Six Weeks in The Shetland Islands : Jay’s 2nd Clinical Placement



How can it be that Jason’s second clinical placement has already come and gone? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were moving to Scotland? The past ten months in Scotland has absolutely flown by, and our six weeks in the Shetland Islands is no exception. Our time in the Shetland Islands came and went in the blink of an eye, and we cannot believe we are already back in Aberdeen wrapping up Jason’s first year of graduate school.



Before we dive into our time in the Shetland Islands, we’ll give you a bit of a background of what exactly they are! The Shetland Islands (a.k.a. Shetland or The Shetlands) are a cluster of over 100 small islands just over 200 miles (320 km) north of Aberdeen, Scotland. You can reach Shetland by plane or by taking a 12-14-hour ferry from Aberdeen. There are multiple short ferries or bridges connecting most of the Shetland Islands, and the majority of the roads throughout the islands are single track with the exception of the “highway” that runs from the very bottom of Shetland to the very tip of the islands.  The people are more friendly than you can imagine, the weather is hit or miss, the remoteness of the Shetland Islands makes them dreamy, and the views in any given direction are absolutely breathtaking.


Alright, let’s get into our time there starting from the very beginning. At the end of September, Jason finished up his neuro module and we spent four days in London before embarking on a 14-hour ferry ride and moving to the Shetland Islands. We would spend the next six weeks up in Shetland for Jason’s second clinical placement. In those six weeks, we explored as much of the Shetland Islands as we possibly could. We spent the weekdays working, baking way too much, and soaking in as many tea breaks with ocean views as possible. Our weekends were full of adventures throughout all the Shetland Islands, driving down every road possible finding each hidden nook and cranny of the islands.



When the ferry pulled up to the Shetland Islands, we were both in awe of the cliffs surrounding us, the picturesque town on the edge of the water, and the perfect morning fog setting the most romantic mood ever. Our ferry ride was rough, read about it here, and we were more than excited to be putting our feet on solid ground. Driving away from the ferry terminal, we couldn’t believe we would be spending six weeks in this absolutely stunning place.



Our Weekly Routine


We spent Sunday strolling around Lerwick (the town we were based in) and getting settled in before starting a full week of work. We quickly fell into a daily routine which consisted of breakfast and a morning workout, followed by Jason walking to work, and Heather heading back to the van to read and prepare for the work day. By 10:00, Jason was taking tea break at work, and Heather was heading to the local library to get all the free WiFi possible before we would meet back at the van around 5:00. We would then make dinner in Jason’s hospital accommodation, hang out in the building until just before midnight, and then head out to the van to sleep. (While Jay was granted hospital accommodation for this placement, Heather wasn’t allowed to be there after midnight, so every night we would head out to the van to sleep and then run through the same routine in the morning.) Friday’s were half days in the physio department, which meant typically by 1:00 we were on the road exploring the Shetland Islands.



The Shetland Island Northern Lights


With Shetland being so far north (60 degrees north to be exact) we had a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights while up there. Our first night in Shetland the skies were clear, our phones were buzzing with Northern Lights alerts, and we were still on a high from being in Shetland, so we left town around 11pm and drove north in search of the Aurora Borealis. While we found the Northern Lights lighting up the sky, it wasn’t until we returned back to Lerwick that we actually saw the lights dancing right above us! With the camera put away, we decided we would just sit and enjoy the show without any distractions. (Sorry we don’t have any photos of them dancing for you 🙁 )



For the next three nights, we could see the Northern Lights from town. We continually had pinch me moments, still not believing this was real life! Our first full weekend, we were blessed with some great weather and had the Northern Lights saying hello in the far distance. We talked with some people at this viewpoint, and they told us the Northern Lights were right above them the previous weekend from that very spot! Apparently, Eshaness Lighthouse is a great place for spotting the Northern Lights!



{Traveler’s Tip… Eshaness Lighthouse is a great place for viewing the Aurora Borealis. There’s a big parking lot to stay in a caravan/campervan in and plenty of places to pitch a tent in the area! Just beware of the wind, as there’s no wind protection here!}


Our last time seeing the Northern Lights was again a faint show in the distance during our second weekend in the Shetland Islands. After that, the weather at night was really cloudy, and although there were some great Northern Lights happening above the clouds, we didn’t see anything with the thick cloud coverage.



