From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search


At Toolie. view N with sea mist hugging Herma Ness - geograph.org.uk - 102545.jpg
Cliffs at Herma Ness
Main settlement: Baltasound

{{{map caption}}}

Location: 60°45’0"N, 0°52’48"W
Grid reference: HP600091
Area: 46 square miles
Population: 720  (2001)

Unst is one of the islands of Shetland. It is the northernmost inhabited island of the United Kingdom and of the British Isles. The tiny settlement of Skaw in the north-east of Unst is the northernmost settlement in the United Kingdom.

North of Unst lie the rocks of Muckle Flugga Britain’s northernmost lighthouse, and Out Stack the northernmost point of the United Kingdom.

In Shetland it is the third largest island, after Mainland and Yell, with an area of 46 square miles.

Unst is largely grassland, with coastal cliffs. Its main village is Baltasound, once the largest herring fishing port of the islands after Lerwick, and now the location of a brewery, a leisure centre and the island's airport. Other villages include Uyeasound, home to Greenwell's Booth (a Hanseatic warehouse) and Muness Castle (built in 1598 and sacked by pirates in 1627); and Haroldswick, location of a boat museum and a heritage centre.

The islands of Unst and Fetlar are mainly formed of ultramafic and mafic igneous rocks which are interpreted to form part of an ophiolite,[1] a section of oceanic crust from the Iapetus ocean which was destroyed during the Caledonian orogeny.

Unst was once the location of several chromite quarries, one of which was served by the now-disused Hagdale Chromate Railway from 1907 to 1937.[2]

Unst lies some 57 miles from the county town, Lerwick, 330 miles from the nearest British city, Inverness, and 245 miles west of Bergen in Norway.

Ferries link Belmont on the island to Gutcher on Yell and Oddsta on Fetlar.


The meaning of the name 'Unst' is not agreed. In Old Norse the island was "Ornyst", which is possibly Old Norse for "eagle's nest", though some claim for it a pre-Norse origin perhaps originating among people speaking a Pictish or other language.

Muness Castle

Unst is currently in the middle of a project to excavate and display the island's Norse heritage. The Viking Unst scheme is funded until 2010, and has already begun excavation on three longhouses - 30 are known of on the island. The project also runs living history events during the summer. The replica Viking ship Skibladner can currently be seen ashore at Haroldswick.[3]

Thomas and David Stevenson, designers of many remarkable lighthouses (and father and uncle to the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson) were the main design engineers for the lighthouse on Muckle Flugga, just off Hermaness on the north-west of the island. Robert Louis Stevenson visited Unst, and some locally claim the island as the basis for the map of the fictional Treasure Island[4] - a claim made by Fidra in East Lothian.

On 7 January 2007, Unst was rocked by an earthquake measuring 4.9 on the Richter scale, which is believed to have been one of the most powerful earthquakes in the Norwegian Sea area in the past 10 years.[5]

Sights of the island

Church ruins at Saxaford

An extraordinary bus shelter can be found on the island, known as Bobby's Bus Shelter, furnished and refurbished each year by local residents with a sofa, television, computer and other home comforts.[6] The bus shelter is named after a child who used to cycle to the shelter in the mornings to catch the bus to school. The local council had plans to remove the bus shelter, but after he sent them a letter asking them not to and explaining that the shelter is where he kept his bike while at school, the council left it there and furnished it. Every year, the shelter is redecorated in accordance with what is going on in Bobby's life. In 2009 the shelter was decorated in pink to represent the fact that Bobby was working for a Breast Cancer charity.

Unst is also home to the Promoting Unst Renewable Energy (PURE) Wind-Hydrogen project,[7] a community-owned clean energy system based on hydrogen production. This project is part of the Unst Partnership, the community's development trust.

Muckle Flugga

At the southern end of Unst, above the island's ferry terminal, stands Belmont House, dating from 1775. Being restored by the Belmont Trust, it will be used as a high-class holiday house, and also become a venue for weddings, meetings, art and community events. Shetland's most outstanding Georgian building and highly important within Scotland, the Belmont restoration project is costing over £1m and should be completed by 2009.[8]

The usually resident population of Unst and Fetlar in the 2001 census was 806.

Saxa Vord

The Saxa Vord Royal Air Force radar station closed in 2006, with the loss of more than 100 jobs.[9]

In April 2007 RAF Saxa Vord's domestic site, plus the road up to the Mid Site, was bought and renamed "Saxa Vord Resort" by Military Asset Management (MAM), a company owned by Highland entrepreneur Frank Strang. MAM "specialises in the regeneration of redundant or surplus Defence Assets."[10]

The base is being converted to a tourist resort and natural and cultural heritage centre. The first phase is complete, and Saxa Vord currently (2007) offers 20 self-catering holiday houses, a 16-bedroom bunkhouse, together with a restaurant and bar. 2008 will see the launch of an 80-bedroom study centre, leisure facilities and a guided walks/evening talks programme.[11]

Two local business have relocated their premises to the Saxa Vord site: Valhalla Brewery[12] (a company owned by Sonny Priest who also manages and supplies the Saxa Vord bar) and Foord's Chocolates, Shetland's only chocolatier [13]


The view across to Uyea

Unst is important for its seabird colonies, including those at Hermaness National Nature Reserve. It is also known for its plant life, including the Norwegian sandwort and Shetland Mouse-ear, the latter unique to the island.

Outside links



  • Sandison, Charles - Unst: My Island Home and its Story, Shetland Times, 1968 [repr. 1975]
Islands of Shetland

Inhabited islands:
Mainland  •
Bressay  • Burra (East & West)  • Fair Isle  • Fetlar  • Foula  • Muckle Roe  • Out Skerries  • Papa Stour  • Trondra  • Unst  • Vaila  • Whalsay  • Yell

Other islands:
Balta  •
Bigga  • Brother Isle  • Colsay  • Hascosay  • Hildasay  • Lamba  • Linga, Muckle Roe  • Linga, Yell  • Mousa  • Muckle Flugga  • Noss  • Oxna  • Papa  • Papa Little  • Samphrey  • South Havra  • Uyea, Northmavine  • Uyea, Unst  • Vementry  • West Linga