A great place to start your Shetland adventure.
Loch Spiggie (spigg, Swedish for stickleback). A good fishing loch and a RSPB bird reserve; hundreds of whooper swans gather here in the autumn. Quendale Mill, built in 1867, is an interesting restored water mill. It contains displays about the mill and the local life of its time.
The Shetland Croft Museum is a complex of several buildings dating from the 19th century. The aim is to give a picture of rural life in Shetland a hundred years ago. It includes a house, a byre and a corn mill.
Jarlshof, a prehistoric site which also has Pictish, Viking, and later remains is dominated by the ruin of the 16th century lairds house. It's most famous for its Viking age settlement. The name itself was invented by Sir Walter Scott, what the Vikings themselves called it is uncertain.
The site was occupied for 2500 years prior to the arrival of the Vikings, there are Pictish artefacts and also part of a broch.
South of Jarlshof you can see the RSPB visitor centre and Sumburgh Head lighthouse which was built by Robert Stevenson (grandfather of the author) in 1820. The great height of the headland meant that only a short tower was needed for the lighthouse. The light itself is now automatic and the keepers accommodation has been taken over by the RSPB. There is a large colony of puffins nearby.
Sandwick is a popular place for seals to hang out; quite commonly they lie on the beach. Leebotten is the departure point for the ferry to Mousa which has the best preserved broch anywhere in Scotland. About 500 brochs are known to exist. The exact purpose of these fortified towers is uncertain but they are all near the sea and they were all built around 100BC or later.
One theory is that they were a defence against Roman slave ships. At that time England was occupied by the Roman Empire but they did not succeed in conquering the Picts further north. Brochs are only found in Scotland, invariably near the sea.
Clearly the Mousa broch was still in good condition in 1153 for two Viking lovers, Erlend and Margaret eloped to it. The Sagas relate that the pursuing party attempted to storm the broch but failed. The attackers were forced to negotiate and the pair eventually married.
There are two suggestions here, covering interesting parts of this long leg of Shetland. They can be linked with the signposted North Sea Cycle Route. The hills here are covered with peat moorland; there are fine views of the meadows, cliffs and sandy beaches (including the intriguing St Ninian's Isle tombolo) along the coast.
BIGTON to SUMBURGH (linear or circular)
Start at Bigton post office near the access point for St Ninian's Isle. Go south on the B9122 then right to a minor road in Scousburgh. Cycle round Loch Spiggie (RSPB bird reserve). You pass Spiggie Lodge and Hotel. In Ringasta you can turn left to go to the A970 to continue south, or turn right to Quendale where a rough track leads down to the sandy beach, or visit Quendale Mill, a restored water mill. To continue south cross the A970 at a staggered junction (left then right). A minor road leads to the Voe inlet and the village of Boddam.
You can either loop north to return to Bigton via the B9122 to the east of Loch Spiggie, or loop south to rejoin the A970 which leads eventually to Sumburgh. The southern loop passes the remains of a broch and Shetland Croft House Museum. South of this, the route is the same as the North Sea Cycle Route and you should follow these signs. On the way you can look at Jarlshof, a prehistoric site with Pictish, Viking, and 16th century remains. South of this is the RSPB visitor centre and Sumburgh head lighthouse built by Robert Stevenson, (grandfather of the author) in 1820.
Start from Leebitton Pier which is also the starting point for the ferry to Mousa (April - Sept). From the pier go south to the village of Sandwick. The road then curves round to the north-west leading to Stove (turn left at the T junction). Continue on to Hoswick which has a visitor centre. To return to the pier turn left in Stove towards the A970 but bear right for South Leebitton just before the main road. This short ride could be combined with a boat trip to the island of Mousa to see the famous broch (see also About the Route).