Noss is another of the places that for one reason or another, we’d been unable to visit on our first trip to Shetland. We were determined that we wouldn’t miss out on seeing its spectacular cliff scenery and abundant bird life a second time. Even reaching Noss is a bit of an adventure, requiring a ferry across to Bressay, followed by a three mile journey across that island to its wild eastern coastline. An old track then leads down to a small jetty where a second ferry (just a RIB taking a few passengers at a time) crosses the narrow sound to land on Noss.
A full circuit of the island is only six miles, but I predicted at the outset (correctly as it turned out!) that we would nevertheless be rushing to make the last boat back. It’s that kind of place. Walking anti-clockwise seems to be the norm, presumably because the southern coast is slightly more interesting, and also because this direction gives a more dramatic build-up to the scenic highlight, the Noup of Noss.
The route begins with fairly gentle walking on grass, above low cliffs. As elsewhere in Shetland, we found the remains of crabs and sea urchins everywhere. After rounding Stinking Geo, we began to gain height, and the cliff scenery became more dramatic.
In some places, chasms are starting to open up as the cliff edges break away due to the constant pounding of the sea and the winter storms, so the temptation to go right to the edge had to be resisted!
At Cradle Holm, a rockfall on the Noss side has caused the two islands to re-connect at low tide, though it must have been high tide on our visit as there was clear water between the two.
It was here that we encountered our first puffins, and a comical trio posed obligingly for the camera.
The old dry stone walls also seem to be popular with the Shetland wrens (an endemic subspecies).
As dramatic as Cradle Holm is, nothing quite prepares you for the spectacle of the Noup of Noss. A towering prow of old red sandstone, it rises sheer from the sea to a height of 592 feet and is home to innumerable gannets, fulmars, shags, guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and black guillemots.
Though not in fact the most numerous, it is the gannets that grab the attention most with their amazing diving antics. The ears are also bombarded by the din and the nose by the pungent aroma of guano. I spent quite some time just enjoying the sensory overload.
The view from the summit is stunning for such a low altitude. It is apparently sometimes possible to see Fair Isle away to the south, and Foula overtopping the lower hills of Mainland. I tried, but couldn’t pick either of these out, though it was clear on our visit.
The northern side of the island doesn’t quite live up to the drama of the south. Even so, there are plenty of headlands and geos to investigate. I can never resist walking out to a headland, which is probably why we were able to take several hours over a six-mile walk! As it was, we only made the last boat back with ten minutes to spare. But after all, it would be criminal to rush around such a magical place.
Some photos by Georgina Collins