Hermaness Circular


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Distance: 8 or 12km
Difficulty: Challenging
Duration: 3 to 5 hours
Height Gain:
Area Of Shetland: Unst
Starting Point: HP 612 149
End Point: HP 612 149
Map: OS Explorer 470: Shetland - Unst, Yell and Fetlar
Nearest Public Toilet: Hermaness, Beside SNH Visitor Centre.
Open: 24 hours

Route profile for walk


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The return walk direct to Hermaness takes about 3 hours but can be extended south-west along the coast to Saito by ascending Neap; you should allow at least an other hour for this. The Lighthouse Shore Station at Burra Firth, near the start of the walk, now hosts a small natural history exhibition and is the HQ for the Reserve warden in the summer. Toilets are also situated in the building.

 The start point for the walk is car park for Hermaness National Nature Reserve. There is a notice board here giving information on the Reserve and visitors book in the metal box by the entrance gate. Pass through the gates and follow the made up track north to Winnaswarta Dale where the first of a series of marker posts start you off on the long ascent of Hermaness Hill. Keep to the route indicated by these posts and use the boardwalks to cross boggy ground.

The blanket bog records over 7,000 years of vegetation history at Hermaness. Sothers Brecks and Hermaness Hill are the home of Red-throated Diver, Snipe, Dunlin, Golden Plover and Arctic Skua. In summer Shetland’s annual ‘pirate’ visitor, the Bonxie (Great Skua), favours this reserve with over 600 pairs breeding here annually. Bonxies breed from May to August before migrating south in the winter some perhaps as far as West Africa.

Beside the route, about half way up Hermaness Hill, notice the shape of a cross laid out in stones. This marks the site where two young walkers lost their lives in the most severe storm ever recorded in the British Isles on New Year’s Eve 1991. On the top of Hermaness Hill you will see the site of the old signal station for Muckle Flugga Lighthouse.

The descent from Hermaness Hill following the way-marked route gives magnificent views of the group of rocks known as ‘Da Waithing Skerries’. Most prominent is Muckle Flugga (large steep rock) with its lighthouse breathtakingly perched on top. Designed by Thomas Stevenson and built of brick, with foundations sunk 3 meters into the rock, the lighthouse has withstood pounding by Atlantic for over 150 years.

 The most northerly in the group is Da Shuggi or Out Stack and the most northerly extremity of the British Isles. The stack was visited in 1849 by Lady Jane Franklin to offer prayers for her missing husband, Sir John Franklin, leader of the ill fated expedition to find the North-west passage.

The steep descent takes you to the sight (and smell) of the gannet colony on The Greing.  Most of the sea stacks here support gannet nesting sites where over 12,000 pairs have built nests of seaweed cemented together with guano. From here head north along the steep grassy slopes of Boelie above the puffin burrows in the cliffs below to the flat headland above Wilna Geo, the closest point to Muckle Flugga.

From Wilna Geo retrace your route past The Greing, then continue south-west along the coast past sea stacks and natural arches to climb the steep slopes of Toolie. From here there is great view back along the coast. The predominant rock of Hermaness and Muckle Flugga is gneiss formed 600 million years ago as a result of intense heat and pressure on what were once quartz rich sands. The greensward above Looss Wick is due to a narrow band of underlying lime rich rocks

From Toolie you can descend to the Burn of Winnaswarta Dale and follow its course back to pick up the track back to the start point. If time permits you can extend your walk by following the cliffs of Neap and Saito to view the large seabird colonies below before returning to the Burn of Winnaswarta Dale and the start point.

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