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Geological Highlights of Shetland

Posted on Jul 16, 2013 by Jonathan Willet

They say that Scotland is the most geologically diverse small country in the whole world and I would contend that Shetland is the most diverse part of Scotland.

Our most northerly isle has rich sandstone soils, a possible continuation of the Great Glen fault, some ocean crust that was thrust up during the Caledonian mountain building period and amazing lava formations. It has so much interesting geology that in 2010 it became a Geopark.

Bird Life on the Cliffs

Starting at the south, Sumburgh Head with its high cliffs is an amazing place to visit. It is well known for it seabirds, they have a good beak for geology suitable for nesting on. The layers of sandstone erode at different rates creating ledges that they can nest on and the sandstone also breaks down to form soils that the Puffins can burrow into on the less vertical slopes. Looking at the cliffs to the west of the car park you can see how the rock layers have been thrust upwards from horizontal at nearly 45 degrees by the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates.

Geological Highlights of Shetland

Geomorphological Beaches

St. Ninians Isle has the accolade of having the largest active Tombolo in the British Isles. This 500 metre long stretch of sand connects the mainland with the island. I know it isn’t strictly geology but it is geomorphological! Plus I love the word Tombolo. It is a great place for a walk and looks spectacular when the sun shines. Tombolo should not be confused with tombola, both are Italian in origin but one means mound and the other means to somersault.

Cross Section of a Volcano

Moving up to Eshaness where the coastline at the lighthouse is a cross section through the side of a volcano over 400 million years old. The cone of the volcano has long since been eroded away. The rock here came from ash blasted out the volcano. The cracks and fissures in these rocks have been worn by the sea to create many “geos” or narrow inlets. Aside from the cliff walks, two striking features can be seen to the south. Da Drongs are narrow granite rock stacks that stick up like shards of glass from the sea. Dore Holm (door island) has a huge rock arch that from some angles is said to look like a sitting horse bending down to drink.

Gneiss Cliffs and Quartzite Islands

Moving to the very north of Shetland, Hermaness on Unst is spectacular as well as being as for north as you can get in the UK. It is an hours walk top get to the cliffs, but well worth it. The huge Gannet colonies there are spectacular but the vertical Gneiss cliffs and the sloping Quartzite islands are just breathtaking. It brought to mind the cliffs of Hornstandir in Iceland, quite a compliment.

There is of course lots more to see, when will you be going?

Wildlife Adventures - The Shetland Isles

Location: Orkney and Shetland Isles
  • Experience the landscapes and fascinating wildlife of Scotland's most northerly islands.
  • Be amazed by the prolific birdlife at Sumburgh and the heritage of the Vikings at Jarlshof.
  • Hike to the dramatic coastline of Muckle Flugga, the most northerly point in the UK.
  • Enjoy a boat trip to view the bird colonies at Noss National Nature Reserve where we'll be deafened by the noise of 20,000 gannets, 25,000 guillemots, 3,000 kittiwakes, 1,200 puffins and hundreds of razorbills, shags and skuas!

Price: from £1,695

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About the author

Jonathan Willet

Jonathan has a wealth of experience in biodiversity, history and landscape. With degrees in zoology and ecology and 20+ years as a wildlife guide, his regular blogs are always packed full of informational gems.

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