P1040487

Hillswick - hotel, shop, jewellery, health centre, wildlife sanctuary and much more

Hillswick is where I live and is truly the capital of Northmavine! Some folk in North Roe, Sullom and Ollaberry may disagree, but Hillswick is where you come for a pint or some food in the hotel, for medical care at the surgery, to do some shopping (though there is another community shop in Ollaberry) get some fuel, and check out the jewellery made by Esme Wilcock or at the Hugr workshop. The Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary is famous for its work with otters and seals, and welcomes visitors by arrangement at the Booth, which was built in 1684 as a Hanseatic trading booth and was once Shetland's oldest pub. The church, threatened with closure, holds 600 people and was once the centre of worship in Northmavine. It's still used for weddings and funerals and, for the time being, services.

The atmospheric St Magnus Bay Hotel shown painted white in the guidebook, but now restored to its original brown) offers great hospitality, and as our guidebook says, there are all kinds of fascinating sights to see nearby, natural, historical and archaeological. Unseen from the road, the West Ayre is reached by climbing a stile north of the old cemetery and crossing a field. It is a particularly lovely beach when the tide is out, with firm golden sand and great swimming if you're careful.

From the West Ayre you can take the counter-clockwise walk around the Ness of Hillswick. It's at least two hours and can involve some rough and risky patches, though it is a core path and the route is marked with stiles to cross fences. However, it is known as one of the great European walks, with views of the legendary rocks called the Drongs and the Heads of Grocken. And the prospect of a pint at the hotel when you finish what is a circular walk makes it even more enticing. At least for me. And if you're not driving, of course.

I should mention the shop - it has a fantastic selection of fresh and frozen groceries, hardware, a wide range of environmentally friendly goods, beers, wines and spirits. Look for the deliveries of fresh bread and bakery products from Shetland's various craft bakers.

There are things to look for around Hillswick that aren't obvious: the beach in front of the shop has a fantastic selection of seaglass, changing with the tides. Otters abound here - listen out for the 'peep peep' sound they make, and then look carefully, particularly on the Ness. And that cemetery, with its round wall? There are all kinds of stories associated with it, including, possibly, the sad activities of one of the last women  to be boiled alive in tar after being convicted of witchcraft. 

But not in Hillswick, even though she came from here. The witch-burning took place in Scalloway.

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