Highlight Reel of The Shetland Islands


Northwest Mainland a Bit Underprepared:

Heading out for our first weekend exploring, we had no real plan of what we were doing. In hindsight, this was actually a terrible idea. But hey, hindsight is always 20/20. We took off heading to the northwest region of Shetland, and quickly found out we were not prepared for this outing!


We figured we would drive and stop at anything that seemed remotely interesting, and assumed we would be able to research a bit more of the island once on the road. However, immediately after leaving Lerwick, we lost all cell phone service and didn’t regain it until we got back to town Sunday evening. This really wasn’t as bad as it could have been. With the beauty of the Shetland Islands, anywhere you go, there’s walks to do and amazing scenery to see.



Once it started getting dark, we found a harbor to call home for the night. We started making dinner, only to find out we ran out of propane for our stove!! Luckily, this happened right as the meat finished cooking, but with the only source of small propane tanks being back in Lerwick, we were taking on the weekend without being able to cook!


Our lack of a stove to cook up a proper breakfast was quickly forgotten about when we woke up in the morning to gorgeous surroundings! This wild campsite was gold! We spent the morning chatting with a local to get ideas on what to do in the area, and sitting back taking in the harbor views!



{Traveler’s Tip… There’s a harbor just before Muckle Roe that you can camp at for free. It’s tucked away from the wind and is absolutely lovely. If you want more facilities, you can pay to camp/park at the harbor in Brae (five minutes away), however, this one we felt was perfect!}


The local we met filled us in with so many great walks to do in the area. We took his advice on a nice hike along the water before making our way Hillswick to take on another hike he suggested. The pictures here don’t even do justice for how gorgeous the views were.


{Traveler’s Tip… The walk from the public parking in Hillswick (pronounced Hellswick) is fairly easy. Walking along a sheep pasture, you’ll have sheep on one side of you, and cliffs on the other. You can enjoy seals and sea otters swimming around and great views of the cliffs on the other side of the inlet.}  



For the evening, we made our way to Eshaness Lighthouse to explore the volcanic grounds and decided to call it home for the night.



One of our favorite parts of Shetland was driving down every road and seeing where we would end up. Sometimes this meant someone’s house, other times different beaches, and yet other times, amazing hikes! We drove to the end of a road and thought it was just a dead end at someone’s house when a couple cars pulled up and people took off walking through these people’s property. We decided we would follow suit to see what everyone was going to see, and it turned out to be an awesome hike!


{Traveler’s Tip… At the end of A970 (the main road highway), you’ll stop at someone’s house. Park here, and head up the driveway to the left. You’ll end up on about a 3-hour walk round trip to an old fishing village and lighthouse!}



The Northern Isles and The Shetland Fiddle Festival:

The Shetland Fiddle Festival brought us up to the northern isles of the Shetland Islands for our second weekend outing. Needless to say, this was a true Shetland cultural experience. First, to get to Unst, where the Fiddle Festival was being held, we had to take not one but two ferries!! After purchasing our tickets for the festival, we visited one of two castles on the island. This castle was so cool!! It was free to get in, and you simply grab a flashlight from the welcome box, then open the big castle door and explore all on your own returning the flashlight when finished! It was seriously so cool!!



We arrived at the Fiddle Festival 15 minutes after doors had opened, and were greeted by the only open table being front row, middle stage. We squeezed through the crowd, took our seats at the empty 12 seater table, and then were called out by the announcer as the people who traveled from very far away. Talk about embarrassing!! Aside from the awkwardness at the beginning of the festival, the night ended well!! We enjoyed all the fiddle and accordion players and ended the night with a Ceilidh (the traditional Scottish dance).


[To learn more about our Fiddle Festival experience, and watch a video of the musicians, head to this post here.]



Getting to the north of Unst was on our agenda for the following day. Both the Shetland brewery and gin distilleries were closed for the weekend, so we didn’t get to visit those, however, we were stoked about the beautiful beach we found!!



There’s an amazing nature reserve in the northern part of Unst where we wandered along the path through the heather bushes and sheep to be greeted with hundreds if not thousands of birds. Literally, as you get closer and closer to the cliffs you start hearing birds chirping and squawking, then you get to the edge and see hundreds soaring through the air! We found a spot to sit and birdwatch (I think our grandparents would be proud) and enjoyed the sun setting on another beautiful day in Shetland!


