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  • Phil Keetley

The Magic of the Northern Isles

We ran our first commercial guided trip to Shetland this year, and it was quite ambitious with twelve clients and three guides! It was also a little different, as we based ourselves from several commercial campsite and ran day trips across the archipelago.

Three friendly guides

The Shetland Islands are a subarctic archipelago sitting 170km north of mainland Scotland. They are formed of over one hundred islands, of which only sixteen are inhabited. The islands sit between the Atlantic and the North Sea, making them a mecca for sea bird, with the islands acting as a major redoubt for Fulmars, Gannets, Puffins, Storm Petrels, Red Throated Divers, and, of course, the Great Skua or Bonxie as these vicious thieves are known locally.

One of thousands of Puffins

Shetland is strangely easier to get to than expected. A four hour drive up to Aberdeen sees one pulling on to the overnight ferry to Lerwick. It is a comfortable boat and marks the start of a great adventure.

The Shetland Isles could absorb a lifetime of paddling, and the multitude of islands means that there is usually somewhere to get out of the wind. One of the most notable features of the islands is the plethora of caves, and indeed cave systems. I have never been anywhere where one can enter a cave that goes on, and on in to total darkness. It then splits in to dozens of alternative routes, eventually spilling everyone out in to the far side of the headland. You can travel through entire headlands, one of the largest being the Hol o' Boardie - which is over 300m long!

Thousands of caves

One of the highlights of the trip was the circumnavigation of Papa Stour, an island that should be on all paddlers wish lists. The tunnels, the cliffs, the sea stacks, the birdlife, it is, quite frankly, almost overwhelming to the senses. It was also quite a rough trip meaning that we had to head 3km out to sea to avoid the huge breaking waves on the coast. As such, it is essential to go back to explore that wild western coastline.

Swift tides flowing

We will certainly go back to Shetland, and are planning to run a trips there every other year; 2019 will be next. If you are a strong 3* paddler then do consider this trip of a lifetime.

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