archipelago in Shetland, Scotland

Not to be confused with Skerries in County Dublin

Out Skerries are the easternmost of the Shetland Islands. There are three main islands: Housay (west) and Bruray (east) are joined by road, and in 2001 had a population of 30, while Grunay is no longer inhabited. Many islets and rocks surround the main group. "Out" here means "east", to distinguish them from Ve ("west") Skerries off Papa Stour.

The area near the bridge is low-lying farmland. The rest is craggy granite and gneiss, not the usual Shetland scenery, you might think you were on Harris. There's not much heath or peat bog so traditionally the Skerries folk had to dig their peat on nearby Whalsay. Fishing has always been more important here than farming.

Get in

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Simplest is to take the ferry from Vidlin on the Mainland, 3 miles north of Laxo: there's one on Monday and Saturday, 3 on Friday and 2 on Sunday, taking 90 min, and Friday and Sunday a day-trip is feasible.

You can also take the ferry from Laxo to Symbister on Whalsay: this sails hourly but only the 7AM sailing M F Sa connects with the Whalsay-Skerries service, making a day-trip possible Monday and Saturday. Until April 2025, the return fare from Vidlin is £2.80 per adult, child or conc £0.80, car and driver £16.50, pay on board outbound.

Wednesday the ferry sails from Skerries to Lerwick and return, 2 hr 30 min each way.

Bus 19 runs 2 or 3 times M-Sa from Lerwick to Laxo and Vidlin. By car take A970 north then B9071. You don't need a car on the Skerries unless you're toting lots of stuff like self-catering supplies, but there's nowhere to park at Vidlin without creating an obstruction.

If the wind is from the north, Vidlin is too exposed so the ferry sails from Laxo. Conversely if it's from the east, Laxo is exposed so the Whalsay ferry sails from Vidlin. Check the display board at Lerwick: you don't want to come if it's that rough.

1 Bruray has the landing pier. There are toilets but no waiting room. This bay is sheltered from all quarters and the marina has berths for visiting boats, with at least 3 m depth.

There's an airstrip to the north of the landing pier but the air service was axed in 2014. At 370 m it was the world's shortest runway for commercial flights, and hands were thrown up in horror when they realised that the Skerries no longer had a fire brigade. The decisive factor was closure of the island's secondary school - pupils went to board at Lerwick and the flight was no longer subsidised as a school bus.

Get around

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You may as well walk. The linked islands are long but there's only a mile of road.

  • A fish kettle by the landing pier, now cased in stone, was where fish livers were boiled to extract the oil.
  • 1 Skerries Bridge between Housay and Bruray was first built in 1899, and replaced by the present structure in 1957.
  • 2 Battle Pund on Housay is an irregular stone circle about 42 yards across. The name comes from a lurid local tale of feuds settled here by single combat, but it may be relatively modern. It's also described as a livestock pen but the stones are low, and the Skerries couldn't spare wood for fencing.
  • 3 Grunay means "green island" and it's just grazing. The large rectangular enclosure, nowadays a sheep shelter, was from 1857 a walled garden for the lighthouse keepers (think spuds and kail not herbaceous borders and espalier quince). Their station is just east, with the light itself out on Bound Skerry. Does this look remotely like a munitions factory to you? The Luftwaffe thought it did, so they strafed it in 1941 and bombed it in 1942, killing the boatman's mother. Also in 1942 a Canadian Air Force Blenheim bomber shot up over Norway crashed here with the loss of all three crew. The keepers' station fell derelict, and Grunay became uninhabited, when the light was automated in 1972. On the northeast isthmus to the "Head of Grunay" is a lump said to be a broch, an Iron Age fortified dwelling, no-one's sure. There is no ferry to Grunay, but there's a landing stage on the low-lying northwest side, while the southeast is a line of cliffs. You can kayak across the channel from Bruray, but seek advice on currents.
  • 4 Bound Skerry is the easternmost point of Scotland (the easternmost on the Scottish mainland is Keith Inch in Peterhead). The Stevenson lighthouse was built in 1857; its keepers lived on Grunay so even before automation in 1972 Bound Skerry wasn't inhabited, and it's too craggy even for grazing. It's separated by gullies from Little Bound Skerry northwest and Tamma Skerry south. Horn Skerry lies midway between it and Grunay.
  • 5 Vogan's Point is the north tip of Housay. Hevda Skerries and Wether Holm are the islets close to shore, Yell is seen away northwest and Fetlar to the north. North Ward and North Hill form a peninsula separated from the rest of Housay by West Voe, ending with The Hogg.
  • 6 Mio Ness has ambitions to become the Skerries' newest island. This headland is separated by Da Steug, a gully which is eroding so it's no longer safe to scramble across. The Dutch ship Leifde was wrecked on the Ness, and several gold and silver coins have been found. Mio Ness was also one place where island men hid out whenever the press-gangs were spotted in the area.
  • Benelips are the islets south of Mio Ness with Easter Skerries hiding behind. Beyond is the islet of Filla, the Guen skerries, and the chain ends with Billia.
 
Lighthouse on Bound Skerry
  • Hike: Walk Scotland suggest a figure-of-8 circuit of the coast, anti-clockwise round Bruray then clockwise round Housay, 7 miles and say 4 hours. This takes in Bruray Ward behind the airstrip, the islands' highest point at 174 ft (53 m). The dinky modern ditch that rings it feeds rainwater to the reservoir. Water supply is precarious on the Skerries so don't take long showers.
  • Spot birds of passage: this is the first landfall for birds coming from Scandinavia, not all of which intended to migrate this way, so uncommon species sometimes flop exhausted here. The Skerries also have standard Shetland birdlife, but not as much as other islands: the cliffs are not so high, so rats and cats can get at the nests, and rabbits compete for burrows. There are no plans to rid the Skerries of rats - it would be do-able but expensive, with a high chance of re-introduction via the ferries.
  • Cinema: last place you'd expect one, but Schoolhouse Cinema on Housay has 20 seats that previously adorned an Odeon in Manchester. It wasn't open in 2021.
  • Diving: the most interesting wrecks are the Dutch East Indiamen Kennemerland (lost 1664) and De Liefde (1711), and the Danish warship Wrangels Palais (1677). Their remains are protected and may only be dived under licence.
  • Alex Humphray abd Co. General Store (on Bruray by the ferry pier). M 9-11AM; W F Sa 9-11AM, 2-3PM; Tu Th 9-10AM, 5-6PM.
  • What the hell, buy the whole island. Housay and Bruray came up for sale in 2010 for £250,000, and Grunay in 2015 for £85,000, but they found no takers.

There are no cafes or takeaways. Either your accommodation feeds you, or bring your own supplies.

Drink

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Cobbi Geo on Housay

BYOB, there is no pub or off-licence on the island.

Sleep

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  • Rocklea Crofthouse is on Bruray just east of the bridge, tel +44 1806 515228.
  • Vaarheim Guesthouse is on Housay, tel +44 1806 515253
  • Hillside Cottage is available for self-catering, tel +44 1806 515252. It's central on Bruray by the airstrip.

Connect

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As of Dec 2021, there is no mobile signal on the Skerries from any UK carrier, nor on the ferries, nor at Vidlin.

Go next

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  • You can reach Whalsay direct on four afternoons a week: a day-trip from Whalsay to Skerries is possible on three days, but not the reverse.
  • All other destinations in Shetland are reached by sailing back to the Mainland.



This rural area travel guide to Out Skerries 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.