Unst is one of the North Isles
North Isles
The North Isles are the northern islands of the Shetland Islands, Scotland. The main islands in the group are Yell, Unst and Fetlar. Sometimes the islands in Yell Sound are included in this group.- Importance :...

 of the Shetland Islands
Shetland Islands
Shetland is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north and east of mainland Great Britain. The islands lie some to the northeast of Orkney and southeast of the Faroe Islands and form part of the division between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. The total...

, Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

. It is the northernmost of the inhabited British Isles
British Isles
The British Isles are a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe that include the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles. There are two sovereign states located on the islands: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and...

 and is the third largest island in Shetland after the Mainland
Shetland Mainland
The Mainland is the main island of Shetland, Scotland. The island contains Shetland's only burgh, Lerwick, and is the centre of Shetland's ferry and air connections....

 and Yell. It has an area of 46 square miles (119.1 km²).

Unst is largely grassland
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants . However, sedge and rush families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica...

, with coastal cliffs. Its main village is Baltasound
Baltasound is the largest settlement on the island of Unst in Shetland. Unst is the most northerly inhabited island in the United Kingdom. The village lies halfway along the island's east coast on a sheltered bay called Balta Sound....

, formerly the second largest herring
Herring is an oily fish of the genus Clupea, found in the shallow, temperate waters of the North Pacific and the North Atlantic oceans, including the Baltic Sea. Three species of Clupea are recognized. The main taxa, the Atlantic herring and the Pacific herring may each be divided into subspecies...

 fishing port after Lerwick and now the location of a brewery, a leisure centre and the island's airport. Other settlements include Uyeasound
Uyeasound is a village on the Isle of Unst, the northernmost island of the Shetland Islands, Scotland. It takes its name from the neighbouring strait of the same name, which looks over to the Isle of Uyea...

, home to Greenwell's Booth (a Hanseatic
Hanseatic League
The Hanseatic League was an economic alliance of trading cities and their merchant guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe...

 warehouse) and Muness Castle
Muness Castle
Muness Castle lies in the south east corner of Unst, Shetland; Scotland's most northerly inhabited island, not far from the rocky headland of Mu Ness...

 (built in 1598 and sacked by pirates in 1627); and Haroldswick
Haroldswick or Harold's Wick , is on Unst, Shetland Islands, and is one of the most northerly settlements in the British Isles.-History:...

, location of a boat museum and a heritage centre
Heritage centre
A heritage centre is a museum facility primarily dedicated to the presentation of historical and cultural information about a place and its people, including, to some degree, natural features...



The meaning of the name 'Unst' is unknown, but it appears to be of pre-Norse origin, like a number of other islands in the Shetland archipelago (e.g. Yell and Fetlar
Fetlar is one of the North Isles of Shetland, Scotland, with a population of 86 at the time of the 2001 census. Its main settlement is Houbie on the south coast, home to the Fetlar Interpretive Centre...

). It is therefore presumably a name given by the pre-Scandinavian inhabitants, and perhaps originated among people speaking a dialect of the Pictish language. In Old Norse the island was called "Ornyst". This is possibly Old Norse for "eagle's nest".

Unst is currently in the middle of a project to excavate and display the island's Norse heritage. The Viking Unst scheme is funded until 2010, and has already begun excavation on three longhouses - 30 are known of on the island. The project also runs living history events during the summer. The replica Viking ship Skibladner can currently be seen ashore at Haroldswick.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. His best-known books include Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde....

's father and uncle were the main design engineers for the lighthouse on Muckle Flugga
Muckle Flugga
Muckle Flugga is a small rocky island north of Unst in the Shetland Islands, Scotland. It is often described as the northernmost point of the British Isles, but the smaller islet of Out Stack is actually farther north...

, just off Hermaness on the north-west of the island. Stevenson visited Unst, and the island is claimed to have become the basis for the map of the fictional Treasure Island
Treasure Island
Treasure Island is an adventure novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, narrating a tale of "pirates and buried gold". First published as a book on May 23, 1883, it was originally serialized in the children's magazine Young Folks between 1881–82 under the title Treasure Island; or, the...

 - a claim shared by Fidra
Fidra is an uninhabited island in the Firth of Forth, north-west of North Berwick, on the east coast of Scotland.-Geography:...

 in East Lothian
East Lothian
East Lothian is one of the 32 council areas of Scotland, and a lieutenancy Area. It borders the City of Edinburgh, Scottish Borders and Midlothian. Its administrative centre is Haddington, although its largest town is Musselburgh....


