Out Skerries is a group of three main (and many smaller) islands found in the North Sea some 24 miles north-east of Lerwick. Many visitors find Out Skerries to be among the most beguilingly attractive of the Shetland Islands: and we'd agree with them. This is a place with very little to do, but where it is simply nice to be.
The population of under 80 live on two islands, Housay and Bruray, which in 1957 were linked together by a concrete bridge. Most of Out Skerries' houses are scattered along the length of the mile of road boasted by the islands. The roads run for a short distance either side of the bridge and above the shores of the sheltered natural harbours. As a result, half of Bruray, most of Housay, and all of Grunay remain uninhabited except by sheep, birds and - along the shore - seals.
Out Skerries is about the most accessible of Shetland's more distant island groups. The Out Skerries Ferry provides a very cheap service providing links with Vidlin and Lerwick on Mainland. As a result a day trip to Out Skerries is certainly a practicable proposition on at least some days each week during summer. The islands are also served by flights from Tingwall on Mainland. Out Skerries' gravel runway is, however, one of the shortest in Shetland, and in some wind conditions the aircraft has to land on Whalsay and ferry passengers three at a time to Out Skerries.
Though Out Skerries may still seem remote today, the islands are in fact hugely more accessible than they were until the 1970s, when they were connected to the outside world by means of a weekly steamer service from Lerwick. To make matters worse, the harbour of the day meant that this had to transfer passengers and goods to and from the shore by flit boat without itself docking.
Ferry-borne visitors approaching from Vidlin come along the impressive and cliff fringed north shore of the Out Skerries before turning short of the Out Skerries Lighthouse into what seems at first to be an impossibly narrow gap in the cliffs. This opens out to become the Northeast Mouth between Bruray and Grunay, which leads round to Out Skerries' main harbour and pier.
Bruray is home to one of Out Skerries' two shops, to the harbour, and the the airfield. It is also home to Scotland's smallest school, which offers both primary and secondary education. To the north of the airfield the land rises to Out Skerries highest point: only 53m high, but seeming much higher because of the rocky landscape.
Crossing the bridge spanning the short distance to Housay opens out a view of the fish farm and moorings in the North Mouth. Much of the island's newer housing has been built to the west of the North Mouth, while nearby on Housay are the attractive Out Skerries Church and the islands' second shop which also serves as a post office. Beyond the church is the manse, overlooking West Voe, yet another extremely well sheltered natural harbour.
Out Skerries has been settled since at least Viking times and probably from much earlier. The population today is about half what it was in the mid 1800s, but it remains an active and thriving community despite its relative isolation. Its fortunes have always been linked to the sea that surrounds it and through history it has offered ships and their sailors both superb sheltered harbours and many dangerous rocks to be navigated in reaching those harbours.
The inevitable result is a long legacy of sunken ships and tales of sunken treasure. Notable losses on Out Skerries include the Dutch merchant ship Kemmerland in 1664, which broke up in the entrance to South Mouth. Another Dutch ship, the De Leifde, struck the western tip of Housay in 1711, while allegedly carrying coin and gold. A more tangible treasure came from the North Wind, which broke up after striking rocks in 1906. Its cargo of wood was salvaged by islanders and proved sufficient material for a wooden floor in every house then standing on Out Skerries.
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