A day with Shetland’s land-based lights

The wind picked up during the day yesterday and overnight meaning there were no boat trips today. It seemed a perfect time to reach some of those lighthouses that involved a walk on Shetland Mainland.

Being based in Lerwick, with three particular lighthouses in mind, my lighthouse pal John and I decided to begin with those furthest from the accommodation and the longest walk, which took us to Hillswick on the west coast. Finding a place to park here wasn’t a problem with a nice little area close to the farm gate which marks the start of the walk, and what a walk it was.

Initially following a farm track, which though not the most direct route avoided going through fields and some pretty overgrown terrain.

The track made the first section of the walk very easy

After leaving the wide track there was a section with no clear route, but once down by the coast we found the route. This is clearly a popular walk and very understandably. The coastline around here is absolutely stunning. There are some fairly steep sections, but the effort is quickly rewarded by the views. I can’t do them justice by just describing them so will just add some pictures here instead.

It was a long time before we saw the flat-pack Hillswick Lighthouse. In fact we were relatively close to it before it appeared. As we arrived at the lighthouse a couple were just leaving and the man informed us that he had been involved in the building of the lighthouse when it was solarised.

The lighthouse comes into view

The lighthouse is in an incredible position with views of St Magnus Bay to the south, and some very dramatic coastal scenery to the west with views towards Esha Ness and its couple of islands. We even managed to spot part of The Drongs, that glorious collection of sea stacks, at one point during the walk.

Hillswick Lighthouse looking excellent
Saying goodbye to the lighthouse

I think we probably could have done the walk a bit faster if I hadn’t been quite so in awe of the views, stopping frequently to get pictures of the views. Typically we made it back slightly faster as I’d taken most of my pictures by that point.

One of the views on the return from Hillswick Lighthouse

The next stop saw us off to the east coast to walk to Ness of Queyfirth Lighthouse. After a bit of debating over where we should park we eventually stopped on a verge at the end of the public road. Fortunately a local man drove past and John spoke to him about walking over to the lighthouse. Apparently he was surprised we wanted to walk, but he said it would be fine to follow the fence around the outside of a field a cows, which looked to me like it avoided entering any fields.

The cows near the starting point for Ness of Queyfirth

Early on in the walk we spotted what looked like a quad track (one of the benefits of walking on farm land) so we followed this until it petered out. It was a bit of a slog up the hill, made harder by the terrain being very overgrown, but thankfully it was mainly grass and dry bog. I can imagine it would be a much less enjoyable walk after a prolonged period of rain, but the ground seems very dry at the moment.

The route towards Ness of Queyfirth lighthouse

This was another one that seemed to take a long time to catch sight of the lighthouse and we were almost upon it when we finally spotted the top of it emerging as the land went downhill. It is fairly steep in places on that peninsula and on the way out we were getting slightly sore ankles from walking on sloped ground. We found a power line which we thought would lead us to the lighthouse, and thankfully it did. In the meantime though we had some wonderful panoramic views, including Quey Firth itself, the hills to the west and out to Lamba and other islands in Yell Sound.

The view of Yell Sound from the walk to Queyfirth Lighthouse

The lighthouse is the same type as Gruney, or like Little Roe and Skaw Taing Front, which we saw yesterday, but without the orange section. They really are quite funny structures, but once you’ve seen a couple they really grow on you, as is the case with most of the smaller lighthouses – or it certainly is for me anyway. It was nice to have a sit down at the lighthouse and enjoy the views for a bit.

Ness of Queyfirth Lighthouse

The journey back was tough going but we made it and were very glad to meet the original track and see John’s van not too far away. The sky had cleared a bit which made for much brighter conditions.

The view to the west on our way back from Ness of Queyfirth

The timing was perfect here as it began to rain just after we go into the van. Fortunately it had stopped before we reached our final stop of the day, Eswick.

We weren’t sure if we would fit a walk to Moul of Eswick in today, but there was still enough time to give it a go. This was the shortest walk of the day, but parking was a bit of a problem as the only place at the end of the road we could have parked was already taken so we had to drive back along the road almost half a mile and set off from there. As with the other two, this one involved a walk over farmland initially and was actually quite straightforward. Passing through one field, we continued to follow the track which brought us out by the side of Muckle Loch, which is beautiful.

Muckle Loch at Eswick

I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to cross a burn that was showing on the map, but it was completely dry so we continued on our way. We then went over another gate only realising as we headed in the direction of the lighthouse that we were then on the wrong side of the fence. This was quickly rectified and with the lighthouse in sight we headed straight for it.

Approaching Moul of Eswick Lighthouse

The lighthouse is a flat-pack which I always think are nice to see, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of this visit were the views.

Moul of Eswick Lighthouse

With the wind really picking up there was plenty of swell around the islands to the east, one of which was Hoo Stack, which I very much enjoyed visiting back in 2019. Not only that, but there was the amazing 17 metre high Fru Stack just off the cliffs here, which was brilliant to watch with the waves breaking against it. A gorgeously dramatic scene.

Fru Stac just off the coast of Moul of Eswick
Hoo Stack, as seen from Ness of Queyfirth

The return journey, during which John did his celebratory dance at having achieved three new lighthouses today, was straightforward if a little slow after a long day. It was a great day though and really good to get to these ones which were always due to be on my back-up plan list should there be days without boat trips. One more tomorrow – hopefully! 🙂

3 thoughts on “A day with Shetland’s land-based lights

  1. Thanks for another lighthouse day out👍
    However I gave a question – if there are no defined tracks to the lighthouse, how do the staff get to them to carry out maintenance and construct them?

    1. Hi Richard. With the remote ones the maintenance will quite often be carried out using a helicopter. The Northern Lighthouse Board (covering Scotland and the Isle of Man) do have Retained Lighthouse Keepers who go and check on the lights routinely, but I don’t think that would apply to the really remote ones.
      Construction would be helped by helicopter too. The parts of modern lighthouses would be flown in by helicopter and then constructed on site.
      The construction of the older lighthouse is a different matter entirely!

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