On 7 January 2007, Unst was rocked by an earthquake
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

 measuring 4.9 on the Richter scale
Richter magnitude scale
The expression Richter magnitude scale refers to a number of ways to assign a single number to quantify the energy contained in an earthquake....

, which is believed to have been one of the most powerful earthquakes in the Norwegian Sea
Norwegian Sea
The Norwegian Sea is a marginal sea in the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Norway. It is located between the North Sea and the Greenland Sea and adjoins the North Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Barents Sea to the northeast. In the southwest, it is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a...

 area in the past 10 years.

Geography and geology

The island lays claims to many "most northerly" UK titles: the tiny settlement of Skaw
Skaw is a tiny settlement on the Shetland island of Unst. It is located north of Haroldswick on a peninsula in the northeast corner of the island, and is the most northerly settlement in the United Kingdom...

 in the north-east of the island is the northernmost settlement in the UK
Extreme points of the United Kingdom
This is a list of the extreme points of the United Kingdom: the points that are farther north, south, east or west than any other location. Traditionally the extent of the island of Great Britain has stretched "from Land's End to John o' Groats" .This article does not include references to the...

; the Muckle Flugga lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways....

, just off the far north of Unst, was opened in 1858 and is the most northerly lighthouse in the UK, situated close to Out Stack
Out Stack
Out Stack or Ootsta in Shetland, Scotland, is the northernmost of the British Isles, lying immediately to the north of Muckle Flugga and north of the island of Unst. It is one of the North Isles of the Shetland Islands and lies within the Hermaness National Nature Reserve.Out Stack is little more...

, the most northerly rock in the UK.

Western Norway is 300 km away.

The islands of Unst and Fetlar are mainly formed of ultramafic and mafic
Mafic is an adjective describing a silicate mineral or rock that is rich in magnesium and iron; the term is a portmanteau of the words "magnesium" and "ferric". Most mafic minerals are dark in color and the relative density is greater than 3. Common rock-forming mafic minerals include olivine,...

 igneous rocks which are interpreted to form part of an ophiolite, a section of oceanic crust
Oceanic crust
Oceanic crust is the part of Earth's lithosphere that surfaces in the ocean basins. Oceanic crust is primarily composed of mafic rocks, or sima, which is rich in iron and magnesium...

 from the Iapetus ocean
Iapetus Ocean
The Iapetus Ocean was an ocean that existed in the Neoproterozoic and Paleozoic eras of the geologic timescale . The Iapetus Ocean was situated in the southern hemisphere, between the paleocontinents of Laurentia, Baltica and Avalonia...

 which was destroyed during the Caledonian orogeny
Caledonian orogeny
The Caledonian orogeny is a mountain building era recorded in the northern parts of the British Isles, the Scandinavian Mountains, Svalbard, eastern Greenland and parts of north-central Europe. The Caledonian orogeny encompasses events that occurred from the Ordovician to Early Devonian, roughly...


Unst was once the location of several chromite
Chromite is an iron chromium oxide: FeCr2O4. It is an oxide mineral belonging to the spinel group. Magnesium can substitute for iron in variable amounts as it forms a solid solution with magnesiochromite ; substitution of aluminium occurs leading to hercynite .-Occurrence:Chromite is found in...

 quarries, one of which was served by the now-disused Hagdale Chromate Railway from 1907 to 1937.

Economy and transport

Ferries link Belmont
Belmont, Shetland
Belmont is a settlement and ferry terminal in southern Unst in the Shetland Islands. The ferry crosses from here to Gutcher in Yell and to Hamars Ness in Fetlar....

 on the island to Gutcher
Gutcher is a settlement on the northeast coast of Yell in the Shetland islands. From here, rollon/roll off ferry services to Belmont on Unst and Hamars Ness on Fetlar operate. The settlement has a harbour, and a post office which doubles as a Bed and Breakfast...

 on Yell and Oddsta on Fetlar
Fetlar is one of the North Isles of Shetland, Scotland, with a population of 86 at the time of the 2001 census. Its main settlement is Houbie on the south coast, home to the Fetlar Interpretive Centre...


The Unst Bus Shelter
Unst Bus Shelter
The Unst Bus Shelter, also known as Bobby's Bus Shelter, is a famous bus shelter and bus stop near the village of Baltasound, on Unst, Shetland. It is maintained by the Shetland Islands Council....

