Shetland – Episode 6: Sumburgh

DI Jimmy Perez rushes to Sumburgh Head to confront the killer. Who is it and will Jimmy make it in time?

We booked into an excellent B&B in Bigton for the night run by the delightful Mary. Thankfully she provided evening meals as the only local hotel had shut down some time ago and didn’t look like opening any time soon. But Mary is an excellent cook and gave us a very tasty home cooked meal.

Bigton is adjacent to St Ninian’s Isle which is connected to the mainland by one of the finest examples of a rombolo in Europe and the largest in the UK. A tombolo is a beach or bar created and maintained by wave action that connects two landmasses. The 500m long sandy tombolo at St Ninian’s is subject to waves from two opposing directions. They break simultaneously along its length, resulting in beautifully symmetrical sweeping beaches facing north and south. During low tides it can be 70 metres wide but in high Spring tides or during major storms it can be covered. The fine golden sand is quite beautiful and it would have been a great place for a picnic had it not been for the icy, northerly wind blowing beneath a leaden sky.

Tombolo at St Ninian’s Isle

Owing largely to the cold conditions we didn’t go for a walk on St Ninian’s itself but retreated to the warmth of the guest house and the availability of wi-fi!

On our final day in Shetland we had about six hours before we needed to hand the car back and check in for our flights back to Aberdeen and then Birmingham so we toured around taking in the Lochs of Spiggie and Bow, an RSPB sanctuary. To be honest there wasn’t too much avian activity on the loch though we did spot what could have been Pink-footed Geese which rank as a good find in the birdwatching world.

We moved on to Jarlshof, the best known prehistoric and Norse settlement in Shetland. More than 4,000 years of human settlement are found on this site. What we hadn’t realised was that the visitor centre is closed Sunday to Tuesday so whilst you can visit the site for free you don’t get the whole range of information. But it is the fact that you can wander from Neolithic houses, to a Bronze Age smithy, an Iron Age Broch (fort) and wheel house, a Norse longhouse, medieval farmhouse and the Laird’s house from the 16th Century which makes Jarlshof so interesting.

We had one last place to visit, Sumburgh Head, the southernmost tip of Shetland. Standing at 100 metres high and topped by a large lighthouse, it is a superb nature reserve with colonies of Shags, Razorbills, Guillemot and patrolled by Arctic and Great Skua. And it has thousands of nesting Puffin.

Sumburgh Head and Lighthouse

We spent several happy hours photographing and simply looking at the antics of these engaging creatures. But there was one somewhat larger creature we were desperate to see – the Orca. Before we left for Shetland I had joined a Facebook group posting news of Orca sightings and now that we at last had internet access I saw that a resident group of these mammals had turned up at Sumburgh two days ago, had moved to Lerwick Harbour where they had made a seal kill, had then travelled up Sullom Voe and were apparently off Eshaness the previous evening. All of the places we had so recently been to.

We got talking to Andy Howard who runs photography tours in the north of Scotland and who was at Sumburgh. ‘They usually take about 24 hours to get from Eshaness to here so look out for them this evening’, he said. Ah well, there’s the rub – we had a flight to catch at 4pm. Unlike Jimmy Perez we would have to leave Shetland without confronting Orca, the Killer Whale. We’ll just have to save that for the second season then, won’t we?

3 thoughts on “Shetland – Episode 6: Sumburgh

  1. Thanks Rob, such an interesting, entertaining and informative read…as usual! My grand daughter will love to see the puffins, she just loves birds!
    Cheers, Kate and Russ…from the other end of the earth!


    1. Thanks Kate and Russ. Glad you likes the blogs. Puffins are really such lovely birds and don’t seem to mind you getting up close to them. I’ll send you a few more pics of them for your granddaughter. We’re thinking about coming to NZ next year but haven’t booked anything just yet.


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