The island of Bressay (say Bress-uh) is in the Shetland Islands just east of Mainland, and is the most accessible island from Lerwick. It's a peaceful place of lochs and sea caves, arches and migrating birds - great for hikes, panoramas, historical sites, and wildlife. The island's name is probably Old Norse for "broad island", or it may refer to Brusi, an 11th C Earl of Orkney.
The western side of Bressay, visible from Lerwick, is pastoral with sheep-farming, with the main settlements straggling along a narrow but well-tarmacked road. A similarly good road heads east over the hill into lonely moorland, Lerwick's industrial sprawl is hidden from sight, and suddenly it feels miles from anywhere. This road ends above a track down to the little ferry to the island nature reserve of Noss.
Car ferries sail from Lerwick once per hour year round, leaving from the Albert Building (the big red corrugated metal building) just north of main pier. They land in Bressay at Maryfield, next to the Bressay Heritage Centre. They run daily from 07:00 to 23:00 (F Sa to 01:00). It's a ten minute journey, with a return costing ₤5.50 per adult plus from ₤13.60 for a vehicle.
There is no public transport on Bressay. The roads are few but in good condition; other tracks are suitable for off-road bikes. If you decide to walk to Noss, it's about four miles from the Maryfield ferry landing to the Noss ferry on the other side, then a two-mile walk to reach the sea cliffs there.
- 1 Bressay Heritage Centre (next to ferry landing for Lerwick), ☏ . May-Sept Tu-Sa 10:00-16:00, Su 11:00-17:00. Exhibits and archived material on Bressay's history: until the 17th C it was a bigger herring-fishing port than Lerwick. With reconstructed Bronze Age Burnt Mound, which they rescued from being washed away by the sea. £2.
- 2 Island of Noss (From east end of lane across Bressay, scramble down track to ferry landing), toll-free: 0800 107 7818. May-Sept F-Su & Tu W 10:00-17:00. In summer, weather permitting, a little RIB takes you to the island seabird haven of Noss, a National Nature Reserve. No dogs allowed, wear stout boots and weather-proof clothing. There's a Visitor Centre with toilets. It's a two mile hike along a grassy trail to the south tip, whereupon the sea-cliffs come into view. Cradle Holm is a meadow atop a rock-stack swirling with sea-birds: the cradle was an ancient contraption, now dismantled, to carry islanders across to gather eggs, and terrified sheep for grazing. Carry on up to Charlie's Holm for an unforgettable view across the Wick to the great Noup of Ness, a guano Manhattan of birds nesting, cackling, and criss-crossing the air like a vast screensaver. You can hike onwards, and even circle the island, but consider the distance, the weather and the last ferry back. Anyone with restricted mobility will do better to take a boat tour from Lerwick. £5.
- 3 The Broch of Cullingsburgh. This is an Iron Age settlement on the east coast, overlooking the Bay of Cuppa. Not much remains of it, as its stone was used to build the 12th C St Mary's Church, now itself a ruin. The Bressay Stone was found in the church graveyard: an 8th / 9th C Pictish slab with Ogham inscriptions. The stone is now in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, but a replica has been placed here.
- 4 Bressay Lighthouse. "Building a lighthouse in Shetland is too dangerous and expensive, and any ship's captain who sails this route is mad" . . . fortunately the Stevenson brothers changed their mind, and they built this and three other lighthouses around Shetland in the 1850s. It's still active, though its foghorn has been replaced by a radar mast, and the light has been replaced by a modern gantry with a LED. The two light-keepers cottages here are available for let.
- South of the lighthouse are the sea cliffs of Bressay, with caverns, arches and swirling seabirds. But they're difficult to access by land: best take a boat tour from Lerwick.
Speldiburn cafe is open in summer Tu W & F 11:00-15:00 & Sa 09:30-15:00. It's by the primary school, inland from main crossroads.
- The Crofthouse, Garths of Ham, Bressay ZE2 9ER (on main island road, 1 mile S of ferry landing), ☏ . A pleasant holiday house for 2, with a kitchen for self-catering. From £250 for a week.
- Maryfield House Hotel, Maryfield, Bressay ZE2 9EL (just inland from ferry landing), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 3-star hotel with 3 bedrooms en suite. Restaurant and bar open to non-residents. B&B double £130.
- Newhall, Newhall, Bressay ZE2 9ER. Renovated croft house with 3 bedrooms, sleeps 5, self-catering.
- Lighthouse Keepers' Cottages (south end of the island road). Two self-catering cottages at the lighthouse. Both sleep six, with two double bedrooms and one twin. No pets.
The same company also lets the lighthouse cottages at Sumburgh (south tip of mainland Shetland) and Eshaness (north tip).
Reasonable mobile phone coverage throughout the island.
Back to Lerwick it must be.