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a VirtualTourist member from Perth


Where Can I Legally Walk in Shetland?

As an England-dweller who's used to waymarked footpaths and bridleways, I always find Scotland a bit of a headache. Ordnance Survey maps tell the walker nothing and even miss out paths which do exist on the ground. I'm poring over the 4 Shetland sheets in the 1:50,000 Landranger series and not learning anything at all.

The big rugged open spaces in the North and Northwest of Mainland Shetland (and the north of Yell and Unst) look really good walking country, but how do I know where I can walk without risking a "git orf my land" incident? And how do I know whether the many streams which head seawards via cliffs and reefs are crossable?

Then again, public transport to the tempting areas appears to be almost non-existent. Do Postbuses exist which aren't shown in the portal? If so, where do I find the details and timetables?

And are there any good quality books explaining how to negotiate the various wilder zones of Shetland?

Many thanks for your help.

8 Answers

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Paisley

Long before the recent legisaltion in England , there has to my understanding NEVER been a law of trespass in Scotland, and you are fine unless someone can prove a mailicious intent

answered by
Mary Smith from Leicester

That is also my understanding. It feels a bit weird to those of us used to English footpath systems, but really it's ok (tho obviously no-one is going to be pleased if you merrily traipse your way through standing crop etc etc). might be interesting reading.

As for streams, you can't tell till you're there as far as I know. This applies to English OS as well.

There are postbuses on Bressay and Fetlar, apparently, but none mentioned on Mainland Shetland. Routefinder link on here:

It's a case of either using buses and planning a circular route to tie in with the timetable, or hiring a car.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Fresno

I was in Shetland for two weeks and was told I could go just about anywhere. If someone did not want you on their land, they would post a sign. This happened once and it was because there was a rather aggressive bull on the property. There is/was one tenant on Fair Isle who did not want people crossing his land - ask at the Bird Observatory/Ranger Station (near the ferry dock), the store/post office or any of the locals and they can tell you where this place is.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Perth

Many thanks for your responses. I'll still feel a bit uncomfortable, though.

Years ago, someone told me there was no such thing as trespassing in Scotland and that you could go anywhere....but it turned out not to be quite that simple. Apparently there's no such thing as a Law of Trespass in Scots Law, but it doesn't follow that I can just go where I fancy cross-country. The laws are simply different, that's all - and as anyone who's ever been run off a Scotsman's land (like me) can tell youse, ugly scenes can still develop.

It's so tempting to assume that rugged, unfenced land is fair game for a walker....but if sheep are grazing on it, I guess it's farmland (cue angry red-faced ginger-haired Scots farmer). And even if there are no sheep, it could be a grouse moor or whatever (cue angry red-faced ginger-haired Scots gamekeeper).

Oh 'eck.

Why do Shetlanders not bother logging on to VT?

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Dornoch

Don't know whether I am too late to respond but as a Scot living in Scotland (of which Shetland is a somewhat reluctant part)I can assure you that Scotland is a far more enlightened country that England when it comes to land access - though some landowners may not agree.

The law changed a couple of years ago to enable the public to walk wherever they want on private land within reason eg you cannot walk within the curtilage of a house or habitable building (the curtilage is regarded as the immediate garden area around the building), on playing fields when in use, putting greens, school playgrounds etc.

In Shetland, an island group that I know very well, you can walk wherever you want though you should obviously avoid land where birds, sheep or ponies have young or are giving birth. The locals are very friendly and will be delighted to advise.

For full user-friendly details see:

Happy walking.


answered by
a VirtualTourist member

My Scottish friends have always told me, with pride that, unlike England, Scotland has no trespass laws. As long as you do no damage, don't peer into peoples' windows, walk across their gardens, etc, yo may go where you like. I know I walked over a fair portion of Mainland, Shetland and no one complained. It was a while ago and maybe too many "foreigners" have forced changes but I hope not. I know I and others walked across the Old Course in St. Andrews to get to the South Beach and play simply was halted to allow us to pass - civilized.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member

Shetland has an excellent wildlife touring company - very small groups and knowledgable guide if you are interested in really seeing the wild parts. Have forgotten the name but its the only one. Unless it has changed, public transport IS minimal - I never saw a post bus - but there is some kind of bus service during summer months and people were awfuly kind about offering rides. Interesting place if you haven't been. More Norwegian than British - and great knitted stuff - but the weather can be wicked.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Fresno

April 29 - I think this is the company you are refeering to

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