Foula - The Edge of the World

Foula (population: 30) is one of Britain's most remote inhabited islands and leaves a lasting impression on everyone who visits.

The crofting townships on the narrow coastal strip are dwarfed by the island's five dramatic peaks (Da Noup, Hamnafield, Da Sneug, Da Kame, and Soberlie). On the west coast are Shetland's biggest and most spectacular cliffs.

Foula's natural heritage is exceptionally rich and diverse for such a small area. The name means 'Bird Island' in Old Norse and Foula is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds, a National Scenic Area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its plants, birds and geology.


Glaciers and the sea have carved some dramatic features in Foula's layered sandstone, including the breathtaking 1,200 ft (366m) sheer drop of the Kame, Britain's second-highest sea cliff. Gaada Stack's three pillars tower over the rugged north coast of the island, with its stacks, steep-sided geos, and a storm beach called Da Stanes. Da Sneck ida Smaallie is a rock fault over 100 feet (30m) deep.

Full O' Flowers

In the long midsummer days, Foula's wildflowers provide a glorious burst of colour. Sea Pinks, blue Spring Squill and yellow Tormentil carpet the shoreline while Marsh Marigolds and wild orchids blossom gold and purple in ditches and marshes, with white tufted Bog Cotton, Sphagnum Moss, Sundew and Crowberry making patterns across the moorland.

Birds and Beasts

For many years Foula has been an important research station for Glasgow University zoologists, not least because the island has the world's largest colony of Great Skuas (bonxies). This fierce, piratical gull competes fiercely with Arctic Skuas for breeding territories. Kittiwakes, Arctic Terns and Red-throated Divers return annually to nest. The cliffs teem with Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags, Fulmars - and a small but increasing colony of Gannets. Leach's Petrel, Storm Petrel, and Manx Shearwater are also found, along with shore and moorland birds and migrating songbirds.

Both Grey and Common Seals haul up around the shore and can be watched at close quarters in the Voe. Schools of Killer Whales have been seen close inshore and Harbour Porpoises often follow the ferry.

History, Culture and Folklore

Around 800 AD Norsemen conquered Foula and took up residence in the fertile Hametoon, leaving us croft names like Norderhus, Krugali, and Guttren, and many other descriptive Norse placenames. The grassy knoll outside the Hametoon dyke, called Krukaitrin (Katherine's shelter) reminds us of the tragic end of Katherine Asmunnder, the last Norse 'queen' of Foula. Foula and Unst were the last places in Shetland in which the old Norn language, a relic of Norse times, was spoken. The Lord's Prayer was still said in Norn in Foula at the end of the 19th century.

The Foula community has a strong Norse tradition of folklore, music and special festivities, still celebrating Christmas and New Year according to the feast days of the old Julian calendar - Yule on 6th January and Newerday on the 13th.

After the Scots took over in the 15th century, Foula became part of a west Shetland estate. The fire in the middle of the floor of the last inhabited 'blackhouse' in Foula at Da Breckins went out in 1964. The Foula mailboat Island Lass was lost in 1962 and the population dropped to 27, but the remaining islanders were so determined to stay they built their own airstrip in the early 1970s.

Getting There

Foula is served by the inter-island ferries from the Walls Pier, on the West Mainland which operates three times a week.  Please note this is not a car ferry and booking is essential. Journey time on this ferry is 135 minutes.  It is not possible to make a day trip to Foula using this service as it is not a daily service but there is accommodation on the island.

Alternatively, there is a boat trip to Foula with Cycharters which operates every Wednesday.  The boat leaves from Scalloway in the morning and returns early evening.  This is a great way to see the breath taking cliffs around Foula and also have the chance to walk on the island before returning back to Scalloway.

There is also a regular chartered air service by Direct Flight from Tingwall Airport, just outside Lerwick, which operates four times a week.  It is possible to make a day trip using the plane, giving you a few hours to explore.

Both the air and the sea service are very dependent on weather, so it's best to check with the operators before you set off for the pier or the airport.

What Next?

On This Site

  • Learn more about Shetland's geology
  • Read more about Shetland's culture
  • Discover Fair Isle, another of Shetland's remotest islands

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