Area focus: Shetland

Sarah Devine investigates how much you would need to pony up to buy a home on Shetland

Lerwick. Picture: Shutterstock
Lerwick. Picture: Shutterstock

Shetland has recently been voted the second-best Scottish island to live on by respondents of a Which? Survey –

beaten only by Orkney – and surpassing some 800 others around the country, thanks to its five-star offering of peace and quiet.

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The historic archipelago was awarded a customer score of 86 per cent by the consumer magazine, and received four out of five stars for travel, scenery, tourist attractions, shopping and value for money.

Homes in Shetland are more affordable than in many other rural and coastal parts of mainland Scotland with an average price of £168,768 paid for a property there over the last 12 months.

The scenic destination – recently in the spotlight as the location for Ann Cleaves’ eponymous crime novel, adapted for television by the BBC – is increasing in popularity among homebuyers. This is evidenced by rising house prices, up 8 per cent on 2020 and ahead 2 per cent based on the islands’ 2018 peak.

About 100 islands make up the Shetlands, 16 of which are inhabited, situated 106 miles north of Scotland’s mainland and 217 miles west of Bergen in Norway.

The Shetland Islands were the first part of Scotland to be discovered by Norsemen when they first crossed the North Sea in the 8th Century, before ruling over this portion of the country for the next 600 years.

Lerwick, the islands’ only – and Britain’s most northerly – town has a population of about 7,500 and a name which stems from the Old Norse meaning for “muddy” or “clay bay”. Its street names, such as

St Sunniva Street and King Haakon Street, are reminders of the historic bond between Shetland and Scandinavia.

Lerwick dates back to the 17th Century and was a seaport for trading herring. However, the smuggling of alcohol and tobacco through secret tunnels under the town’s Commercial Street led to a surge in drunken and unruly behaviour.

Disapproving residents from nearby Scalloway, Shetland’s main seat of power until 1708, took drastic action by burning down the wooden settlement in 1625.

These days, thankfully, Shetland’s capital is famous for its annual celebrations, including Up Helly Aa, and is a hive of boating activity during the summer months.

The Town Hall, built in 1883, marks the New Town, an area of Lerwick comprising large Edwardian villas and green spaces, built in the 19th Century to replace overcrowded lanes. Today, it boasts large detached and semi-detached villas with spacious gardens.

Addresses in the New Town Conservation Area include King Harald Street, where properties have an average value of £256,573, according to Zoopla, and the leafy

St Olaf Street, where homes are valued at an average of £239,774.

Shops and schools are within walking distance from almost anywhere in the town, and there are daily ferries to Aberdeen and Kirkwall in Orkney.

Sumburgh Airport is a half-hour drive to the south of Sheltand’s mainland and operates regular flights between Kirkwall, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

For those seeking a quieter setting, the sleepy island of Bressay has a scattering of houses and is home to just some 360 residents.

Ferries to Bressay depart from Lerwick’s Albert Buildings regularly, and the island has a post office, shop and a pub as well as a wealth of wildlife.

Further north is the island of Yell, a vast moorland home for grazing sheep, while the UK’s most northerly island, Unst, sits above.

Indeed, Unst is remote and potential homebuyers should register their interest with Shetland-based estate agents Dowle Smith & Rutherford, who can give you a shout when Yell properties come to market.

Throughout Shetland there is a welcoming and close-knit community, and next to no crime. With such a northerly proposition, the islands also benefit from up to 19 hours of sunlight a day in the summer – it is clear to see the appeal of a post-pandemic new start in a safe Shetland setting.


There are eight leisure facilities across the islands, run by Shetland Recreational Trust, including in the mainland’s north, west and south, at Clickimin in Lerwick, Scalloway, and on Unst, Whalsay, and Yell, pictured.

The centres have a rich offering of activities, including swimming, fitness classes, tennis and squash courts, and bars available for functions.

With so much scenery and with more than 6,000 miles of coastline on the mainland alone, Shetland has an abundance of spectacular walking routes and remote beaches.

Quendale Beach, on South Mainland, is a vast sandy stretch, spanning more than a mile, making it the biggest on the mainland and the most favoured by surfers.

Further south is West Voe Beach, with white sands and a backdrop of sand dunes, while St Ninian’s Ayre is the islands’ most famous, linking the mainland and St Ninian’s Isle, in the south.


Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement can be found at Sumburgh Head, on the south of Shetland’s mainland, and is arguably the most important archaeological site in the UK. At the grounds, pictured, visitors can uncover 4,000 years of history through the remains of Neolithic houses, a Bronze Age village, and Iron Age wheelhouses. The site, run by Historic Environment Scotland, has a visitor centre which is temporarily closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, but the grounds can still be explored.

Old Scatness Broch is near Sumburgh Airport and is an example of a kind of ancient roundhouse found only in Scotland. The world-renowned heritage site was discovered in 1975 and is described as a time capsule of life in Shetland in the Iron Age. Covid-19 restrictions notwithstanding, visitors can expect to see reconstructions, tours and demonstrations during the summer season.

Scalloway Castle in the settlement of the same name is a 16th-Century tower house, once home to Patrick Stewart, the Second Earl of Orkney and Shetland, who was executed in Edinburgh in 1615 after building an infamous reputation for oppressing Shetlanders. It is closed for conservation, but its grand architecture and scenic setting is well worth a look.

Shetland Museum and Archives at Hay’s Dock in Lerwick is free to enter and claims to have “Scotland’s most extensive photo archives”, dedicated to telling the story of the islands’ heritage and culture. Run by the Shetland Amenity Trust, it has reopened with social distancing measures in place.

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