Muckle Roe

May 01, 2017  •  10 Comments

The most Muckle of Roes

For the last couple of years, I've lived in Muckle Roe.  Being the very nearest place to me to take photos, I have done so....repeatedly!   This blog post is a kind of a 'Guide to Muckle Roe' if you will.  I'm not much of a travel writer but hopefully you enjoy looking at some of the photos anyway ;)

Coastal Scenery and the Hams

Walking and hiking around Muckle Roe is brilliant.  Arguably the best place in Shetland given the density of amazing viewpoints per mile.  Once you cross the bridge you are immediately met with a left/right choice as the road splits to the north or south.  Should you like to turn right towards the northern end of the island and set off on foot from the end of the road, Otters Ayre is likely to be the first place to stop you to admire the view:

Otters AyreOtters Ayre

Otter's ayre


Up over the hill and around the coast a little further brings you to Roda Geo.  There's a lot of red granite in Muckle Roe (thus the etymology of Muckle Roe - big red island) and the beaches show this with the red coloured sand:

Roda GeoRoda Geo

Roda Geo


It's a bit of a climb to get down to the bottom of the Geo but from up top, the view is just as impressive:

Roda Geo


Not much further round the coast you'll reach the Hams area but as most folk approach from the south, that's how we'll look at it now. Walking from the southern end of the road instead there's a hint to the quantity of possible places to see.  Each 100m has something in it and to get all the way to the Hams is a great trek!

Muckle Roe signpostMuckle Roe signpost

There's a sign


Walk Shetland recommend the Hams as a place to visit and I fully agree - it's an amazing place.  Their route is not one I've followed but it looks like it would offer some great views from the hilltops:

The Shetland Islands Council have done a great job to improve access to walkers/hikers and have even posted this plaque near the end of the public road giving a suggested route.  As this one follows the cliffs and passes the lighthouse, there are some beautiful spots to see:

That's the way!


For those not able to make the round trip to the Hams on foot there are lots of small beaches nearby, each with their own character and each are worth visiting.  The biggest of these is Muckle Ayre.  It's a short walk over relatively easy ground from the end of the road:

Muckle AyreMuckle Ayre

Muckle Ayre


Continuing around the coast toward the Lighthouse.  Birki Ayre/bay will stop you to admire the view.  Sheltered in a bay are a couple of small beaches and more than a few seals:

Muckle Roe coastMuckle Roe coast



Over the next hill, Gilsa Ayre is the next stop.  Another example of the red sand that is found around Muckle Roe and again sheltered in it's own little bay:

Muckle Roe coastMuckle Roe coast



The original Muckle Roe Lighthouse was constructed in 1897 and replaced with a modern structure in 2001.

Muckle Roe Lighthouse plaqueMuckle Roe Lighthouse plaque

NLB A3844 - catchy name



Right beside the lighthouse (to the north) you find the Murbie Stacks.  Again, shelter is the key to the interest of this spot.  The high sides of the stack, block wind and waves to create localised calm areas making it a great spot to sit and watch seals swimming or birds flying around.

Murbie Stack


'The Hams' themselves are small natural harbours on the North West coast of Muckle Roe.  Brilliantly carved out of the coast with sea stacks, caves, arches and crashing waves at the entrances and serene secluded beaches tucked away inside.   

The red granite stacks and cliffs bring a bit of colour to the spectacle:

The Muckle Roe HamsThe Muckle Roe Hams North Ham


Window over the South HamWindow over the South Ham

South Ham


The area still shows signs of historical occupation with the ruins of old croft houses giving a hint of what life may have been like. Both here at Burg and the North Ham have old farmsteads to look around.  More info on Burg




Years of growthYears of growth Window to a windowWindow to a window

Window of a window over South Ham


This mill is a great example of how everything used in old times had to be produced on site - there was no buying in bread from the supermarket.  And nowadays, it's a Scheduled Monument: Historic Scotland's record

Abandoned millAbandoned mill

Horizontal Mill


Winter weather

Apparently, there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.  Well this is mostly true - you can still go outdoors during inclement weather provided you have warm coat on... and maybe a hat.... or some gloves.... and maybe a second woollen jumper too, just to be sure.  But outside?  Yes, of course you can be out! 

The coast is much more dramatic when the sea state is confused, waves are crashing and the spindrift fills the air.  The exhilaration of seeing a storm hit a coastline is partially caused by our 'fight or flight' response telling us that it looks dangerous.  It is dangerous. Thankfully, you don't need to go anywhere dangerous to see dangerous things -  the big drops and open vistas allow you to look on from a safe distance.  


Still, be careful if venturing out ;)

Muckle RoeMuckle Roe Muckle RoeMuckle Roe Muckle RoeMuckle Roe Muckle RoeMuckle Roe Strom NessStrom Ness



Moving in from the coast, Muckle Roe is dotted with lochs, each one quiet and each one worth fishing.  I can't say I've fished them all but it's certainly another bucket-list item to happily work through.

