Saturday, 16 March 2013

All set for a holiday in Shetland - and all about the Shetland Metro and Shetlink schemes!

I really think that when it comes to North of Scotland holidays, Shetland will have to get priority over Orkney.

I know, I know: Orkney is so rich in world-class archaeological sites - a stone circle to die for at Stenness, and much else, such as Skara Brae and the Dwarfie Stane. And the Pier Arts Centre at Stromness (see is surely almost unmissable - they are a Tate Gallery Partner, incidentally. Plus I could easily take the caravan there.

But Shetland, more distant, harder to get to, fascinates me more at this point. It's also 'Scandinavian' to a degree that Orkney is not - and remember that I've got Scandinavia in my blood, and so has Fiona! Shetland has its archaeological treasures too - Jarlshof and the Broch of Mousa, for instance. And although it's a personal matter, and based mainly on my Google Street View meanderings, I think that Lerwick is on par with Orkney's Stromness for town-centre character, and certainly has more in the way of interesting shopping and eateries than Kirkwall. But I can do unique things in Shetland. I can drive Fiona to a car park that's just walking distance from Britain's Most Northerly Headland, the one that looks out at that collection of offshore skerries on which stands Muckle Flugga lighthouse. Orkney is just not north enough for me!

I've done some preliminary costings. At Spring 2013 prices, and if I took Fiona there, I'd be looking at £1,525 for a week in Shetland, as follows:

# £250 for fuel, Sussex to Aberdeen and return.
# £525 for a return voyage on the Aberdeen-Lerwick overnight ferry - Fiona and self, plus the cost of a cabin. The voyage takes 12 hours, so a cabin might be well worth it. The alternative is a reclining lounge seat - not a good idea for so long.
# £250 for a week's decent Bed and Breakfast in or near Lerwick.
# £250 for a week's fuel for Shetland motoring, including inter-island ferries.
# £250 for meals out and travel incidentals.

If I left Fiona at home, and flew up there instead, it would be a little less expensive, only £1,405:

# £330 for an Economy return flight from London Gatwick to Sumburgh on Shetland, with presumably at least one change of planes.
# £300 to hire a medium-sized car for a week at Sumburgh.
# £250 for a week's decent Bed and Breakfast in or near Lerwick.
# £250 for a week's fuel for Shetland motoring, including inter-island ferries.
# £275 for meals out and travel incidentals, such as the home-to-Gatwick return fare.

In either case, this is not affordable before 2016, even though the gross cost would be offset by the daily amount I allow myself for expenditure on fuel, food, clothing and leisure activities while at home, which would be £40 a day by 2016 - that's after my State Pension kicks in, of course - meaning £440 for the eleven days involved. (Two days to get to Aberdeen, seven days on Shetland, two days to travel home) That would reduce the overall costs to £1,085 with Fiona, or £965 without, at 2013 prices. Uplifted to 2016, the figures might be £1,250 and £1,100 respectively. That's the money I'd actually have to put together for a holiday taken three years from now.

Do I leave Fiona behind? Do I deny her the fun of a Shetland run? Do I deny myself the convenence of my own lovely comfortable car, loaded up with all my stuff? Would I really enjoy driving a hired Ford Mondeo? I think a resounding No! to all of these.

Of course, by 2016 a car may not be necessary to get around Shetland, at least in the Lerwick area. Last year, proposals for an Shetland Underground Rail System were put forward, duly reported in the Shetland Times:

And here is the relevant article:

A rapid-transit rail system on Shetland may seem an odd idea! But bear in mind that Shetland has a very scattered population - the only major urban area being Lerwick; that the major employer (BP at Sullom Voe) is way up in the north; and that the airport at Sumburgh is a long way down south. Also that there are a number of outlying islands dependant on ferry links, and that the council-owned ships will all be comimg to the end of their useful life within fifteen years. Replacement road tunnels and road bridges are very, very expensive, even though badly needed - see this Shetland News report about the acute problems of getting on and off the island of Whalsay: In any case, the Shetland Islands Council (SIC) wants to discourage car travel if at all possible, to improve the carbon footprint (as mentioned in the Shetland Times article). Remember also that free electrical energy from wind farms will be coming online in a big way during this timescale. Bring all that together, and a Shetland Metro makes an awful lot of sense.

It has to be largely underground to preserve the unique Shetland landscape; but in any case, a lot of the track will run under the sea bed so that islands like Foula in the west, Bressay in the east, and Whalsay, Yell and Unst in the north, can all be linked together for the great benefit of the resident population of Shetland. And not just for them. Tourism is now so important that the SIC are regarding the provision of twenty-first century travel facilities as a vital draw for tourists, not just from Britain, but from all over the world - in much the same way that London put in this kind of infrastructure for the 2012 Olympics.

Missing from the Metro system is Fair Isle, between Orkney and Shetland, but the people there will instead be served by a proposed rail link, long in the planning, and known as ShetLink. This is the provisional map from 2006:

In its current form, this major project will take a high-speed railway from Georgemas Junction on the Scottish mainland out across the Pentland Firth to South Ronaldsay in Orkney, and thence to a station at Kirkwall; then, tunnelling once more, across to Fair Isle (with an International station, serving the world-renowned bird observatory) and onwards to Sumburgh on Shetland, where there will be connections with both the airport and the local Metro trains. Then, inside its own dedicated tunnel, this high-speed line will continue on to Lerwick.

Apparently this line is but the northernmost section of HS4, the Glasgow/Edinburgh-Aberdeen-Inverness-Northern Isles Strategic High-speed rail route. The Scottish Parliament are especially keen on this project, as it connects Northern Scotland with the Central Belt, typical travel timings quoted being 150 minutes from Lerwick to Edinburgh and 160 minutes to Glasgow.   

The tunnelling work will of course be the most difficult part, but a new technique that induces nanoshearing within granite crystals, leading to an easy shattering of the rock, will allow rapid progress. That's why the useful Scalloway-Lerwick-Bressay line should be open by 2016. Gneiss one, you might say!

Of course, the SIC have had regard to the local job-creation potential of the Metro. With the oil industry slowly winding down, fishing and other sea-based industries may not be able to take up the slack. So the many jobs associated with an expanding rail network look like an attractive option. My question: who will be the Fat Controller?


  1. Was this post supposed to go out on April 1st?

    I camped and cycled round Shetland and it cost almost nothing...

  2. Surely it's all true, if it's published by British newspapers! Would they lie, fib, or put out spoof articles? Come now.


  3. Shetland has had railways, the most northerly being the Hagdale Mineral Railway at Haroldswick in the North of Unst.

    I have spent quite a lot of time in both Orkney and Shetland and while one is like an extension of mainland Scotland the other is a bleak and distant land; and the people are totally different.

    Make sure that you take the tourist boat out to Muckle Flugga, though you are likely to have to wait days for the weather to be suitable. The boat is not allowed to land but it will take you close in and you will never have seen so many birds anywhere else on earth, like black clouds above you.

  4. Thanks for this guide, I will feel better if I plan according to this strategy. Keep posting this type of detailed help.
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