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The Hermaness National Nature Reserve, a bleak moorland ending in rocky cliffs, is prime bird-watching territory. About half the world's population (6,000 pairs) of great skuas, called "bonxies" by locals, are found here. These sky pirates attack anything that strays near their nests, including humans, so keep to the paths. Thousands of other seabirds, including more than 50,000 puffins, nest in spectacular profusion on the cliffs, about an hour's walk from the reserve entrance. Hermaness is not just about birds—gray seals gather in caves at the foot of the cliffs in fall, and offshore, dolphins and occasionally whales (including orcas) can be seen on calm days. The flora include the insect-eating butterwort and sundew, purple field gentians, blue squill, and sea thrift.
A path meanders across moorland and climbs up a gentle hill, from which you can see, to the north, a series of tilting offshore rocks; the largest of these sea-battered protrusions is Muckle Flugga, meaning
"big, steep-sided island," on which stands a lighthouse. The lighthouse was built by engineer Thomas Stevenson, whose son, the great Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, used the outline of Unst for his map of Treasure Island. Muckle Flugga is the northernmost point in Scotland—the sea rolls out on three sides, and no land lies beyond.
The visitor center has leaflets that outline a walk; mid-May to mid-July is the best time to visit. To get here from Haroldswick, follow the B9086 around the head of Burra Firth, a sea inlet.