Phone code: +44 (0)1957
Unst is the most northerly inhabited island in Britain, but there is more to the island than its many 'most northerly' attractions
It is scenically one of the most varied of the Shetland islands, with spectacular cliffs, sea stacks, sheltered inlets, sandy beaches, heather-clad hills, fertile farmland, freshwater lochs and even a sub-arctic desert. Such a variety of habitats supports over 400 plant species and a rich variety of wildlife. Unst is a major breeding site for gannets, puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, shags, Arctic and great skuas and whimbrels, amongst others, and in the surrounding waters you can see seals, porpoises, otters and even killer whales.
Local Sights & Activities for Unst
In the east of the island, north of Baltasound, is the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve, 74 acres of serpentine rock which breaks into tiny fragments known as 'debris', giving the landscape a strange, lunar-like appearance. This bleak 'desert' is actually home to some of the rarest plants in Britain. Baltasound is the island's main settlement, with an airport, hotel, pub, post office, leisure centre with pool and Britain's most northerly brewery, the Valhalla Brewery which can be visited by appointment, Tel. 711348.
To the north of here is the village of Haroldswick, home of Britain's most northerly post office, where your postcards are sent with a special stamp to inform everyone of this fact. Here also is Unst Boat Haven, where you can see a beautifully presented collection of traditional boats and fishing artefacts. Info - May-Sep daily 1400-1700. Free. A little way further north is the Unst Heritage Centre, which has a museum of local history and island life. Info - Same opening hours as Boat Haven and also free. Nearby is an RAF radar-tracking station at Saxa Vord. The road ends at Skaw, where there's a lovely beach and Britain's most northerly house. The road northwest from Haroldswick leads to the head of Burra Firth, a sea inlet flanked by high cliffs, and site of Britain's most northerly golf course.
To the west of Burra Firth is the remote Hermaness National Nature Reserve, 2,422 acres of dramatic coastal scenery and wild moorland which is home to over 100,000 nesting seabirds including gannets, and the largest number of puffins and great skuas (or 'bonxies') in Shetland. There's an excellent visitor centre in the former lighthouse keeper's shore station, where you can pick up a leaflet which shows the marked route into the reserve, and see the artistic efforts of many of Unst's children. Whilst in the reserve, make sure you keep to the marked paths to avoid being attacked by bonxies: they are highly protective and rest assured that they will attack if they think that their territory is being threatened. Info - 0830-1800. Tel. 711278 daily late Apr to mid-Sep.
The views from Hermaness are wonderful, out to the offshore stacks and skerries including Muckle Flugga, and then to the wide open north Atlantic ocean. Muckle Flugga is the site of the most northerly lighthouse in Britain, built in 1857-58 by Thomas Stevenson, father of Robert Louis Stevenson. The writer visited the island in 1869, and the illustrated map in his novel Treasure Island bears a striking similarity to the outline of Unst. Beyond the lighthouse is Out Stack, which marks the most northerly point on the British Isles. With nothing between you and the North Pole but water, this is the place to sit and contemplate what it feels like to be at the end of the world.
Unst Hotels & Accommodation
There's a decent selection of accommodation on Unst. Top choice has to be Buness House, Tel. 711315, Buness House a lovely old 17th-century Haa in Baltasound. Staying here is a bizarre and rather surreal experience, given that you are on the most northerly island in Britain. The house is crammed full of Indian Raj relics, and the stuffed eagle, tiger and leopard skins hanging in the hallway are a wildlife close-up almost as impressive, though considerably more unsettling and un-'PC', as the Hermaness Nature Reserve in the north of the island that the family own. The food is excellent and the accommodation comfortable. Another good place is Prestegaard, Tel. 755234, a Victorian house at Uyeasound on the south coast near the ferry. Also in Baltasound are the Cligera Guest House, Tel. 711579; and the independent Gardiesfauld Hostel, Tel. 755259; open Apr-Sep, which also hires bikes.
There's also B&B in Haroldswick at Gerratoun, Tel. 711323. Eating options are limited, though all the B&Bs serve evening meals on request. The Baltasound Hotel, Tel. 711334, serves meals and drinks to non-residents.