{Traveler’s TipHermaness National Nature Reserve is not to be missed! After about 10 minutes of walking with an incline, the entire walk is flat and on a boarded walkway. The birds and other wildlife in the area are spectacular!}



Southern Mainland – Sumburgh Head, Beaches, and Underground Cities:

While the weather wasn’t breathtaking any of the times we made our way south, it was still bearable. A saying up in Shetland goes something like this, “The weather’s never poor, you’re just not wearing the right clothes.” And we couldn’t agree more. If we let the weather determine if we were heading out for the weekend, we would have spent many weekends just in Lerwick. However, instead of waiting for blue skies, we made our way south a couple weekends and were met with lots of clouds and a bit of rain, but nothing too horrible.


Sumburgh Head is the southernmost point of Shetland and contains loads of history. From World War Two radar huts to underground historic villages, the south is a place to learn about the past! We knew we would experience many different new things when visiting Sumburgh Head, but we were not expecting what hit us first!


When we were driving south, just before getting to the historic village and lighthouse, we were stopped dead in the middle of the highway for a plane to cross the road. Literally a jet, just driving across the highway!! It was the most absurd experience ever, and a friendly reminder of how small the island really is!



After getting over the excitement of the plane, we visited both the lighthouse and the historic village. The lighthouse was a history trip in itself with the World War Two radar huts and stories, while the Jarlshof village was just as impressive!



The Jarlshof Settlement is an old village that was uncovered during a major storm in the 1890’s. It is an area of many different ages of settlements built on top of one another. The visitor’s center was closed when we went, however, the gates were open, so we got to explore the area with nobody else around! To read more about the Jarlshof Settlement and a bit more in depth explanation of what exactly it is, check out this post here.



Besides the history found in the south of Shetland, the beaches are absolutely breathtaking! We stayed multiple times at the different beaches in the south, and each time couldn’t believe how gorgeous the waters were.


{Traveler’s Tip… St. Ninian’s Isle provides excellent wild camping for both tents and camper vans. There were at least 4 other people camping there both times we went, and you’re fairly protected from the wind! Meal Beach has a parking lot with toilet facilities, so parking overnight there isn’t too shabby either. However, when it’s windy, this isn’t the best choice!}



Summing Up the Shetland Islands


Hands down if you’re ever in Scotland for an extended amount of time, a visit to the Shetland Islands is well worth the effort it takes to get there. We are already looking for ways to go back to Shetland to see the islands at a different time of year.  Everyone we met was extremely nice. The amount of walks and areas to explore seems to never end and the relaxed atmosphere on the islands is contagious! We had some crazy wind experiences in the van (we’re talking waking us up multiple times in the middle of the night due to gusts of wind) and a bit of rain, but other than that we were blessed with amazing weather during our six weeks!


We have many more stories to share, and loads more details about the Shetland Islands, so keep on the lookout for more Shetland posts in the near future! For now, we’re back in Aberdeen on and off until mid-December. Jay has so much time off during this section of coursework, so we’re taking advantage of a few long weekends and visiting a couple new countries! We’ll keep you posted on those trips soon to come!



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3 thoughts on “Six Weeks in The Shetland Islands : Jay’s 2nd Clinical Placement

  • Hello Jason and Heather 🙂
    Thanks for sharing such a detailed, informative, description of your experience in the Shetlands. It’s a trip I’d love to make with my best friend/ daughter, and reading your words is convincing me to book our tickets ASAP. However, I’m over 60 yrs and won’t be sleeping on the deck of the ferry.. at least not intentionally :0 We are planning on a few days at the end of May, between her placements, so hopefully the Sea will be kind. Thanks again and please continue writing and sharing ..Sincerely Debbie (Shaughna’s Mom)

    • Hey Debbie! 🙂
      Our time up in Shetland has been some of our favorite time in Scotland so far! We absolutely loved it (even with the rough sea adventure getting there)! I would definitely recommend getting some sort of sleeping arrangement on the journey up. You can choose from seats that recline like beds or even actual rooms for you and Shaughna to share! Once you’re looking into it more, I’ll definitely give you and Shaughna some more details about what sleeping situation would be best for you!!

      And you’re right.. I think the sea will be much calmer that time of year! We went during stormy weather, and even the workers were saying it was abnormally rough! We posted a few other posts about our time up in Shetland — check those out for some more ideas, and always ask more questions if you have any!!

      Hopefully, we’ll meet next time you come this way!!

      Heather and Jason

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