The DaleThe Dale

The Glen


Mill Loch


Gilsa water 


Muckla Water




In between the lochs are stretches of active croftland.  Some parts are grassy, some parts are covered in heather, some have sheep on them whilst others may have the the occasional cow. 





Always have a look before crossing a fence or passing a gate as to what inhabits the next field.  It's advisable to avoid any field with cattle in it - they are very inquisitive and much larger than you might think! Also, if you open any gates, please close them behind you to prevent the animal from getting lost. 

The Glen


Muckle RoeMuckle Roe




Shetland Sheep and LambShetland Sheep and Lamb



Shetland LambShetland Lamb


Dry stone walls and sheep pens are common.  I love to have look around these old wall to see the patterns left by the lichen and as they serve as great places for little bits of wildlife to live, you can commonly spot birds hopping around on them.

Lichen WallsLichen Walls

Wall above BurgWall above Burg



Muckle Roe's wildlife a very good reason to always have a camera near to hand.

Here, just off of Little Ayre, is a fairly young Humpback whale.  Cruising back and forth for periods of time, they can put on a great show:

Humpback WhaleHumpback Whale



Large cetaceans like Humpbacks can be rare but slightly more common are Orca sightings.  Quick and dramatic to watch they are certainly one of my favourites to watch.  There are several pods that visit Shetland, transiting north and south while they divide their year between the north of Scotland and as far north as Iceland:  



Smaller still in the cetacean stakes are the Harbour Porpoise - locally know as Neesiks.  They're the smallest and most common cetacean found in British waters but still fun to watch.  The best conditions to watch them are during periods of flat calm weather. Not only does this help their small fins stand out against any choppy waves, there's great chance of hearing them 'blow' too.  

Harbour Porpoise


Like Shetland as a whole, Muckle Roe is a great stopping off point for migratory birds.  Here's a short (non-exhaustive) selection of some of the species I've encountered:




Besides the birds, on the ground you'll find hedgehogs and of course, rabbits.



Baby RabbitsBaby Rabbits

Too fluffy


...and if you're eagle-eyed enough, otters are widespread throughout Muckle Roe.  I don't think I'm exaggerating to claim that they are everywhere around the coast but the range of one otter family is certainly enough to overlap with other ranges and encompass the whole island and I've seen them in too many places to count.  Looking at around low tide in Roesound (near the bridge) will likely be the most fruitful but honestly, they might be spotted anywhere.

Shetland OtterShetland Otter

Hunting otter


Common and Grey seals are by far the easiest sea mammals to spot.  They're both shy and curious in equal parts.  When hauled out on the rocks, they don't like to be approached and will head for the sea as soon as they feel your presence getting near.  In the water however, they like to watch what you are doing, and will likely keep an eye on you for extended periods - frequently following along if you're walking or kayaking around the coast.


Resting Seal


Common SealCommon Seal

Nosy Seal


After Dark

As the day finishes and the sun starts to set, there are a few good spots admire the view.  Obviously the Hams can be special at any time of day:

Hams sunsetHams sunset

North Ham


...but much closer to the road (and easier to access) Roesound is often a wonderful spot for a sunset.  The sound runs Northwest - Southeast and as the summer progresses the sun sets in the entrance making the bridge a cracking place to stop and look.

Roesound with sundog


Roe Sound SunsetRoe Sound Sunset




After the sun has gone, there's very little light pollution in Muckle Roe which opens the skies up to aurora spotting.  Wait for a clear dark night, wrap up warm and get outside.  Look to the stars and if you're lucky, the stars won't be the only thing to see:

Muckle Roe - OrwickMuckle Roe - Orwick



Spotting Aurora is very much a hit or miss game, but on nights like these, it's hard to miss!


Muckle Roe HamsMuckle Roe Hams

North Ham at night




Accommodation can be found are a few different places (in alphabetical order):

Muckle Roe Chapel

Visit the Chapel's webpage

Muckle Roe ChapelMuckle Roe Chapel


Orwick Lodge

Visit Orwick Lodge website

Orwick LodgeOrwick Lodge


Vadsdal B&B

Email bookings


or if all those are fully booked and you are hardy enough, there's always this:


Hams campsiteHams campsite


As I said, I'm not much of a travel writer so help me out and leave a few comments about things/places to see in Muckle Roe in the comments section.  


Thanks for visiting the page and reading my ramblings, if you want to see few more photos of Muckle Roe - Click here





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Lorraine Jacobs(non-registered)
Brian, thanks for sharing your great photos! We visited Muckle Roe, all too briefly, the second week of July. Briefly, because our main purpose for travelling from New Zealand to Shetland was to understand our family roots (West Burrafirth and other places on the Wastside). I dream of returning if health and finances permit, and would love to spend more time exploring Muckle Roe! I am an artist, and would love to do a special Shetland series!
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Elizabeth Edwards(non-registered)
Thanks for sharing. I look forward to sharing this on as we can't always explain properly to visitors what it is they are going to!
Brian D Gray
Thank you everyone for taking the time to visit and leave comments!
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