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Shetland Experience

Updated: Jun 27

Shetland, is rugged. It’s remote. The cliffs are rustic. They are also extremely high which creates an incredible sense of wonder. It is an awesome place and if you’re into the outdoors has to be up there as one of the best places, if not THE best place in Scotland to explore by paddleboard or kayak. Even for a play with some surf in the waves, although not generally known for surfing, there is always a wave somewhere. When thinking about running any trip, there is always an element of risk and wonder around what the weather might actually be like in Scotland. Shetland lies nearly 300km north of Aberdeen where the ferry leaves for the county town of Lerwick. So weather wise, Shetland perhaps feels like more of a gamble. But, even in rain or wind, perhaps sleet, there are so many places, nooks and crannies, different voles (The Shetland name for a fjord.) to explore and cruise down.

The south tip of the island hosts Sumburgh Airport, where you can fly to the island. There is a lighthouse adorning high cliffs all around and during the Spring and early summer hosts hundreds of puffins which hug the high cliffs all around. The wind at this point can hit in excess of 100mph regularly. The puffins manage to fly in and out of their burrows or nests effortlessly whenever they take off to find sand eels or small fish to feed their chicks. It is a sight to behold.

Starting at the south of the island and working our way north seemed like a good way to see as much of the island as we could in the few days that we had there. Scousburgh Sands, otherwise known as Spiggie to the locals was first up for paddling. The wind was interesting to say the least but the high cliffs and on this beach, sand dunes help to create a welcome wind shadow and shelter from southern winds. SUP Surf, first up is an awesome test of everyone’s ability to paddle and catch some waves. An entertaining watch for the locals wondering up and down the beach.

Special thanks to Nick from Southspear Media and Surveys Ltd for these awesome photos in the surf.

St Ninians island is connnected by a tombolo, a fancy word for a strip of land or bar of sand that connects the mainland to an island. On walking down the beach surf is optional on both sides and there would nearly always be an option of an onshore wind to launch from.

The island itself is farmed but brutal winter waves can cause havoc with livestock left on the island. Local girls Kirsty and Aimee Budge farm the area using sustainable methods and recently featured on Countryfile and won the Farming Heroes award after sadly losing their father. There has been treasure found buried on the island dating back to the 8th century. The silverware was found entirely intact. Pictish by decent but no one knows who left it. If I had been in Shetland before I’d written Padd

Rona’s Voe. Stunning.We had it on a calmish day. Usually we wouldn’t have taken this on because of the downwind conditions and no easy way to get back through the wind, but we had a boat in support. Not calm enough to get to Lang Ayre. But calm enough to explore caves, see crazy high stacks and enjoy hugging a spectacular coast line. It gets better the further out you go… but serious consideration is needed with wind speed and direction because from this part of Shetland… the next stop is Canada. We used a boat for support which saved a lot of issue with risk assessment around this particular section of water.

Our final day of paddling was spent in a small place called Neap. An island called Hog Island lay in wait, full of inlets and fingers that allowed us to explore. A spot of scuba diving also allowed access to a new world of plant and fauna from the sea. Pictures speak a thousand words, but nothing beats seeing it with your own eyes.

We’ll release dates for a second trip end of August wed-sun. Keep your eyes peeled if you fancy check it. It’s not a cheap trip for sure, but… it’s incredible paddling. And we haven’t even scratched the surface of all the things there are to do!

Gannets, razorbill, guillemot galore. Orca, otter and Shetland sheep and pony! It’s an unbelievable trip, that does not disappoint.

Just for the record, it’s also great to be the first commercial trip by paddleboard up there and a lot of thanks goes to Sharon Martindale for planting the seed and to Nick Mccaffrey for being such an awesome guide and support up there.

A cracking wee book by Tom Smith and Chris Jex. The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland Sea Kayaking available from Pesda Press is full of ideas.

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