OUT SKERRIES, lying twenty-four miles north-east of Lerwick, consists of three main islands – Housay and Bruray, the east and west isles joined by the present bridge (1957), and the uninhabited island of Grunay – together with many other islets and rocks. The total land area is less than two miles square, but this is a prosperous and active community of around 70 folk.
There is one mile of road, a church and community hall, both well used by the islesfolk, two shops (the post office is in the West Isle shop) and Britain’s smallest secondary school. The school is a participant in the Eco Schools project.
Fishing is an essential part of the community and this is reflected by the growing number of local fishing boats which can be seen at anchor in the beautiful natural harbour and anchorage. There is also a salmon farm.
In former times fish offal and seaweed were used to fertilise the land. Bartering with passing ships allowed a few luxuries, and smuggling was not unknown. Dutch gin and tobacco found its way into many Shetland homes courtesy of the smugglers’ skills.
Skerries can offer some of the best diving in the UK with crystal clear waters warmed by the passing Gulf Stream. There are many interesting wrecks around the shoreline including the Dutch East Indiamen Kennemerland (1664) and De Liefde (1711), and the Danish warship Wrangels Palais (1677). Some artefacts can be seen in the Shetland Museum. Wood, procured from the wrecked German sailing ship, the Norwind (1906), clads the walls of many Skerries’ homes.
Bound Skerry, with its lighthouse, built at a cost of £21,000 in 1857, 90 per cent above Stevenson’s estimate, is Shetland’s easternmost point. The light is now automatic. Robert Louis Stevenson’s signature appears in the visitor’s book. The keepers were housed on Grunay, but although the island was for sale in 1993, it is still uninhabited.
Bird watching and botany are also of major interest to the visitor – many of the UK’s rarest birds and flowers can be seen throughout the year here. Recent rare migrants include dark eyed junco, Isabelline shrike, pine bunting and thick-billed warbler to name a few.
Sea pinks are abundant on the cliff tops and alpine and meadow flowers give a colourful show in the fields and verges.
There are small stone circles – from the Bronze age – the largest being the 13-metre circle at Battle Pund. In Scotland battle punds were the site of blood feuds, settled in single combat.
The isles are well served by regular ferry services on the M/F Filla. Enquiries and bookings can be made by telephone (01806 515226). Visitors can choose to fly in and out using the 20 minute inter-island air service from Tingwall on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays (01595 840246).
There is ample visitor accommodation available and a warm welcome awaits all in this friendly community.
Suggested further reading: Walking the Coastline of Shetland, No. 7 – Eastside, Peter Guy, £9.99.