Unst – Treasure Island
Stand on the summit of the hill of Saxa Vord, the most northerly hill on the most northerly populated island in Britain, and stretch your eyes:
- To the north, just offshore, lie the rock outcrops of Muckle Flugga and Out Stack – Britain’s most northerly outposts. Next stop: the Arctic.
- To the east, less than 200 miles away, lies Norway.
- To the south lies Unst – and beyond that, over 600 miles away, London.
- Due west, beyond the north tips of Yell and Mainland Shetland, and across the restless Atlantic, lies Greenland.
The atmosphere is quite remarkable. The light can vary from the pure and sharp, with colours standing out with a Mediterranean intensity, to pale washes of blues, browns and greys, but they are always austere, as though cooled by the crystal light and aged by time. However, even greater than the uniqueness of the colour is the sense of space – of being at one with the two absolutes of the North: limitless water and free, fresh air.
Quite simply, on the hill of Saxa Vord you are on the edge of the world – on the Ultima Thule of the Ancients.
The Island Above All Others
Roughly rectangular in shape and a mere 12 miles from north to south and 5 from east to west, Unst may be small but it packs a punch way above its size when it comes to things to see and experience. Indeed, Robert Louis Stevenson visited Unst in 1869 to see the Muckle Flugga lighthouse, built by his father a few years earlier, and was so impressed that some say that he used it as the basis for his “Treasure Island” map. Impressive it remains: Unst really IS the island above all others!
Unst is fringed by a rough, serrated coastline of massive sea cliffs and rocky headlands separated by deep bays and inlets (wicks and sounds) with, here and there, stretches of beautiful, pristine sand. Offshore lie rocky outcrops and verdant islands, like Uyea and Balta. Inland, the island has an open, almost entirely treeless landscape of rolling hills covered in course grasses and heather, separated by valleys dotted with lochs and pockets of more fertile land containing scattered crofts. Big skies and long views abound.
Villages – small crofting townships like Baltasound, Haroldswick, Norwick and Uyeasound – are situated close to the coast, demonstrating the island’s traditional dependency on fishing and agriculture.
Today that dependency remains and the people of Unst (population around 600), who are immensely proud of their cultural heritage, many tracing their ancestry back to Norse times, still live very traditional lives. Crofting, fishing, and fish and shellfish farming are still key to the island’s economy, though tourism, construction, transport and craft industries, with local manufacturers like NorNova Knitwear, all have crucial roles to play.
However, Unst islanders are nothing if not resourceful and Unst is the proud home of PURE, the first and only operational community-owned renewable hydrogen energy system in the world. The island also boasts Foords, makers of luxury chocolate truffles (and based at Saxa Vord); the most northerly brewery in the Britain – Valhalla by name and Heaven by nature!; and Steven Spence, Unst's famous - and favourite - fiddler, who exports fiddles and other instruments from Unst and who also accepts commissions to compose fiddle tunes for special occassions - See Spencies Tunes.
Getting around Unst is simple too. Upon alighting from the Yell to Unst roll-on/roll-off ferry at Belmont, the main road leads north up the centre of the island to Saxa Vord and on to Britain’s first and last house at Skaw. From this main artery many smaller roads lead to the coast, with interesting things to see and experience along every one.
The subject or roads cannot be raised without also mentioning one of Unst’s most surprising tourist attractions, Bobby’s Bus Shelter – surely the most comfortable and famous in the world?
See Unst on Video
Unst Walkers are Welcome
In October 2011 Unst became the 71st Walkers are Welcome community and the first island to acheive this recognition. Please visit http://www.unstwalkersarewelcome.co.uk/ for more information.
Unst’s natural heritage is truly outstanding, and the island has two National Nature Reserves.
The geology of Unst is justifiably world-famous and forms a major part of Shetland’s bid to secure European Geopark Status. Read more about Unst's geology...
Unst’s wildlife is also extraordinarily rich, with everything from whales, dolphins, seals and otters to 50,000 puffins, 35,000 gannets 28,000 fulmar petrels, 3,000 bonxies (great skuas), not to mention exotic plants like Edmondston’s chickweed, found here and nowhere else in the world. As Simon King wrote recently, "Even when you’re not looking, this place is cracking for wildlife!" Read more about Unst's wildlife...
HOT NEWS: For the latest wildlife sightings see: Latest Wildlife Sightings In Shetland.
Archaeological and Historical Attractions
The prehistory and history of Unst together cover some 5,000 fascinating years, and the signs of man’s activities throughout this time can be found in every corner of the island. Read more about Unst's archaeology and about Unst's historical attractions...
As with all remote and isolated communities, the people of Unst have for long had to make their own entertainment – and what entertainment it is. Music, song, dance, story-telling and much more - read about it on the Events in Unst page.
Events & Festivals
Events take place throughout the year in the various village halls. Of particular interest to visitors are the two winter fire festivals, known as Up Helly Aa’s. The first is at Uyeasound in February, the second at Norwick in March.
UnstFest is on between the 12th of July and the 22nd of July 2012. To find out more please visit - http://unst.org/web/unstfest2011/
Walking, fishing, cycling, diving, sailing ... and much, much more. Find out about active things you can do in Unst.
See the map below or click Unst on Google maps: