, the Aurora Borealis appears. Because Shetland lies closer to the north pole than any other part of the British Isles, it is the best place to see the ‘Northern Lights’.
You can find out more on where local food and drink is made and sold through a new interactive map, the first of its kind for Shetland. Clicking on one of the pins in the map displays a brief summary of the featured business, along with a link to the individual producer or retailer at tasteofshetland.com/map