Whalsay is one of the Shetland Islands, 5 miles northeast of the Shetland Mainland, with a population of 1061 in 2011. It makes its living from fishing and crofting, and is seldom visited by tourists though it’s easily reached.
One notable resident from 1933 to 1942 was the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, real name Christopher Grieve (1892-1978). Hard lines for the luckless intelligence agents assigned to watch him here: he’d twice been expelled by the Communist Party and had at some point advocated every extremist philosophy you could think of. But he’s now recognised among the founding figures of Scottish nationalism: “The rose of all the world is not for me. I want for my part only the little white rose of Scotland that smells sharp and sweet – and breaks the heart.”
Whalsay is reached by a 30-minute ferry ride from 1 Laxo – these sail hourly M-Sa and every two hours Sunday, year round, to the harbour of Symbister. From Lerwick take A970 north then B9071 to Laxo. In high winds this pier is too exposed, and ferries sail instead from Vidlin three miles further up B9071 – don’t visit under such conditions. Bus 19 runs 2 or 3 times M-Sa from Lerwick to Laxo and Vidlin. Return ferry fares are adult £6, child or conc £1.10, car with driver £15. These fares and times apply until May 2022.
On M, F and Sa the first ferry of the morning from Laxo continues from Symbister to the Out Skerries, an 80 min crossing, and returns in the evening.
1 Symbister is Whalsay’s main settlement.
There’s an emergency landing strip at the north end of the island but no air service.