island of the Shetland Islands, Scotland, UK

Foula (Old Norse Fugley, "bird island") is one of the Shetland Islands, some 20 miles out into the Atlantic west of Shetland Mainland. In 2011 it had a population of 30.

Understand edit

The hills draw the mist and cloud

Foula is roughly pear-shaped, 3.5 miles long by 2.5 miles wide. A lane runs along the east side, which has farmland and the main settlement and ferry landing at Ham. The west is heath and peat bog, rising to five hills: Da Noup in the south and four grouped in the north. These end in great sea-cliffs swirling with bird life, while waves dash against stacks and arches. The hills draw the mist and cloud, unlike the low-lying Mainland, and when snow falls Foula from the ferry looks like a huge iceberg.

Foula along with all of Orkney and Shetland was Norse until the 15th century when they were all ceded to Scotland. But this remote place was bypassed, and its residents continued to speak Norn until the last native speaker died in 1926. They still celebrate Christmas and New Year by the Julian calendar, now 13 days adrift from the Gregorian calendar adopted on the mainland in 1752. It's a traditional, self-sufficient way of life based on crofting. Foula vies with Fair Isle for the title of Britain's most remote inhabited island; it depends on your definition, and it's enough to know that by the Foula definition, Foula is the most isolated. If it looks familiar, that's because it was the location for the 1937 Michael Powell film The Edge of the World, based on the undeniably more remote St Kilda.

There isn't a TIC, but Foula Heritage have two part-time rangers who can assist visitors.

Get in edit

By boat edit

The New Advance ferry sails from Foula to Walls on Shetland Mainland at 9:30AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, returning to Foula at 1:30PM, a two-hour crossing. This means the islanders can just about day-trip to Mainland, but a day-trip out to Foula is not possible. The ferry only has room for 12 passengers and cars are not carried so park at Walls. Until April 2024, the adult return fare is £5.60, conc and child £0.80, booking is essential on +44 1595 840 208.

In summer cruise ships occasionally call, transferring visitors to dinghies to get ashore.

1 Ham is the landing point and main settlement. There's not much shelter in Ham Voe, so the ferry boat is hauled out of the water between trips.

By plane edit

Airtask fly from Lerwick-Tingwall to Foula 2 or 3 times M-F and once Sa May-Sep, taking 15 min. Oct-Apr it's once on three days a week and twice on two, so a day-trip is often possible, with 6 hours on the island. Until Oct 2022, the adult return fare in £88 and there's a 15-kg total baggage limit. For bookings call +44 1595 840246, you can't book online as they prioritise residents and essential visitors such as the GP.

2 Foula airfield   (FOA  IATA) is a mile south of the main village. It has a waiting room with toilets, and that's about all. Flights are weather-dependent so you could be sat here for some time. The Airtask schedule shows it as FOU, which is actually the IATA code for Fougamou in Gabon, so let's hope they've briefed the stand-in pilot.

Get around edit

Walk, and wear stout boots. It's not worth bringing a bike, the sights of interest are away from the lane over rough boggy ground.

See edit

Gaada Stack
  • Sea birds swirl in abundance. Common resident species are shag, eider, herring gull, greater black-backed gull, kittiwake, Arctic tern, skua, razorbill, guillemot, puffin, Manx shearwater, fulmar and rock dove.
  • 1 Foula Lighthouse was only built in 1986, when the oil industry brought large tankers into the area. It's an 8-m tower, automatic from the outset, initially gas-lit but converted in 1999 to solar and wind-power. Its range is 18 nautical miles, 21 standard miles or 33 km. The little settlement here is called Da Hametoon.
  • 2 Da Noup is the hill of 248 m on the southwest coast, dropping in great cliffs. Da Daal - "the dale" - separates it from the four northern hills.
  • 3 Da Sneck ida Smaalie is a dramatic 30 m chasm on the west coast. Only venture in here with a guide.
  • 4 Da Sneug is Foula's highest point at 418 m.
  • 5 Hamnafield in mid-island is a secondary peak of Da Sneug.
  • 6 Da Kame is 376 m, but right on the coast with sheer cliffs.
  • 7 Soberlie is lowest of the five hills but the most accessible as it's near the end of the lane north.
  • 8 Gaada Stack is a sea-arch off the north tip of Foula, looking like a Titan's travel iron. A lane leads here to the settlement of Da Nort Toons, so it's an approachable stretch of coastline. It's not to be confused with Gaada stacks the low pierced islets off Vaila.
  • 9 Shaalds o' Foula or Hoevdi Grund: ah, but in calm weather you don't see this dangerous reef less than 2 m deep, two miles east of Ham Voe. And that was the end of the RMS Oceanic in 1914, a White Star liner converted for wartime use. The crew were safely taken off but the ship remained perched aground for two weeks before a storm hurled her off. The wreck is divable, well-broken in a max 20 m depth. The main feature is the massive boilers.

Do edit

Da Noup
  • Guided walks are led by the ranger. This is the only way you can approach Da Sneck ida Smaalie and expect to get out again.
  • Rowing Foula doon means rowing so far out into the Atlantic that the cliffs of Foula drop below the horizon - that's where the men of Papa Stour found the best fishing. So say the top peaks are 400 m above sea level, in metric the formula is x 13, then take the square root for the distance to the horizon in km: just over 70 km or 40 miles. But Foula is 20-some miles offshore so you'll be 60 miles out, in a frail open "sixareen". Say a day to row out, a day fishing, a day to get back hopefully with the westerly breeze filling the sail; then start out again next morning and you got Sunday off.
  • Race up the cliffs and perish: The 1937 Michael Powell film Edge of the World is a melodramatic version of the evacuation of St Kilda in 1930, told in flashback when a passing yachtsman finds a gravestone on an abandoned island. Powell filmed it on Foula as he wasn't allowed to use St Kilda. He jazzed up the story but what was real was the drifting away of the young folk, and deaths from infection that were entirely avoidable by the 20th century. Foula like many small island communities continues to face the problem of depopulation, but is altogether more viable than lonely St Kilda.

Buy edit

Sorry. The post office has closed down.

Eat and drink edit

No mobile signal, and the post office has closed

Bring all your supplies, there are no shops or food outlets on the island.

Sleep edit

Stay safe edit

Watch out for skuas, they will dive-bomb you if you get too close to their nests

There is no pharmacy on Foula. There's a resident nurse in the village, ask around or call 111.

Connect edit

As of Nov 2021, there no mobile signal from any carrier on Foula, its ferries or mainland ports. There are plans to install 4G masts during 2022.

Go next edit

Back to Shetland Mainland it must be.

This city travel guide to Foula is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.