The Shetland Islands Of Scotland

The Shetland islands are characterized by rugged and beautiful coastlines.
The Shetland islands are characterized by rugged and beautiful coastlines.

Shetland is the meeting point of Scotland and Scandinavia and the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It is approximately 110 miles north of the mainland Scotland and stretches about 567 square miles. Shetland is an Old Norse word which translates to hilt and land. The area is characterized by rugged and beautiful islands often referred to as the Shetland Islands. When Scandinavian population expanded, there was a shortage of resources including arable land. The shortage led to the Viking expansion which in turn led to the colonization of Shetland. Shetland has been inhabited since the Mesolithic period. However, only 16 of the approximately 100 islands are currently inhabited. This article explores some of the Shetland Islands.

The Largest Shetland Islands

Mainland Island

Mainland is the largest Shetland Island and the third largest island in Scotland, covering an area of approximately 374 square miles. Lerwick, the only Shetland’s burgh is contained on this island. The Mainland Island is divided into four regions; the southern peninsula which is on the south of Lerwick and contains some of the most significant archaeological sites including Bigton and Sandwick. The Central Mainland is majorly farmland while the West Mainland has Walls and Sandness. The North Mainland has an oil terminal which is a major source of employment on the island. Mainland Island has a population of approximately 18,800 people, the second most populous island in Scotland.


Yell is the second-largest Shetland Island with an area of approximately 82 square miles. With a population of about 966 people, it is the third-most populous island in Shetland and the 15th in Scotland. Yell was first inhabited during the Neolithic period. The island is approximately 19 miles long and 7.5 miles wide. It is connected to the peninsula by a tombolo, many of which are fragile. Yell creates the barrier between the northern end of the North Sea and the North Atlantic.


Unst is a North Isle of the Shetland and the northernmost inhabited British Isle. With an area of approximately 46 square miles, it is the third-largest island in Shetland. The island is mostly grassland. It was formed by the igneous rocks which have been interpreted to form part of the ophiolite. Baltasound, now a leisure center and an airport, was once the second-largest fishing area. The island was also a chromite quarry site. Unst is linked to Yell Island by ferries. There is a bus stop near Baltasound known as Unst Bus Shelter which is well equipped with some home comfort including a television.


Whalsay is the second-most populous Shetland Island with a population of approximately 1,061 people. It is the 6th largest Shetland Island with an area of about 7.6 square miles. Whalsay is peat-covered and is located east of the Mainland Island. The island has a fishing fleet, with fishing as the main economic activity followed by crofting. It is also known for golf. Some of the island’s attractions include Benie Hoose, Neolithic ruins, and Sudheism settlements.

Life on the Islands

The Shetland Islands are under the Shetland Islands Council. They were ruled for several century by the Norse. The islands were later used as base for pirate expedition by the Viking. The Scottish Monarch began taking control of the islands in the mid-13th century. Today, the way of life on the islands reflects both the Norse and Scottish heritage. The major economic activities on the islands include fishing, agriculture, and crude oil and natural gas production.

The Shetland Islands Of Scotland

RankIslandPopulation (2013)Area (ha)Highest point (m)
1Mainland Shetland1876596879450
4West Burra77674365
8Muckle Roe1301773172
9East Burra7651581
10Fair Isle68768217
15Papa Stour1582887

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