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A ScotWays helper with one of the oldest recreational signs in the world, now lost.  Taken by an unknown photographer. Heritage Paths Project
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Old Road to Fethaland

Start location: Houll (HU 372 910)
End location: Fethaland (HU 375 943)
Geographical area: Shetland Islands
Path Type: Rural Path
Path distance: 3.6km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians

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Route Description

This is a very well known path in Shetland which leads on to an uninhabited peninsula on the very north tip of Mainland, the main Shetland island.

The access track to Fethaland is rough but well marked; it was improved when an automatic lighthouse was built about 500m north of the old fishing station in 1977. However, this upgraded track does initially follow a different line to the original route between Isbister and the Upper Loch of Setter. The older path to Fethaland actually heads northeast from Houll and goes around the east side of Lanchestoo on a track that is pretty poor, grown over and boggy. 

OS Landranger 2 (Shetland - Whalsay) or 1 (Shetland - Yell & Unst)

Heritage Information

It is a popular walk, not just because it crosses beautiful wild countryside, but because at the end of the track is the remains of what was the biggest fishing station in Shetland when haaf fishing was taking place. The term ‘haaf’ refers to cod, ling and tusk long-line fishing in the pre-steam era, i.e. up to about the end of the 19th century. The fishing took place about 15-40 miles out from the north west coast of Shetland and the boats used were sixerns (or sixereens) – six-oared boats with auxiliary sail. Since the fish needed to be cured - salted and dried - as quickly as possible, shore stations were built close to the fishing grounds, mostly in the remote, sparsely-inhabited north west of the islands. At these stations an all-male workforce lived for the duration of the season (June to August) their time occupied by preparation of lines for fishing, rowing out to the fishing grounds, catching their haul, and then rowing back to preserve what they had caught by salting and drying. Twenty or so roofless buildings can still be seen at Fethaland. However the roofs of these houses were generally temporary; contemporary photographs of haaf fishing stations show much use of old spars, masts and sailcloth. About 60 boats used this area at the height of operations. Since these were open boats the fishing was highly dangerous in bad weather. After the Gloup Disaster in 1881 a move over to larger boats operating from bigger population centres took place and by 1900 the Fethaland fishing station was abandoned.

The day of 20th July 1881 began as what is referred to as a "day atween wadders". There had been strong winds for days and the boats had been kept ashore, but that morning dawned clear with light winds, and although there was still a heavy sea running, the men were keen to get to sea. Going up to 40 miles to the fishing grounds, using simple landmarks for navigation, the boats had no idea of what was to happen. The crews were happy that the bad weather was over.
A fast moving depression which had formed to the west near Iceland rushed in with Hurricane force winds. The crews were taken by surprise, and made every effort to reach shore, but for some crews that was impossible.
Some of the boats which made shore were to report seeing boats overturned, and with no sign of life, there was nothing they could do, they had to consider the survival of their own crew. The heroism of the skippers who managed to reach shore in that storm should never be forgotten.
Amongst the ten boats that foundered was a sixareen from Fethaland; the crew were Isaac Gifford (Mossbank, skipper), John Blance (Mossbank), Robert Williamson (Innhouse), James Robertson (Firth), Alexander Beattie (Firth), John Nicolson (Swinster) and Gilbert Couper (Firth). That day 58 haaf fishermen lost their lives, 36 of whom were from Gloup in the North of Yell. Only the bodies of seven men were found. The drowned fishermen left behind 34 widows and 85 orphans.  [with thanks to]






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Copyright: John Winterbottom Copyright: Robin Madge Copyright: Colin Park



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