Shetland’s Northern Isles: Yell & Unst – Scotland 2010

Leaving Scalloway, we decided to continue the journey by starting at the top and work our way down. This meant driving up to Toft, in the north of the Shetland mainland, and catching a ferry to Yell, one of the two inhabited islands to the north of Shetland. These ferries are government-subsidised, cheap and frequent – you can book but I wouldn’t bother. Just turn up – or visit the website for the timetable if you need more precision planning.

Shetland island ferry
One of the small ro-ro ferries that connect the islands

Arriving in Yell is a surprise at first – while Shetland seems fairly empty, Yell takes this emptiness to a new level. There really isn’t very much there – it’s both beautiful and desolate.

Empty road in Unst, Shetland
There's not much traffic on Yell or Unst

Our plan was to head up the western side of Yell on our northbound journey and then come back down the eastern route on the way back, after visiting the northernmost inhabited island in the British isles, Unst. We didn’t spot any good overnight places on the northbound trip through Yell so decided to carry to Unst. This involves another ferry trip but it’s free and only takes 10 minutes – so there isn’t much hassle involved.

Unst & Britain’s Most Northerly Hostel

We drove up into Unst and eventually came across Gardiesfauld Youth Hostel, in Uyeasound, which is not only Britain’s most northerly youth hostel but also boasts motorhome/caravan parking facilities directly facing the sea. This did cost £12 but access to the hostel’s facilities were included and it seemed a good idea, especially as we needed to do some washing and the hostel had a laundry (£1 each for washer and dryer).

Motorhome parking at Gardiesfauld Hostel, Uyeasound, Unst
The motorhome (or caravan) parking spaces at the Gardiesfauld Hostel in Uyeasound

Don’t travel to Unst expecting any cosmopolitan pleasures – restaurants, pubs and shops are virtually non-existent (as elsewhere in Shetland) and you need to have your own supplies. Here’s a quote from the youth hostel’s brochure:

There is no shop in Uyeasound, the nearest shop is 7 miles away. We strongly recommend that you bring basic food items with you.

The quality of the scenery and location is unbeatable – and I’d recommend the site (although at the time of visiting they didn’t have chemical toilet or waste water disposal points, which was a bit annoying, although you could use the toilets inside the hostel, I suppose. Fresh water taps and electric hookups are behind each pitch. Just park up and then walk up to the hostel to find out (from the noticeboard in the entrance) when the warden’s next visit is to collect payment.

As befits Britain’s northernmost inhabited island, there are a few ‘most northerly’ places you will see on your travels around Unst:

Britain's most northerly post office in Unst
Britain's most northerly post office at Baltasound, Unst...
Britain's most northerly church, Unst
Britain's most northerly church (recently rebuilt)
Scotland's oddest bus shelter
The oddest bus shelter I've ever seen - but where else would it remain free of vandalism and theft?
MOD housing estate, Unst
Britain's most northerly MoD housing estate (there was a radar station in the north of Unst until a few years ago)
Beach on Unst, Shetland
Of course, there are unspoilt sandy beaches and great scenery, too...

Motorhome Parking On Yell

One of the highlights of Yell was discovering the parking in the harbour at Burravoe – a purpose built caravan/motorhome site is under construction, but at present it’s free to use and provides electricity (coin metered) and fresh water. Parking is right by the harbour/marina area of this small village and there’s also a walk to see the nearby Ladies Hol and the Horse of Burravoe – an unusual rock formation.

The main attraction for visitors to Burravoe is The Old Haa, Yell’s oldest building. It’s a local museum and craft shop and sells local arts and crafts. Sadly it was closed on the day we were there (Monday).

Burravoe Pier caravan and motorhome parking
Park your motorhome (or caravan) here for free - water and electricity provided
Burravoe Pier motorhome parking sign
It's worth remembering that in Orkney and Shetland, caravans can park freely just like motorhomes - unlike most of mainland Scotland, where caravans are often prohibited.

Both Yell and Unst are scattered with attractions and pleasant walks, and although some of the attractions are fairly minor, the scenery is resolutely excellent wherever you go.

Scenery on Unst, Shetland

Driving on these islands is a pleasure, too – the roads are excellent, although often single track, and other drivers are remarkably few and friendly, pulling into passing places with extreme consideration when necessary. In fact, it’s sometimes hard to do your fair share of giving way – the other driver always does it first!

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