, also known as Bobby's Bus Shelter after a child who saved it from removal, is a bus shelter
Shelter is a basic architectural structure or building that provides cover. The word may also refer to:-Places:*Port Shelter, Hong Kong*Shelter Bay , various locations*Shelter Cove , various locations...

 and bus stop
Bus stop
A bus stop is a designated place where buses stop for passengers to board or leave a bus. These are normally positioned on the highway and are distinct from off-highway facilities such as bus stations. The construction of bus stops tends to reflect the level of usage...

 near the village of Baltasound
Baltasound is the largest settlement on the island of Unst in Shetland. Unst is the most northerly inhabited island in the United Kingdom. The village lies halfway along the island's east coast on a sheltered bay called Balta Sound....

 which is equipped with home comforts such as a television set, and is maintained by local residents.

Unst is also home to the Promoting Unst Renewable Energy (PURE) Wind Hydrogen project, a community-owned clean energy system based on hydrogen production
Hydrogen production
Hydrogen production is the family of industrial methods for generating hydrogen. Currently the dominant technology for direct production is steam reforming from hydrocarbons. Many other methods are known including electrolysis and thermolysis...

. This project is part of the Unst Partnership, the community's development trust
Development trust
Development Trusts are organisations which operate in the United Kingdom that are:*community based, owned and led*engaged in the economic, environmental and social regeneration of a defined area or community...


At the southern end of Unst, above the island's ferry terminal, stands Belmont House
Belmont House, Shetland
Belmont House is a Georgian country house on the island of Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Islands. It was constructed in 1775 by Shetland landowner Thomas Mouat of Garth, and has been described as "possibly the most ambitious, least-altered classical mansion in the Northern Isles." The...

. Dating from 1775, Belmont has been described as "possibly the most ambitious, least-altered classical mansion in the Northern Isles
Northern Isles
The Northern Isles is a chain of islands off the north coast of mainland Scotland. The climate is cool and temperate and much influenced by the surrounding seas. There are two main island groups: Shetland and Orkney...

." It was restored between 1996 and 2010 by a charitable trust, who now operate the building as a venue for hire.

The usually resident population of Unst and Fetlar
Fetlar is one of the North Isles of Shetland, Scotland, with a population of 86 at the time of the 2001 census. Its main settlement is Houbie on the south coast, home to the Fetlar Interpretive Centre...

 in the 2001 census
United Kingdom Census 2001
A nationwide census, known as Census 2001, was conducted in the United Kingdom on Sunday, 29 April 2001. This was the 20th UK Census and recorded a resident population of 58,789,194....

 was 806.

Saxa Vord

The Saxa Vord
RAF Saxa Vord
RAF Saxa Vord was a radar station operated by the Royal Air Force. It was situated on the island of Unst, one of the Shetland Islands in the north of Scotland. Its radar provided long-range coverage of the airspace to the North of Scotland...

 Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 station closed in 2006, with the loss of more than 100 jobs.

In April 2007 RAF Saxa Vord's domestic site, plus the road up to the Mid Site, was purchased and renamed "Saxa Vord Resort" by Highland entrepreneur Frank Strang. Strang's company Military Asset Management (MAM) "specialises in the regeneration of redundant or surplus Defence Assets" Another of Strang's ventures, Buchan Braes Ltd., went into liquidation in March 2010.

The base is being converted to a tourist resort and natural and cultural heritage centre. The first phase is complete, and Saxa Vord currently (2007) offers 20 self catering holiday houses, a 16-bedroom bunkhouse, together with a restaurant and bar. 2008 will see the launch of an 80-bedroom study centre, leisure facilities and a guided walks/evening talks programme.

Two local business have relocated their premises to the Saxa Vord site: Valhalla Brewery (a company owned by Sonny Priest who also manages and supplies the Saxa Vord bar) and Foord's Chocolates, Shetland's only chocolatier


Unst is important for its seabird colonies, including those at Hermaness
Hermaness is the northernmost headland of Unst, the northernmost inhabited island of Shetland, Scotland. It consists of sea cliffs and moorland.-Hermaness National Nature Reserve:...

 National Nature Reserve
National Nature Reserve
For details of National nature reserves in the United Kingdom see:*National Nature Reserves in England*National Nature Reserves in Northern Ireland*National Nature Reserves in Scotland*National Nature Reserves in Wales...

. It is also known for its plant life, including the Norwegian sandwort and Shetland Mouse-ear
Shetland Mouse-ear
Cerastium nigrescens, commonly known as the Shetland Mouse-ear, Shetland Mouse-eared Chickweed or Edmondston's Chickweed, is an endemic plant found in Shetland, Scotland....

, the latter unique to the island.

External links

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