At the very southern tip of Shetland lies Sumburgh Head, a 100m spur of rock carrying a lighthouse designed by Robert Stevenson and first lit in 1821. This is the first and last that most visitors see of Shetland if they are travelling by sea.
The coastal scenery here is magnificent, and the views likewise. Beware the oddities of the irregular shape of the head, however: sheer cliffs bite into it from both sides, and more than one wall is built on the very edge of a serious precipice.
And if Sumburgh Head is the first you see of Shetland when travelling by sea, Sumburgh Airport, immediately to the north, is the entry point for most travellers by air. An airport was first laid out here in the late 1930s to provide air services to a number of Scottish airports. From 1940 it was an RAF fighter base, only becoming Shetland's main airport in 1953.
The airfield is interestingly laid out, with the longest runway pointing directly at the heights of Sumburgh Head to the south-east and the village of Toab to the north-west. The east-west runway offers easier approach and departure over the sea in both directions. An excellent idea of the layout is available to all using the airport: the approach road leads you around three-quarters of the perimeter en route to the impressive terminal, built in 1979.
Just to the south of the airport is the imposing Sumburgh Hotel, built as a mansion in 1867. Close to it is one of Shetland's real gems, Jarlshof. This is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland and open from April to September. This is most obviously the site of the remains of the Old House of Sumburgh, built by Earl Robert Stewart some time in the 1570s. It was not given the name Jarlshof until a visit by Sir Walter Scott in 1814, who based his novel The Pirate here.
But gales blew away surrounding dunes at the end of the 1800s and revealed something altogether more complex underneath the remains of the Old House. The first settlement here was built in the stone age; then a broch was built; then an iron age wheelhouse; then a Norse farmhouse; then a medieval farmhouse; and only later the Old House itself. At the nearby Old Scatness Broch a similar site has been under excavation for a decade, and can be visited as work in progress.
The geography of Sumburgh is an extremely complex series of deeply indented bays, cliffs, beaches and settlements, all wrapped around the airport. To the north of the airport the Pool of Virkie almost separates Sumburgh from the rest of Mainland Shetland. To the south two encroaching bays nearly separate Sumburgh Head from Sumburgh, leaving just enough space for the runway and the road that runs around it.