Forum home Road cycling forum Tours, routes, audaxes & organised rides Tour & expedition


Dr_NickcpDr_Nickcp Posts: 53
edited January 2012 in Tour & expedition
I've visited the Aran Islands and the Western Isles. I like remote places with plenty of history and I have a thing for travelling on ferries. So a trip to Shetland seems like the next natural progression - especially as I have recently discovered there is a hostel in the house where Hugh MacDiarmid lived on Whalsay (greatest British poet of the twentieth century in my slightly eccentric opinion).

So has anyone ever been on a cycling tour of Shetland and can you offer any advice?

I'm not actually going to go before next summer, but I am a big believer in doing research and reading the literature of a place before going there, so it's good to have a project over the winter.


  • andrew_sandrew_s Posts: 2,511
    I went in the first half of June, 2006 (iirc)
    Access is easy - train to Aberdeen & ferry to Lerwick
    Within Shetland, the inter-island ferries are cheap and fairly frequent.(apart from Foula, which is 2 or 3 trips a week, and subject to bad weather cancellations)
    There are normal youth hostels in Lerwick and Uyeasound (Unst).
    There are a number of bunkhouses "camoing bods". The one I stayed in was 50p in the meter for electricity for hot water, no cooking facilities other than electric kettle and sink, bunk beds but no bedding. These are shown as camp sites on the OS maps.
    There was official camping at Lerwick, Levenwick (8 or 9 miles N of Sumbergh, Fetlar, at the Inn on the Hill, Wormadale, Easter Skeld and Breawick (nr Esha Ness). If you exclude fenced fields, heather, wet or rocky ground etc, there wasn't a lot of obvious wild camping.

    Pubs/hotels/cafes are fairly sparse. The best pub was the Spiggie hotel.

    Cycling is mostly undulating, and it's often fairly windy. There's sometimes a fair bit of traffic between Sumburgh & Lerwick, and Sullom Voe & Lerwick, but elsewhere is quiet.
    Early June was about 12-13°C - long sleeves & longs required a lot of the time.

    If you want to do wildlife, the main seabird colonies (Hermaness, Noss & Sumbergh Head) are best visited before mid-July. The Noss ferry is an inflatable.

    To look at, there's Mousa broch (Mousa), Jarlshof, Old Scatness broch & wheelhouse (both Sumbergh airport, ish), Clickhimin broch (Lerwick), Scalloway castle, Muness castle (Unst)
  • sheffsimonsheffsimon Posts: 1,282
    Not much to offer, only that is a great place to stay. Was working at Sumburgh airport for a week recently and stayed here.

    Great food, and great bar.
  • Jon GJon G Posts: 281
    My wife & I cycled there last summer.

    High points were the scenery, reaching as far North as UK roads go, the surprisingly good ranges in the food shops (she is a vegetarian), the quiet roads, the remoteness, the like-minded fellow-hostellers.

    Low points were climbing long steep hills on busy A-roads on route from Lerwick to the North, bad weather, severe headwinds, and the nearest shop to Uyeasound hostel being several miles away in Baltasund.

    We used the hostels at Lerwick (pretty standard town hostel) and Uyeasound - great hostel but as above, bring all your food supplies as there is no shop & no pub for miles, shops are at Baltasund to the North and at Mid-Yell and at Ulsta on Yell to the South.

    We stayed at the Bod at Voe. I lreally iked its basic character (chop the wood for the fire, nice showers) but my wife was less keen on it. We got excellent dinners at the pub opposite (she was cheered by the "best fish and chips I've ever eaten", which made up for the Bod).

    Unless bad weather will make no difference to you, I suggest planning in some leaway to allow for wind and rain sometimes slowing you down.

    The main roads can be busy but they are wide enough for lorries to overtake cyclists with room to spare so they were never threatening, just smelly & noisy, esp on long hill climbs.
  • It's great to hear you are considering Shetland for a holiday next year. We get a number of cyclists coming on holiday and hope to make a few developments in this area.

    We had two adventurists who travelled the length of Shetland using a collapsable bike and pack raft. You can see the video here - It might give you an idea of what the roads are like etc. There are also some cycle routes available on

    For general information including accommodation, getting to Shetland, events and so on, our website is a great source of information. You should be able to find out most of what you need from here.

    If you would like any advice about where to go/stay while you are up, please don't hesitate to contact us.

    We hope to see you here in 2012!

  • marcusjbmarcusjb Posts: 2,412
    Another possible rider for next year here as well.

    We've discussed a tour up through the Orkney Islands (which I have been to before, but the other half hasn't) and then up to the Shetlands. It's been on our radar for a couple of years now, and maybe next year.

    Be very interested in hearing about experiences. We'd intend to camp as much as possible - we're happy to wild camp for the odd night, but prefer a few facilities. We'd be quite keen to stop at a site for a couple of nights and do a day or two of unloaded trips out from that base.

    We're starting to plan next year's tours and challenges now - so better decide where we're going on our main trip soon!
  • Jon GJon G Posts: 281
    marcusjb wrote:
    We've discussed a tour up through the Orkney Islands..... We'd be quite keen to stop at a site for a couple of nights and do a day or two of unloaded trips out from that base.

    The difference between the Orkneys and Shetlands is the layout of the islands - Shetland is mainly linear so a tour there is a lot of riding and a few short ferry rides, while the small Orkney isles are mainly served by ferries to Mainland so touring some of them will involve more boat miles than cycling miles. It is not often possible to travel directly from one small Orkney island to another by ferry (apart from Westray & Pappa Westray) so a tour of 3 or 4 small isles means a lot of changes at Kirkwall, sometimes needing an overnight stay as some isles have only 1 or 2 sailings per day.
    Apart from Mainland, the Orkney islands are generally small enough to ride from end to end in an hour.

    If you don't mind leaving your steeds behind for a day, you might want to take a day out by air while staying on one of the small islands - the fares for return flights starting from a small isle are far lower than the ones charged from Kirkwall. There are little 'planes which hop around the islands, usually visiting each small isle twice per day.
  • The other posters have pretty well summed it all up. I have done several tours there mostly during the month of June.Weather can be very mixed with wind being a particular feature. Fog can be frequent in the mid area Lerwick/Scalloway so have a rear led at least for this road which can be busy. By all means camp if possible but during a spell of bad weather can be not nice.I stayed in a motorhome or on occasion is a rented house which was much better than a tent. Bear in mind that you are a few hundred miles further north than your home area and the weather is colder generally (unless it is sunny when sunblock is needed). If coming by sea consider a cabin for the overnight trip.It is expensive but I think worth it.Many rough it in the bars or the floor of the "quiet" lounge. I took my winter gear with me and used it on several visits.Thorougly recommend it .Very different from Orkney. Orkney men are farmers with a boat but Shetlanders are fishermen with a croft.
  • Well, I've now booked the ferry and am looking forward to an adventure (although it is still four and a half months away). Has anybody got any experience with catching buses with a bicycle? (Yes, I know I could contact the bus conmpany, but I thought I would ask). One possible plan is to start off by getting the bus from Lerwick to the very south of the mainland, to a) see Jarlshof and b) start a north - south Odyssey.
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