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Unst - Hermaness

Visiting Yell, Unst, and Fetlar is like having a holiday within a holiday. Ferry crossings from the mainland take you to these northern islands that offer something special and unique.


Heading on the mainland to the ferry terminal Toft, you cross over to the Island of Yell. Once you get to Yell, you travel across the island to the north and connect with your next ferry at the Gutcher terminal, which can take you to Unst or Fetlar. I have been spending quite a lot of time in Unst visiting Hermaness, I usually get on the 9.30 ferry across to Unst; this allows you to make the most of the day and not miss out on anything essential.

I am usually very naughty, and the first place I typically head to in Unst is the honesty box, located next to Bobby's Bus Shelter. This honesty box is full of fresh homemade produce. The next stop is the Final Checkout, a local shop. When heading to Hermaness Nature Reserve, you must have enough to eat and drink, as walking to the cliffs is quite strenuous. So at the Final Checkout, you can get a lovely cup of tea, stock up on some goodies and have your essential comfort stop.

Arriving at Hermaness car park, always allow yourself time to pack your bag for your outing. Correct clothing and footwear are essential. Even if you think it is sunny and unnecessary, the weather can change quickly.

Recommended is a fully charged mobile phone; for extra peace of mind, upload the Three Words app to your phone, which will be handy should you have to phone emergency services.  I always travel with a first aid kit and enough food supplies and water.


​The first part of the walk is quite steep, and usually best for you not to speak until you get to the top, where it's flat, and you can stop and get your breath back. After this, it is more of a gentle gradient walking along a boardwalk until you reach the cliffs. The landscape is peat and heather, and the area will usually have a good display of bog cotton and ferns in the summer.

Before you get to the end of the boardwalk, you will pass through a breeding site of Great Skuas or Bonxies, as they are known in Shetland. During the walk, you stay on the boardwalk to protect the landscape and show the necessary respect to the Bonxies. They are known to dive-bomb people that stray in order to defend their nests or any young that may be around.

At the boardwalk’s end, you can turn left or right. We usually turn left and head to the gannetry. Always approach the cliffs slowly when you get to the end of the boardwalk; they are 600 ft high and can be overwhelming when first seen; get comfortable and approach to a distance where you feel comfortable. Everyone is different.


Turning left and heading up the hill, look out for puffins that land and pop in and out of their burrows. Always respect their space. You will smell the gannets before you see them as you approach the gannetry. It is an incredible spectacle. There are 25 000 pairs of gannets. They glide alongside and around the cliffs, chatter amongst each other and head off to find food for the young.


It is usually an excellent time to find a spot and take in the view while having a nice picnic and taking photos. Other birds you will see are Fulmars, Puffins, and Black-Backed Gulls and Skuas.


Always remember to be aware of the weather. It can change fast. Stay dry, and if you feel chilly in the wind, wear the correct clothing and stay warm. Always watch your footing when walking around, as the ground can be slippery and uneven.


Walking back down to the car park is much easier than going up, so it won't be long before you are back at the car feeling invigorated and proud of yourself for making the trip there and back.

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