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Shetland Vacation 2019

Last summer, Dillon and I went on a Mediterranean Cruise, and at the end we stopped over in Scotland before flying all the way home. Out of all of the amazing memories we made together, the Scottish Highlands completely stole our hearts. Thinking of Scotland as we planned our vacation for this year, I wanted to visit the Shetland Islands. First of all, they’re in Scotland–check. Then I found out that the Shetland Islands are the birthplace of the Shetland Pony–check. Finally, I learned that many puffins breed on the Shetland Islands–check–which is all I needed to know before booking plane tickets as fast as possible.

We opted to fly into Sumburgh Airport  (pronounced like slumber, minus the l) instead of taking the ferry. The ferry crossing takes 12 hours from Aberdeen, while a flight only takes an hour. Plus, in our case, flying actually ended up being more affordable than taking the ferry anyway. And we enjoyed some amazing views from the tiny airplane we rode on.

The water in Shetland can be turquoise!

After renting a car and taking a relatively short drive to our Airbnb (Mavine Cottage–we highly recommend this place!) we went exploring at the little beach at the end of our driveway. There were horses, ponies, and sheep owned by the neighbors, and we also saw common seals and an otter. I felt like I was on a show from Animal Planet!

On our first full day, we went to church at Lerwick Baptist Church before heading to St. Ninian’s Isle. This is the most photographed beach in all of Scotland!

The first big activity we took on was Sea Kayak Shetland. This family run business specializes in taking anyone kayaking along the coast of Mainland Shetland regardless of your experience level. They provided us with some waterproof gear to help us stay warm and dry, and they even took a few pictures of us with their waterproof camera! This was one of the most unique experiences we had on Shetland. The sea water is crystal clear–we could see jellyfish, fish, crabs, and starfish along with the bottom of the sea even though the water was quite deep in some places. We also got to kayak into a cave and see Shag birds, which have the most evil bird call of all time. Think about the scariest villain you’ve ever seen in a movie…that’s what a Shag sounds like!

After kayaking, we went to Clickimin Broch. Nobody really knows what this ancient building is for, but it was cool! And about a minute from our cottage, so an obvious site-seeing choice.

The next day we went to the Noss National Nature Reserve, a small island off of the island of Bressay, which is off of Mainland Shetland. Shetland has many, many islands. There are several ferries that connect the inhabited ones, but some of the islands are only accessible by boat or plane. Fortunately, our Airbnb was only a few minutes away from the Bressay ferry, and the crossing is quite quick–7 minutes. Then we drove 3.5 miles across Bressay to take Noss’ little ferry to the island.
Once you get on the island, there are some crazy cliffs. But, if you’re willing to walk for an hour in one direction, you will see thousands, if not tens of thousands, of sea birds that breed on Noss from May-August. While we were there we saw Great Skuas, which the locals call Bonxies. These birds are the bullies of the island. They wait until other birds catch fish, and then they steal fish from the bird. They also eat smaller birds.
There are also Fulmars, which at first glance look similar to Seagulls, but they are much more vicious. These birds are LOUD, and if they don’t like you they will spit oil that they produce in their bellies at you. Gross!
Then there are Gannets, birds that dive into water at 60 MPH in order to hunt. They have special brains that withstand the impact of crashing into the water for the duration of their lives.
There are Guillemots as well. I didn’t really learn about these birds since I never got close. In the Gannet pictures above, the black birds are Guillemots. There was also a large rock in the ocean that they seemed to prefer:
AND…the moment I’ve been waiting for, there were PUFFINS! These little cuties are known as the clowns of the sea, but in the cutest, best way possible. They mate for life, produce only one egg a year, and spend most of their life floating in the ocean when they molt and lose their ability to fly. But, when they’re at a place like Noss, they look like this!
For the second half of the week, we spent some time walking around Eshaness, where we also saw the small island of Dore Holm. Check out that crazy cut out! The locals say Dore Holm looks like a horse drinking water.
We also went to Sumburgh Head, another reserve, in hopes of finding more Puffins. It seems that we were there at the wrong time of day, so we missed out on seeing as many Puffins as I would’ve liked. On the bright side, we still got to see this historic landmark:

On the way back, we stopped at the ancient settlement of Jarlshof (pronounced yarls-off). The Sumburgh Hotel, located nexts to Jarlshof, had ponies, so we played with them too.

Our last big attraction was Scalloway Castle, the former residence of Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney:

In between all of these moments, we got to experience the utterly confusing conundrum of stopping on the highway for an airplane, enjoying some of the local breakfast spots, driving on one track roads where you can barely see around the next corner, and finding a rest stop that almost matches my mom’s side of the family (we spell our MacKenzie with a capitalized K):

Overall, Shetland is quirky. They don’t really have restaurants for dinner, so we spent most nights eating in at our Airbnb. This wasn’t a problem for us since we enjoyed our cottage very much. We loved talking to the friendly locals, and we were always amazed by their accents. Any time we took a road trip we giggled about how to get there–you just take the A970! Mainland Shetland has one main road, so it’s just about impossible to get lost. If you love nature and the outdoors, you’ll love Shetland. We enjoyed seeing and doing things that we never do in our daily lives, so we’re grateful for this amazing trip that we were blessed with. I think we’ll be returning to the UK soon. =)