Yell is one of the North Isles of the Shetland Islands, north of mainland Scotland. It's 20 miles long by 5 miles wide, thinly populated: less than 1000 nowadays and still dwindling. Most visitors just race across it to catch the ferry to Unst, and from the main road they'll see little reason to linger, just miles of moorland and peat bog. More attractive is the B-road along the east coast passing small farms and crofts, through communities such as Burravoe, Otterswick, Mid-Yell the largest, Gutcher and Cullivoe. Here too are good beaches, with otters, seals and seabirds.
By boat is the only way in, there's no air service. A ro-ro ferry plies between 1 Toft on Mainland Shetland and 2 Ulsta on the southwest corner of Yell. Toft is 25 miles north of Lerwick, simply follow A968 (signposted "North Isles") to its end; but if the weather looks doubtful, check the ferry status display or enquire at the office in Lerwick harbour before setting out. The ferry takes ten mins and May-Sept it runs daily, roughly hourly, from 06:30 to 21:30. A later sailing is available only if booked, but with that exception you seldom need to book. Timetables from Oct 2019 are not yet posted. Return fare for a car plus driver is £14, plus £5.70 per passenger - this fare covers an onward journey same day to Unst or Fetlar.
Once on Yell, chances are you intend to continue to Unst. Your task is therefore to traverse the 18 miles north to 3 Gutcher in time for the onward ferry. The main road A968 up Yell's west coast is narrow but by car 30 mins should do it, factoring in stray sheep and that you need to be on the pier at least five mins before sailing. You'll be in a pack of vehicles all trying to do the same thing, acting as a snowplough through the bleating, skittering flocks. By bike, say an hour with the prevailing southwesterly behind you, but maybe two hours if it's in your teeth. If time allows, take the leisurely back road along the more populated east coast.
At Gutcher, queue in Lanes 1 / 2 for Unst, or 3 / 4 for Fetlar. May-Sept the Bluemull ferry usually takes 5 mins to cross from Gutcher to Belmont on Unst, M-Sat sailing every 45 mins or so, Sun every 90 mins to 2 hours, from 06:15 to 22:15. However some five or six ferries per day follow a triangle: from Gutcher to Hamar's Ness on Fetlar (20 min) then onward to Belmont, or the reverse pattern. Assuming you started from Mainland Shetland that day, your ticket is already paid; if you started from another island it's the same fare as Mainland-Yell above. Timetables to Unst and Fetlar from Oct 2019 are not yet posted.
The ferry terminals at Toft, Ulsta, Gutcher and Hamar's Ness are all pretty basic, just small waiting rooms with toilets and a timetable.
Bus 23 runs six times M-Sat from Lerwick Viking bus station to Toft (via Tingwall, Voe and Mossbank) to connect with the ferry to Yell and onward bus to Gutcher. (Look under "North Mainland" timetables; no Sunday service.) A day-trip by bus from Lerwick to Yell is easily possible but you'd struggle to get around the island, let alone continue to Unst or Fetlar and have any time there. Consider joining an organised tour from Lerwick if you don't have your own transport.
The A968 main road runs up the west side of Yell from Ulsta ferry pier via West Sandwick then northeast to Mid-Yell and Gutcher ferry pier. B9082 continues north to Cullivoe and Gloup. The other route from Ulsta is B9081 to Burravoe then along the east coast to Otterswick and Mid-Yell. All these roads are in good condition and usually very quiet, apart from a little surge around the ferry times. The B-roads and lanes are unfenced single tracks with passing places.
Bus 24 runs along the main road from Ulsta to Mid-Yell, Gulcher and Cullivoe, four times M-F and 3 on Sat; another three run Mid-Yell to Gulcher and Cullivoe. Other buses occasionally venture into the back lanes but these are just dial-a-ride or school buses.
- 1 Old Haa Museum, Burravoe, Yell ZE2 9AZ. Apr-Sept M-Th, Sa 10:00-16:00, Su 14:00-17:00. Local museum in 1672 merchant's home. With tearoom. Donation.
- Windhouse is the picturesque shell of an 18th C house, built for the local fishing industry. The gatehouse survives as a böd or hostel, see "Sleep".
- On any stretch of coast, look for bird-life, seals, whales and otters. The village of Otterswick is well named as they're common here, best seen at low tide as they scamper amidst the seaweed. A hike east to the Ness of Queyon leads past 2 The White Wife, a ship's figurehead. That ship was the Bohus, a barque (three-masted sailing ship) built in Scotland and sold to Germany. In 1924 she was put to use as a sail training vessel but it looks like the students flunked, as she was wrecked here. Her original wooden figurehead has rotted away so what's here now is a fibreglass replica.
- 3 Gloup is the little village at the end of the road on the north coast of Yell. "Gloup" is Old Norse for a ravine, suggestive of the sloshing of the sea in the base of a cleft in the cliffs. There's a memorial to the 58 fishermen of Gloup killed in July 1881 when their boats were overwhelmed by a storm. Ten boats were lost, mostly sixareens, small open boats with a crew of six each taking a single oar. They were frail craft yet often used far from land, and this was not their first such disaster; they fell out of use in the following years. The island seen half a mile offshore is Gloup Holm, with the smaller Clapper partly hidden behind; they're uninhabited.
- 4 Fetlar is a sparsely populated island 5 miles east of Yell. A lane runs the length of it: you'll want a car, as the island Bus 29 only runs 3 times a day. It's wild and lonely, with seals and sea-birds. A curious feature is the Funzie Girt, a prehistoric stone wall (probably Neolithic) dividing the island into east and west: its northern section is the best preserved. No facilities (eg no fuel) on the island, self catering accommodation may be available at Fetlar Lodge but for most visitors a day trip will be plenty. See "Get in" above for ferries from Gutcher on Yell to Hamar's Ness on the northwest tip of Fetlar. There are no direct ferries between Fetlar and Mainland Shetland, and no air service.
- Explore the beaches. Two of the best are West Sandwick, and Breckon Sands north of Gutcher ferry pier on the lane towards Gloup.
- Hikes recommended by Walk Highlands are Burravoe to Heoga Ness, to the White Wife of Otterswick, to Burra Ness broch, to Breckon Sands and Gloup Ness, to Gloup Voe and Scordaback, and to Stuis of Graveland.
- Geoffreys (formerly Gutcher Goose), Gutcher Ferry Pier. Closed. Does good lunches in summer, but closed from July 2019 due to illness.
- Old Haa Museum has a tearoom.
There's little accommodation on Yell.
- 1 Windhouse Böd, Yell ZE2 9BJ, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A Böd is a Shetland fisherman's seasonal cabin. Several have been converted for self-catering: this one sleeps 8 in 3 rooms and is open March-Oct. Bring lots of £1 coins for the electricity meter.
- 2 Burravoe Caravan Site, Burravoe, Yell ZE2 9AY. Open all year, with camping and caravan hook-ups. No booking. Camping £4 / tent.
- 3 Quam B&B, West Sandwick, Yell ZE2 9BH, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Friendly well-run B&B with two doubles and one twin room. Can provide dinner. B&B double £80.
- Old Post Office, Gutcher Ferry Pier, Yell, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. B&B with two singles and one double room. B&B double £90.
This is a remote rural area and is extremely safe.